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This study, REGIONAL ALIENATION IN HELON HABILA’S OIL ON WATER contains concise information that will serve as a framework or guide for your project work. The project study is well-researched for academic purposes and are usually provided in complete chapters with adequate References.



Table of Contents

Chapter One:


Background of the Study

Background of Helon Habila

Statement of the Problem

Theoretical Frameworks of the Study

Significance of the Study

Research Methodology

1.6       Scope of the Study

Chapter Two:

Literature Review

2.0       Reviews of Literatures

2.1       Alienation and Regional Alienation

2.2       Ecocriticism and Ecological Degradation/Imbalance

2.3       Marxism and Class Struggle

                                            Chapter Three:        

Causes and Consequences of Alienation in Oil on Water

3.1       Bad Governance and Negligence

3.2       Ignorance and Poverty

3.3       Destruction of Occupational and Communal Norm of the Region

3.4       Degradation of Place

3.5       Degradation of Innocence

Chapter Four:

Conclusion and Suggestions

4.1       Conclusion

4.2       Suggestions

Works Cited


Alienation, as portrayed in the Niger Delta novel of Helon Habila, is as a result of oil exploration and exploitation that thereby cause severe damages to the environment and ways of life in the oil rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The crises that occasioned the disenchantment and disillusionment in the novel’s settings originate from the 1950s, when the European businessmen and natural resources prospectors emerge in the place with technological tools and methods for natural resource (crude-oil) exploration. Since then, different crises have replaced the peaceful coexistence of the place.

This study applies Marxism and Ecocriticism which are the literary theories of analyzing place as they affect persons, environment and cultures. However, gas flares and oil spillage are found to have far more reaching effects on the physical and natural surroundings. It gives rise to corruption, moral pervasion, local and urban drift, massive pillage, underdevelopment, greed, insensitive leadership and above all, disregard for organic unity of all that exist.

This study establishes firmly how the environment and the economy of the actual Niger Delta region are mutually intertwined in the battle for control in Helon Habila’s Oil on Water (2012). While the government controls the economy, the people control the environment. But the issue is those who control the environment also control the economy. The government, therefore, employs economic power of the state to manipulate the environment to the extent that the people of that region become ‘alienated’. This discussion unravels the characters and situations that are disenchanted because the environment that should supply their commonwealth is exploited by those who control the economic power. Furthermore, this study evaluates the struggle for ‘resource control’ and suggests possible solutions that could reduce the severe hardships in the region.

Chapter One:


  • Background of the Study

Niger Delta is typically considered to be located within nine coastal southern Nigerian states, which include – all six states (Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta, Edo and Rivers) from the South-South geopolitical zone, one state (Ondo) from South-West geopolitical zone and two states (Abia and Imo) from South-East geopolitical zone. About one-third of this area is wetland, including the largest mangrove forest in the world, and fresh water swamp forest. Most of Nigeria’s oil comes from this heavily populated region (Ojefia, n.d:1).

Therefore, this study examines ways in which human living conditions in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria are treated as plotted in Helon Habila’s Oil on Water. The desire for this study of Oil on Water in relationship to Niger Delta environment is borne out of an extensive study of Niger Delta literatures. It is, moreover, borne, if not in part, out of keen interest to establish a disturbing fact that the people of other regions in Nigeria know little about the hostilities that rule the oil-producing states – specifically the South-South region of the country. The ‘alienation’ is considered ‘regional’ because the actual Niger Delta as plotted in the novel is filled with different forms of oil extraction, dumping and waste (which are not experienced in other regions of the country)  amounting to distresses at the Delta. The region and its environs are devastated as dire consequences await the people. Nevertheless, the degradation of the region which explains the background of this study reveals the reason that makes the Niger Delta environment to become the subject of modern Nigerian literatures and criticisms. Therefore, this is the background of the study. It is the reality of the erosion of human and environmental values by forces strange to the region that this study has drawn its background because the people are deprived from enjoying the natural resource (crude oil) thereby causing hopelessness in the region.

Background of Helon Habila

As culled from the free online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Helon Habila was born in Kaltungo, Gombe State, Nigeria in November 1967. He studied English Language and Literature at the University of Jos and lectured for three years at the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi.

