“Why women are at war with Chevron”


Nigerian Subsistence Struggles

Against the International Oil Industry






Terisa E. Turner and Leigh S. Brownhill

International Oil Working Group















56th Annual United Nations

 Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization Conference

 “Human Security and Dignity: Fulfilling the Promise of the United Nations”

United Nations Headquarters, New York 8-10, September 2003




















Terisa E. Turner and Leigh S. Brownhill, “Why women are at war with Chevron” Nigerian Subsistence Struggles Against the International Oil Industry, New York: International Oil Working Group, 2003.



International Oil Working Group

P.O. Box 1410

Cathedral Station

New York, New York, 10025







ISBN 0-924120-11-8
















About the authors


Terisa E .Turner is associate professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Leigh S. Brownhill is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Toronto. They are co-founders of First Woman: The East and Southern African Women’s Oral History and Indigenous Knowledge Network. First Woman’s central activity is the recording of the life stories of elderly Mau Mau women in Kenya. Terisa Turner and Leigh Brownhill are co-directors of the International Oil Working Group, a non-governmental organization registered with the Department of Public Information at the United Nations Secretariat in New York. In 2001 they co-edited Gender, Feminism and the Civil Commons, published as a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Development Studies available at www.uoguelph.ca~terisatu.















This study inquires into why women were at war with oil companies in Nigeria and how they internationalized their struggle. Employing Shiva, Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen’s ‘subsistence perspective,’ the study elaborates a ‘gendered class analysis’ to consider the social anatomy of coordinated global actions by producers and consumers of oil. Part one examines the period July 2002 to February 2003. Nigerian women occupied oil terminals and flow stations and inspired global protests against war and oil companies. Part two considers widespread workers’ strikes in the period February to July 2003. These included work stoppages in transport, the oil industry and the public service; a two-week seizure by oil workers of four Transocean deep-sea platforms and an eight-day general strike against increases in the price of petroleum products. Part three analyses the July-September 2003 period. From 10 July 2003 peasant women occupied oil facilities throughout the Delta. As official government collapsed, village and clan-based organizations took over the administration of their own communities. By September 2003 insurgents shut down some 40 per cent of Nigerian crude oil production capacity. Villagers denied oil companies all physical access to the western Delta. Chevron/Texaco, Shell, other majors and their contractors evacuated their Warri headquarters. The autonomous village organizations, linked to each other through regional solidarity networks, coordinated pan-Delta defence against Nigerian and US military counterinsurgency. The study concludes with an analysis of roots of insurgent power and direct deals in oil.





“Our farms are all gone, due to Chevron’s pollution of our water. We used to farm cassava, okro, pepper and others. Now all the places we’ve farmed are sinking, we cannot farm. We cannot kill fishes and crayfish. That is why we told Chevron that Escravos women and Chevron are at war.”

Christiana Mene, Executive Member, Escravos Women Coalition, 14 July 2002.



“During the last 40 years, more than $320 billion worth of crude has been extracted from the Delta, earning huge profits for the government yet its 7 million inhabitants are among Nigeria’s poorest.”

Platts 31 July 2003




Gendered class anlaysis and Nigerian subsistence struggles


In 2002-2003 popular movements shut down much of Nigeria’s huge oil industry[1] and faced US military intervention. Women who were at the forefront forged strategic connections with insurgents worldwide. This study examines the period in three parts. First, between July 2002 and February 2003 women’s organizations occupied ChevronTexaco’s export terminal and several flowstations. Their weapon was their nakedness. Naked protests multiplied around the world as women were inspired by the Nigerian example to ‘bare all’ to resist the Bush attack on Iraq. Global boycotts of oil companies proliferated. Second, between January and July 2003 waged Nigerian men joined the peasant women’s shutdown of the oil industry by organizing strikes. This mobilization culminated in an eight-day national general strike. Third, in the July-September 2003 period, the villagers shut down the oil companies after oil union bureaucrats sabotaged the general strike. In response to oil company demands the Nigerian and US military intervened.


Three questions are addressed in this study. First, why were women at war with the international oil companies in Nigeria? Second, how were anti-oil company campaigns internationalized by women and third, with what implications? We begin with a brief treatment of the theoretical framework within which we pose these questions.


First, women are at the forefront of social movements because, despite their being largely unwaged, capital exploits them as it commodifies and uses up ‘free’ nature, social services, built space and the production of paid and unpaid work (Brownhill and Turner 2003; Benjamin and Turner 1992). All these ‘values’ are integral to the subsistence or life-centred political economy in which the needs of all are addressed through collective, cooperative and autonomous activity including producer- organized trade or direct deals (Bennholdt-Thomsen and Mies 1999). Communal land-holding and social relations essential to such a life-centred political economy remain resilient in much of the Niger Delta. Oil company operations since 1957 have been destroying the social and physical basis of subsistence. In 2002 women who are responsible for farming, fishing, feeding and life sustenance stood up against corporate destruction.


An examination of Nigerian women’s occupation and shut-down of oil company facilities in the Niger Delta reveals a pattern of resistance involving two distinct social constructions. Women first broke up ‘male deals’ between some of their own menfolk and personnel of the oil companies. Second, they formed alliances with other men, often their grandsons, and in this ‘gendered class alliance,’ successfully evicted the world’s largest corporations from their land (Turner et al, 2001; Turner 1997; Nore and Turner 1980). Both of these social de- and re-constructions had national and international expressions. The global reach of cross-class ‘male deals’ is immediately apparent in the oil industry. In breaking these, Nigerian women built international solidarities and systemic coordinations with women and men similarly pitted against the commodification and war brought by oil majors and their corporate-state allies. In sum, to theorize women’s war against big oil is to recognize the erasure of subsistence which corporate commodification entails and both the imperative and the capacities of life-producers to stand against it.


The second question - how were international solidarities forged and what is their anatomy? -  is here theorized by reference to the systemic, global realities of capitalist organization and markets. The international oil companies bring two groups of people - those resident on oil reserves and those who consume oil - into one organization, ie., the organization of the oil corporations themselves and of the oil market that they define. Because the oil companies bring these two groups into one global organization; the groups, by acting together, have the power to destroy the corporations by simultaneously denying them crude oil and product purchases. When residents of oil producing communities stop production at the same time as consumers boycott oil companies by refusing to buy their products, the two groups engage in a simultaneous global ‘production-consumption oil strike.’ Such a strike has the potential to annihilate the capacities of oil companies to make profits or exercise the power of accumulation. The crucial point here is that the popular organization with this potential to annihilate capital is not ‘the party,’ or ‘the forum.’ Rather it is the international organization of the oil corporations themselves and of the oil market that they define. Embraced also within this organization are those engaged in the work of social reproduction and of the defence and restoration of nature (Dyer-Witheford 1999).


This conception challenges those constructions of ‘globalization from below’ which are limited to liberal declarations or protestations for reform. A much more fertile form of anti-imperial, transformational ‘globalization from below’ was promoted by Nigerian women who, in defending their subsistence life economy, denied strategic crude oil to globally dominate capital. Their explicitly feminist actions provoked women outside Nigeria to defend subsistence as life-affirmation in the context of global anti-war mobilization. This historically unprecedented world-wide ‘no to war’ movement boosted already-existing campaigns to boycott the oil companies which were at the same time facing shutdowns in Nigeria as women and their rural allies denied crude oil to the majors. This embryonic worldscale production-consumption oil strike foreshadows a future of globally coordinated strikes and boycotts which not only shut down oil corporations but re-start the petroleum system on a new, subsistence-positive basis. The systemic impetus to globalization from below revealed by the Nigerian insurgency is embodied in the corporate organizational and oil market ties that bind together all the world’s people engaged in producing and consuming oil. The exploited, waged and unwaged, are “disciplined, united, [and] organised” by the “process of production itself” (Marx (1887) 1967: 763). By privileging waged workers, most critical analysts (for example, Fagan 2002) have silenced or misconstrued the essential powers of the unwaged in this new crystallization of social forces which is asserting a global ‘life economy civil commons’ (McMurtry 2002). The hitherto silenced actors in this system are the women who live in the communities built over hydrocarbon reserves.[2] Their paramount strategic importance is the reason for their silencing. In 2002-2003 Nigerian peasant women broke this silence and bequeathed ‘a gift to humanity’ in the form of a tremendous impetus toward ‘a world transformed.’


