The principal business of Nigerian public life

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 08.00.57The struggle for control of oil revenues

Nigeria, says Dalrymple, is

cursed by the existence of natural resources, or rather by political inability to take proper advantage of them. What seemed like good fortune was soon turned into ill-fortune.

The country is

a geopolitical expression. It contains within itself a very large number of distinct ethnic and language groups. The oil, which soon became overwhelmingly its most important export, other than people, was concentrated in one small part of the country. Nigerian politics became the struggle for the control of the oil revenues. The foreign exchange receipts from oil meant that Nigeria could import everything cheaper than it could produce it itself, including food. Nigerian agriculture, previously promising, went into decline and a hideous urbanisation ensued.

The oil revenues

were not adequate to ensure a high standard of living for everyone even if they had been distributed equally rather than appropriated by political and military elites who struggled for the control of them. This struggle was the principal business of Nigerian public life.

Dalrymple writes:

I used to visit Nigeria regularly, and knew the writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was hanged by the dictator, Abacha. Saro-Wiwa came from the Niger Delta, where the oil came from, and started a movement to try to obtain oil revenues for his tribe, the Ogoni. Although much of the oil came from Ogoniland, the Ogoni had received almost no financial benefit from it whatsoever. Instead, their native creeks, forests and fishing grounds had been largely destroyed by oil leaks. I took the view that it was bound before long to provoke violence; Saro-Wiwa told me that the situation was so bad that it could get no worse. Alas, I was proved right; and Saro-Wiwa not only lost his life, but violence became endemic in the area.


proved a blessing to no one in Nigeria who did not get his hands on a large part of the loot.

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