In 1999, he went to Lagos to write for Hints magazine and then, moving on to Vanguard newspaper as a Literary Editor.  He moved, in 2002, to England where he was a Chevening Scholar at the University of East Anglia. Helon Habila taught Creative Writing at George Mason University. In 2005, he was invited by Chinua Achebe to become the first Chinua Achebe Fellow at Bard College, New York where he spent a year writing and teaching. He remained in United States after the fellowship as a Professor of Creative Writing at George Mason University.

In his writing career, he has written/published: Prison Stories in 2000, Waiting for an Angel (2002), Pretext Vol. 8 (2003), New Writing 12 (2003), NW12: The Anthology of New Writing (2006), Dreams Miracles, and Jazz: An Anthology of New Africa Fiction (2007), Measuring Time in 2007 and The Granta Book of the African Short Story (2011). His Oil on Water (which deals with environmental pollution in the oil-rich Nigerian Delta) was first published in United Kingdom, United States of America and Nigeria in 2010, 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Through his writings, he has also won many awards, including: Music Society of Nigeria (MUSON) National Poetry Award in 2000, Caine Prize for African Writing (2001), Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region, Best First Book) in 2003, Library of Virginia Fiction Prize (USA) and Emily Balch Prize both in 2008, Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region, Best Book) in 2011 and Windham-Campbell Literature Prize in 2015.

In his early days, Helon Habila grew up reading Nigerian books in Hausa and then Macmillan’s Pacesetters series. Growing up in a period of political dysfunction and military dictatorships in Nigeria, he, as a teenager in the 1980s, was motivated to rebel and fight against this notion. Therefore, his novels are stories of individuals discovering and dealing with loneliness, political corruption, brutality and violence, the enduring importance of freedom of expression and e.t.c.

From July 2013 to June 2014, Helon Habila was a DAAD Fellow in Berlin, Germany. He was appointed Chair of the Judging Panel for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature. He also teaches every summer in an annual creative writing workshop series in Nigeria – the Fidelity Bank International Creative Writing Workshop (Habila 2012: Cover Page).

Currently, Cordite Books (a publishing company) is jointly owned by Helon Habila and Parrésia Publishers. He lives in Virginia, America with his wife and children.


1.2       Statement of the Problem

Most critical studies on the issue of regional marginalization have been political, sociological and economical. There are few opinions from literary world on how human deprivation in the Niger Delta can be addressed. In a way, this study examines exploitation as well as the preponderance of alienation as they affect the oil rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria plotted in Oil on Water (2012). But degradations of the earth and its citizens, which are portrayed in Oil on Water, prove that human beings have not only lost control over activities in the environment but of the human persons as well.

Therefore, the devastation of the region (land), water and air, as well as the creatures – human beings included – within them and the impacts these destructions have on nature and human values are of serious concerns in this study. Having interrupted the value system of the people in the Delta, the oil explorers, government agents and highly placed indigenes of the region fail to combat the hardships experienced in the area and this makes the punishments that run its full course in the region unavoidable.

However, the problems portrayed in the novel are of the total negligence by the government authorities and agents of exploration. It is then expedient to agree with Ledum Mitee in Ugwu (2014:17) that “the fundamental problem of Niger Delta. . . remains the challenge posed by the very harsh environment which made development most challenging..” This is the reason this study is concerned about the conditions of the residents of Delta – who are at the receiving ends of the exploration – and flora and fauna in the physical environment of the Niger Delta. Undoubtedly, these are the problems ranging from the hostility in the Delta area and to the environmental perspectives. These prove the necessity for this study as it discusses the preponderance of alienation in Habila’s Oil on Water.

1.3   Theoretical Frameworks of the Study

This study is essentially based on Marxist theories and Ecocriticism that have their beginnings in the 19th and 20th century respectively and have flourished even to date. In other words, this study would attend to its inherent problems using Marxism and Ecocriticism as its critical polemics.

