47 Resistance as advocacy in the oil fields of Nigeria

This article was written in May 2012[1]

Fossil fuels extraction is extremely destructive to the environment and to the people. Whether crude oil, natural gas, coal or bitumen, their extraction means abuse of the people and the environment. Furthermore, their use means attacks on Mother Earth. Thus, the fossil-driven civilisation is a cannibal civilisation that eats up people.

The direct attacks on people and communities incubate resistance that manifest in different ways and continue to build up. Unfortunately, peaceful resistance to destructive extraction continues to be met with repression and criminalisation.

We see from the example of Ken Saro-Wiwa, martyred leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), that resistance can be conducted in a variety of ways. Mass movement building was the path chosen by the Ogoni people and this continues to inspire other peoples who have a clear objective situation that they wish to overturn.

For Ken Saro-Wiwa, cultural revival was an essential tool. He saw the basic need to fight for the dignity of the people and respect for their cultural milieu with tools including drama, poetry and fiction.

Cultural tools are indeed ready vehicles for spreading messages and communicating with wide and diverse audiences. The power of music and poetry as well as other art forms to shape public opinion and cultural direction is well known. For a people impacted by an average of one oil spill per day and with toxic wastes dumped into their environment, resistance is an inescapable route to survival.

In the history of repression of oil field communities in Nigeria, the major offence of the people remains their consistent call for dialogue and repair of the harm visited on them. The response to the people’s call for dialogue with Shell at Umuechem in 1990 led to the destruction of a large swatch of the community as well as the murder of several community people. In 1998 the call by dialogue by Ilaje youths in Ondo State of Nigeria received no attention from Chevron until the youths occupied the Parabe platform in a peaceful direct action. The response was a commando style attack of the armless youths by the military conveyed in Chevron’s helicopters. In the attack on 28 May 1998, two youths were shot dead, others were injured and both the living and the dead were carted into custody.

Women of the Niger Delta remain a formidable, selfless part of the resistance to the environmental degradation and livelihoods decimation by the oil companies in Nigeria. Their involvement in the struggle hinges on the historical heroic stance of Nigerian women. It grew in the women’s wing of MOSOP and reached new heights among the Ijaw women who occupied Chevron’s flow-stations between 2002 and 2003 and who in 2011 occupied bridges at Edagberi/Betterland (in Ahoada West, Rivers State, Nigeria) to block access of Shell to their facilities.

The demands of the women have remained largely the same: respect and dignity for them and their communities, clean water and basic infrastructure, jobs for their husbands and sons. In utter desperation the women have been forced to deploy what has been termed ‘the naked option’ – stripping in protest, as the ultimate display if disgust at an industry that ignores the people and the environment and focuses on nothing apart from profit and power.

Although much of what the world hears of the resistance in the oil fields of the Niger Delta has to do with the violent militancy of 2005-2009, the truth is that there has been a consistent resistance through mobilisations against gas flaring, for example, has galvanised signatures from around the world to tackle the menace. Currently thousands of citizens from around the world are signing petitions demanding that Shell cleans up the mess they have piled up in the Niger Delta.

Communities are also forming themselves into networks, eliminating inter-community conflicts and monitoring and reporting incidents in their territories as a key means of environmental defence. Litigations have also been used in efforts to make the oil recalcitrant companies and collaborating State agents and agencies to listen to reason. Such cases have been pursued in courts both in Nigeria and in the home countries of the transnational companies.

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