The third question - what were the implications of the women’s internationalized war against the oil companies? - can be pursued by theorizing ‘direct deals.’ We saw above how producer-consumer oil strikes have the potential to deny corporations their profits. Those who engage in producer-consumer oil strikes can take one further step. They can use their control over physical crude oil production sites, on the one hand; and their control over consumption on the other, to negotiate direct deals for the sale and purchase of oil. The crucial point here is that the very organization bequeathed by large corporations can be appropriated by producers and consumers and used against profit and for life support. This takes us to the connections between subsistence and capitalist relations. Those who live on oil reserves, such as the Niger Delta women and their allies, took control of oil facilities to defend and extend a subsistence commoning way of life. They thereby entered into oil company-organized alliances with people elsewhere who were attacking the same oil companies through other means, especially boycotts. Through these alliances and channels, direct deals can be negotiated so as to provide those defending subsistence with the means to succeed. Because these direct deals are autonomously organized for mutual benefit, they support the building of subsistence by both parties involved. This globalized defence,  re-invention and building of subsistence is the central  implication of the women’s internationalized war against the oil companies.


This vision of revolutionary transformation involves the selective merging of two sets of social relations. On the one hand, the organization of transnational corporations is used by those it organizes to support life instead of profits. This use signals a shift in power within corporate organizations in favour of ‘commoners.’ This shift in power gives ‘commoners’ social relations which are global. On the other hand, this set of social relations, extracted from capitalist firms and markets, is merged with subsistence social relations in those autonomous communities that seek to re-invent a global commons.



Part 1

Women Seize oil Facilities: July 2002 to February 2003


“We no go ‘gree o, we no go ‘gree, Chevron people we no go ‘gree!”[3]


On 8 July 2002, after ChevronTexaco ignored their June correspondence, some 600 women occupied the US oil giant’s 450,000 barrels a day (b/d) Escravos export terminal and tankyard. In their ten-day take over, the Itsekiri women negotiated 26 demands with corporate management. These included a demand that the government and oil companies meet with rural women and establish a permanent tripartite body for the resolution of problems related to oil operations. They signed a memorandum of understanding committing ChevronTexaco to the upgrading of 15 members of the communities who are contract staff to permanent staff status; the employment of one person from each of the five Ugborodo villages every year; the building of one house each for the elders – the Oloja Ore and the Eghare-Aja – in the communities; provision of vital infrastructure; a monthly allowance of N50,000 at least for the elderly aged 60 years and above and the establishment of income generating schemes (Okon 2002). However, the most fundamental demand, that ChevronTexaco must go, was not countenanced by the company negotiators.


Why were women ‘at war with Chevron?’ Christiana Mene of the Escravos Women Coalition explained that “We want Chevron to employ our children. If Chevron does that we the mothers will survive, we will see food to eat. Our farms are all gone, due to Chevron’s pollution of our water. We used to farm cassava, okro, pepper and others. Now all the places we’ve farmed are sinking, we cannot farm. We cannot kill fishes and crayfish. That is why we told Chevron that Escravos women and Chevron are at war” (Abiola 14 July 2002).


International petroleum corporations had reduced the once-rich subsistence economy of the Niger Delta to a polluted wasteland. Women could no longer train their children in peasant pursuits nor look forward to being fed in their old age. Because the oil companies had imposed a fundamental ‘death economy’ on the Delta’s seven million people, the women warriors demanded the majors get out completely. Death was imminent, a ‘regular guest at the table,’ because the majors had destroyed subsistence. This imminence produced in the women warriors a fearless emotional state of existential liberation, a willingness to die in the cause of expelling ChevronTexaco, Shell, ExxonMobil and the others. As Queen Uwara, deputy chairperson of the Escravos Women Coalition stated  “a mother gets old someday, she becomes weak, the same with the father. It is your son and daughter who will be feeding you. If our children are not given work then the mothers cannot survive. They employ other tribes to work here, this time we cannot allow this kind of situation. ... Chevron brought soldiers and police to threaten us when we were at Chevron yard. If Chevron wants to kill us, we are no longer afraid. We women have taken over the yard. But we are not afraid because Chevron is on our land. All we want is for Chevron to leave our land” (Environmental Rights Action, hereafter ERA,13 July 2002).[4]


The women’s bold strike at ChevronTexaco’s export terminal immediately inspired at least twelve additional takeovers. Even before the Escravos group concluded negotiations, well over 1,000 women occupied six ChevronTexaco flow stations including Abiteye, Makaraba, Otuana and Olera Creek (Wamala 2002:38). One hundred women paddled a massive ‘canoe’ five miles into the high seas to take over the company’s production platform in the Ewan oilfield. ChevronTexaco evacuated its staff, shut down production and refused to negotiate with the women because, according to the US major, “they are not from our host community” (International Oil Daily, hereafter IOD, 19 August 2002). The positive results of the women’s takeovers encouraged youth to occupy six Shell flow stations in western Niger Delta on 20 September 2002 (IOD 23 September 2002). On 26 September 2002, in an environment of growing anti-war activism, Nigeria’s Environmental Rights Action and the Ecuadorian affiliate of OilWatch International called for a boycott against ChevronTexaco (Osouka, Martnez and Salazar 2002). The ChevronTexaco boycott, like the million-strong UK-based ‘StopEsso’ boycott of ExxonMobil, connected consumer action with the resistance of oil producing communities (see www.stopesso.com).


The subsistence way of life ‘was sweet’ and was under dire threat from highly destructive oil company production ‘on the cheap’. On 22 July 2002 a spokeswoman for occupiers of ChevronTexaco’s Abiteye flow station, Felicia Itsero, 67, told ERA researchers that “We are tired of complaining, even the Nigerian government and their Chevron have treated us like slaves. Thirty years till now, what do we have to show by Chevron, apart from this big yard and all sorts of machines making noise, what do we have? They have been threatening us that if we make noise, they will stop production and leave our community and we will suffer, as if we have benefited from them. Before the 1970s, when we were here without Chevron, life was natural and sweet, we were happy. When we go to the rivers for fishing or forest for hunting, we used to catch all sorts of fishes and bush animals. Today, the experience is sad. I am suggesting that they should leave our community completely and never come back again. See, in our community we have girls, small girls from Lagos, Warri, Benin City, Enugu, Imo, Osun and other parts of Nigeria here every day and night running after the white men and staff of Chevron, they are doing prostitution, and spreading all sorts of diseases. The story is too long and too sad. When you go  (to ERA) tell Chevron that we are no longer slaves, even slaves realise their condition and fight for their freedom” (ERA 22 July 2002).


By 2003, even the IMF recognized that the conditions against which Delta insurgents were protesting and seeking to reverse had reached life-threatening proportions. In a 2003 report, the International Monetary Fund revealed that “between 1970 and 2000, the poverty rate, measured as the share of the population subsisting on less than $1 per day, increased from close to 36 percent to just under 70 percent. This translates into an increase in the number of poor from about 19 million in 1970 to a staggering 90 million in 2000. ... These developments, of course, coincided with the discovery of oil in Nigeria. ... Over a 35-year period, Nigeria’s cumulative revenues from oil (after deducting the payments to the foreign oil companies) have amounted to about US$350 billion at 1995 prices. In 1965, when oil revenues per capita were about US$33, per capita GDP was US$245. In 2000, when oil revenues were US$325 per capita, per capita GDP remained at the 1965 level. In other words, all the oil revenues - US$350 billion in total - did not seem to add to the standard of living at all. Worse, however, it could actually have contributed to a decline in the standard of living” (Sala-i-Martin and Subramanian 2003: 4).


The Guardian of 3 May 2003 reported that “poverty on the Delta is now extreme and communities are desperate for development and work, complaining that none of the billions of dollars earned from oil found under their land has reached them. Many schools have no teachers or books, hospitals and health centres are ill-equipped to deal with malaria and other equatorial diseases that are rife, and many communities have no electricity. Unemployment is 80% or more in some places, sanitation is almost non-existent, housing is atrocious, and the death rate amongst children is very high” (Vidal 2003).


A June 2002 report by the Trade and Community Sub-committee of the Nigeria’s federal House Petroleum Resources Committee found the Delta’s oil communities to be “exploited, misused, abused, polluted, underdeveloped, and almost completely dead; like a cherry fruit sucked and discarded.” The operations of transnational oil companies were responsible for “the dearth of social amenities in the  host communities, the high unemployment, environmental degradation, and even prostitution.” Perhaps most damning were the report’s findings on “civil unrest.”  It blamed “some oil companies for encouraging and sponsoring civil unrest in the Niger Delta by engaging in divide and rule tactics by supporting some passive traditional rulers or even communities against radical ones, thus fuelling discord in the region” (Eluemunor and Awom 2002).


In July 2003 the majors made specific promises to the insurgent women. Because ChevronTexaco and Shell were slow to implement their undertakings, 4,000 Warri women demonstrated on 8 August 2003 at the companies’ regional headquarters only to be attacked by police and soldiers. Protester Alice Youwuren stated that “we were just singing, we didn’t destroy anything. We were peaceful. The police and soldiers misbehaved. Look at me, seven armed men pounced on me and reduced me to nothing. I found myself in a Shell clinic a day after the protest” (Okon 2002). The United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN 2002) reported that Shell police killed at least one woman. Shell later “dismissed reports in the local press ... which claimed that a security agent at the scene shot dead an unarmed protestor. ‘To the best of our knowledge, the protests at our offices went without any major incident’” Shell stated (IOD 14 August 2002).


