Jean-Michel Basquiat and Nsibidi

Jean-Michel Basquiat was explicitly influenced by nsibidi designs and used many in his works, including anaforuana. Nsibidi is an ancient ideographic writing system mostly used by ‘secret’ men’s societies in southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon. Before the 20th century it was widely used by the general public for communication purposes, including for ‘love’ notes, and [body] decoration; nsibidi was transported to the Caribbean by Efik, Ibibio, Ejagham, and Igbo speakers where it influenced the creation of anaforuana (Cuba) and vévé (Haiti). Flash of the Spirit by Robert Thompson was Jean-Michel’s favourite book on African art history (via The Radiant Child) which has significant information about nsibidi. Several sources also make the link between his works and nsibidi, particularly in Grillo (1984) above. Nsibidi is all over the work, but I’ve circled out in red the ones that stood out to me. He also wrote out ‘NSIBIDI’ in this drawing.

Here is a textbook example of lazy western journalism.

The Guardian recently published an article on Boko Haram. However, the lead image they used was from the Niger Delta. The image is of a pipeline explosion and people on a canoe. I’ve been around my fair share of photo and newsdesk editors, so I know how they think. The writer of the article probably had nothing to do with the image, that was most likely an editor’s decision. The editor probably only used this image because it has an explosion, even though the explosion has nothing to do with Boko Haram and the location of the pictured explosion is not even in the same region of Nigeria where Boko Haram operates. It’s literally at opposite ends of the country. But any picture of an explosion will do.

This is what happens when you don’t have diverse newsdesk editors. No Nigerian (or anyone with a cursory knowledge of Nigeria) would make this kind of mistake.

The same thing goes on with white journalists who are supposed “West Africa experts”, yet they don’t know the difference between Nigerian and Nigerien. Despite these constant mistakes, these white people all have jobs. There are black people who have been fired for far less.

Niger Delta Avengers

Militancy Re-emerges in Nigeria’s Oil-Rich Niger Delta

Gas flares burn from pipes at an oil flow station operated by Nigerian Agip Oil Co. Ltd., a division of Eni SpA, in Idu, Nigeria, in September. Nigeria was Africa’s biggest oil producer before attacks shrunk production. Photo: George Osodi.

For the last couple of months a militant group in the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria have been destroying oil pipelines and facilities owned by international oil companies and have achieved their goal of crippling the Nigerian economy.

A summary: The Niger Delta Avengers have managed to quickly reduce Nigeria from the first to the second oil-producing African state after Angola and the country has gone into recession, the groups activities are also affecting global oil prices. The ‘Avengers’ are demanding a sovereign state in the Niger Delta with complete control of their resources, primarily oil which is Nigeria’s main industry and which the federal government of Nigeria largely relies on. The ‘Avengers’ movement is heavily associated with the deepening north-south divide in Nigeria; the last president Goodluck Jonathan was from the Niger Delta in the south and the current president Muhammadu Buhari, a former dictator, is from the north and has been accused by some of filling in key positions in the military and the Nigerian government with northerners. In 2015 the current president stated that he cannot treat everybody equally and that the areas of Nigeria who gave him 97% of his votes (mostly in the northern areas) would receive priority in his presidency over those who gave him 5% (the south east where the Niger Delta is).

A fish farmer stands among a polluted environment in the Niger Delta caused by oil bunkering and the operations of international oil companies. Photo: George Osodi.

The Niger Delta Avengers have emerged primarily as a result of the long degradation and poverty in the oil-rich Niger Delta areas, they are only the latest militant group in the area after other militant groups were given an amnesty deal during the last presidency; since the ‘Avengers’ recent activities other militant groups, some more aggressive, have emerged. The Nigerian armed forces have tried intercepting the group, but the groups guerilla tactics have caused the Nigerian armed forces to pull out of the swampy delta. So far civilians have not been the target of the ‘Avengers’ and they consider the battle to be between them and the Nigerian government; many people in Nigeria especially in the delta areas are supportive of the militants. They are increasingly being associated with the Biafran agitation in eastern Nigeria where a side of Nigeria is agitating for independence from Nigeria. This is a summary of their demands and activities via international and Nigerian news organisations:

Who are the Niger Delta Avengers?

