Between Resource Plenty and State Failure

Connections of Oil Business, Violence & Corruption in Nigeria

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2009

39 Pages, Grade: 2,0















Mineral wealth and concomitant phenomena of violence state weakness and corruption have been widely brought into contact by numerous scholars, as a considerable number of empirical cases seem to give evidence to this. Particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa the examples of Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola - just to mention some of the most striking ones - led to various hypotheses about the influence of resource plenty on governance issues. Due to several specific characteristics, the case of Nigeria is different to many others. First of all, the Federal Republic of Nigeria turned out to be Africa’s most populous state with about 140 million citizens. In addition the social situation is rather unique, as Nigeria consists of more than 250 ethnic groups1. The more than 500 spoken languages spoken in the country2 further illustrate the socio-cultural diversity. Nevertheless the three major communities3 include more than two thirds of the country’s total population.

On the socio-economic dimension a key feature is the overwhelming importance of oil as almost single export good and major contributor of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)4. The strong dependence on oil has been challenging Nigeria’s economy considerably and can be seen as a major reason for socio-economic disparities throughout the country, not to forget that it has been the origin for its ‘(political) Dutch disease’5. Contrarily to other so-called ‘crisis-states’ the main issues threatening statehood and stability in Nigeria can be rather seen as domestic problems6. Transnational issues like the relations with Cameroon do not have the same structuring quality as in other states7.

Although Nigeria improved in Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of 20088 the country still faces ‘institutionalized’ clientelism and rent-seeking at almost each political and social level as poor performance in ‘group grievance’, ‘delegitimization of the state’ or ‘factionalized elites’ may illustrate9. Secondly manifold forms of institutional and informal violence are destabilizing the socio-political architecture. Various attempts to counter those phenomena have been ineffective10 or implemented insufficiently, sometimes not at all11. The result is a current situation of disorder, human insecurity, economic inequality fed by a prosperous environment for individual enrichment provided by a state which is rather effective in facilitating illicit political and economic behaviours, be they plundering of public goods, drug or weapon trade or other12.

The following paper is supposed to give a framework of Nigeria’s socio-political situation, based on the major hypothesis that resource plenty can lead to institutional weakness and the emergence of violence and corruption being first steps towards state failure. On the theoretical side, approaches by Robert I. Rotberg, William Reno, Paul Collier and Jean-François Bayart will be revisited to have a more complete and partly interdisciplinary view on the central hypothesis as possible explanations might not be found just considering exclusively political explanations.

After that the specific traits of Nigeria’s post-colonial political economy and social structure will be taken into account in the assessments. The empirical chapters include a look on post-colonial history and politico-economic development as well as an examination of the violence-corruption complex, intervening external factors followed by a look at the Niger Delta.


The following approaches will be examined in a rather theoretical manner in order to make them applicable for the analysis of Nigeria’s current situation. To make sure addressing the most significant issues, four different approaches have been chosen. The first one serves as a kind of classification tool, whereas the following include more detailed assumptions and share the underlying importance of primary resources. Due to space these might not be presented in their full length but in a way that allows a subsequent analysis in transparent manners.


Defining weak statehood, state failure or state collapse scholars face various analytical problems. The exact conceptual distinction of weak, vulnerable, failing, failed and a collapsed state is a rather subjective one13 and relies strongly on chosen indicators and their gradual forming. Nevertheless one needs to give a reliable framework in order to shape the used definitions.

Robert I. Rotberg has given a broadly accepted classification of the mentioned phenomena14. It relies on the basic hypothesis of the state existing “to provide a decentralized method of delivering political (public) goods to persons living within the designated parameters (borders)”15. Within this framework the state operates in a wide frame of “dimensions”16 structured naturally by the specific situation in which he is acting but as well relying on the “hierarchy of political goods”17. “(T)he supply of security”18 turns out to be the most important one. Beyond human security (with the notion of territorial security) other political goods, including “methods of adjusticating disputes and regulating (…) norms and (…) mores” and “the right to participate”19, are meant to be central ones a state is responsible to offer. The institutional set-up and condition is crucial at this point and “institutional weakness is a constant”20. Going further “medical and health care”, “schools and educational instruction”, “roads, railways, harbors and other physical infrastructures”, “communication networks”21, and various basic requirements for promising economical activity22 followed by an equitable “sharing of the environmental commons”23 are qualified as political goods.

As it turns out to be difficult to measure this hierarchical frame, Akude offers an alternative built on the monopolisation of three instruments, verbatim “violence, taxation (including resource extraction) and law making”24. An example would be a state losing its monopoly of violence in the legal area. As soon as the principle of general rule of law and independent jurisdiction vanishes, or this ‘rule of law’ becomes irrelevant, personal enrichment and clientelist politics become easier, as the ruling elites have been creating an environment free from accountability and other control mechanisms.

To answer the question whether a state is rather strong or weak, the whole set of mentioned goods is necessary. The logic behind this is obvious. It is argued that “weak states show a mixed profile”25, hence a state may perform very well in providing security while not providing participation to its citizens26. In order to distinguish between ‘weak’, ‘failing’, ‘failed’ and ‘collapsed’ states the defined ‘political goods’ have to be taken into consideration. Whereas ‘strong states’ “deliver a full range and a high quality of political goods to their citizens”27 ‘weak states’ are generically weak to some extent, but they also may only perform suboptimal in certain aspects. To measure the weakness of states Rotberg suggests various internationally accepted indicators including GDP per capita, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI), TI’s CPI or the Freedom of the World Report offered by Freedom House28.

In cases where weakness is accompanied by intense violence and warring fractions, acting against government, states may be characterized as ‘failed’ or ‘collapsed’. Thereby “the enduring character” and “the consuming quality” of the occurring violence is important rather than “the absolute intensity”29 and “there is no failed state (…) without disharmonies between communities”30. This does not necessarily mean that conflicts have to be based necessarily on ethnic, religious or linguistic issues alone. Rather these ‘cleavages’ can be seen as an arena in which a non-provision of political goods is feedbacked31. Among further indicators of state failure, “criminal violence” and the “geographical expanse genuinely controlled”32 play a role. A core part of Rotberg’s argumentation consists of the notion that failed states are “not longer able or willing” to fulfil their responsibilities. Both conditions are of a very different nature, but can equally be the reason why a state can lose its legitimacy33. In the case of Nigeria the question of ability and will cannot be answered with certainty, especially as it is not a very classical example of a ‘weak’ or ‘failed’ state. Just as little, one can measure failure only by aggregate data sets, as another principal factor derives from the idea that relational allocation of political goods within the state plays a structuring role. Above all the grade of weakness is not stable in relation to time.34


This concept refers to a definition elaborated by William Reno35. Whilst concepts of ‘weak statehood’ emphasize in what is occurring within institutional frameworks, this approach is rather interested in the extra-institutional field. He used the term ‘shadow state’ to describe a political environment characterized by the existence of a sphere located parallel to the official and institution-based state. This ‘shadow state’ is “a very real, but not formally recognized, patronage system that was rigidly organized and centered on rulers’ control over resources”36. Thus, in a ‘shadow state’ formal institutions are substituted by private networks used by - mostly autocratic - rulers for distinct purposes. Ironically, as Akude argues, “external recognition is [still] the basis of authority”37 forasmuch as “shadow states have judicial, but seriously lack empirical sovereignty and even legitimacy”38. Yet, that recognition implies no further need to develop domestic legitimacy, as a regime “gathering critical resources either from superpower patrons or from investors willing to invest”39 is no longer dependent on taxation of domestic productive sectors40. As in the majority of Sub-Saharan states41 primary resources represent a basic means of power allocation, ruling elites are tempted to shift the level of control away from bureaucracy to the informal area. Within this area there is no more transparency of action and “independent tendencies among elites”42 as key feature of ‘democratic statehood’ becomes quite unlikely. The ruling regime can be seen as a pivotal point of politics whereas institutions, which are supposed43 to offer general access to areas of public interest, are deprived of their abilities and responsibilities.

This amounts to a kind of ‘capture’ of the state allowing a pursuit “of power through purely personal means. This pursuit becomes synonymous with and indistinguishable from their private interests”44. Such interests do not end with the private allocation of wealth. It is rather a distinctive form of rule in ‘weak states’, as in Sub- Saharan Africa institutional weakness has been inherited since colonialism. Hence, systems of “patronage”45 politics have been replacing bureaucratic arrangements, which have turned out to be very weak. In such systems rulers face the necessity to handle interests of one or several (groups of) clients46 in order to benefit from their support. Consequently, “private authority” of ruling elites overrides ideas of “collective authority”47. This leads to the important observation that the provision of goods in ‘weak states’ is not declining equally but as Reno points out, “inhabitants do not enjoy security by right of membership in a state”48, rather by membership of certain groups within the state. Other groups therefore tend to form similar set-ups, allowing extra-governmental leaders to pursue their motives by employing discourses of grievance.


In the analysis of post-colonial conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa various scholars have chosen economical explanations in assessing issues. In the specific case of Nigeria the term ‘war economy’ is to be used in a very careful way, as there is no classical civil war ongoing. Instead we face an opaque topography of conflict, which appears to be ethnically rooted49. Looking for the respective cleavages this is certainly part of the problems ethnical conflict however becomes quite unlikely when all concerned groups are treated equally. That leads to corruption and voluntarily ethnical politics as a major source of conflict and “economic motives in the acquisition of power”50 playing a role. Ethnicity therefore is more a means of creating inequality than a cause of conflict.

The same logics do matter in an approach tackled by Paul Collier, stating that a “useful conceptual distinction in understanding the motivation for civil war is that between greed and grievance”51. In the study of conflict the greed and grievance approach is traditionally used to explain the emergence and action of “rebel organisations”52 in the framework of ongoing civil wars. In the case of Nigerian politics it might be less applicable as the empirical set-up is rather unique compared to many other countries like Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia or Sierra Leone. The presence of a basic conflict rooted in the distribution of mineral crops nevertheless opens the field to assess the conflict following the assumptions delivered by Collier.

In all sorts of crises - even rather smoldering conflicts - grievance is a readily borrowed concept for insurgent movements. Leaders of such groups are likely to put this argumentation on their official agenda, because “narratives of grievance play much better with the international community”53 than any else. Collier therefore is “arguing that since both greed-motivated and grievance-motivated rebel organisations will embed their behavior in a narrative of grievance”54. Later on he offers an analytical framework to operationalize this dualism consisting of three main variables for the greed perspective:

“The most important one is the importance of export of primary commodity exports in […] GDP”55, due to several peculiar factors this kind of resources is rather “lootable”56 than manufactured goods. This can be traced back to comparative advantages in taxation as well as to the fact that the production is in most cases less expensive, speaking about oil an advantage would be “its high value relative to its costs of production”57 and the opportunities to control the neuralgic points of production and transfer with small troops. Further on, most of extractive primary commodities in contrast to manufactured goods “are generic rather than branded products”58 and therefore easier to sell on international markets than other goods. Other variables are based on the “proportion of young men in a society”59 as they are supposed to “join rebellions”60 rather than other social groups and linked to that “the amount of education”61, as Collier suggests that their “willingness […] to join a rebellion might be influenced by their other income-earning opportunities”62.

On the other side, grievance shall be examined by following factors: First and foremost - although Collier admits that being also a popular explanation for conflicts - he takes up “the extent to which society is fractionalized by ethnicity and religion”63 taking also into account that those “are not given, fixed phenomena, but social constructions. However they are rather slow to change.”64 Other indicators possibly related to this (though Collier does not directly suppose that) are the level of “economic inequality”65 and the “lack of political rights”66. Collier also suggests transparent methods for measuring the indicators67. The last grievance-related reference offered in the chapter this refers to, “focuses on government economic incompetence”68.

In his empirical - and quantitative - study Collier comes to the clear evidence that grievance is rather unlikely to drive conflicts but this does not imply that the Nigerian case will show some singular differences. As “resources can induce patronage politics”69 leading to corruption within bureaucracy and ruling elites and possibly also to violence against other groups, suspicion about grievance-motivated resistance may arise. Even though the mentioned “free-rider, coordination and time-consistency problems pose formidable obstacles to rebellions motivated purely by grievance”70 cases like the Ogoni rebellion in Niger Delta tend to be explained hardly without having a look to group grievances of the Ogoni community71. Or, taking into consideration Akude’s response to Collier, “the appropriateness of this assumption is however casuistically variable”72.


1 CIA World Factbook, at:

2 Ethnologue, at:

3 Igbo, Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba. See at factbook/geos/ni.html.

4 95% of foreign exchange earnings and about 80% of budgetary revenues. See at

5 for an explanation see: Wantchekon, Leonard/Lam, Ricky: Political Dutch Disease. (Manuscript). November 2002, at:

6 That refers to religious tensions in the North, the conflict in Niger Delta and numerous other regional

cleavages, mostly ethnically motivated or at least publicly ethnicized. The following paper cannot deliver an analysis of the whole conflict landscape in Nigeria and is therefore concentrated on issue where violence and corruption may appear in connection to oil business and political processes.