In an ultimatum published worldwide, the 4,000 August 8th women demonstrators gave the Anglo-Dutch giant ten days to pay their hospital bills. The women confronted Shell with the curse of nakedness (Adebayo 2002). They threatened to expose their naked bodies, and most particularly their vaginas, to impose on oil company male dealers ‘social death’ through ostracization which was widely believed to lead to actual demise. In much of Africa, women throw off their clothes in an ultimate protest to say ‘this is where life comes from. I hereby revoke your life.’ Nakedness by elderly women, in particular, is used in extreme and life-threatening situations. Women wielding the weapon of the exposed vagina could be killed or raped. It is therefore with knowledge of the act’s life and death implications that women enter into such protest. Women who go naked implicitly state that they will get their demands met or die in the process of trying. Many men subjected to this ‘social execution’ believe they will actually die when exposed to such a serious threat. According to one Nigerian source, “In a lot of the rural communities here, the practice of throwing off the wrapper is a common [form of censure, given the] belief among the women folks here that it goes with some magical powers to inflict curses ranging from death to madness on its foes. In the 1980s it was very prevalent among the Gokana people of Ogoni” (International Oil Working Group, hereafter IOWG, 2 August 2003). In 2003 the 1993 Ogoni declaration that Shell is ‘persona non grata’ in Ogoniland remained in force.


By 12 November 2002 the movement against corporate globalization expanded dramatically to oppose the impending US military attack on Iraq. Women in California were explicitly inspired by how the Nigerian women who captured Escravos “shamed the men and won their cause.” They introduced a new anti-war tactic (Ivan 2002). With their naked bodies they wrote gigantic letters to spell “Peace,” photographs of which circulated the globe via the internet and print media to instigate still more nude demonstrators to enact variations (Rosen 2003). In the weeks that followed, naked protests proliferated. Organizers sent photos of their demonstrations to the California women’s website. Naked anti-war protestors marched in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 1 March 2003. At this point the Nigeria-inspired anti-oil naked protests had taken place on all seven continents (www.baringwitness.org).


The ‘Lysistrata Project’ emerged in January 2003. Project organizers set up a website which provided several versions of the script of Aristophane’s 2,400 year old feminist anti-war drama, Lysistrata. In the play women from two warring states unite to deny their menfolk sexual and domestic services until the men make peace. The organizers invited anti-war people worldwide to present the play in their own schools, workplaces and communities on 3 March 2003. Versions of Lysistrata were staged in 1,029 venues in 59 countries. Among the theatrical activists were unnamed “international journalists” who staged a version in Arbil, Iraq on the eve not of war but of massacre. The organizers described the Lysistrata Project  as “the first-ever worldwide theatrical act of dissent” (www.lysistrataproject.org). In the meantime, on 15 February 2003 some 50 million people marched against Bush’s attack on Iraq in the largest-ever global anti-war demonstration.


Between July 2002 and February 2003, the numbers of women engaged in naked protests grew from a few thousand in the Niger Delta to several hundred thousand worldwide. The world’s first global use of protest theatre elaborated the nudity message: women were revoking the very lives of men who destroyed subsistence. Moreover, women were withdrawing all subsistence life support services; especially sex, food and other housework. The unwaged work of women in sustaining life was juxtaposed (by women and allied men) to the waged work of men engaged in sustaining profits through depredation and war.[5] Insofar as this challenge was at once global and conscious, it transcended the idea that ‘another world is possible’ to embody the actually existing alternative.


The high level of Nigerian resistance to the US war against Iraq forced the corrupt Obasanjo government to stay out of the ‘coalition of the willing.’ Obasanjo suffered retaliation in the form of a temporary US withdrawal of some military backing which shored up his unpopular regime. The opening created by women’s takeovers in the oilbelt was seized by largely male trade unionist to launch a series of strikes. This extension of insurgency by the unwaged majority to the 30 percent of the wage-earning workforce is the focus of part two.




Part 2

February to July 2003 strikes: ‘Pirates, monsters, miscreants and street urchins’[6]


By March 2003 Nigeria was “on the verge of collapse due to strikes” by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the Department of Petroleum Resources, the Nigerian Union of Railway men, workers of the University College Hospital, Ibadan and the Central Working Committee of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (Ajaero 8 March 2003). Oil workers at TotalFinalElf struck for ten days in March.


In Warri, oil communities lost over 100 people in March 2003 in struggles to take over oil facilities, expel oil contractors and protest unequal political representation.[7]  Shell and ChevronTexaco shut in a total of 817,500 b/d and by 25 March had evacuated most of their expatriate staff (Nzeshi 25 March 2003). As community protests continued, oil workers took over four off-shore oil platforms operated by the US giant Transocean, under contract to the majors. On 16 April, oilworkers on board the rig MG Hulme staged a wildcat (but union-supported) strike after Transocean fired five union officers who were organizing against the firm’s racist practice of transporting Nigerian workers in boats (thereby making them vulnerable to community wrath) versus expatriates in helicopters. On 19 April workers took over Transocean’s three other deepsea oil platforms in solidarity (Oyawiri 14 May 2003). Striking workers held the platforms and over 200 foreign and Nigerian oil workers employed by Halliburton, Schlumberger, TotalFinaElf and Shell. The strike ended on 2 May, just as British mercenaries and the Nigerian navy prepared to end the siege with force (Vidal 3 May 2003).


An expatriate oil worker who was able to send emails home to his family in Scotland during the siege, reported that the strikers “flared up and are extremely angry at the thought that the military or armed people are going to come and forcibly remove them from the rig. They threatened violence, in particular to blow up the rig and kill everybody on board.” Some men said they would jump into the sea if necessary, but others said the strikers had “apologised for the threats and indicated that it was all a bluff.” NUPENG warned of retaliation if the navy was used to break the strike. A spokesman stated that “If they use force and hurt any of our members, we will hurt the economy.’” (Carroll and Bowcott 1 May 2003).[8]


In June, Obasanjo, under pressure from the World Bank,  announced a 55% increase in the price of oil products. The National Labour Congress called a general strike for 30 June 2003 to reverse the price increase. On 2 July, the third day of the strike, “Ijaw and other pro-Niger Delta activists” announced their intention to “close down all the oil flow stations in the Niger Delta and sack all the oil companies operating in the area [and] target the oil terminals in Forcados and Bonny” (Ebonugwo 2 July 2003).


Leaders of the two oil workers’ unions responded to the possibility of a community shut-down of oil by backing away from participation in the general strike.[9] Oil union bureaucrats were capable of rescinding a strike threat by waged workers. But they were not capable of controlling community occupations of oil facilities. Despite this strategic faultline, by Monday 7 July, day eight of the general strike; waged and unwaged workers in the informal sector had forged sufficient unity to challenge the government’s grip on power. The following account of  the ‘day of rage’ draws on reports by Ebonugwo (9 July) and Ifijeh (10 July).


By 7 July, the populace had “fully thrown its weight behind the NLC’s (Nigerian Labour Congress) call for civil disobedience, following government’s failure to effect a reversal of the new prices after a five-day ultimatum.” In a major set-back for the government, sections of the police joined the general strike. On Monday 7 July, a Lagos police (OPC) spokesman told the Vanguard that “the OPC was in support of the strike and was taking part in its enforcement ....”


“From as early as 7am, pro-labour protesters, made up of youths, students, artisans, suspected members of the Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) led by NLC officials and members of the United Action for Democracy (UAD) broke into the street to protest what they termed the arrogance of the Federal Government, President Olusegun Obasanjo in particular, for not reaching agreement with the NLC on feasible prices of petroleum products after a week of the strike action and negotiations.” Protesters staged rallies before on-looking policemen. They sang solidarity songs “while raining abuses and curses on President Obasanjo for causing hardship on the people.”


“The fury knew no bounds with anger visibly written on the faces of the protesting youths ... They claimed that they had exhausted food and cash at home after a week of being home for the strike action, denouncing the government for offering to peg petrol price at N35 [US$ .26 per litre]. Nothing short of the old price of N26 [US$ .20], they said, would be acceptable to them, stating that even the N32 [US$ .24], being negotiated by the NLC with government would not make any significant reduction in prices of goods and transport fares.” In a country in which 70% of the population lives on less than US$1 per day, these fuel price increases marked a major degradation of living standards. The price of one litre of gasoline moved from a fifth to a quarter of daily cash income for almost three-quarters of the population.


In Lagos, ‘area boys’ mounted barricades, made bonfires of disused tyres and dumped waste on road sides. They smashed vehicles, robbed drivers who were found on the road and hijacked motorcycles from delivery men, shouting, “don’t you know there’s a strike today?” Some “hoodlums took advantage of the attendant anti-fuel hike protests to unleash terror and mayhem on hapless commuters and motorists” and “had gone ahead to rape some ladies who dared to venture out in the early hours of the morning.” People ran helter skelter to flee the streets. Members of the public reportedly “vowed not to leave their homes again until the NLC called off the strike.”


Those police who turned on the public “were beaten back by protesters, who wielded weapons of all sorts. They had asked the police to retreat in their own interest or they would meet them force for force. ... the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) ... were forced to make a retreat. ... protesting youths completely took over the roads. ... Protesters in Mushin through Mushin Olosa and Moshalasi displayed no less resistance to the police. ... Protesters in Yaba, who allegedly had locally made guns, did not give an inch to the police until they resorted to force. The entire area was severely smoked by the police [teargas].”


Hauwa Mustapha, a researcher with the National Labour Congress in Abuja, was severely beaten by ten policewomen when her picket blocked civil servants from entering the Abuja Secretariat. She stated that “the more those police beat me, the stronger I became. I was never intimidated. I expected it” (Ahiuma-Young and Igbintade 17 July 2003). General G.A. Kpember of the Nigerian Army ordered police to open the gate of the Abuja Secretariat by force of arms: “Open this place, you have arms, what are they for? Shoot! Shoot!!”[10]


On this single ‘day of rage,’ police allegedly killed 14 strikers and bystanders in Lagos alone (Nnanna 10 July 2003). NLC president Oshiomhole stated to the parents of one of the dead that “... if it is going to take organising another national protest to get the government to appreciate that they cannot kill and go, NLC will do it” (Komolafe 2003).


On day eight the general strike was 100 per cent effective in Lagos. Fuel stations were closed, their owners “scared of labour’s threat that stations which sell fuel risk having their fuel served out free to members of the public ... Protesters halted activities in the town, bringing it to a stand still ... The city was afire with thick smoke, billowing in the sky all over. ... The city [was] devoid of activities. As early as 8pm, the entire place was in total darkness ...” (Ifijeh 10 July 2003).


The Vanguard called market women the “heroines” of the general strike. Women were pivotal in the shut-down because they controlled food transport and sale. “Workers engaged in the informal sector; traders, artisans were the heros and heroines of the strike. ... The informal sector, especially market women played a significant role in the strike” (Vanguard 10 July 2003). The highly organized market women and traders kept the markets closed for nine days. Millions of urban residents without refrigeration began to run out of food after three days. From day four, hunger and anger increased exponentially. By Monday, day eight, the  government’s power was severely compromised: markets remained closed, sections of the police (and army?) were on the side of the general strikers, while those remaining loyal to the government were being trounced by ‘area boys’ and were unable to contain civil disobedience. Obasanjo may have been reluctant to test the disposition and capacities of his armed forces. Activists across the Niger Delta were mobilizing to shut down flow stations, occupy the oil export terminals and “sack” the oil companies. George Bush was scheduled to arrive in the country four days later, on Friday 11 July. Part of his purpose was to open ChevronTexaco’s giant deepwater Osun field.[11]


By day 9 of the strike it appeared that power was, as CLR James’ used to say, “rolling around in the streets.”[12] There were three possible solutions to the crisis. The first was to maintain the status quo of imperialist ‘democracy’ by acquiescing to the government’s and World Bank’s fuel price hike. This entailed calling off the general strike. The second was combined action by waged and unwaged workers to shut down the oil industry within the context of the general strike. This resolution would involve the expulsion of the oil companies, the convening of a national sovereignty conference and the possibility of a revolutionary move towards resource control by national and local communities.[13] The third option for crisis resolution was yet another military coup.

The real challenge to ‘imperial democracy’ and oil company control over the economy came from the potentially revolutionary combination of waged and unwaged workers’ who had the power to expel oil companies from the Niger Delta. To forestall this combination, the Obasanjo regime almost certainly threatened a coup. After Monday’s militant protests and faced with the likelihood of a coup, union officials broke the strike and urged people to return to work. NLC leaders opted for the maintenance of ‘corporate rule’ democracy and quickly settled with Obasanjo on a gasoline price of N34 per litre (a 31% hike).


Three observations may be made about the general strike and the sectoral strikes that preceded it. First, in these largely men’s strikes, the demands were about terms of labour commodification, not about the defence of subsistence against it. Second, peasants and other informal sector, unwaged people responded positively to the general strike call, but oil workers did not. Third, of the three possible solutions to the political crisis caused by the general strike, the trade unionists chose bourgeois democracy with a barely veiled military presence immediately behind the throne. By mid-July the military had begun to usurp elected governors’ power in a ‘creeping coup’ throughout the country and especially in the oilbelt.


As the national mobilization of the general strike wound down, the Delta insurgency intensified. Labour aristocrats in the oil unions had refused to endorse the general strike. The women of the Delta nullified this betrayal by forcing oil workers off the job. This culmination of a year of growing insurgency is the focus of part three.



Part 3

Women assert community control in the Delta, July - September 2003


On 10 July 2003, the day before US President Bush’s arrival in Nigeria, women took over many petroleum companies’ facilities in the Niger Delta including Amukpe, Sapele West and Imogu-Rumuekpe.[14] Some 80 unarmed peasant women, ranging in age from 25 to 60, drove oil workers out of the Amukpe flow station, took possession of all vehicles, changed the facility’s locks, installed their cooking equipment, made their infants and toddlers comfortable and began “running shifts” of several dozen women each. The women demanded that Shell keep promises made earlier, employ local people, provide domestic amenities including water and electricity and remove a recently-installed chain-link fence that impeded their agricultural product processing. Finally, they said Amukpe would be a “no-go zone for oil companies” if Shell failed to honour past and present demands.


Within days the Delta was substantially under the control of a network of indigenous clan-based organizations. On 1 August 2003 one source reported that “there have been several women’s actions here ... the whole place is full of such actions, which are symptomatic of the state of the collapse of the Nigerian state and environmental decay” (IOWG, 1 August 2003). The government and oil companies were denied profits from a total of some 1.1 million b/d or over a third of Nigeria’s estimated overall production capacity of  3.3 mbd because communities had shut-in 817,500 b/d of oil production and were siphoning off another 300,000 b/d to sell on their own accounts (Oduniyi 27 March 2003; Oil Daily 11 July 2003; Platts 31 July 2003).Villagers’ actions from March to December 2003 denied the government an estimated US$11 million a day and cost the oil companies an estimated minimum of US$2.5 million a day in foregone profits alone.


The oil companies demanded military intervention. Civil society organizations in an open letter to Bush, opposed US troop involvement. The broad coalition, including Niger Delta Women for Justice, told Bush that “The corporations have been flaring death-dispensing gas into the atmosphere of local communities, mangling fishing waters and farmlands with oil from old and broken pipelines they have refused to maintain and repair, cutting down forests and abolishing fresh water sources. We have seen them march alongside Nigerian soldiers they pay with blood money, into villages and hamlets killing, maiming and raping young men and women whose only crime is that they dared raise their voice to protest the wanton destruction of their lives and sources of livelihood” (ERA 11 July  2003).


In July 2003 the Washington D.C. based Institute for Policy Studies reported that the Pentagon planned “to move between 5,000 and 6,500 troops from bases in Germany to various countries in Africa with the express purpose of protecting US oil interests in Nigeria.” Furthermore, “according to the Wall Street Journal, US officials claim that a key mission for US forces [in Africa] would be to ensure that Nigeria’s oil fields are secure” (Nuri 9 July 2003). By September 2003 US troops were in the Delta. The Vanguard reported that “Right now we are co-habiting the Niger Delta with the Marines and US Naval patrol boats of different sizes” (Igho 4 September 2003).