[…] The militants say they do not want to spill blood. But they are heavily armed and in communication with angsty independence campaigners in the south-eastern region which calls itself Biafra. Smaller groups are popping up all over the Delta. Nigeria is already fighting one war, against Boko Haram jihadists in the north-east. It cannot afford another in the south. At its peak, oil accounted for 75% of government revenue—in the first quarter of this year that figure had fallen to just over 50%. As things stand, the attacks might cost Nigeria 40% of this year’s crude earnings. Local banks, which are exposed to indigenous producers, are clocking up bad debts. Power plants, which rely on gas to fuel their turbines, are turning on fewer lights than normal (which is a feat). The best hope will be a negotiated solution. Yet even that would not solve the fundamental problem: unless Nigeria pulls more of the Delta out of poverty, a new group will soon spring up.

The Economist explains, June 30th, 2016.

Keep reading


Poison Fire - A short film about the Niger Delta region in Nigeria.


The Niger Delta is an environmental disaster zone after fifty years of oil exploitation.   One and a half million tons of crude oil has been spilled into the creeks, farms and forests, the equivalent to 50 Exxon Valdez disasters, one per year. Natural gas contained in the crude oil is not being collected, but burnt off in gas flares, burning day and night for decades. The flaring produces as much greenhouse gases as 18 million cars and emits toxic and carcinogenic substances in the midst of densely populated areas. Corruption is rampant, the security situation is dire, people are dying.  But the oil keeps flowing.

Poison Firefollows a team of local activists as they gather “video testimonies” from communities on the impact of oils spills and gas flaring. We see creeks full of crude oil, devastated mangrove forests, wellheads that has been leaking gas and oil for months. We meet  people whose survival is acutely threatened by the loss of farmland, fishing and drinking water and the health hazards of gas flaring. 

We also meet meet with Jonah Gbemre, who took Shell to court over the gas flaring in his village and won a surprise victory in the court.

Ifie Lott travels to the Netherlands to attend Shell’s Annual General Meeting. She wants to ask a simple question:  Is Shell going to obey the court order and stop flaring?  There is a demonstration outside  the meeting hall. Shell’s CEO shows up for the photo op and shakes her hand, and she meets the MD of Shell-Nigeria, Basil Omiyi.  She asks him about the spills and the flaring. He patiently explains Shell’s policies and efforts for social development, but what he says is at odds with reality on the ground.

Back in the Delta, Ifie returns to the communties and shows the taped interview with Omiyo to the victims of the oil industry…

Shell ignored the federal high court ruling. The oil companies continue the illegal gas flaring. Shell has set its own “flares out” deadline to end of 2009. But they have kept saying “next year” for a decade, and in the Delta nobody believes them.

Meanwhile, the oil keeps flowing.

Poison Fire

The Cost of Oil to Nigeria

“Nigeria is the world’s 8th largest producer of crude oil, yet remains one of its poorest nations — an estimated 70 percent of its 150 million residents live below the poverty line. The environment is paying a steep price as well. An estimated 500 million gallons of oil have spilled into the delta — the equivalent of roughly one Exxon Valdez disaster per year,” according to The Atlantic. The American magazine has printed 31 images (from various sources) that illustrate the negative effects of oil production, both “legal” and illegal, on the environment and the people of Nigeria’s Niger Delta. So bad is the practice of gas flaring that the flares are so prevalent, the Niger Delta appears brightly lit (the lower left) in a detail from a NASA image of the Earth taken at night. Below is that image and a few others from the set.


The Supreme Court has agreed to review a decision by a lower court that denied a hearing on the merits of an infamous “torture suit” against Royal Dutch Shell Plc for its alleged actions in Nigeria at a time when government was violently suppressing citizen protests in the Niger Delta.

Families of seven of the Nigerians executed by the government of Pres. Sani Abacha for organizing against Royal Shell claim that the oil company colluded in torture and paid for weapons and soldiers to end the opposition to oil exploration in the region between 1992 and 1995.

The plaintiffs in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell) were the relatives of playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dr Barinem Kiobel and other Ogoni leaders imprisoned, tortured and executed in the mid-1990s. Their crime was protesting the environmental devastation associated with Shell’s long tenure in the region.

Judge José A. Cabranes of the Manhattan-based federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals, writing for the 2-1 majority, ruled that transnational corporations who participate in gross human rights abuses cannot be held responsible for torture, genocide, war crimes and the like because, as corporations, their activities fall outside the jurisdiction of international law.

[read more]