Oil workers and oil communities:
counterplanning from the commons in Nigeria
Terisa E. Turner 1997
Terisa E. Turner teaches at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario.
Acknowledgements: I thank Daniel Ihonvbere for allowing me to use his 1992 fieldnotes on community actions against oil companies in Nigeria. I thank my students in the Politics of Africa courses at the University of Guelph, especially Sara Vance, Leanne Hagglund, Carol Dauda, Leigh Brownhill and Lara Babbie. I am deeply grateful to Craig Benjamin for his critical input and collaboration. I appreciate the Social Science and Humanities Research Council's contribution to funding research for this study. Abstract
This study examines the impact of the petroleum industry on relations between men and women in Nigeria's oilbelt communities. It examines the implications for Shell and other oil companies of an alliance of peasants and oil workers. Using 'gendered class analysis' and the results of fieldwork in the 1980s and 1990s, the study suggests that the indigenous insurrections in Ogoniland and elsewhere in southern Nigeria are characterized by solidarity between women who take the lead and certain men who support the women after having broken with those local men who collaborate with the state and foreign petroleum firms in a process which destroys the environment and allows for private appropriation of common wealth. The study considers how this 'gendered class alliance' organizes to confront the interests implicated in damaging and enclosing the commons. Such 'counterplanning from the commons' encompasses both the mobilization of the social movements such as the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and the transformations in gendered class relations which these movements seek.
Since the 10 November 1995 hanging of Nigerian writer and environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa along with eight others, a global campaign to boycott Shell and the Nigerian dictatorship has put the struggle of the Ogoni people on the international agenda. This study examines some of the dynamics of the rise and activities of the broad social movement of oilbelt indigenous peoples, with a focus on the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and its intersection with Nigerian oil workers. Among the purposes of this treatment are to delineate the gendered class alliance at the heart of the new social movement for environmental Sustainability and reparations; to reveal the ways in which major oil companies in conjunction with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund radicalize and internationalize the indigenous initiatives and finally, to suggest some theoretical innovations for the analysis of gender relations and the transformational politics of the unwaged.
The discussion is organized into six sections. Section one considers how we can theorize the rise of indigenous social movements in the context of neoliberal restructuring. Section two presents historical antecedents of contemporary women's insurgency. Section three focuses on 'counterplanning from the commons' by various peasant communities in the oil region, notably the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and its women's affiliate, the Federation of Ogoni Women's Associations. Section four focuses on the 1994 oil workers' strike and its participation in the indigenous environmental movement. Section five examines the military's counter-insurgency responses to the social movement and strikes, including the hanging of the Ogoni Nine and the internationalization of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. Section six concludes by revisiting theory and considering the ways in which transnational capital organizes counterplanning from the commons by gendered class alliances.
1. Theorizing social movements
Three dimensions of a theoretical framework for analyzing new social movements are first, the principle that both unwaged and waged workers are among the exploited and therefore among those who resist and engage in counterplanning from the commons, second, the prevalence of factional struggle within the local bourgeoisie and the state and third, the existence at a local level of men who collaborate with the national and international bourgeoisies in a 'male deal' which facilitates exploitation, especially of women and against which resistance is focused.
In theorising indigenous peoples' struggles it is necessary to explain why ecological issues and women figure so prominently. In this connection I draw on a 1995 article with Craig Benjamin where we argue that "individuals and groups who directly produce the majority of the goods and services needed for the production of their own labor power and the labor power of others, have a direct interest in preventing capitalist commodification of communal relationships, natural environments, and public space. Furthermore, ... those individuals and groups whose relationship with capital is primarily defined by the work of producing labor power have a unique social power to appropriate and abolish the technical/structural divisions of the working class in the struggle against capitalist enclosure."1
If we accept that both waged and unwaged people are exploited by global capitalist relations, it is an easy step to thinking of the new social movements as expressions of class struggle. It is clear that unwaged work of indigenous peoples, housewives, those in the informal sector and peasants is work which uses social space, 'nature,' and indigenous knowledges to provide sustenance for waged and unwaged alike. These resources are targeted by structural adjustment, a neoliberal policy through which capitalists seek to commodify and further profit from nature, social space and unpaid work, via a process of enclosing the commons. Resistance to such enclosures by the peoples most affected is expressed through social movements which try to engage in counterplanning from the commons.
The capitalist class within many third world societies is a dependent bourgeoisie composed of a 'comprador' faction geared towards commerce and a technocratic faction geared towards local production. Within the state the usually dominant comprador commercial faction establishes multiple links with local middlemen and international commercial agents to form 'commercial triangles' which operate in the mutual profit of their three constituent parties.2 In 'rentier' states, (those which receive most revenue from mineral rents instead of from taxes on the citizenry and their production), all three groups seeking to establish commercial triangles compete for access to the state, its revenues and its jurisdiction over local mineral wealth. In this competition, ethnic ties between private sector middlemen and compradors in the state apparatus are vital, a fact which goes some distance towards explaining ethnic tensions and frequent coups. The commercial imperative subordinates planning and rationality with the result that corruption and kickbacks take precedence with predictably chaotic outcomes for national capitalist development. In contrast, state technocrats champion national production and often form alliances with representatives of transnational capital.
Women are noted for their prominence in social movements. Gendered class analysis seeks to understand this prominence by examining the ways in which social struggle of the unwaged is gendered. The commercial middleman mentioned above is frequently a local man who makes a deal with government or business in his own interest but contrary to the interests of local women and most men as well. The male deal was an essential constituent of colonial indirect rule and the focus of much resistance.
The ways in which this male deal operates vary from one society to another depending especially on the extent of land privatization and the degree to which relations of commodification have displaced those of sustenance. In European settler societies such as Kenya or Zimbabwe where land alienation, male ownership of land and cash cropping have dominated since the early 20th century, the male deal typically enjoins rural husbands to control their wives' labour and redirect that labour to activities that will generate more profit for capital. In peasant or sub-contracted cash crop production husbands typically are paid for the crops their wives produce. In contrast, in most West African societies where women, with men, farm communal land and have much more economic independence, the male deal centers on the village headman and local chief who may be enjoined to 'give' communal resources, especially land, to the state and private entrepreneurs.
Male deals operate against subsistence production by divesting women agricultural and domestic workers of land and other crucial resources while constricting women's freedom to associate, express cultural practices, develop indigenous knowledges and organize their own labour processes. Women and the poor more generally suffer from cash crop exploitation or the loss of viable farmland and water systems. Women experience the impacts of such enclosures first and most. The male deal between husbands or chiefs and capitalists consequently contributes to impelling transformative activities by women. A gendered class analysis is distinctive in that it encompasses the breakup of the cross-class male deal and the forging of cross-gender alliances amongst the exploited, against class antagonists, aimed at creating new, humane social relations. It is such 'gendered class alliances' which confront male deals and the commercial triangles which link the deals into the international system of corporate exploitation. In challenging corruption and resource extraction, new policies are advocated by people in gendered class alliances in a process of counterplanning from the commons.
Having attempted to theorize the social relations within which 'Nigeria's first effective grassroots protest movement'3 has arisen, we now turn to some historical antecedents of the indigenous oilbelt women's campaign to forge gendered class alliances and engage in counterplanning from the commons.
2. Historical antecedents
In 1906 the Agbor Nine were publically hanged by British colonial authorities for resisting forced labour and land alienation in eastern Nigeria near Port Harcourt and Ogoniland.4 The parallels between the hanging of the Agbor Nine and the hanging of the Ogoni Nine in 1995 include the centrality of the struggle by indigenous peoples for control over their labour and land and the protests at an international level which followed the executions. In the Agbor Nine case, the British Anti-Slavery Society wrote to the Secretary of State in protest and the issue of forced labour was taken up by British anti-imperialists. In the Ogoni Nine case, an extensive international campaign against Shell, other oil companies active in Nigeria, and the Nigerian military government has emerged and appears to be growing. In examining the gendered class character of the new social movement centred in Ogoniland, it is useful to keep in mind the century-long trajectory of indigenous resistance to land enclosures and the international solidarity which such resistance has inspired.
The 1929 Aba women's war is another key precedent for the contemporary indigenous struggles. Women from eastern Nigeria rose up to overthrow the warrant chief system which the British had imposed, and to counter any moves to impose further taxes.5 Thousands of women "wearing loincloths and carrying palm-wrapped sticks, gathered outside the district offices in Owerri and Calabar provinces, 'sat on' the warrant chiefs and burnt their buildings."6 Late in December 1929 they forced the Umuahia chiefs to surrender their caps thus launching their successful campaign to destroy the warrant chief system. In Aba, women sang and danced against the chiefs and then "proceeded to attack and loot the European trading stores and Barclays Bank and to break into the prison and release the prisoners."7 Some 25,000 Igbo women over a area of 6,000 square miles confronted colonial repression and over a two month period of insurrection, December 1929 to January 1930, at least 50 were killed.8
In the Aba women's war the protagonists used song, dance and ridicule along with market holdups and sheer force of numbers. These weapons were employed in the struggles of Abeokuta women in the 1940s to unseat a male dealer which the British had supported in his exploitation of the Yoruba people. The Abeokuta Women's Union was a popular organization with a membership of some 100,000 which in 1949 forced the Alake of Abeokuta out of office for abusing his power as an indirect ruler. These particularly female weapons featured again in the resurgence of women's militancy in the 1980s when the Nigerian military attempted to impose structural adjustment conditions. They were used again in the 1984 and 1986 women's uprisings against the oil companies near Warri.9 In the 1984 Ogharefe uprising 10,000 women also used the 'curse of nakedness'10 to damn male dealers and representatives of a U.S. oil company who had so damaged the productive commons that a whole way of life was undermined.11 Another key feature of the 1980s struggles is the solidarity they struck between women and some men, often their sons, against a few older and more powerful men who were targeted as having sold out the community in deals with the oil companies and government.12
Before turning to an examination of the Ogoni movement, it would be useful to describe certain characteristics of contemporary Nigeria's state and dominant class. The process whereby Nigeria's political economy has been integrated into the international system via the oil industry has shaped the Nigerian polity in two crucial ways; by transforming the relationships which are played out within the Nigerian state and by fostering a collaborating stratum of local chiefs who participate in male deals.
First, the oil industry has transformed the Nigerian state. Before the oil boom of the early 1970s the state was a weak federal agency which purchased crops from millions of cocoa, cotton, groundnut and other farmers and delivered some services to the populace. With the oil boom, Shell and the international oil companies with smaller shares of Nigerian production reconstructed the federal state into a comparatively strong 'rentier' authority.13 The centralized rentier state receives oil revenues from the oil companies to which it is supposed to deliver 'stability' or law and order such as is required for the continued production of oil. Control of the rentier state is the aim of all aspirants to wealth and bourgeois status. Coups have abounded for this reason but they are endemic also because of the oil companies' need for the enforcement of law and order. This is especially the case in Nigeria where oil companies confront densely populated peasant communities which still have communal and customary claims to the land. Military regimes are required to break these claims to land and they are also more able to force through other unpopular provisions of the International Monetary Fund's structural adjustment programs.
Second, the oil industry has fostered a resurgence of the old colonial system of indirect rule. The cooperation of local chiefs in the oilbelt is essential to oil company alienation of land and to the conducting of day-to-day business. Through a proliferation of male deals the indigenous rulers have been strengthened but in the process, local patterns of governance have been distorted, overridden and transformed. Accountability of local notables to the population has been replaced by their accountability to the oil companies and military authorities. Meanwhile those determined to hold on to the commons have made progress in replacing male dealers with democratic, indigenous forms of governance.
3. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People
We now turn to a consideration of the gendered class dynamics which characterize the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). We consider MOSOP's engagements with male dealers, oil companies, the government and its alliance with oil workers. An estimated 500,000 Ogoni live in some 200 villages on about 400 square miles of land near Nigeria's eastern division oil producing centre of Port Harcourt in Rivers State. On Ogoni territory are several petroleum operations including many kilometres of pipelines through which most of the crude oil from the eastern zone is transported to Bonny Island and exported. Ogoniland is like a funnel through which oil is piped out to tankers at sea and consequently it is much impacted by land loss and pollution. Gas is removed from the crude oil before export and this results in many large gas flares which permanently dominate the Ogoni ecology.
Shell, the major operator in Nigeria and in Ogoniland, has not resolved longstanding grievances from the oil producing communities around compensation, pollution, hiring practices and a host of other concerns. Most serious however, is the impact of oil activities on people's livelihood, based as it is on fishing and agriculture.14 It is precisely in these areas that women's work and their social power lie. Diana Wiwa stated that "a lot of the movement was based on the stories he [Ken Saro-Wiwa] had collected over the years about what the women complained about. ... So we supported Ken, the feminists. Ken was very well supported because he was very furious about [the erosion of] women's rights." Saro-Wiwa had been finding out about the impact of the oil industry by asking farming women, "because when the community is based on agriculture it [oil] affects its culture, it affects its traditions, it affects it language. It affects everything about the community. So when that basis is completely eroded, there is nothing left."15
MOSOP came together as an umbrella group of some nine other Ogoni associations and in 1990 issued a declaration which contained a number of demands.16 These included demands for reparations of $400 million and the right to defend the environment from further deterioration under the impact of petroleum production. Women were engaged, through the Federation of Ogoni Women's Associations, in organizing what was probably the largest demonstration against oil companies in history. On the first Ogoni Day, 4 January 1993, some 300,000 Ogoni turned out to declare Shell persona non grata in the community. The conflict in Ogoniland was, from this point on, focused around efforts to stop activity by Shell, Chevron and the Nigerian National Oil Corporation. The pattern was repeated throughout Nigeria's oilbelt. Integral to this campaign was the popular campaign to assert the movement's voice over the voices of indigenous male dealing chiefs whose agreement the oil companies had historically sought as a basis for legitimately operating in the various oilbelt communities.
The Ogoni struggle to put into effect its' "no-go zone" policy in relation to Shell falls into four phases: the 1993 pipeline confrontation, the 1993 election boycott, the 1994 oil workers strike and the military's counter-insurgency which includes the 1995 hanging of the Ogoni Nine and major giveaways to the oil companies in accord with the demands of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank structural adjustment programs.
MOSOP was structured so as to offer women, youth and a new organization of chiefs unprecedented power within a democratic configuration. Previously the all-male Council of Chiefs had met privately to negotiate deals with the state authorities and oil companies. With the formalization of MOSOP, a steering committee was created in which each of the nine constituent organizations had three votes. According to the Movement's international coordinator, Diana Wiwa, this representation of women was one of the key successes of MOSOP:
"The very fact that the women had three representatives at the steering committee was a sign of something, because in the traditional chiefdoms there were no women in Chief's Council. But women were now allowed into it. The National Youth Council of Ogoni People, which was a youth wing, among the three of its representatives that were at the steering committee, one was a woman. It was the same with the Council of Ogoni Professionals. And one thing that was also actually allowed was that the women were allowed, even if you're not a member of the steering committee you were allowed to attend a meeting. The only thing that you don't have is the power to vote, but you could attend the meeting and contribute to the meeting. You will be voting at a lower level. So a lot of women would go to the meeting."17
Suddenly youth and women were full participants in a powerful, popular and democratic Ogoni governing organ which completely eclipsed the indirect rule of the Council of Chiefs, now reduced to one of many units within MOSOP. The first test of this new dispensation arose around the issue of whether Ogoni should vote in the June 12, 1993 presidential elections. However, a confrontation over Shell's efforts to lay a pipeline through Ogoni territory set the stage.
