Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nigeria is a Crude Spot with Crude Oil, Says Peel

Nigeria is a complicated country - a confused ex-colonial outpost with a complex ethnic and tribal mix turned into a unified nation and given its independence by the British some five decades ago. Having crude oil in abundance complicates things even further.

Some say the history of crude oil extraction has a dark and seedy side; most say nowhere is it more glaringly visible than in Nigeria. On the back of having interviewed Nigeria's petroleum minister - Diezani Kogbeni Alison-Madueke for Infrastructure Journal, I recently read a candid book on the country titled - A Swamp Full of Dollars: Pipelines and Paramilitaries at Nigeria's Oil Frontier written by Michael Peel, a former FT journalist, who spent many-a-year in Nigeria. He presents a warts n' all account about this most chaotic and often fascinating of African countries shaped by oil, driven by oil and in more ways than one - held to ransom by oil.

The author dwells on how the discovery of black gold has not been quite the bonanza for its peoples who remain among the poorest and most deprived in this world. End result is growing dissent and chaos - something which was glaringly visible between 2006-2009 when the oil rich Niger Delta went up in flames.

Peel's book is split into three parts, comprising of nine chapters, containing a firsthand and first rate narration of the violence, confusion, partial anarchy and corruption in Nigeria where its people who deserve better have to contend with depravity and pollution. Some have risen up and abide by their own rule - the rule of force, rather than the law.

If you seek insight into this complex country, Peel provides it. If you seek a travel guide - this is one candid book. If you seek info on what went wrong in Nigeria from a socioeconomic standpoint, the author duly obliges. Hence, this multifaceted work, for which Peel deserves top marks, is a much needed book.

I feel it addresses an information gap about a young nation, its serious challenges, addiction to its oil endowment and the sense of injustice the crude stuff creates for those who observe the oil bonanza from a distance but cannot get their hands into the cookie jar.

Peel notes that the chaos of Niger delta is as much a story of colonial misadventure, as it is about corporate mismanagement, corruption in the bureaucracy and a peculiar and often misplaced sense of entitlement that creates friction between the country's haves and have nots.

Drop into the mix, an unfolding ecological disaster and you get a swamp full of dollars whose inhabitants range from impromptu militias with creative names to Shell, from terrorists to ExxonMobil, from leaking pipelines to illegal crude sales.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Book Cover © I.B. Tauris

No comments: