Friday, November 1, 2013

Criminal Resistance? A Review Essay

Oriola, Temitope B. (2013) Criminal Resistance? The Politics of Kidnapping Oil Workers, Aldershot, Ashgate, pp 243. HB. 

Reviewed by Biko Agozino

As the Series Editor of the Ashgate Publishers Interdisciplinary Research Series in Ethnic, Gender and Class Relations in which Dr. Temitope Oriola’s book was published, I was pleased and honored to be invited to review this original contribution to knowledge during the public presentation of the book at Alberta University, Canada where the doctoral research that led to the book was done and where the award-winning author was soon lured back, as an Assistant Professor, from a major US university.

As the Series Editor who recommended the innovative manuscript for publication, I was tempted to decline the invitation to be a reviewer of the book but I relish the challenge to replace my editor’s cap with that of the critic and reflect on the book in a way that a Series Editor’s preface may not have permitted. For full disclosure, I must also confess that the author, Dr. Oriola, caught my attention in 2005 as a graduate student when he hailed my book, Counter-Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason, as laying the foundation for what he called a ‘Post-Colonial Criminology’ in a review essay that I published in the African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies that I served as the founding editor for the African Criminology and Justice Association. It is clear that his own new book is a major contribution to that paradigm of post-colonial criminology.

Following the guidelines for book reviews provided by one of my undergraduate mentors at the University of Calabar, Professor Inya Eteng, who passed away recently at the University of Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta terrain of Oriola’s book, I will proceed by critically reviewing the empirical tenability of the book’s claims, the internal consistency or theoretical adequacy of the book, and the policy efficacy of the implications of the conclusions and inferences. I will leave out a summary of the contents because the author himself has provided one in chapter 8 and because I do not wish to spoil the fun for those of you yet to read the book.

The empirical tenability of the claims in the book is without doubt and the attention to the triangulation of data sources, or what the author called ‘methodological eclecticism’, in the book is very commendable. The reflexivity of the author in terms of the potential to be perceived as an outsider because of his Yoruba ethnic identity is equally noteworthy as a key for understanding the violent ethnic chauvinism that tends to cripple intellectual excellence and everything else in its wake. Scholarship should be judged on its merit and not on the basis of the pigeon hole into which the author’s tongue could be classified but not in Nigeria where who you know is often more important than what you know. The risks he took to be added to the mailing list of militants, to interview army generals and observe focus group discussions of villagers in the creeks of the Niger Delta where he was ‘jokingly’ threatened with kidnapping by a key informant, and the attention that he paid to the history of gendered and class-specific ethnic violence in Nigeria makes his book required reading by all who are interested in resolving the violent crises that plague African societies today.

In this connection, the claim in the book that over 80% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings come from the ‘monocultural’ oil industry of the Niger Delta may need to be contextualized: The eminent Marxist economist and another mentor of mine at the University of Calabar, Professor Eskor Toyo, in his chapter,  ‘Revenue Allocation and the National Question’, in the book edited by Abubakar Momoh and Said Adejumobi on The National Question in Nigeria that I published in the same Ashgate Series as Oriola’s book, estimated the contribution of oil and gas to Nigeria’s GDP to be less than 50%. This appears to be supported by annual data published by the National Bureau of Statistics which reported that the contribution of oil and gas to the GDP in the second quarter of 2012 was less than 14% while the contribution from agriculture was 40% The estimate by Toyo only appears counter-intuitive because Nigerians tend to extrapolate from the estimate that hundreds of millions of barrels are produced in the country per day, then multiply them with the price of oil and deduce what they assume to be the contribution of oil to the national income but without taking into consideration that Nigeria probably only receives 10% royalties from whatever the oil companies declare as their profits after production and exploration expenses. In any case, oil and gas being finite resources should not be the exclusive motive for any social movement organization to kidnap workers, bomb and kill citizens and sabotage the environment without turning such an organization into a reactionary anti-social movement organization.

The empirical tenability of the claims in the book could be challenged on the ground that the author left out some of the important details but in fairness to the author, no book ever covers everything and so the author should be commended for narrowing down his topic to a manageable scale under the able supervision of his dissertation advisers. Yet, the empirical tenability of the claims in the book could have been greatly enhanced through a more historical-materialist epistemological approach or through a post-structuralist discourse analysis with more coverage of the narratives of trade unionists and kidnapped workers whose voices appear drowned out by those of militants, villagers and soldiers in the book.