In late April 1993 a large group of angry women stopped Willbros, a U.S. pipeline contractor to Shell, from bulldozing Ogoni farms. Willbros called in the military who inflicted injuries on the people. MOSOP mounted a 10,000 strong demonstration within 48 hours and drove the contractor out but not before one person was killed and several injured. This event marked the effective enforcement of the "No to Shell" campaign which MOSOP had launched four months earlier. Shell claimed it had "followed all legally required land acquisition procedures, reached agreements on compensation, and paid the local community."18 However the Ogoni chiefs with whom Shell arranged the deal did not represent MOSOP which had not been consulted.19 MOSOP did not allow the deal between chiefs and Shell to stand or the oil work to continue. The delegitimization of male dealers within the indigenous communities was dramatized by the pipeline incident. It brought home the ability to large numbers of Ogoni people to defend what are essentially women's rights to farm and produce the sustenance necessary for family and community survival. Immediately thereafter the issue of the election boycott arose.
The Federation of Ogoni Women's Associations strongly advocated a no-vote position, citing as their reason a refusal to endorse the federal constitution which ignored minority Ogoni rights. On the other side were the chiefs who had political aspirations. According to Diana Wiwa, the Federation of Ogoni Women's Associations
"was organized to make as many of its members as possible attend that [MOSOP] steering committee meeting, so as to shift the decisions in a certain direction. ... Of course it was a heated debate for a long time especially among the group that was predominantly men which was the Council of Chiefs, the Council of Traditional Rulers, the Council of Churches and even the Council of Ogoni Professionals.... So a lot of the men were politicians, so when politics came into it a lot of them wanted to take part. I mean, as far as they were concerned, [the men's position was] what the hell! Let's just take part. So the women were saying "No," I mean, even if you take part in this election you'd be succumbing, or you'd be swearing to a constitution that keeps us marginalized. The issues that we have raised here about our environment and our economic and political marginalization within the context of Nigeria will still be there.... So we said, no voting."20
Ogoni women then launched "an active campaign at the local level:"
"Of course they spoke with their men - if that is translated into English, its a bit like 'bedroom talk.' They tried to work on that within the home. But besides that they had a lot of strife with their children, especially their sons. It was most effective with their sons, and of course, somebody's husband is another woman's son. And so it was, there was always that bond. It's a traditional thing. You were a great man if you could respect your mother. So they did that. It was a lot of heavy campaigning, and eventually the time for voting came."21 The 2 June 1993 decision in MOSOP's steering committee supported the election boycott by a vote of thirteen to six. The two most prominent chiefs resigned from MOSOP's steering committee in protest. The battle lines in the gendered class struggle were thereby drawn for all to see.
On 14 May 1994 conservative Ogoni leaders sought to counter MOSOP by publishing the Giokoo Accord, a document which was "effectively calling on Gokana people to leave MOSOP."22 However the people of Gokana kingdom demonstrated against the chiefs, four of whom were killed on May 21, 1994.23 A leaked, secret military directive dated May 12, 1994 contains orders which suggest that the murder of the four conservative chiefs might have been a provocation to divide and intimidate Ogoni and to provide a pretext for military occupation of Ogoniland.24 MOSOP officials including Ken Saro-Wiwa were arrested and charged with the murders. Immediately a terrible carnage was unleashed on Ogoni by Abacha's soldiers who killed over 1,000 Ogoni.25
Such pacification was said to be necessary if Shell operations were to restart. Shell (and probably other companies) had come under physical attack to the extent that they decided to shift funds from community development projects to 'protection and security.'26 Earlier in 1994 the three major oil companies operating out of Port Harcourt and in Ogoniland, announced estimated losses of over $200 million during 1993, due to "unfavourable conditions in their areas of operation" and called for "urgent action to combat the situation."27
