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DELTA #3 4/12

  + Diana Wiwa, International Representative of the Federation of Ogoni
  Women's Organisations (FOWA), introduces the recent struggles of women in Ogoni.
  On April 25, 1997, the Federation of Ogoni Women's Associations (FOWA), an
  umbrella group for all women's groups in Ogoni, took a resolution. This
  stated, "It is resolved that Shell cannot and must not be allowed in
  Ogoni.... we say no to Shell as it remains persona non grata in Ogoni". This
  pronouncement, amongst five other resolutions, was signed or thumb printed
  by over 300 women leaders in Ogoni who represent FOWA's 57,000 registered
  This action was taken by a well-organised African women's movement, one that
  has played a key role in one of the largest non-violent struggles for
  environmental and social justice in African history. How did these women
  become so well-organised? And where do they fit into their people's struggle?
  The birth of MOSOP and FOWA
  The era of the most intense protests began on January 4, 1993, when the
  Ogoni people took their future into their hands and peacefully protested
  against nearly four decades of environmental devastation by the oil company
  Shell. Over 300,000 people came out from a total Ogoni population of
  500,000, and the women played a key role in organising that massive protest.
  Not a single stone was thrown. 
  FOWA was set up in 1993 along with eight other units which make up the
  Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). MOSOP is the
  democratic organisation which represents the voice of the Ogoni people in
  the Niger Delta. It acts as an umbrella organisation for the Ogoni groups
  which together have a total membership of over 250,000 individuals: the
  Federation of Ogoni Women's Associations (FOWA); National Youth Council of
  the Ogoni People (NYCOP); Council of Ogoni Churches (COC); Council of Ogoni
  Professionals (COP); Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers (COTRA); National
  Union of Ogoni Students (NUOS); Ogoni Students Union (OSU); Ogoni Teachers
  Union (OTU); and Ogoni Central Union (OCU).  FOWA is like these other MOSOP
  units, independent but guided by MOSOP policies. It is widely recognised,
  however, that FOWA has grown to be the strongest component of the nine
  existing units of MOSOP.
  Shell in Ogoni
  Within the 404 square miles which make up Ogoni, the people depend on
  fishing, farming and trading for sustenance. This close relationship with
  the land means that Ogoni communities have placed a lot of emphasis on care
  of the environment, believing it to be the life giving source of the people
  and the dwelling place of their ancestors.
  With the discovery of oil in the 1950s, the Ogoni were completely unaware of
  the consequences of oil drilling, and were forced to accommodate the arrival
  of the oil industry. Being the producers of much of the food that was eaten
  in the Niger Delta, the Ogoni were not poor, and had hoped that the oil
  could make a relatively prosperous situation better. It did not take long
  for the Ogoni to see that this was not to be the case. Beyond the fact that
  the revenues from the oil did not get to the people, the social consequences
  of the environmental nightmare that had been unleashed were unbearable. They
  saw their farmland being expropriated for oil extraction without
  compensation, and faced no alternative means of survival. Pipelines often
  criss-crossed valuable farmland and poisonous gases were flared into the
  atmosphere close to communities. Ageing oil equipment very often failed and
  leaked oil into communities and farms without adequate clean-up. The
  performance of Shell and their lack of environmental standards was
  completely destructive of the environment - as well as of the Ogoni people
  themselves, dependent on the land and rivers for their survival. Those who
  suffered most were the women and children, who, unlike the young men, could
  not easily migrate to the urban areas to escape.
  Cultural traditions broken
  In the traditional Ogoni setting, when a woman gets married, her husband is
  required to give her a piece of land to farm. It is from this farm that she
  feeds her family and grows food for sale in order to buy other staples. This
  tradition allowed the women to enjoy a measure of independence. The
  fertility of Ogoni soil made it very fruitful for agriculture, producing
  high yields. The bountiful harvests left time for them to invest in cultural
  activities such as art, dancing, singing, and pottery making. 
  However, the constant acquisition of new territory for oil exploitation, and
  the resultant pollution from the industry, has left the Ogoni women with no
  means to feed or support their families. Women have to go further away from
  home to find unpolluted water for their domestic chores. Their children have
  not received employment in the oil industry (a mere fifty Ogoni were
  employed until 1993, mainly as cleaners and drivers), making young men and
  women a continuing responsibility for their mothers long after they should
  have been independent. These changes have brought a resultant rise of
  tension in the home. Testimonies of older women confirm that in the past
  there was less tension.
