Coal Sector Revitalization, Community Memory, and the Land Question in Nigeria: A Paradox of Economic Diversification?


  • Ikechukwu Umejesi


In 1999, the Nigerian government unveiled new policies aimed at revitalizing the mining, agricultural, tourism, financial services, and manufacturing sectors in a broader effort to diversify the national economy. While this was a response to the reality of underdevelopment in the country, it was also a response to research that has attributed the country’s developmental and governance failures to decades of over-dependence on its vast petroleum resources. The new plan has attracted unprecedented attention from foreign and local mining firms to previously under-exploited minerals such as coal, gold, tin, bitumen, talc, limestone, uranium, asbestos, limestone, and iron ore (known collectively in Nigerian government and business circles as “solid minerals”). Using the coal industry as a case study, this article looks beyond the “economic diversification” objectives of resource sector reforms and interrogates coal sector revitalization against narratives of entitlement, land dispossession, and repossession in the mining communities. The central question is: how does privatization impact on the revitalization process, and what role does community memory and material interests in land play in the emerging conflict between the mining communities and the Nigerian state? The analysis is based on ethnographic data obtained in the South-eastern Nigerian town of Enugu-Ngwo, the country’s premier coal mining community. The article also draws lessons from the Nigerian petroleum sector.