I flag up the relative erasure of the narratives of workers in the book as a loophole that could be filled by future researchers or during the anticipated follow-up by the author towards advancing, revising or challenging some of the arguments and conclusions in Criminal Resistance? The Kidnapping of Oil Workers. I also suspect that the relative neglect of the workers’ perspective may have resulted from the choice of theoretical frameworks that are eclectic while privileging the symbolic interactionist perspectives of Ervin Goffman and the interpretive perspective of Max Weber rather uncritically unlike the reluctant application of the historical materialist theory of social banditry, according to the Africa-born Eric Hobsbawm, that eventually formed the explanations for kidnapping found in chapter seven. The author initially questioned its relevance in chapter two because of criticism that Hobsbawm restricted the concept to rural bandits even while predicting that social bandits would become more common in Africa whereas Oriola found that the Niger Delta insurgents operated in both rural and urban locations.

Oriola’s theoretical originality lies in the application of the theories of dramaturgy and frame-making that were developed in micro or messo sociological studies of radically individualist Euro-American societies to a macro sociology of power struggles with local and global implications in African societies that the author described as still ‘very much communalistic’. The book is internally consistent to the extent that the author sticks with the chosen frameworks even after briefly considering competing perspectives. The difficulty with the chosen analytical frameworks, in my opinion, is that a less skillful writer could have ended up with ahistorical and disjointed analysis given that frame-making tends to focus on a bird’s eye-view of one frame at a time and dramaturgy implies the beginning, climax and end of conflict whereas the historically specific nature of politically-motivated violence in Africa requires deeper social structural and more systemic analysis.

The question that arises for all African researchers is this; how suitable are theoretical perspectives developed for advanced capitalist societies in the West for the study of more communalistic societies in Africa? Oriola answered this question by borrowing metaphorical terms from his rich Yoruba vocabulary to explain the intricate Althusserian ‘interpellation’ of space and social process in the Niger Delta with implications for all and sundry. Perhaps the author should have considered the theory of African Fractals which has been found by Ron Eglash (African Fractals: Indigenous Design and Modern Computer Engineering), Abdul Bangura (Fractal Complexity in thoughts of African Writers), Horace Campbell (on the 2008 organization of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign) and as illustrated in my conclusion to Counter-Colonial Criminology - a common framework employed by Africans from different cultural backgrounds to emphasize the interconnectedness of society, culture and nature in contrast to the lineal analysis of much of Cartesian European frameworks or paradigms.

Given the nature of the subject matter, I believe that a historical materialist approach synthesized with the African Fractals-influenced perspective of deconstruction (see Derrida, Specters Of Marx) and chaos theory (as Hal Pepinsky attempted but without reference to the African roots in the Geometry of Violence and Democracy) could have complicated the analysis and raised more challenging implications of the study as Stephen Pfohl recommended (Images of Deviance and Social Control) than through the liberalist and apparently pluralist perspectives chosen for the analysis of what is obviously a systemic and post-structural violence.

Thirdly, how efficacious, policy-wise, can the conclusions and implications of the book be said to be? This is a question that haunts the reader right from the preface by Professor Patrick Bond where it was almost gleefully stated that the book proves that the ‘romanticization of non-violence’ by African scholars was debunked by the book. The author repeats this theoretical claim without endorsing it in the book and reports the belief of the insurgents that non-violence failed and so, presumably, violent armed struggles were more successful. I invite readers to engage the ex-insurgents in debates on this conclusion that the author stated alongside the views that contested the presumed efficacy of violence because violence deserves more explicit critique given the high frequency of futile violence in Nigeria:

First, the claim by ex-insurgents that non-violence has failed and by implication only violence led to their success appears spurious given that the history of Africa is enveloped in permanent violence since the intrusion of Arabs and Europeans starting with Trans Saharan and then Trans Atlantic slavery and continuing in the post-colonial situation under the domination of imperialism as Oriola himself pointed out and as Toyin Falola detailed in Colonialism and Violence in Nigeria. If violence is a successful strategy, then Nigeria would have since joined the ranks of developed democracies given its recent history of a genocidal war in which an estimated three million people were killed presumably to guarantee access to the oil of the Niger Delta for members of the ruling class and yet another mentor of mine from the University of Calabar, Professor Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe (Biafra Revisited) never tires of reminding us that the Igbo genocide is the foundation of the genocidal state in post-colonial Africa. Similarly, the genocidal states in Sudan, Rwanda, Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Congo have all failed to record significant success despite the abundance of violence and despotism. The failure of insurgent violence and violent military repression cannot be overemphasized but all Nigerians need to extend their concern to the poor throughout Nigeria who appear to be deliberately deprived of the benefits of modern education, healthcare and jobs in the midst of plenty of national resources.

