LAGOS, NIGERIA – Subject to British rule since 1884, the independent Federal Republic of Nigeria wasn’t officially established until 1963. Guided by the colonial power, a federation was created from three distinct peoples – the Muslims in the North, the Yoruba in the Southwest, and the Igbo in the Southeast –, in a pattern repeated throughout the process of ‘decolonization’, where ethno-geographical divides were artificially confined within the same borders to make intrinsically unstable countries. Often excused as a way to encourage “regional and ethnic competition”, this strategy was pursued in order to facilitate the imposition of economic policies, preserving colonial interests without the formal colonial status.
Barely a year into the uneasy union, crude outputs skyrocketed from 84,000 barrels a day to more than 300,000 by 1965, making Nigeria one of the world’s top oil producers. Crucially, over 90% of this production flowed out of the southeastern region, home to the Igbo people and other minority ethnicities whose links to the northern elites that controlled the federal entity in Lagos were tenuous, at best. Once the black gold drew the likes of Gulf Oil, Mobil, and other foreign multinationals to the region, the built-in factional politics would be exploited to serve their interests.
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