This Thing Called ‘Oil’ and this Place Called ‘Nigeria’


Abubakar Idris [Misau]
University of Maiduguri
abubakaridrismisau@gmail.com | +2349030178211

“We need the strength of our combined numbers to protect ourselves from the very real danger of colonialism returning in disguised forms” – Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972)

Aside from its abundance, the quality of Nigeria’s oil, for containing less amount of sulfur, making it one of the easiest to refine, anointed Nigeria to be one of the most important oil-producing countries in the world (Abdussalam, 1989). While remaining as the most resourceful [human and material] country in Africa, it is an ironic achievement that Nigeria had recently overtook India as the world's poverty capital with over 43% (89 million people) living below the international poverty line, and another 25% (53 million) classified as vulnerable (World Bank, 2022).

Is oil (Nigeria’s major income source) actually a curse – as the legendary Nigerian historian Max Siollun called it in his 2009 highly researched book: ‘Oil, Politics and Violence’? To make sense of Nigeria’s wealth and poverty paradox, this article is centered on one of the most important cloaked daggers: The Politics of Oil.

In their ‘Where Vultures Feast’ Okonta and Douglas (2001) showed how the white man was able to successfully employ the tactics of divide and rule, highlighting ethno-religious differences and playing groups against one another. In 2008, Uche Chibuike reminded us about the connection between foreign interests on oil, and the Nigerian Civil War – something already hinted by Walter Rodney in 1972 [only two years after the war]. Like many scholars, Mateos Oscar (2021) saw the roots of the current turmoil in Nigeria in the long history of exploitation during the British imperial era: from the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, to palm oil exploitation in the 19th century, and then to feasting on petroleum after the countries “independence”. It is unequivocal to say therefore, that, while colonization lasted for 7-8 decades in Nigeria, starting in 1884, when the Berlin Conference marked its official beginning, its effects seem [God forbid!] to be eternal. This is evident for instance in the fact that the white man continues to topple “disloyal” African leaders, and influence elections among other things.

To dominate any people, inferiority must be instilled in their psyche. At a point, Africans were made to believe in the ‘natural overall superiority’ of their white masters. Of the methods employed to achieve this, religion was found to be very effective. There was the Slave Bible, which had all ‘references to freedom and escape from slavery’ excised, while passages encouraging obedience and submission were emphasized. Having disclosed this, many Africans including Christian converts were quick to suggest that there was very little or no dividing line between missionaries and their colonizing counterparts. Michel (2018) recounted a popular story about a native African in relation to the missionaries as follows: “When the white man came to our country he had the Bible and we had the land. The white man said to us: ‘Let us pray’. After the prayer the white man had the land and we had the Bible.” Alongside scientists and explorers, missionaries acted as agents of imperialism. As such, it wasn’t for any less effect that Robert Athlyi Rogers following the like of Marcus Gerby among other Rastafarians wrote The Holy Piby; which is an early 20th century prophetic vision and theological treatise intended to unite Diasporic Blacks in a holy union of prosperity and hope. Great Britain!

Meanwhile, America is today the major culprit: “Neocolonialist”. In its advisory capacity as the “world leader”, its working policies can make or mar the economy of another state. The IBB’s structural adjustment program, known for short as SAP, is enough a case.

Changing their names and forms as chameleons do with their colors, International Oil Companies (IOCs) and/or Multinational Oil Companies (MOCs) including America’s Shell joint venture, Total (French), ExxonMobil (American), Chevron (American), Texaco (now merged with Chevron), and Agip (Italian); continue to degrade and pollute environments while abusing human rights in Nigeria, especially in Niger Delta. Except for our selective amnesia, the extra-judicial killing of Ogoni-Nine in 1995 – among them Ken Saro-Wiwa – remains a catastrophe (Okonta and Douglas, 2001).

Fast forward to current affairs, oil production in Nigeria fell from 2.5 million barrels per day in 2011 to just over a million in July 2022. Why? NNPC admitted that between January and July 2022, Nigeria lost 10 billion Dollars to oil theft; which is more than fifty percent of Nigeria’s Foreign Reserves. According to Mr. Mele Kyari, the Group Managing Director (GMD) of NNPC, in one illegal line alone which measures less than 200km, there were found not less than 295 illegal connections. Meanwhile, with the recent discovery of many illegal pipeline tap points with the most notable being the more than 4km long discovered by an ex-oil militant Mr. Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo in early October 2022, many questions readily come to mind (BBC, 2022). In reference to the later, Mahmud Jega asked: “Who built it, who owned it, who protected it all this while, who knew about it but did not squeal, and who brought the ships that stood far from the shore and bought the stolen oil?” As if in response, the Nigerian Navy had accused IOCs and MOCs as syndicates in the crude oil theft in the Niger Delta region (Daily Trust, 2022).

With all these, according to the system’s apologists, colonialism is enshrined in the three Cs of Civilization, Christianity, and Commerce. Capitalism is now the term in town. Thanks to the alphabet letter “C”; we know for certain that the three Cs are actually Crime, Contaminations, and Corruption. Colonialism – now in disguised forms – is such a cruel enterprise, that in his review of Siollun’s ‘What Britain Did to Nigeria’, Gimba Kakanda wrote: “…By the end of this book, the line between savagery and civilization becomes indelibly blurred.” Indeed, “We need the strength of our combined numbers to protect ourselves from the very real danger of colonialism returning in disguised forms.”


After thought: Would Nigeria have been better without having any forms of contact with its colonial masters? This question can only hold for a simple salacity of an “if” of history. With the Curriculum Vitae of such Nigerians as former Governors James Ibori and Diepreye Solomom Peter Alamieyeseigha – both of the oil-rich Niger Delta – isn’t it just as important that the spotlight is adjusted? Seeing the outside world as the root and trunk of Nigeria’s problem is disastrous less only to denying its involvement.


Abdussalam, I. K. (1989). History of the Exploration and Production of Crude Oil in Nigeria to 1960, Bayero University, Kano: Unpublished M.A. Thesis.

BBC (2022). Nigeria's stolen oil, the military and a man named Government. Available online at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-63314545

Chibuike, U. (2008). Oil, British Interests and the Nigerian Civil War. The Journal of African History. 49 (1): 111–135.

Daily Trust (2022). Navy Fingers IOCs In Multi-Billion Dollars Crude Oil Theft Ring. October 11, 2022.

Jega, M. (2022). Five dramas in one week: in View from the gallery. 21stcenturychronicle, October 10, 2022. Available online at: https://21stcenturychronicle.com/five-dramas-in-one-week/

Michel, M. (2018). Slave Bible From The 1800s Omitted Key Passages That Could Incite RebellionNPR. December 9, 2018.

Okonta, I. and Douglas, O. (2001). Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Right, and Oil in the Niger Delta. Sierra Club Books, 2001. ISBN: 978-1-85984-473-1

Rodney, W. (1972). How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications. ISBN: 0-9501546-4-4

Siollun, M. (2009). Oil, Politics, and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976). Algora Publishin New York. ISBN: 978-0-87586-710-6

Siollun, M. (2021). What Britain Did to Nigeria: A Short History of Conquest and Rule. Hurst. 2021. 9781787383845
This Thing Called ‘Oil’ and this Place Called ‘Nigeria’

Post a Comment