Militant Masks: Youth and Insecurity in the Niger Delta
Professor David Pratten (University of Oxford)
Youth in contemporary Nigerian parlance, has become a term of exclusion and nowhere in West Africa are issues of youth and equity more sharply focused than in south-eastern Nigeria and the oil-producing areas of the Niger Delta. This paper concerns the mechanisms by which young people in southern Nigeria deal with and are engaged in a context of radical insecurity. It focuses on agaba, a group that has expanded its membership across the multi-ethnic coastal plain of south-eastern Nigeria since the late 1990s. Agaba members are regularly linked with electoral violence and urban gang conflict, and have been variously framed as 'masqueraders', as 'area boys', and as 'local militia'. Drawing on ethnographic research on agaba in the city of Calabar, this paper examines how marginalised youth enter into relations with state authority that combine elements of complicity, insurgency, monitoring and violence. These micro-politics of vigilance are based on knowledge of the states' patrimonial 'ways of operating' and processes which define internal, localized rights, registers and styles of action. The paper argues that rather than normatively loaded concepts of 'generative' or 'insurgent' politics, the concept of vigilant politics enables us better to understand the practices by which youth deploy their own marginalised status to insert themselves into Nigeria's rentier state.
Joint session with Civic Matter: Infrastructure as Politic
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Part of the City Seminar Research Group series