The Nigerian government and international media rationalized and justified military intervention by reference to ‘ethnic conflict’ in a ‘failed state’. Oil companies were notorious for ‘engineering’ conflict. As Nimmo Bassey, director of Nigeria’s ERA asked, “how can peace find a foothold on these shores when communities that have lived at peace for centuries are engineered to live in suspicion of each other and in conflict with one another while others plunder their resources?” (21 September 2002). By fomenting division, oil companies fulfilled Brzezinski’s imperative to “keep the barbarians from coming together” (1997:40). The Economist, in a May 2003 review of Paul Collier’s World Bank report, Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy (2003), endorsed Collier’s resuscitation of  the old imperialist rationale that military ‘peacekeeping’ was the only route to ‘stability’ and hence to ‘poverty alleviation.’ Washington had planned the West African  military incursion, apparently since at least 2000, in tandem with its attack on Iraq. Bush’s State Department head of policy planning, Richard Haass argued back in 2000 that the United States, No 1 superpower, should multiply its military interventions in order to enhance its global strategic assets: “Imperial understretch, not overstretch appears to be the greater danger of the two” (Haass 2000).[15]

But in Nigeria, as in Iraq, it is unlikely that the US can succeed in actually controlling the oil industry through force of arms or legal manoeuvres such as Presidential Directive 13303 which gives US oil companies immunity from prosecution for their actions in Iraq (Kerr 2003; Girion 7 August 2003).[16] The Delta has a long history of success in repelling invasion by sea.[17] Allusions to a contemporary chapter were made by the chairman of Burutu local government area of Delta state, Asupa Forteta, who on 18 July decried the “high level of brigandage and turbulence being witnessed in the riverine communities and waterways.” He sought to stamp out “anti-social vices such as piracy, hostage taking, oil pipeline vandalisation, and so on.”  The military advantage enjoyed by residents indigenous to the Delta was underlined: “Those behind these dastardly acts are people that you and I know; strangers cannot effectively operate in our terrains because of its peculiarity” (Delta State Government 18 July 2003). Hidden in chairman Forteta’s declamation was the insight that only members of oil communities could defend the Delta or carry out illegal bunkering because only they could “effectively operate in our terrains.”


After activists established control over much of the western Delta’s oil production infrastructure by March 2003, did they secure and sell crude on the international market? Are villagers and ex- oil workers not only shutting down the industry, but also restarting it on their own account by marketing crude and products? These questions are sharpened by press reports in 2003 of armed Delta youth overcoming the Coast Guard and ‘rescuing’ an impounded illegal bunkering vessel. Does this confrontation foreshadow, in part, the future content of the struggle for ‘resource control’? Are peasants going beyond the sacking of oil companies to start up the lifting and sale of crude on a new basis? Are they defending the process by force of arms? Government’s armed forces lost most confrontations in the byzantine mangrove swamps of the Delta’s riverine zones. The combined forces of the oil companies, federal and state governments and all their law enforcement agencies had not, by September 2003, suppressed the Delta militants, in part because “strangers cannot effectively operate in our terrains.” Many militants were said to be armed by ‘illegal oil traders’ or those positioned to buy guns with proceeds from that trade. Is the future of 21st century subsistence on the Delta enclosed in the potential for direct producer-consumer deals in oil?


In early September 2003 Delta activists held the oil installations and continued to shut-in some 40 per cent of oil production. Their capacities to withstand military attacks have to do with the high level of community solidarity, explicit support from women who control food supplies and trade, and the extremely complex and inaccessible nature of the mangrove swamp terrain. The ‘resource control’ revolutionaries are well-armed. Buyers abound for ‘parallel market’ crude. Solidarity with Delta commoners goes deep, reaching back to pro-Biafra campaigns in the 1960s, anti-apartheid networks in the 1970s, cooperation to stop oil to the racist regime in South Africa in the 1980s, boycott Shell mobilizations to support the Ogoni struggle in the 1990s and in the 2000s, and the groundswell of anti-war nude militancy after women seized ChevronTexaco’s Escravos oil terminal in 2002.


Beyond international solidarity is the deepening of relations fundamental to global alternatives to corporate rule. Direct producer-consumer oil deals are central to these alternatives. Nigerian insurgents may already be fashioning direct deals. Since 1985 Nigerians have organized oil barter or ‘countertrades.’ Supplies of Nigerian crude would make possible popular, ecological-sound, citizens’ control of refineries in Trinidad and Tobago, in South Africa, in Cuba and elsewhere. These visions of the future inform the strategizing of commons environmentalists and ‘resource control’ activists.


ChevronTexaco, Shell, ExxonMobil and the other oil companies in Nigeria may visit the Delta peoples with terrible military carnage. International vigilance and readiness to hold the corporations accountable are deterrents. The majors seek direct control over Nigerian, West African, Middle Eastern, Asian and Latin American petroleum reserves. Instability in oil producing countries, and shut-down petroleum facilities are not necessarily shunned by the majors. They can be turned to a profit.[18]

Other constraints may confront the US military. US military adventurism in Iraq, Venezuela and Nigeria have had two untoward results for Imperial America. First, imperial intervention has produced sharper and deeper national opposition to foreign petroleum capital and its drive to privatize especially the upstream industry. Second, it has forged tighter international unity amongst those resistanting US military interference in the three countries. Possibilities for coordination against imperial oil and for popular, international control over a restructured oil industry are considered in the conclusion.



Conclusion: “Stand up now”


“I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger Delta, and the oppressed minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on their side, God is on their side. For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41: “All those who fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor.” Come the day”

            Ken Saro-Wiwa, 1995


Two themes considered in this conclusion are the roots of insurgents’ power in subsistence and corporate organization, and direct producer-consumer deals.


In 2003 Epstein (116) argued that it is only by “draw[ing] out the connections between production and consumption under capitalism” that the global anti-war movement can gain “staying power, the capacity for its different elements to coalesce, and a meaningful political praxis”. This study has drawn out those global ‘connections between production and consumption’ as they emerged through conscious praxis at the community and world levels in the period July 2002 to September 2003. It has treated the genesis, successes and possible futures of these global gendered class alliances by relating them to the defence and re-invention of the commons and the subsistence political economy, north and south (Bennholdt-Thomsen and Mies 1999:144).


In his famous 2003 anti-war song UK artist Billy Bragg asks of the attack on Iraq, “why him, why here, why now?” He answers “It’s all about the price of oil.” Bichler and Nitzan agree: the oil majors made war to increase their profits (down from 19 to three percent of global corporate profits between 1980 and 2000). The weapondollar-petrodollar coalition was supported by non-oil corporations keen to impose stagflation and dispel the nightmare of deflation by forcing on ‘terrorized’ consumers the oil cost hikes embodied in their commodities (2003a, 2003b).


The US military attack on Iraq, its failed coup and oil industry lock-out in Venezuela and insurgency in Nigeria delivered a ‘perceived supply risk’ to the oil market (Spiegel 2003). Prices escalated to $35/b in late 2002 and early 2003. The oil majors scored stupendous profits as consumers charged them with “gouging customers.”[19] Historic highs were announced for the first quarter of 2003 by Shell, ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco (Gow 2003). “Exxon, the world’s largest oil group, reported the biggest quarterly corporate profits in history at $7bn....”[20] In contrast, losses attributed to Nigerian ‘troubles’ were announced by the Canadian Nexen, PanAtlantic and the US TransOcean (Energy Intelligence 21 August 2003; Oil Daily 30 July 2003). On the one hand, Nigerian women and their allies, by expelling the majors from the Delta, cut out of the world market some 800,000 b/d or about one percent. They thereby raised prices and the overall take of the majors and OPEC governments. On the other hand, on a national basis, insurgents forced net losses on Shell, ChevronTexaco, the other international subsidiaries and the Nigerian government.[21]


The central focus in this concluding assessment is on the sources of insurgent power. Power arose from defending the social relations of subsistence and attacking the social relations of commodification. The unwaged were and are integrated inextricably into both. Women and their allies were able to achieve a remarkable degree of success by commanding and exercising power grounded in their own life-centred political economy and in the enclosing oil-death economy. The two foundations of insurgent peasant power were subsistence itself and the organization bequeathed by the transnational oil corporations. Both groundings were at once national and international.


First, the unwaged, peasants, indigenous people and women were firmly ensconced on the commons. These subsistence life grounds provided the means through which to satisfy most life needs. These are the same grounds and commons that capital sought to enclose, commodify and destroy. The commons, then, were both a site of struggle and a crucial source of the power for Escravos and all Niger Delta communities in their war against the oil transnationals. Central to the continued existence of the commons in the Niger Delta are the village, trade and clan-based organizations which prosecuted the insurgency. Over the past decade, through processes of direct democracy, each ‘nationality’ formulated declarations which contain demands and programs. A fundamental universal demand is ‘resource control.’ More recently coalitions of these clan-based organizations have been formed and are calling for ‘a national sovereignty conference’ to remake the Nigerian political economy. Prominent among the many cross-cutting solidarity networks were Chicoco, which brought together some 27 ethnic groups of small farming and fishing peoples; and the pan-Delta and international Niger Delta Women for Justice.[22] Autonomous village organizations, linked to each other through regional solidarity networks, coordinated pan-Delta defence against Nigerian and US military counterinsurgency and took over the administration of their own communities.