Secondly, it is dubious to cite Fanon as an evangelist of violence because Fanon used his psychiatric skills to explain why people resort to violence under violent domination but not why they should do so. On the contrary, Fanon repeatedly pointed out the violent pitfalls of national consciousness by people who may fall upon each other and continue to kill even after the foreigner has been forced to withdraw as he predicted in Ivory Coast which lived up to the prediction with the fanatical blood-thirsty ideology of Ivorite or the search for who is more purely Ivorian than others. Fanon saw violence more accurately as a sign of mental disorder displayed by the torture victim who runs down the street screaming that he was going to kill a settler with a kitchen knife only to be gunned down, on the one hand, and equally by the torturer who goes home after work to torture his wife and kids, on the other. What he offered was an explanation of violence and not a prescription of violence and he concluded by inviting us to find a different path that avoids the abomination of humanity everywhere by Europeans who were nevertheless tirelessly theorizing about humanity. Had the insurgents adopted the African philosophy of non-violence they would not have resorted to the superstitious dehumanization of younger women who were expelled from their camps whenever they had their periods with the belief that such crude sexism was necessary to avoid polluting the 'warriors' who nevertheless welcomed post-menopausal women to come and 'fortify' them spiritually for victory.

Ali Mazrui may have inadvertently validated the Eurocentric wanton adoration of militarism only four years after the genocidal war in Biafra by positing that Africa was reviving a glorious ‘Warrior tradition’. He completely neglected the much more vibrant tradition of non-violence and participatory democracy that relatively survived European conquest and distortion even among the African Diaspora where Martin Luther King Jr. led a successful non-violent revolution while the Rasta philosophy of Peace and Love remains lively. Not surprisingly, Oriola found vocal condemnation of violence and kidnapping even by a major insurgent commander who complained that the tactic of kidnapping had been hijacked by purely criminal elements and rejected especially by communities that did not have a ‘benevolent insurgent commander’ who could rationalize such violence by providing infrastructures and patronage in the vacuum created by those that Fanon called the unproductive phantom Bourgeoisie of post-colonial Africa.

Contrary to the claim in the book that scholars are relatively silent on the efficacy of violent modes of struggle, left-wing scholars tend to romanticize violence to the extent of misreading Karl Marx as advocating only a bloody revolution without realizing that The Manifesto of the Communist Party was not a call for the establishment of an army and that Friedrich Engels stated in the preface to Capital that Marx saw England as having the possibilities for a non-violent revolution. Subsequently, the Bolshevik party of Lenin was called the Social Democratic Party and his answer to the question of What Is To Be Done was the establishment of a newspaper for the organization of the masses. Gramsci capped the much misrepresented Marxist tradition with the observation that even the ruling class cannot afford to dominate by force alone or even mainly by force but more commonly through coerced consent or hegemony – the very exact strategy through which the working class wins the support of other oppressed classes, not by force or mainly by force but through intellectual and moral leadership - hegemony. Amilcar Cabral applied this in his national liberation war by emphasizing the need to understand that culture and even theory is a weapon in the struggle, not just militarism. Joe Slovo also defended the strategy of the national democratic revolution in South Africa against enthusiasts of militarism (who preferred to chant one settler, one bullet) just as Lenin defended the strategies of social democracy and dismissed the militarists as people suffering from the infantile disorder of left-wing communism. Mao Tsetung suggested that the contradiction between violence and non-violence is a false contradiction because the response depends on the nature of the challenge posed. Malcolm X also stated that any means necessary was appropriate in the struggle for freedom but Malcolm used the means of intellectual and moral leadership himself, he never kidnapped or killed workers for ransom.

Finally, to answer the rhetorical question that Oriola posed with his very own title: Criminal Resistance? The Kidnapping of Oil Workers; the unambiguous answer is affirmatively yes; it is criminal to kidnap and kill workers and this cannot be justified with the claims to ‘resistance.’ It is completely reactionary violence to bomb citizens who were gathered to celebrate the independence day of their country and claim that the militants were doing so ‘with due respect’ because, in their view, there was nothing to celebrate. It is indeed criminal to bomb an oil refinery and kill or wound dozens of workers as one militant organization did while this review was being written at the end of October 2013. At last MEND apologized for bombing oil pipelines and thereby spilling oil to pollute the environment that they pretend to be seeking to protect with questionable ‘resistance’ strategies that are simply geared towards what Oriola dismissed as ‘crass opportunism’ designed to extort ransom payments from the state and from oil companies for the benefit of a few ethnic warlords who would not hesitate to collude with the state to eliminate scores of their own supporters who question their leadership style as some members of the community complained to Oriola during his courageous fieldwork.