7 Cp. transnational war economy in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea or the Great Lakes conflict.

8 121st compared to 147th and 142nd rank in 2007 and 2006. See at: 3

9 These are analytical categories of the Foreign Policy Failed States Index 2008. See at:

10 i.e. the creation of more federal states.

11 i.e. the anti-corruption agenda by former President Olesegun Obasanjo.

12 Cp. i.e. Human Rights Watch: Criminal Politics: Violence, “ Godfathers ” and Corruption in Nigeria, at: 4

13 Cp. Akude, John Emeka: Governance and Crisis of the State in Africa. The Context and Dynamics of the Conflicts in West Africa. Adonis & Abbey, London 2009, pp. 29-30.

14 Rotberg, Robert I. (Ed.): When States Fail. Causes and Consequences. Princeton University Press, Princeton 2004, pp. 1-50.

15 Ibid, p. 2.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid, p. 3.

18 Ibid.

19 Both: Ibid.

20 at least concerning African states. See in: Akude, p. 31.

21 all three: Ibid.

22 A functioning financial system. Further explanation in: Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Akude, p. 32.

25 Rotberg. p. 4.

26 Though this might be a rather improbable case, but not an impossible one.

27 Ibid, p. 4.

28 Cp. Ibid.

29 Both: Rotberg, p. 5.

30 Ibid.

31 Therefore it can be helpful to look at the socio-cultural set-up of a state. As mentioned above, Nigeria is characterized by strong ethnic, religious and linguistic heterogeneities.

32 Ibid, p. 6.

33 Ibid, p. 9.

34 Further, more detailed illustration of concrete indicators (electricity and water supply, telecommunication and such) see Rotberg (pp. 1-45) or amendments made by Akude (pp. 29-35) as this cannot be shown in this paper due to space.

35 Reno, William: Warlord Politics and African States. Lynne Rienner, Boulder/London 1999 (a).

36 Reno 1999a, p. 2.

37 Akude, p. 71.

38 Ibid.

39 Reno, William: Shadow states and the Political Economy of Civil Wars, in: Berdal, Mats/Malone, David: Greed and Grievance. Economic Agendas in Civil Wars. Lynne Rienner, Boulder/London 2000, p. 45.

40 Cp. Ibid.

41 This also applies to the case of Nigeria.

42 Reno 1999a, p. 2.

43 at least in state-centric analysis schemes.

44 Ibid, p. 3.

45 Cp. Reno 1999a, p. 2 and Akude, p. 71-72.

46 I.e.: ethnic groups, militias or foreign investors.

47 Both: Reno 1999a, p. 3.

48 Ibid.

49 Cp. International Crisis Group: Nigeria: Ogoni Land after Shell. Africa Briefing N°54, September 2008, at:, p.

50 Akude, p. 96.

51 Collier, Paul: Doing Well out of War: An Economic Perspective, in: Berdal, Mats/Malone, David: Greed and Grievance. Economic Agendas in Civil Wars. Lynne Rienner, Boulder/London 2000, p. 91.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid, p. 92.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid, p.93.

56 Ibid.

57 Collier, Paul/Hoeffler, Anke: Resource Rents, Governance, and Conflict, in: The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Paradigm in Distress? Primary Commodities and Civil War), August 2005, p. 628.

58 Collier 2000, p. 94.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid.

61 Ibid.

62 Ibid.

63 Ibid, p. 95.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid.

66 Ibid, p. 96.

67 Cp. Ibid, p. 91-96.

68 Ibid, p. 96.

69 Collier/Hoeffler 2005, p. 632.

70 not, indeed, to greed-motivated rebellions. Collier, 2000, p. 99. 10

71 International Crisis Group The Swamps of Insurgency: Nigeria ’ s Delta Unrest. Africa Report N°115, August 2006 (a), at:, p. 4.

72 Akude, p. 97.

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Between Resource Plenty and State Failure
Connections of Oil Business, Violence & Corruption in Nigeria
University of Cologne  (Institut für Afrikanistik)
Konfliktherd Nigeria
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state, failure, violence, corruption, nigeria, state failure, resources, oil
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Christoph Vogel (Author), 2009, Between Resource Plenty and State Failure, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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