Collective punishment was visited on Ogoni and on other oil communities to the extent that the whole eastern Nigerian oilbelt region became, in effect, a war zone. Direct appeals were sent to Shell by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) which also declared the week of 20-27 June 1994 "World Ogoni Week." A number of international human rights and environmental organisations highlighted the deteriorating situation of the Ogoni people and appealed to Shell, officials of the Nigerian government and the U.S. State Department among other organizations.28 Moshood Abiola declared himself president in June.29 This was the situation in the oilbelt immediately preceding the 1994 oil workers' strike which was the longest, most significant instance of militancy in the world oil industry since the 1978-79 Iranian oil workers' strike which expelled the Shah and drove oil prices up to $40 per barrel.30
4. The 1994 oil workers' strike
On 4 July 1994 the union of junior staff in the oil companies and petrol transport business went on strike.31 In a communique dated July 8 calling for "indefinite industrial action" as of July 12, the senior staff union, Pengassan listed ten demands of striking oil workers:32
1. prompt settlement by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation of its huge debts with equity oil producers,
2. the creation of an autonomous commission to address the widespread smuggling of petroleum products,
3. government to begin "meaningful dialogue" with oil producing communities to prevent further disturbances and production shut-ins,
4. the government to grant more autonomy to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation,
5. maintain refineries and pipelines to a better standard in order to ensure more regular product supplies,
6. more government actions on products smuggling,
7. an end to "persistent harassment and intimidation of our members by members of the Armed Forces."
8. repeal of a ministerial circular of 17th January 1988 titled "Release of Oil Industry Workers from Employment," which empowers foreign firms to terminate Nigerian workers' contracts and replace them with expatriates,
9. "all democratic structures must be restored and the winner of the election installed" 10. the release of all political and labor detainees.
Fully half of these demands were directly consequent upon the struggles of people in oil communities. First and most direct was the oil workers' demand that government begin "meaningful dialogue" with oil producing communities to prevent further disturbances and production shut-ins. Three months before striking, the association of senior staff in the oil industry had invited the chair of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, (Ompadec) to speak about "oil minerals producing communities in conflict with oil companies: which way forward?"33 However, Ompadec was notorious for paying conservative and pro-government chiefs to condone oil company destruction.34 Women had denounced the collaboration of male dealers with the government and oil companies for well over a decade. They had moved, with allied men, to shut down production facilities and declare Ogoniland a 'no-go' area for Shell. This moratorium on oil activity in Ogoniland had applied to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Chevron and Shell for one and one-half years. Now striking oil workers made "meaningful" dialogue a condition of their again producing oil. Dialogue was meaningful if it would prevent disturbances and shut-ins, which meant that such dialogue had to effectively resolve communities' grievances.
Second, striking oil workers demanded that pipelines and refineries be maintained "to a better standard," thereby confirming indigenous critiques of the poor maintenance standards of the thousands of kilometres of pipeline in the oilbelt region. Third, the demand by oil workers for an end to "persistent harassment and intimidation of our members by members of the Armed Forces," echoed the social movements' demands. For indigenous peoples had suffered massacres since 1990, and in the weeks immediately prior to the strike, had lost over 1,000 people in military attacks. Some oil workers were also community members and many have relatives and friends in the villages pillaged by the military's campaign against MOSOP. Oil company employees refused to work in a impossible environment where murder, rape and looting were the order of the day. The strikers' demand for an end to "persistent harassment" puts into question the military's claim that they were protecting oil operations.
Fourth, by demanding that "all democratic structures must be restored and the winner of the election installed," oil workers were insisting on the reinstatement of the Rivers State government which had supported the Ogoni struggle. They were putting the weight of the strike behind the national democracy movement and civil society whose elected head of state was jailed.35 Finally, by demanding "the release of all political and labor detainees," the strikers were lending strength to indigenous demands to release Ken Saro-Wiwa and large numbers of environmental activists, along with oil workers and others who had been resisting structural adjustment policies and the military repression which was being mounted to implement those policies.