Rather than be seduced by violence, readers of the book should also read Chinua Achebe (There Was a Country) who condemned the hostage-taking of Italian oil firm workers as a tactical blunder by Biafran troops that cost them a lot of goodwill internationally. He called on all Africans to revive the greatest contribution of Africans to political strategy and philosophy – the discourse of Ubuntu or Mbari which Mahatma Gandhi claimed that he learned as non-violence from the war-like Zulu in South Africa. Martin Luther King Jr. echoed these thoughts in 1967 at the outbreak of the Biafra war which coincided with the climax of the Civil Rights Movement in America, the Vietnam War and the anti-apartheid movement, in three speeches on the theme of a 'World House' that was inherited by distant relatives of different races, religions and classes who must learn to love peace and end violence before violence puts an end to them (Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

What the militants in the Niger Delta want more than anything else is a fair distribution of the revenues from oil and the protection of the environment but if these can be guaranteed by the Nigerian government and by the oil companies, there will be no question about the criminality of the kidnapping of workers for ransom, the killing of citizens with explosives or the damage of the environment in the name of resistance. The late President Umaru Yaradua heeded this kind of logic by abandoning the militarist strategy of his predecessor, General Olusegun Obasanjo whose security forces committed massacres in Odi in the Niger Delta and in Zaki Ibiam in Benue State, and instead initiated the 50 billion Naira amnesty program for the rehabilitation of the ex-insurgents who gave up their arms. Such a program of reparative justice should be extended to the survivors of the mass violence by the state and insurgents alike by allocating generous resources as a fund for reparations for the continued killing by militants, terrorists, cultists and by the state all over the country.

This can be partly achieved by setting aside at least 10% of the budget annually to be awarded to the citizens as grants for them to invest as they see fit while using the rest to develop basic infrastructures in the country rather than embezzle the bulk selfishly and use token sums to settle insurgent commanders. Nigerians should also look beyond their own ethnic interests and collectively demand that the Nigerian state should atone for the Igbo genocide that evidently brutalized the consciousness of the nation so much that the slaughter of students in their dormitories, the killing of worshippers or the kidnapping of babies and workers for ransom could be seen as legitimate by some selfish or deluded groups and individuals.

The South American countries that followed the path of guerrilla warfare for decades have since transitioned power to the former rebels through the ballot while the violent method has achieved nothing in the Niger Delta except to force the release of one corrupt politician from detention or win the release of one insurgent commander from jail. Given the hundreds of billions that are annually allocated to the Niger Delta states by the Nigerian federation, the militants could democratically win control over such budgets and use them to transform their localities rather than encourage the kidnapping and killing of workers in Nigeria, including foreign employees of oil companies that they xenophobically call ATM but rarely kill unlike their Nigerian counterparts that tend to be wasted by their predatory abductors. The fact that they describe kidnapped workers as ‘enemy combatants’ is an indication of how much they mimic the ideologies of the war on terror by the international community.

In the light of the recognition of the exceptional tolerance that Wole Soyinka (Of Africa) identified as characteristically African, the Niger Delta ex-insurgents should renounce their past violent strategies against workers, go beyond their narrow focus on the Niger Delta and utter neglect of the suffering of other Nigerians in other parts of the country and other Africans with whom we should unite to build a more viable Peoples Republic of Africa, and desist from their inexcusable destruction of the environment as ‘collateral damage’ in the greed for ransom from oil companies and from the state just to enable a certain  ‘Mr. Government’ to offer them patronage which he is capable of continuing to dish out anyway from the profits of the pipeline security contracts that were awarded to him as part of the amnesty agreement. They too should consider the non-violent strategy of Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr. and the Ogoni who successfully sued a major oil company in the US and won some damages but without taking workers hostage, bombing them or spilling oil through the inexcusable and irresponsible damaging of pipelines for profit. Kidnapping workers and killing some to extort ransoms is bad enough but to target the members of one of the most radical trade unions in Nigeria, National Union of Petroleum Energy and Gas employees, who paid huge prices for their opposition to military rule when most of the so-called militants were nowhere to be found, deserves to be condemned by scholar activists for the neo-fascist opportunism that it represents.

This book, in short, demonstrates that there is no heroic exploit in exploitation – a term that is used interchangeably to refer to the extraction of natural resources and to the exploitation of workers in the English language. Oriola carefully avoids using the term, resource exploitation, preferring to talk about extraction while the villagers and ex-insurgents were more likely to call the spade of exploitation the spade of exploitation. The Canadian First Nation people, the Innu, also have a story that Joseph Campbell included in his classic, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, about the raven who tricked the native people and made them run away so that he could have the carcass of a whale cow all to himself. That was not heroic because the greedy raven could never consume all that meat by himself and would more likely watch the meat rot and waste to damage the environment or stuff himself into the chronic illnesses associated with affluenza or excessive consumption.