The subsistence political economy supported the unwaged majority. While insurgents frequently charged oil companies with holding communities hostage; in reality peasants were food self-sufficient. As all were reminded during the general strike, women controlled strategic urban food sources. Most low-waged workers relied for their needs on African women engaged in subsistence production and trade. At the same time, oil companies ravaged the environment and made it increasingly untenable for anyone or anything to survive in the vicinity of oil wells, pipelines, flares and other production and export facilities. These facts go a long way towards explaining why women were at the forefront of Nigeria’s 2002-2003 oil wars. They ‘held their ground’ to defend subsistence against the most powerful corporations in the world. They did so peacefully; armed with actual, considerable power to give and deny life. This moral high ground gave women warriors the capacity to visit public relations catastrophes on oil majors which, in 2003 were struggling to annex Iraq’s 250 billion barrels of oil behind the thin veil drawn by their seconded personnel in the White House. In the highly-developed subsistence political economy of Nigeria, the threat of women’s naked protests had a Hydra-like power to force men to stop and flee in fear (Linebaugh and Rediker 2001:327-354). It was a power that eroded the surety of the male deal between Nigerian men and the oil ‘corporate male gang’ (McMurtry 2001). When women made international connections and took naked protests to the global stage, their aim was precisely to break down the bonds of the global male deals that were driving Bush’s neoconservative Imperial America toward new oil wars.


This brings us to the second source of the power of the emergent global gendered class alliances against the oil-war machine: the corporations themselves. Insurgents in Nigeria’s oil war built links with other national and international actors in three integrated arenas: the parallel market, boycotts and the coordinated assertion of community control over petroleum resources. As oil companies consolidated and militarized their global control over oil resources, they bound more closely the interests, capacities and experiences of people in all parts of the world (Other Shell Report 2003).[23] Oil companies’ environmental racism impelled communities to enforce resource control. They organized joint producer-consumer actions against oil companies and oil-wars. These began with Nigerian women’s 2002 ChevronTexaco takeovers and continued with international boycotts from September 2002, women’s naked protests in California in November 2002 and the 50 million strong global anti-war demonstration of 15 February 2003. These global actions were extended by the creation of a national producer-consumer alliance against big oil in Nigeria during the general strike of June-July 2003. Throughout the period, the demands of Niger Delta women continued to present the most far-reaching challenges to corporate oil power. They used nakedness and direct occupation of oil facilities to break the male deal. Their explicit demand was that the oil companies “should leave our community completely and never come back again” (ERA 22 July 2002).


Direct deals are alternatives to market control by the majors. In Nigeria were barrels shut in and then sold on the international and national markets? Was the buoyancy of the parallel market in Nigerian oil a central motivation for US military intervention?[24]

The crucial gendered and ethnicized class unity demonstrated in producer-consumer joint actions is a precondition for going beyond oil production shutdowns. If Nigerian oil workers, indigenous communities and other democratic organizations in the future move beyond shutdowns to running the oil industry on their own; the widely articulated goals of reparations for the environmental debt owned Nigeria, pollution cleanup and wise use of petroleum wealth could be realized. A kind of reparations would be won to the extent that oil workers and indigenous organizations were able to sell or barter oil directly. Direct deals would enable a Nigerian ‘sovereign national convention’ to use the proceeds to support life, and stop the current practice of revenue theft and the use of foreign exchange from oil sales to service every-increasing levels of International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Paris Club debt.


In 2001, the noted oil economist, Michael Tanzer encouraged direct deals via multi-state oil barter: “By developing a multilateral barter exchange system for Third World commodities, such a strategy could secure reliable revenues for the oil-exporting countries, while providing the oil-importing countries with a steady flow of oil, and with export outlets at fair prices for their own commodities” (2001:24). In 2002, feminist economist, Ellie Perkins identified typical features of such direct deals in which value is set by discourse between autonomous ‘resource controlling’ parties.[25]

This analysis of Nigerian women’s shutdown of major oil companies in 2002-2003, and the alliances they forged at home and abroad has explained ‘why women are at war’ by arguing that they were defending subsistence. It has accounted for the sweep of the insurgency’s growth by reference to the force of oil companies as agencies for the organization, unity and discipline of those caught in corporate nets. Women worldwide, by asserting life against the corporate death economy, are impelling the movements against neo-imperial war for corporate rule to champion a subsistence life economy alternative. The future of the oil component of this new set of social relations lies in the elaboration of direct deals between producers and consumers who have a track record of coordination in wresting resource control from oil corporations.


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Vanguard. 2003. “We Shoot to Maim - Police ... People Died - NLC,” Vanguard (Lagos), 31 July.


Vidal, John. 2003. “Oil rig hostages are freed by strikers as mercenaries fly out,” The Guardian, 3 May, http://www.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4661001,00.html.


Wamala, Irene. 2002. “Nigerian Women Take on the Oil Companies,” Women and Environments, No. 56/57, Fall, p. 38.


Back Cover


Pull Quotes:

Why were women ‘at war with Chevron?’ Christiana Mene of the Escravos Women Coalition explained that “We want Chevron to employ our children. If Chevron does that we the mothers will survive, we will see food to eat. Our farms are all gone, due to Chevron’s pollution of our water. We used to farm cassava, okro, pepper and others. Now all the places we’ve farmed are sinking, we cannot farm. We cannot kill fishes and crayfish. That is why we told Chevron that Escravos women and Chevron are at war” (Abiola 14 July 2002).


“Chevron brought soldiers and police to threaten us when we were at Chevron yard. If Chevron wants to kill us, we are no longer afraid. We women have taken over the yard. But we are not afraid because Chevron is on our land. All we want is for Chevron to leave our land” (Environmental Rights Action, hereafter ERA,13 July 2002).4


In 2000, when oil revenues were US$325 per capita, per capita GDP remained at the 1965 level. In other words, all the oil revenues - US$350 billion in total - did not seem to add to the standard of living at all. Worse, however, it could actually have contributed to a decline in the standard of living” (Sala-i-Martin and Subramanian 2003: 4).




[1]          In 1999 the major oil companies active in Nigeria and their share of crude oil production were Shell, 40%; Mobil (now ExxonMobil), 25%; Gulf (now ChevronTexaco), 21% and Agip (now TotalFinaElf), 12%. Two per cent of production was shared by Ashland (of the USA), Deminex (Germany), Pan Ocean (Switzerland), British Gas, Sun Oil (USA), Conoco (USA), Statoil (Norway), Conoil (Nigeria) and Dubril Oil (Nigeria). The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had a 55-60% joint venture interest in the majors’ operations. The United States took about 40% of Nigeria’s exports. The remainder was exported to Spain, South Korea, India, France, Japan, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Thailand (Frynas 2000:16, 246-247; Okonta and Douglas 2001:54).

[2]          An exception to the silencing of women and more broadly, analysis of gender relations is Sokari Ekine’s 2001 oral history-based account of Niger Delta women’s experiences with the oil companies and their military defenders, Blood and Oil: Testimonies of Violence from Women of the Niger Delta, Oxford, UK: Centre for Democracy and Development.

[3]          This  is a chant sung by women during their occupation ChevronTexaco’s Abiteye flow station in July 2002 (cited in Okon 2002). It echoes Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s “No Agreement,” originally released in 1977 by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and The Africa 70. 

[4]          In September 2002, during a speech to oil industry executives gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 17th World Petroleum Congress, ChevronTexaco’s chairman and chief executive officer David O’Reilly made reference to the Nigerian village women’s seven occupations. In contrast to Queen Uwara’s testimony that “Chevron brought soldiers and police to threaten us when we were at Chevron yard” (ERA 13 July 2002), O’Reilly stated that the oil company’s Nigerian representatives had handled the situation “with great sensitivity” and that he was “proud of their efforts” to reach an understanding with the women (IOD 5 September 2002).

[5]          Contrast the nudity of anti-oil, anti-war activists with the titillating near-nudity of contestants in the Miss World contest. In November 2002, Miss World contestants gathered in Nigeria and prepared to strut down the cat-walk with low-cut or see-through evening gowns to be judged on their physical appearance. A Nigerian woman fashion reporter wrote an article about the beauty queens which some Muslims read as blasphemy. Riots erupted in the streets and over 200 people were killed. Women’s nakedness in the context of protests against big oil and war was concerned with birth, regeneration, the womanly source of life and subsistence, as well as the power to take life that has been given. In contrast, the beauty queens’ hyper-sexualized bodies showed no signs of having given birth. These bodies were shaped by the multi-billion dollar markets in plastic surgery, cosmetics, diet products, fashion and pornography. Just as the potency of naked protest derived from women’s importance to the subsistence production of human life, the power of the near-nakedness of beauty contestants was rooted in its centrality to the commodified pursuit of profits for major corporations.