  The fattening room
  The health of a household has usually been dependent on the woman, who
  commonly had specific knowledge of local medicines. She learned about the
  local cures during her 'fattening room' period. This starts after the birth
  of her first child and lasts for one year. During this time, she is not
  allowed out of the family compound. Besides being a time for her to rest, it
  is also a time of schooling when she learns how to look after her child and
  home. She is attended to by women from her family and older women in the
  As pressure grows on the young women, forced to deal with shrinking
  agricultural resources, very little time is left for them to acquire the
  specialised health knowledge traditionally gained through a fattening room
  period. For those who still practice this tradition, it rarely exceeds two
  months - after which they must return to farming. 
  The loss of the fattening room and other traditions led the Ogoni women to
  make a conscious decision to organise against the oil industry on their
  land: a force they saw as being clearly responsible for cultural degradation
  in Ogoni. 
  The violence starts
  Since the grand protest of January 4, 1993, the Ogoni women have suffered
  first hand the violent reprisals instigated by the Nigerian military and
  their Shell counterparts.
  The first incidence of violence was in April 1993. An Ogoni woman, Mrs.
  Karalolo Korgbara, went very early in the morning to her farm. On arriving,
  she discovered it being bulldozed by Wilbros, a sub-contracted company
  working for Shell who were accompanied by well-armed soldiers. She attempted
  to protect what was left of her farm but was badly beaten. Mrs. Korgbara
  then left to inform the rest of the villagers of what was happening.
  Thousands came out carrying branches (a symbol of protest) and demonstrated
  peacefully.  The soldiers shot into the crowd of protesters, killing one
  Ogoni man, Mr. Agbarator Atu, and seriously wounding several others,
  including Mrs. Korgbara who had her arm amputated from the gunshot wound she
  Women's activity continues
  Despite this event, the Ogoni continued to organise. FOWA established units
  all over Ogoni and expanded its activities in all Ogoni communities. There
  are 126 branches of FOWA, one in every Ogoni village. It has made efforts to
  revive threatened cultural practices, such as pottery making and basket
  weaving, and has developed programs to look into areas like traditional
  family planning methods, health, and the education of young girls. 
  One key program was designed to inform and educate young Ogoni women about
  sexually transmitted diseases and birth control (prostitution was on the
  rise, believed to be related to the oil industry). FOWA had planned to set
  up a resource centre for its activities. In order to implement these
  programs, money had to be raised. FOWA did this through membership fees;
  existing and new women's co-operatives contributed, and a substantial amount
  was raised.
  Genocide begins
  The family planning discussions had just started across Ogoni when the next
  wave of military attacks hit the Ogoni people in August 1993. The people
  were caught completely unaware. By August 1994, thirty villages were
  destroyed, over 2000 people killed, more than 3000 injured, and about
  100,000 Ogoni made internal refugees. The women acted as swiftly as they
  could. Most of the money raised for women's development programs was put
  into securing food and medicine. Every Ogoni woman was asked to donate
  something to help resettle and rehabilitate the large number of refugees. 
  Ogoni had become a war zone. MOSOP put out a plea for help to the wider
  Nigerian and international community.We finally got some help from
  organisations such as the 'Daughters of Charity', a Catholic relief agency
  working in Nigeria. Despite the danger and hardship, the Ogoni women
  collected a garage full of food in less than three weeks. FOWA worked
  closely with the ad hoc 'Relief and Rehabilitation Committee', set up by
  MOSOP to handle the crisis, and distributed food and aid. 
  But by July 1994, the women's resources had been exhausted, and the refugees
  and the ruined villages were still a problem. The market squares where the
  women traded their goods with neighbouring communities had been destroyed.
  They had no way of raising further funds to support the internal refugees.
  In response to this continuing crisis, FOWA initiated an assimilation
  program in which Ogoni families absorbed refugees into their homes. FOWA
  also worked with MOSOP to formulate a plan by which the destroyed homes and
  villages could be rebuilt. The Canadian government helped rebuild about
  seven of the villages, including the destroyed market and school in Kaa.
  Sanitising Ogoni
  Still, no matter how FOWA and the Ogoni people worked to recover, the
  Nigerian military was to give them no respite. On the morning of April 21,
  1994, Ogoni leader and spokesperson Ken Saro-Wiwa was arrested on trumped-up
  charges. He was incarcerated for nine months before being charged and
  arraigned before a special military tribunal. To silence the well-publicised
  campaign of the Ogoni for environmental justice, an Internal Security Task
  Force (ISTF) was set up by the Nigerian dictatorship to terrorise the Ogoni.
