Fuelling the Delta Fires, by Ayo Akinfe, is a timely publication which is based on the real situation in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta. Although the book is presented as fiction, many of the characters and situations will be known, at least to those familiar with the history and politics of the region over the past 20 years. Through the medium of fiction the author provides a detailed insight into the politics of oil and the rentier state, and the complexities - and very close relationship -between the Nigerian and state governments and the transnational oil companies, as well as with the militancy, which began to emerge around 2005. This tripartite relationship forms the essence of the story, which is told in the style of a fast-paced easy easy-to to-read suspense novel. Akinfe's knowledge of the region and the major players - government, oil transnationals and militants - is impressive. He shows a real understanding of the working of the Nigerian federal system, the corruption endemic in Nigerian politics in general and the oil sector in particular. One could say that Fuelling the Delta Fires is a political novel, in that embedded in the story is a critique of the Nigerian Government and multinational oil companies. The author's sympathies clearly lie with the people of the Niger Delta, including the militants.
The plot centres around the two main characters. Chief Tom-George, the would-be governor of Ijaw state, made his fortune as petroleum minister under a previous military dictatorship. In order to achieve his goal of becoming governor and gaining an even greater barrel of cash, he makes a financial pact with Mene Bene, the leader of one of the militant groups in the region, the Niger Delta Liberation Movement (NDLM). The closeness of the name Mene Bene makes me wonder whether this is a play on words from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, the largest of the militant groups. However, once he is governor and no longer needs the services of Mene Bene, things begin to go wrong. He loses control of Mene Bene and the NDLM, who become increasingly militant and desperate for cash now the governor's money has dried up. They soon realize that there is a potential bottomless barrel of cash to be made from the kidnapping of foreign oil workers and oil bunkering. Enter the multinational oil companies, who together with the military, the governor and the militants are all vying for the oil - whether legal or illegal.
Fuelling the Delta Fires is full of personal coups and counter coups, intrigue and betrayal. In parts it is wholly captivating and one feels on a roller coaster of action. Yet in others it becomes tedious - for example, the pages of speeches - and one becomes as bored as the audience, who begin to demand food and drinks and then walk out and go home. And this is one of the major faults of the book. In parts it is far too verbose with unnecessary detail. The style and language is often repetitive and lacks literary imagination and there are too many silly grammatical errors, all of which should have been addressed during the editing process.
Nonetheless, Fuelling the Delta Fires is an easy-to-read novel of suspense with intricately weaved cliffhangers and false leads. It is also an excellent and accurate portrayal of the workings of the Nigerian Government, multinational oil corporations and the politics of oil in the Niger Delta.
The author, Ayo Akinfe, is a London-based journalist who has worked as a magazine and newspaper editor for the last 20 years. Fuelling the Delta Fires is one of a series of novels aimed at highlighting Africa's sorry plight and the misleading image peddled about her.