Neo-liberalism and Eco-Imperialism in Ogaga Ifowodo’s The Oil Lamp


Kazeem, A., ADEBUSUYI, A.


In recent years, African poetry has steadily grown responsive to some of the ecological challenges the continent is grappling with. The Nigerian poetic tradition known as Niger Delta poetry is perhaps the largest body of eco-poetry on the continent. As the emergence and surge in the volume of this poetry is inextricably linked to the growing despoliation of the ecosystem of the oil-rich Niger Delta, critical attention to the eco-conscious nature of the poetry has not been lacking. However, the representation of the political-economy of the activities of the oil companies in the poetry in relation to the state of the environment has been underexplored. This paper, therefore, examines the roles of multinational oil corporations, in cahoots with Nigerian political elites, in the devastation and neglect of the environment from which they draw huge profits. This is with a view to advancing scholarship on the poetry. Using Ogaga Ifowodo’s The Oil Lamp, this critical engagement shows that oil corporations deploy violent but subtle imperialistic tactics and neoliberal strategies to wreak devastation on the Niger Delta environment.


Neoliberalism, Imperialism, Niger Delta poetry, Ogaga Ifowodo, eco-poetry


About two decades ago, Slaymaker (2007) criticises literature from sub-Saharan Africa for its lack of ecological consciousness. He contends that both eco-literature and eco-criticism in the sub-region have not kept pace with environmental literature of the metropolitan centres. He buttresses his arguments with references to the writings from African writers and critics such as Niyi Osundare, Wole Soyinka, Femi Osofisan, Ngugi wa Thiong’O, Ali Mazrui Bessie Head, Ken Saro-Wiwa, among others and posits that their writing is not eco-conscious enough or do not preserve link with the metropolitan centre’s conception of eco-literature. Interestingly, Slaymaker’s position has attracted deserved critical responses, whether deliberately of coincidentally. For instance, Caminero-Santangelo (2007) argues that the assumptions that Slaymaker based his view on are essentially Anglo-American. He insists that such assumptions are inadequate to engage the African imagination of nature and environment in critical discourse. It is apparently on the same account that Nixon (2007:716), in “Environmentalism and Postcolonialism”, argues that “it is no longer viable to view environmental... as a Western luxury” and concludes that the claim that African Literature lacks environmental consciousness is jaundiced. Views such as these have also come from African critics. A very early one in this regard is Nfah-Abbenyi’s (2007) “Ecological Postcolonialism in African Women’s Literature”, where she shows how African women writers are environmentally conscious.


The Niger Delta region of Nigeria is home to more than 20 million people and more than forty ethnic groups (Ayuba, 2012). According to Orhero (2020: 5), the region was “originally made up of six states namely, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers before three more states: Abia, Imo and Ondo were added to sum the nine oil-producing states”. Evidently in the foregoing, the Niger Delta is made up of the oil producing states in Nigeria. These States massively contribute to the GDP of the country, every year. Relatively, Darah (2010:102) argues that the Niger Delta refers to the areas rich in crude oil, but in a state of devastation because of capitalist-oriented ecological issues.


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