This analysis of strike demands shows that the historic strike was, in significant ways, in support of the oil communities' demands. Initially, indigenous women spurred their menfolk in the oilbelt to act on environmental issues, and now they used the alliances so forged to spur oil workers to halt production. In this way, through the mediation of their social institutions and movements, Ogoni and other indigenous women organized a major challenge to some of international capital's largest industrial corporations including Shell, Chevron, Mobil, and Texaco. The strike ended in mid-September 1994 after the military dissolved the unions' executives and mounted a "find, fix and finish" operation which arrested hundreds of strikers.36
The oil strike, combined with MOSOP's "No to Shell" campaign, seriously limited oil company operations not only in Ogoniland but throughout Nigeria. The combined efforts of communities and workers to stop the oil industry were getting international attention. By late 1994 the Abacha government was coming under sharp criticism and worldwide censure for its' repression of the social movement and unions. The regime's response to the unity of waged and unwaged Nigerians against male deals and all petroleum activity was heightened counter-insurgency and a closer alliance with international oil.
5. Military counter-insurgency
In 1995 the Abacha dictatorship repressed the population with an unprecedented savagery. Corruption was rampant as compradors in the state collaborated with male dealers and international business interests in the appropriation of oil money. This money was not paid to the foreign oil operators as the government's joint venture agreements with them dictated. At the same time another faction within the state, the technocrats, advocated that the funds be paid and when that appeared unlikely, took steps to de-nationalize and recolonize the oil industry.37
This reversal of their earlier economic nationalist stance brought technocrats into the transnational camp where they solidified an alliance with Shell, Chevron, Mobil and other companies in the Nigerian oil industry and courted favour with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The popular struggle of oil communities and oil workers had exposed the dysfunctional modus operandi of state compradors and driven the technocratic bourgeoisie into the arms of international capital.
Meanwhile, the military command gave carte blanche to troops on the ground in Ogoniland and elsewhere to raid and loot at will. Soldiers extracted ransom money from those they threatened to arrest. Once detained, a person's relatives had to pay soldiers and police to keep the prisoner alive. These exactions were in effect taxes on the population. They were also the soldiers' sources of income since the cutbacks required by structural adjustment programs in combination with comprador theft of oil revenues had curtailed or stopped completely the payment of regular salaries to Nigeria's bloated armed forces. In early 1995 Shell was exposed as paying and arming police to quell resistance in the oil communities.38
On November 10, 1995 the Abacha regime hanged Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others.39 The results of what British Prime Minister John Major called "judicial murder" were to expand the international scope of the indigenous campaign against Shell and to strengthen the resolve of the combatants in the oilbelt communities in Nigeria. Ogoni women organized the first large congregation of Ogoni after the hangings on Ogoni Day, 4 January 1996. Some 100,000 turned out and of these many were prepared to die for the cause of indigenous self-determination.40 Because MOSOP was organized from the bottom up and decisions had always been made in village committees, the hangings did not dismantle the movement.41 They did strengthen the gendered class alliances between women and especially young men. And they isolated male dealers even more. The government's efforts to buy Ogoni loyalty by bankrolling alternative organizations of youth and clerics have been exposed as failures.42 On Ogoni Day, 4 January 1997, MOSOP's acting president, Ledum Mitee issued a statement calling on all Ogoni to resist "any attempts by the company to stage a forced and/or forged return to Ogoniland until our demands are met."43
Internationally the anti-Shell campaign was joined by dozens of support groups cutting across several issues. Governments brought various types of sanctions to bear against the Abacha regime. The thousands of Ogoni and other Nigerians in political exile expanded their campaigns, educating, publishing, carrying out studies, taking legal action against Abacha's regime and the oil companies, and building networks in pursuit of the struggle for democracy and their eventual return to Nigeria. In 1996 MOSOP activists met with their counterparts in the indigenous communities in Peru who are defending the environment against the oil industry and Shell in particular.44
Workers in the Greenpeace campaign against Shell in Nigeria have joined with other oil activists in "Project Underground" to produce the world's first progressive petroleum newsletter, Drillbits & Tailings, delivered via the Internet (Drillbits@moles.org). Project Underground describes itself as being committed to "exposing corporate environmental and human rights abuses, supporting communities facing the mining and oil industries." The 7 January 1997 issue of Drillbits & Tailings announced that "an international boycott of Shell has been called in support of the Ogoni in Nigeria, and of the Nahua and Kugapakori in Peru."45
The Ogoni efforts to shut down Shell have had some success and have led to a situation in which coordinated shut-downs in two or more countries are on the agenda. Efforts to halt oil activity are efforts to protect sustenance production and the ecology on which sustenance depends. This is the terrain of indigenous women who with their allies among men have mounted a gendered class struggle which, in the Nigerian instance, incorporated waged workers in the oil industry. This crucial class unity is a precondition for going beyond shutdowns. If Nigerian oil workers, indigenous communities and other democratic organizations in the country move beyond shutdowns to start running the oil industry on their own, the Ogoni goals of reparations, pollution cleanup and wise use of petroleum wealth could be realized.
