This paper presents an analytic narrative of three decades of oil and violence in Nigeria, assuming rational choice by all the actors. It argues that, in the 1980s and 1990s, the government had to choose between spending money on preventing pollution and terrorizing the population away from the Niger Delta states, where oil extraction is concentrated. Because of the uncertain outcome of out-migration, the latter solution seemed more efficient and was implemented by the military governments. However, xenophobic responses by the population in destination cities, where a lot of ethnic violence took place, proved out-migration to be much less attractive than expected. Niger Delta states’ populations ended up being trapped in their polluted environment where “oil bunkering” and racketeering oil firms turned out to be the only viable sources of income for many people. The implied dynamics of violence sheds some light on the switch to civilian rule that occurred in 1999.
TSE Working Paper, n° 09-034, mars 2009