The lesson of Criminal Resistance is that criminologists should not focus exclusively on street crimes when the macro analysis of political criminality could make more original contributions to knowledge. The ‘denouement’ that Ken Saro Wiwa warned against at his conviction and subsequent execution for the murders of Ogoni chiefs that he did not commit is also a self-fulfilling prophecy of the brutalization effect of capital punishment which tends to escalate violence than deter it wherever it is applied and therefore the death penalty should be abolished. In spite of a damning report by Amnesty International in October 2013 to mark the international day for the abolition of capital punishment, Nigeria under a president from the Niger Delta, Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, is pursuing the resumption of capital punishment instead of joining the enlightened world to abolish the barbaric punishment that contributes to the normalization of violence in Nigeria.

Dr. Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Tech.


SKC Ogbonnia said...

Prof Agozino,

Frankly, the Oil & Gas industry has been too thirsty of a truly independent research on the problem of kidnapping in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. And it is clear from your well documented review that the book, Criminal Resistance? The Politics of Kidnapping Oil Workers by Dr. Oriola, will go along way in filing that vacuum.

Although I have not read the book, but later will; your added insight brings to fore the underlying challenges that many previous works have attempted to gloss over in the difficult problem of kidnapping in Nigeria, particularly in the broader dynamics of crime and criminology. I also liked how you were able to highlight the potential strengths and weaknesses of the research approach adopted by the author and, in the process, presented a frame work of ideas for future scholars.

Not lost in the review is the eye-opening claim that the oil sector accounts for far less in Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings than the 80% being drummed in the global economic indexes. But one should not worry much about the numbers here. The fact is that, apart from its booming population, Nigeria’s relevance in the global economy is tied to the Oil & Gas industry. Further, I cannot wait to see how the author tackled the debate between the proponents of non-violent and violent methods of bringing progress and peace in the area.

Finally, I couldn’t but duff my hat where you wrote:

“This can be partly achieved by setting aside at least 10% of the budget annually to be awarded to the citizens as grants for them to invest as they see fit while using the rest to develop basic infrastructures in the country rather than embezzle the bulk selfishly and use token sums to settle insurgent commanders.”

Yes, President Olusegun Obasanjo once hinted that the problem of Niger Delta has never been lack of funds; it is being able to prudently manage the funds being budgeted to the region toward the desired ends. Such objective view underscores why your current proposition for direct grants to the natives deserves every attention. But the problem, though it may appear simple, is this: Given its history, can Nigeria produce an accurate census of the indigenes of Niger Delta?

Thanks for sharing!

SKC Ogbonnia
Executive Chairman
First Texas Energy Corporation
Houston, Texas

Odozi Obodo said...

Dr Ogbonnia, Thanks for your generous comments on the review essay. I am pleased to know that an energy company executive like you found the time to do such a deep appreciation of the essay in a short time despite your busy schedule.

You rightly noted the over-estimation of the contributions of the oil sector to the GDP as a cause for concern given that the true picture should persuade the country to invest more in agriculture if only because it employs many more citizens than the oil sector could ever attempt.

I am pleased to know that you liked my 10% direct grants proposal and I hope that officials will follow your nod and implement this as part of revenue allocation, not just in the Niger Delta but throughout the country at all tiers of government.

Finally, I hope that when you read the book you will see that the author himself reported that many villagers were critical of the violent kidnapping of workers and the damaging of the environment by some insurgents and that even an ex-insurgent commander also rejected the purely criminal strategy that violence had become.

Let us hope that the oil companies will become better corporate citizens with a fraction of the billions of dollars that they spend annually on 'security' in addition to sponsoring state violence as the book alleges and let us hope that the state officials will abandon the kleptocracy and militarist repression strategies and instead pursue more of the non-violent and democratically accountable alternatives that promise more progress for the region and for the entire country.

Thanks for being generous with your time.

Keron King said...

Really encouraged by this review . Hope to continue the struggle for a post colonial criminology through my own work in the Caribbean

Keron King said...

Really encouraged by this review and your brief insight into the book. The discussion on the theoretical approaches was my big take-away. I hope to continue the struggle to develop a post colonial criminology through my work in the Caribbean.

Odozi Obodo said...

Bro Keron, Thanks for your support. I thought of you while developing the arguments on violence v. non-violence because you had developed under my supervision, an innovative application of the principle of non-violence beyond resistance to the policing of the post-colonial community as the policing of brothers (and sisters), not a colonial army of occupation by aliens. Keep up the good work. Massa Day Done!