  What followed was another story of horror. The ISTF set out, in the words of
  the commander of the force, to "sanitise Ogoni". The military went on a
  rampage - beating, killing, maiming, detaining, extorting money, looting,
  and raping throughout Ogoni. Women were often the targets.
  In June 1994, during an attack of the ISTF against an Ogoni village, Miss
  'B' fled into the forest along with her three younger siblings. She was only
  sixteen. Being in the forest several days without food for her siblings, and
  not being able to stop their cries of hunger, she ventured back into the
  village with the hope of procuring some food and water from their abandoned
  home. Before sunrise she went to get some water to cook. On her way back,
  and just a few feet from her home, she was attacked by the soldiers who had
  earlier driven away the villagers.  She was raped and beaten in broad
  daylight and in the presence of her siblings. In the attempt to save her
  they were also severely beaten. Now, three years later, she is still
  traumatised. This is just one of the many stories of rape and repression the
  Ogoni women have experienced and continue to experience - because of their
  demands for justice from Shell, whose presence has not only devastated their
  land but has impoverished Ogoni women and subsequently the community.
  Support for detainees
  Although the Ogoni women have suffered spectacular physical and cultural
  losses from the genocidal war fought against them, they have not stopped
  their activities. They continue to organise and assist each other to the
  best of their ability in the tasks such as feeding and attending to the
  hundreds of Ogoni detainees taken by the Nigerian soldiers.
  This activity has been difficult and in many cases impossible to continue
  since the local economy has been badly damaged by the series of attacks,
  looting and extortion by Nigerian soldiers. Still, the women, both as
  individuals and as a collective, have somehow found ways to support their
  families and communities. With less material support, the women have been
  providing moral support for those who are detained or despairing the
  conditions in Ogoni today. This spirit is what is at the core of the Ogoni
  Being a religious people (most are Christian, but there is still a lot of
  the traditional beliefs), the Ogoni women have continued to organise
  religious events like prayer meetings despite many arrests and threats from
  Nigerian soldiers who continually harass them.
  Internationalising the protest
  By January 1997, an international office had been set up in Toronto, Canada,
  and FOWA also now exists in St. Louis, Missouri and in Ohio in the USA. The
  aim of the international office is to raise the awareness of the
  international community as to the destructive nature of oil exploitation to
  the Ogoni community as a whole, but with special attention paid to the most
  vulnerable members of Ogoni society. FOWA also seeks to build a support base
  for the Ogoni women in Ogoni and abroad. It aims to learn from and network
  with other women from around the world who have had to fight to save their
  own home lands.
  Ogoni women found in 1993 that they, and all Ogoni, had no choice but to
  organise protests against Shell and the Nigerian dictatorship. Through early
  grassroots organisation in all Ogoni communities, and by ensuring a
  democratic process in decision making, FOWA early on won the complete
  loyalty of Ogoni women. It has united women of all generations, and has been
  able to bring the thoughts of the women in the community together in one
  voice, and to make this voice heard. 
  FOWA's success, therefore, was not only rooted in its commitment to
  organising the protests against oil exploitation, but in its commitment to
  strengthening the cultural practices and role of women at the village level
  in Ogoni. By ensuring cultural survival while fighting for environmental
  justice, FOWA has made itself one of the most effective grassroots women's
  movements in Africa.
  Ogoni women tell Shell to stay out
  Federation of Ogoni Women Association RESOLUTION
  1. Shell has exploited the Ogoni people in billions of US Dollars since 1958
  through Oil exploration, without payment of rents and royalties, neither has
  it shown any sign of sensitivity to the sufferings and feelings of the Ogoni
  People at all.
  2. Instead of blessings, Shell's exploration in Ogoniland has brought untold
  woes including deaths to the Ogoni People, resulting from oil devastation of
  our land, degradation of our environment, complete destruction of our
  ecology and the ecosystem and pollution of our waters.
  3. Shell's sponsorship of the July and December, 1993 and March, 1994
  massacre of the Ogoni People through our neighbours, the Andonis, Okrikans
  and the Ndokis respectively.
  4. Shell masterminded and actually supervised the brutal judicial murder of
  our Great Leader and Son, Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 others by the Nigerian
  Military in 1995.
  5. Shell plans to come back in to Ogoniland through the back door as
  revealed in several ways, including the Chief Alex Akinyele's "April fool"
  reconciliation visit to Ogoni from April 1st - 3rd 1997, which focus was on
  the reconciliation of the Ogoni People to Shell.
