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Uzodinma (Uzo) Iweala is the author of Beasts of No Nation. The novel, his debut, came out of his undergraduate thesis work at Harvard and was conducted under the supervision[…]

Iweala talks about the complexity of Nigeria’s oil wealth.

Question: Nigeria and Oil: Blessing or Curse?

Uzodinma Iweala: It depends on who you ask. There are some people who will tell you oil is the greatest thing that ever happened to Nigeria. And there are other people who will tell you it’s the worst thing that ever happened. There are so many more issues and so many more levels to the conflict that are not discussed that if it’s going to be resolved, need to kind of be laid out on the table. And these go back into Nigeria’s history as a . . . you know as a nation; the way the country was constructed, the way the federal government was set up. Those go into the different ethnic groups that live in the oil producing regions. It goes into the interaction of the different ethnic groups in the country in general; like whether . . . like who . . . who has power, who doesn’t have power; how resources are shared amongst the states. It goes into the structure of the federal government and how money is allocated and spent. So there are so many issues that, if you wanted to deal with the oil issue, that have to be dealt with in addition. It’s not just simple . . . It’s not a simple just exploit . . . these are the bad guys, these are the good guys; because in this situation, really everybody is bad and everybody is good. It’s really one of those where you can’t separate it out. I mean you can find militant leaders who are “freedom fighters” who are busy bunkering oil and selling it on the black market. So who are they really helping, you know? You can find politicians who repre . . . “represent” people in this area who could really care less whether or not . . . who are from the place but could really care less whether or not anything happens. And you have people are . . . who have no connection who are really dedicated to try and find out how one can resolve the tensions in the area; how one can equitably share resources and make sure that everyone benefits from this resource that . . . that . . . that exists. So I mean the thing is the history of oil in Nigeria is really crazy and really interesting if you . . . if one reads about it and one sort of studies it. But I mean I’ve done a bit of reading about, again . . . about it. You know just sitting and talking to people about what’s going on in the Niger Delta, you get a fascin . . . Like if you were there in Nigeria and you asked, you’d get multiple perspectives – from these people are freedom fighters. They’re fighting for their . . . like they’re the ones who are gonna reform Nigeria; to it’s just a bunch of crooks; to, you know . . . You know I mean there’s so many different . . . there’s so many different perspectives that again, the telling of that story . . . It’s the telling of that story and making sure you get these perspectives, and making sure you get these different voices . . . that will, I think again, go a long way to helping people start . . . start to create a plan to resolve that situation.

Recorded on: 10/7/07