Marxist theory, on one hand, is a theory which examines the society as replete with struggle, exploitation and revolution. Otenaike in “Literary Criticism: Marxism and Feminism” opines that:

Marxist criticism of literature is aimed at promoting the kind of literature                                              which will help dismantle bourgeoisie (ruling class)                                                                    superstructure and enshrine egalitarian values…                                                                                                                                                  (Ayodele and other editors 2006: 324)

Consequently, this study would deploy the Marxist theory in establishing the ruling class machination (to have championed the alienation experience of the region), as depicted in the novel, in order to sensitize its readership about the dangers of capitalism. The ‘struggle’ and ‘exploitation’ which are identified by Marxism explains the argument of this discussion as the conflict, suffering and violence are predominant in a region that should be peaceful. This means that the aspect of Marxism which this study will utilize is the class machination in relation to its unforeseen consequences in the Niger Delta society.

In his essay titled – “Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism”, William Rueckert (1996:107) asserts that Ecocriticism, on the other hand, is “an application of ecological concepts to the study of literature”. It is generally known that Ecocriticism is the study of the sensitivity of literature to the environment which is common in many Niger Delta literatures – where Oil on Water is not an exception. In explaining ecological criticism, Chinonye Ugwu (2014:47) echoes Ursula Heise that “Ecocriticism analyses the role that the natural environment plays in the imagination of a cultural community. . .and the way in which the relationship between humans and nature is envisioned.” This means that the prosper aspect of Ecocriticism to be used is the degradation of the region as plotted in the novel as it affects the living conditions of the people.

In sum, the critical theories (Marxism and Ecocriticism) would help the study to discuss how the living conditions of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria are questioned and causing disillusionment. The considered perspectives of this writer, Helon Habila in Oil on Water, form the theoretical background of this study.

1.4       Significance of the Study

This study is significant because it highlights a novelist view on the issue of alienation in the marginalized region (Niger Delta) of Nigeria. It exposes the conditions that warrant the alienation experience that is identified with the oil rich Niger Delta.

Therefore, the significance of this study is traceable to the aims of the study: to examine the living conditions of the people in Niger Delta as portrayed by the writer; establish environmental degradation as an urgent in Nigeria; identify the results of an attempt to destroy a people’s cultural means of living and create a mono-economic system as seen in the novel; state the culpability of persons in authority in the heightening of the hellish conditions in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria; and lastly, to draw conclusions and suggestions for a better life to be realized in the region.


1.5       Research Methodology

The nature of this research makes it an entirely library-based study. With that, the basic methods of analyzing various issues in the text and contextual elements are employed in this study. The methods of analyzing the text contextually entail the observation of the text concomitantly with Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Furthermore, the analysis of the text include the deployment of sociological and ecological standpoints of relating characters, events and incidents to the novel chosen for this study.

To this effect, the primary literary source of research data is drawn from Oil on Water (2012). It is such that it has its merits in treating the identified problems of class struggles and degradation of the environment and how it informs actions and situations by characters therein. The text is considered primary as it reveals first hand experiences, as told by a young reporter – Rufus, in the area. It is from these experiences that the in-depth analysis of the problems is made relatively possible.

In relation to the primary source, data from other literatures which are considered secondary are used to enrich the study and thereby, situating the problems in their different contexts. The secondary data sources include environmental writings that deal with the issue of degradation. However, relevant data from other genres, namely: poetry, drama and mass media – newspapers, magazines and internet are equally utilized to further buttress the identified issues in the primary source (novel – Oil on Water). Similarly, to consider the nature of this study, views are garnered from authorities in other fields of study, for example biology (ecology) and geography. Finally, this study remains, however, a purely literary study of the fictional environment (setting) of the selected novel.

1.6   Scope of the Study

This study is a literary investigation of the literary environment of the novel – Oil on Water (2012). The experiences of the characters, considering the novel’s themes, help in exposing the problems. This study has its scope restricted within the boundaries of literary art. As such, views expressed in the chosen novel as primary source are hence supported by opinions of writers and critics from various related fields of humanities, social sciences and biological/clinical sciences. This study is intended to critically analyze the novel relating findings therein to existing literatures (secondary sources) as well as to marxist and ecocritical criticisms.


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