Oil workers demanded an end to oil theft and smuggling. Implicit in this call is the demand that oil be sold honestly for the public benefit rather than for male dealer profit. Furthermore, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People demanded reparations. If oil workers and indigenous organizations were able to sell or barter oil directly and use the proceeds as they see fit (rather than for paying the International Monetary Fund and World Bank debts), a kind of reparations would be won. Embraced in the demands of both the oil workers' and the trans-oilbelt social movement of which MOSOP is a part, are programs for democratic control of an oil industry which would be operated in harmony with the interests of agriculture, fishing and trading communities of the Niger Delta.
Women's uprisings against the oil industry in Nigeria confirm the double complexity of capitalism's denigration and empowerment of women. On the one hand, the extension of exploitation worsened the situations of women. Earlier relative reciprocity between men and women was overridden by hierarchy. The rise of local capitalists from the chiefly stratum was paralleled by a transformation in gender relations. A kind of communal symbiosis of gender was broken by deals through which certain men appropriated communal land, the fundamental basis of indigenous people's livelihood and community. With the deepening of capitalist relations, unequal gains of men and women were echoed by unequal opportunities for different indigenous communities.
On the other hand, oil industrialization led to land alienation which motivated women's fight back. It elevated women's political impact by offering them vulnerable oil industry targets against which to concentrate their collective social power. It prompted feminist militancy which reforged the reciprocity between women and men, but this time on the new basis of class solidarity. The agenda of this alliance is nothing less than direct democracy in the community and the workplace and most centrally, direct democracy in the workplace of oil production which is the community. Out of this experience is emerging a new society with the force and reason of women, and their organization and consciousness, at its forefront.
This study has applied to the Nigerian case a theorization of social movements which underlines their gendered class character and their capacities to stand against neoliberal enclosures of the commons. The fact that in Nigeria and elsewhere indigenous struggles are expanding rather than falling to assimilation or genocide is evidence of the practical solidarity that is being forged between indigenous and other peoples, worldwide, whose survival is threatened by the predations of neoliberal expansion.
This review of the gendered class dynamics at the heart of the Ogoni-Shell struggle in Nigeria has highlighted the capacities of those whose primary work is the production of labour power to unite the class and promote counterplanning from the commons. These social forces demand a moratorium on oil activities until democratic institutions can be established. They demand payment of reparations, environmental restoration and prudent operation of the oil industry in conformity with the best sustainable environmental practices. Since the beginning of the 1990s, counterplanning from the commons has made dramatic advances in Nigeria. A gendered class alliance has, for the first time in the country's history, put radical democracy on the agenda. The alliance has marshalled not guns but refusals to produce or consume oil, as weapons with which to secure democratic gains. The weapons are inherently and simultaneously both global and local. It is not likely that indigenous women will reverse their militancy or cede their autonomy. The maintenance of women's autonomy contributes to the strengthening of local democracy. Strengthening the internationalization of the struggle is equally key to winning it. Each new stage of the struggle draws more counterplanners into these experimentations in the exercise of social power and the building of global gendered class unity.Bibliography
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