[6]          These words were used in Nigerian press accounts of the strikes during this period. ‘Pirates’ and ‘miscreants’ referred to those who sold oil products on the parallel market and who stopped oil vessels on the high seas and the Delta creeks to demand payment for passage. ‘Hydra-headed monster’ was used in a discussion of conflict in oil communities to describe three ethnic groups in the Delta; Ijaw, Itsikeri and Urhobo (Nzeshi 2003). The writer blamed conflict on the ethnic groups rather than identifying the destruction and enclosure of the commons, competition for jobs, revenues and resources as well as the divisive tactics of the oil companies themselves. At the same time Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director of ERA, described Shell’s giant new Floating Storage Production and Off-loading (FPSO) vessel as “a monster rearing its head” (Kpor 2002). ‘Street urchins’ were part of the multitudes who participated in the general strike of 30 June to 8 July. Nnanna (10 July 2003) stated that the leader of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Oshiomhole, “should take adequate judicial note of those very important Nigerians, whom the police often foolishly describe as ‘street urchins.’ Those are the people that give industrial struggles such as we have just passed through their potent striking power. They are the people who get shot at for coming out to express the feelings of the people, even if sometimes a little bit exuberantly. Those ‘street urchins’ are Nigerian youths united irrespective of tribe, religion, region or party affiliation, against obnoxious official policy. The police would not grade them as ‘street urchins’ if their demonstration was in favour of the government of the day for any reason. They would then become ‘patriotic Nigerian youths.’”  The multitudes also included market women, traders, artisans, other informal sector workers, religious leaders, bank workers, concerned professionals, trade unionists, “area boys” or unemployed urban youth, teachers, university lecturers, students, governors Bola Tinubu of Lagos State, Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano and Bafarawa of Sokoto State, unemployed people, villagers and subsistence farmers and fishers.

[7]          Four months later, on 2 July 2003 three oil workers died in a fire outbreak ignited by an explosion on a contractor’s drilling rig (IOD 3 July 2003).

[8]          In a simultaneous but possibly separate struggle, concerning the “Sea Eagle” FSPO, on April 28, Shell took out full-page advertisements in Nigerian newspapers saying that it “had been warned that “criminal elements” were threatening to torch a storage vessel. The ad warned that “The scale of economic, human and environmental carnage that a blow-out on the FPSO (floating production, storage and offloading vessel) can result in is unimaginable. ... Information reaching us reveals that anytime from now, the vessel could be boarded by force of arms and set on fire” (BBC 28 April 2003).

[9]          On 3 July, day four of the strike, the oil workers’ junior staff union NUPENG had begun “removing staff from posts” But NUPENG called off the strike action on 4 July, day five of the national action. Then on 5 July, day six of the strike, the Trade Union Congress called off its strike action. This immediately prompted the senior oil staff union, PENGASSAN, to cancel its participation in the general strike which it had intended to begin on Sunday 6 July (IOD 8 July 2003).

[10]         Kpember’s statement was recorded during a hearing of the Senate committee on the conduct of the police during the strike concerning allegations of killing and brutalization. At the same hearing, one officer stated that the police “never shoot to kill, only to maim” (Vanguard 31 July 2003).

[11]         Bush and his entourage visited Nigeria on 11-12 July 2003 after calling on Uganda, Algeria and South Africa. These last two are co-sponsors, with Nigeria, of the 2002 ‘group of eight’s’ corporate rule initiative called the New Economic Program for African Development (NEPAD). With Bush were ex-ChevronTexaco board member, Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell. The United States was planning a military invasion of Nigeria’s oilfields. The two African-American members of Bush’s cabinet made anodyne references to slavery in order to forestall African-American opposition to neo-imperial adventures in the motherland. Bush urged Nigeria to leave OPEC or at least exempt from OPEC’s quotas the production from ChevronTexaco’s new giant .33 billion barrel deep off-shore Osun oil discovery.

[12]         C.L.R. James (1901-1989) would frequently say “The task of the revolutionary is to be prepared. When power is rolling around in the streets be ready to pick it up. Use it to extend democracy. Use it to move decisively against the counterrevolution.”

[13]         Nnanna (2003) characterized the strike as “a great historic struggle of the Nigerian people.”

[14]         Shell security men were responsible for the beating of Nwonodi, a 70 year old woman protestor at Imogu-Rumuekpe. Though several similar women’s anti-oil actions took place in Delta State, Port Harcourt and elsewhere, they remained largely unreported  (IOWG 1 August 2003). The women’s July take over of Shell’s flowstation was provoked by a year of combatting a devastating Shell oil spill, the following account of which was provided by ERA in 2002. “Mgbuodo is a small rural community in Rumuekpe clan of the Ikwerre ethnic nationality in the Niger Delta (in the Emuoha Local Government Area of Rivers State). Shell Petroleum Development Company Nigeria Limited (SPDC) began its activities in the community in 1963, with the establishment of its locations and laying of pipelines. Shell has 4 production locations in the community. The inhabitants are poor and their community highly undeveloped. 90% of the rural population depend solely on farming and fishing for subsistent existence. In the community, there is a total absence of such basic services as electricity, pipe - borne water, hospitals, and good housing and all-weather roads.” In their report, ERA stated that “Shell pollutes Mgbuodo community, [and] lies to the people.” ERA provided details of  “a major crude oil blow-out [which] occurred on Friday, August 28, 2002, at SPDC’s well 3 and spilled large volume of crude oil into the rural Mgbuodo village and its environment.” ERA interviewed Chief S. O. Nwogwonum, 60 years old, a retired public officer and community leader. The farmer and fisherman, “husband of 5 wives and father of 31 children, did not mince words as he ventilated their frustrations with SPDC’s insincerity: “As a chief of the community, I led the community's delegation to meet with Shell over their promise of stopping the spill, clearing it, sending relief package to us and paying us adequate compensation. You see, my community never experienced this kind of accident before. Jude, the Shell's C.L.O. and his men, who visited our community when the spill occurred never came again. Few days after, we visited the SPDC's Industrial Area in Rumumasi area, Community Relations Department (CRD) Room 4: We waited and when Jude didn't show up we went out of the gate and used a public phone to call him. Jude told us on phone that we should go home, that he is going to our community to see us and settle everything. We went and my brother! As I am talking to you (Tuesday, September 10, 2002), we have not seen Jude or any of Shell's officials here. And the spill is spreading and destroying our community”” (ERA 10 September 2002).

[15]         By 2002, Richard Haass was arguing that a state that was unable to control terrorism at home had lost “the normal advantages of sovereignty, including the right to be left alone inside own territory. Other governments, including the U.S., gain the right to intervene. In the case of terrorism this can even lead to a right of preventative, or preemptory, self-defense” (Haass, Richard, quoted in Michael Hirsh, At War with Ourselves, p. 251).

[16]         “An executive order signed by President Bush more than two months ago is raising concerns that U.S. oil companies may have been handed blanket immunity from lawsuits and criminal prosecution in connection with the sale of Iraqi oil. ... But lawyers for various advocacy organizations said the two-page executive order seemed to completely shield oil companies from liability — even if it could be proved that they had committed human rights violations, bribed officials or caused great environmental damage in the course of their Iraqi-related business. “As written, the executive order appears to cancel the rule of law for the oil industry or anyone else who gets possession or control of Iraqi oil or anything of value related to Iraqi oil,” said Tom Devine, legal director for the Washington-based Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit group that defends whistle-blowers. ... According to the order, “any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment or other judicial process is prohibited, and shall be deemed null and void, with respect to the following: “(a) the Development Fund for Iraq and (b) all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein, and proceeds, obligations or any financial instruments of any nature whatsoever arising from or related to the sale or marketing thereof, and interests therein, in which any foreign country or a national thereof  has any interest, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons.” Girion reported further that “The order defines “persons” to include corporations, and covers “any petroleum, petroleum products or natural gas originating in Iraq, including any Iraqi-origin oil inventories, wherever located.” Betsy Apple, an attorney for Earthrights International, which brings lawsuits on behalf of alleged victims of human rights abuses abroad, said the scope of the order goes far beyond the way the Treasury Department has billed it. “It's very disingenuous to suggest that the only thing that’s being protected here are development funds for Iraq,” she said. “That’s trying to hide the fact that it’s the oil companies who are doing that work and generating those proceeds.” Devine of the Government Accountability Project suggested that the wording of the order was so broad that it could apply to anything from exploration and production of Iraqi oil to advertising and sales at U.S. gas pumps. “Let's say I work at a Madison Avenue firm that engages in false advertising” as part of a campaign to market gasoline that was made from Iraqi crude, Devine said. The way the executive order is drawn, it appears that the ad agency “can lie to consumers as much as they want ... without any recourse by the Federal Trade Commission.” Devine added that if an oil company employee working in Iraq was fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing allegedly committed by his employer, the executive order could make it impossible for him to collect damages from the company. Similarly, an operator of an oil tanker that suffered a major spill while hauling Iraqi crude could be immune from liability, thanks to the executive order, lawyers said. “That oil was shipped out of Iraq and it’s protected,” Apple said. “The company that failed to ensure it was using up-to-date tankers is not going  to be held accountable.... There is nothing that anybody can do for any recourse.” ... Jamin Raskin, a professor of constitutional law at American University, said the order appeared to improperly negate occupational safety laws aimed at protecting workers in the oil industry and to strip U.S. citizens of their right to sue. He cited in particular the part of the order that says “judicial processes” are “null and void.”  “That language seems to destroy the prospect of any enforcement of civil or criminal liability,” Raskin said.” (Girion 7 August 2003).

