The commodification of violence in the Niger Delta

Sofiri Joab-Peterside, Anna Zalik

Abstract


In the post 9-11 period, unpacking the competing representations of mounting violence in the Niger Delta is both a sensitive matter and crucial to critiquing the foreign militarization of the Gulf of Guinea. The representation of the Niger Deltan crisis in the global media is not unrelated to speculative profiteering on oil futures markets, which is receiving increased criticism from regulators. Consequently, although our main focus here is the rise of contemporary militia activity in Rivers State and the competitive political violence related to it, we wish to make a series of linked arguments concerning the region's representation. First, the spotlight on the state in Nigerian academic analysis of the Delta crisis manifests broader disputes over federal control and territorially-embedded resources (oil, agriculture, palm oil, labour) in which the region's social movements have been central actors. Historically, these movements formed part of regional and tribally-identified resistance groups that emerged through decolonization, manifesting the crystallization of ethnicity under indirect rule. But focusing on the Nigerian federal state tends to lead to inattention to global speculative exploitation and tends to confirm the private oil industry's own representation of the 'risks' it faces in the Niger Delta. The violent context permits the corporations to make windfall profits, even while they claim it causes them 'losses'. If one were to employ, instead, the late Charles Tilly's reading of the state as an organised criminal syndicate, the Nigerian state's role as facilitator of global capitalist windfalls in the transnational oil market might receive the attention it deserves. We also wish to suggest that resistance against the authority of the federal government echoes with contemporary global struggles (e.g. in Latin America) for resource sovereignty, but in a form that is masked by the crystallization of ethnicity as the lynchpin of socio-political organization.

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