[17]         The US supported the 26 September 2003 launch by Russia’s Rowbrow Export of Nigeria’s first satellite, “boosting surveillance of the West African country's military and crude oil facilities. ...“Some of the functions of the satellite will be defense and security surveillance, pipeline surveillance, population surveying, and soil mapping," Information Minister Chukwuemeka Chikelu said. (International Oil Daily. 2003. “Nigeria's Satellite Surveillance,” International Oil Daily 25August, www.energyintel.com).

[18]         The oil companies are in the business of making profits, of securing a return higher than the Fortune 500 industrials’ average rate of profit (Bichler and Nitzan 2002). Violence, military attacks and instability drive up prices even if they do not impose actual shortages of crude on the world market. Higher prices mean higher profits. The majors’ seek to control oil reserves in order to control how much oil is on the market, the terms of its sale, who buys it and at what price. Nitzan and Bichler have demonstrated that when major oil companies’ profits fall below the average, war is fomented and profits recover. Their analysis argues that the oil companies want and possibly promote strife in producing societies. This is especially the case in the 2000s when, they argue, the majors are pursuing an accumulation strategy based on stagflation (stagnation of the economy, inflation in prices). Higher oil product prices can only be imposed on the consumer under crisis conditions (war on terrorism, suspension of civil liberties). This accumulation strategy is a corporate weapon against deflation and the implosion of the capitalist system. It is in this international strategic framework that the struggles in Nigeria’s oilbelt can best be analyzed and understood.

[19]         Michael Shames, executive director of Utility Consumers Action Network, a watchdog group in San Diego, California, said ChevronTexaco’s 2003 first quarter doubling of profits was “[d]isgusting. It really is. ... It confirms my thesis that they weren’t [merely] passing on higher costs of oil to consumers; they were gouging customers” (Kopytoff 3 May 2003).

[20]         “Shell capped a record first quarter for the oil majors by announcing a doubling of earnings yesterday [2 May 2003] as war in Iraq, turmoil in Nigeria and strikes in Venezuela provoked a surge in prices. The three biggest oil groups - ExxonMobil, Shell and BP - earned almost $16bn (£10bn) in the first three months of this year when political unrest, military action and a cold winter in North America pushed prices as high as $35 a barrel. ... Shell’s record earnings came a day after Exxon, the world’s largest oil group, reported the biggest quarterly corporate profits in history at $7bn and three days after BP announced its own record of $3.7bn. ... ChevronTexaco, the second largest US oil group, joined the profits bonanza by more than doubling its earnings in the first quarter to $1.9bn, compared with $725m a year ago” (Gow 3 May 2003, our emphases).

[21]         The Nigerian government losses from the shut-in of 1 March to the end of 2003 of some 800,000 b/d and the diversion of some 200,000 b/d onto the parallel market were an estimated minimum of US$3.366 billion (assuming an average crude oil price of US$25/b minus a $3/b production cost). Oil companies operating in Nigeria lost US$765 million (assuming US$22/b for crude and a US$5/b refining margin). But because production shut-ins in Nigeria, Iraq and Venezuela created the perception of supply shortfalls, the world crude oil price rose in 2003. Assuming a US$30/b world price for Nigerian crude, government income from its 50% share of a 2 million b/d production for the period 1 March to 31 December 2003 totalled approximately US$18.176 billion. On the same assumptions and with a US$5/b refinery margin, the oil companies secured a net income on their one million b/d of US$3.06 billion. On the basis of these estimates, the Niger Delta oilfield takeovers in the last ten months of 2003 alone reduced government oil income (including windfalls from higher prices) by 19%. The takeovers reduced the oil companies’ income by 25%. Villagers’ actions from March to December 2003 denied the government an estimated US$11 million a day and cost the oil companies an estimated minimum of US$2.5 million a day in foregone profits alone.

[22]         In August 2000, twelve Niger Delta women representing several women’s organizations and federations met in Banjul, the Gambia and resolved that:

1.   Oil exploration, production and all other activities be suspended with immediate effect until amenities such as pipe borne water, electricity, safe water transportation systems, functional health centres, scholarship schemes and schools are provided in the Niger Delta;

2.   All laws inimical to the development of the Niger Delta people be repealed, including a total rejection of the 1999 constitution;

3.   All victims of oil spillages and fire disasters be compensated and treated;

4.   All qualified youths in the Niger Delta be gainfully employed by the government and multinationals and those summarily dismissed be reinstated;

5.   The percentage of interest payable on micro credit loans should be determined by participating women;

6.   The multinationals and government desist from making allegations of sabotage without proper investigations of any spill and stop the indiscriminate employment of youths of the Niger Delta for cleaning up exercises without appropriate protection, as a result of which their life spans are reduced drastically;

7.   The Niger Delta women be empowered economically, in order that they may claim their right to political empowerment;

8.   A law be enacted making it mandatory for oil companies to take responsibility for the welfare of any child and mother of such child born out of company’s staff’s promiscuous activities;

9.   Forthwith, any act that will further devastate the environment (our aquatic and ecological environment) be stopped immediately and all devastated environment be cleaned up;

10. Henceforth, all oil companies and sub-contractors adhere to all regulations and laws that apply to global environment standards, and Environmental Impact Assessment reports must be made public.

11. We be represented in all decision-making processes that affect us in the Niger Delta;

12. We totally support all the declarations of the ethnic nationalities of the Niger Delta for resource control, self determination and true Federalism;

13. All those unjustly detained should be released with immediate effect; and

14. The only solution to peace in the Niger Delta is justice (Niger Delta Women for Justice 2000).

[23]         The Other Shell Report demanded that Shell “send skilled and experienced international officials to meet with representatives at the sites where people living nearest to Shell are experiencing difficulties, and resolve these [environmental and health] problems.” The report called for Shell to “support national and international laws that allow affected communities to hold companies like Shell accountable for their negative impacts” (Other Shell Report 2003:5).

[24]         After Venezuela and Cuba struck barter deals whereby Cuba got oil in exchange for medical services and generic drug manufacturing processes, the US objected. In 2003, Cuba defended its barter exchange arrangements by asserting that they were equal in value to oil market exchanges. Nevertheless the Bush administration remained highly hostile to Cuba and to Chavez’ Venezuela. Iraq’s barter deal with India which secured the oil exporter grain and bought India crude was met in July 2002 with US and British opposition through the UN oil sales program and in 2003 through US military attack. Nigerian direct deals were under attack by the US oil companies, the Nigerian government and by September 2003, by the US military. The US regime, on behalf of the oil majors, has opposed oil barter with all its tremendous subsistence-promoting potential. Barter denies the majors control over prices and hence profits. But Imperial America has even more vigorously opposed public control of oil and gas exploration, production and reserves through state-owned corporations. Venezuela and Iraq have both resolutely opposed the ultimate US oil policy goal which is the privatization of state-owned oil production and reserves by the US and Anglo-Dutch major petroleum corporations.


In July 2002, International Oil Daily reported that “Iraq still objects to foreign investment in its energy sector through the oil-for-food program, despite the introduction of new procedures by the UN intended to accelerate the approval of civilian goods.” Faleh al-Khayat, director general at the Iraqi Oil Ministry, told a Geneva conference that “Iraq will never allow foreign investment in its oil industry under any framework of a sanctions regime, irrespective of any modifications and cosmetic changes that may be introduced” (Husari 2002).


In June 2002 “Rafael Ramirez, the Venezuelan energy minister, moved the issue of national sovereignty of oil producing countries onto the political agenda, telling reporters at an OPEC meeting in Qatar on 11 June 2002: “We need to emphasize that the world has left behind the colonial era, when one power could take by force another country’s resources”” (Slaven 2002).

[25]         According to Perkins, “The characteristics of discourse-based valuation are as follows: 1) It brings together all constituencies concerned with the outcome of a particular political decision to consider collectively the options and trade-offs involved. 2) It requires a considered and concerted effort to include, respect, and give voice to ALL constituencies affected. Near the beginning of the process, participants take time to consider who is not present that should be present, and how best to include those missing concerns. 3) Government officials and agencies are committed to implement and act upon the decisions and outcomes of the discourse process. 4) It generally begins, and is most useful, at the local level. The particular form the process takes is determined by the participants. 5) It starts from local needs and priorities. 6) It explicitly acknowledges that valuation in money terms is problematic for many important goods and services, and emphasized the issues of commensuration, compensation, and trade-offs among marketed and unmarketed things” (Perkins 2002: 16-17).