  6. Shell's continued sponsorship and use of the dreaded Rivers State
  Internal Security Task Force headed by the bloodthirsty ghaul, called Major
  Obi Umahi, which continually harrass, arrest, extort, torture and rape our
  people, particularly the women folk.
  We, the undersigned Federation of Ogoni Women Association (FOWA) at its 22nd
  General Meeting held at XXXXX on 25th April, 1997 met to review the
  situation in Ogoniland as outlined above and resolved as follows:
  1. We condenm in its strongest terms the attitude of Shell and its
  insensitivity to the sufferings and feelings of the Ogoni Poeple, since it
  started operation in Ogoniland till date.
  2. We totally condemn the brutal judicial murder of our Leader and Son, Ken
  Saro-Wiwa and Eight (8) others from which Shell cannot wash its hands before
  Men and before God.
  3. We strongly condenm and will vehemently struggle to resist all attempts
  by Shell to try to come back to Ogoniland through the back door, whether by
  Chief Akinyele's so-called National Reconciliation Committee (NARECOM) or
  any other means.
  4. It is finally resolved that Shell cannot and MUST not be allowed any
  We say NO to Shell, as it remains persona non-grata in Ogoniland.
  5. We further condemn the continued military siege in Ogoni; the continued
  repression including killings, harrassment, extortion unlawful arrest and
  illegal detention and rapes.
  6. We also condenm any attempts by General Sani Abacha to succed himself as
  a Civilian Dictator to further impose his in-human and barbaric dictatorship
  rule over the Nigerian people including the peace-loving indigineous Ethnic
  7. We highly appreciate what the good people of the world has been doing for
  the Ogoni People, particularly our Women folk, through our able
  International Representative, Mrs. Diane D. Wiwa and other MOSOP
  representatives abroad and very strongly call on the International Community
  to wake up enough to the deplorable situation in Ogoniland.
  [Signatures / thumb-prints]
  Meeting some of the representatives later, Diana Wiwa reported: "The women
  were very concerned about the continuing military presence in Ogoni,
  particularly the rapes, beatings and murders, the disruption of markets and
  the extortion of money by soldiers. They called on governments worldwide to
  help stop this reign of terror. Rather than the current virtual silence on
  Ogoni they want governments to take concrete steps such as introducing an
  oil embargo, expelling Nigeria from the Commonwealth and United Nations, and
  freezing the accounts of the military and key civilians. Furthermore, Abacha
  must be challenged now on his manipulation of the political process in
  Nigeria. They also thanked all those in Nigeria and abroad who have
  contributed to the fight for justice in Ogoni, and pleaded to these
  supporters not to let the struggle end. The women made it clear that they
  were still strong in their resolve, but that they urgently need
  international allies while the Nigerian regime continues its focussed
  repression of the Ogoni."
  + Edited material from Canadian political economist Terisa Turner looks at
  women's uprisings against oppression in colonial Nigeria.
  Throughout the twentieth century, Nigerian women have exercised the social
  power under their control in their own interests and in the interests of the
  community. Examples of women's resistance include the Aba women's wars of
  1928-1929, the Egba women's movement of the early 1930's to the 1950's, the
  Ogharefe women's uprising of 1984, the Ughelli women's anti-tax protests of
  1985-1986, the Ekpan women's uprising of 1986 and the mobilisation of Ogoni
  women during the 1990's. 
  In 1928-1930, Aba women rose in mass protest against the oppressive rule of
  the colonial government. They mobilised in order to counter any moves to
  impose further taxes, and to overthrow the warrant chief system which the
  British had imposed. These Igbo women of eastern Nigeria feared that the
  head-count being carried out by the British was a prelude to women being
  taxed. The women were unhappy about the over-taxation of their husbands and
  sons which they felt was pauperising them and causing economic hardship for
  the entire community. They resented the British imposition on the community
  of warrant chiefs, many of whom carried out what the women considered to be
  abusive and extortionist actions such as obtaining wives without paying the
  full bride wealth, and seizure of property. Previously, new village leaders
  or heads had been democratically chosen and removed by the people
  themselves. Power had been diffuse; decisions were reached informally or
  through village assemblies of all adults who chose to attend. While they had
  less influence than men, women did control local trade and specific crops.
  Women protected their interests through assemblies, and this had been
  changed by the colonial government which appointed its agents as warrant
  chiefs to rule over the people. 
  'Sitting on a man'
  The abuses of the British-appointed native judges and tax enumerators
  impelled the women to stage a protest on 24 November 1929. Using a deeply
  rooted practice of censoring men through all night song and dance ridicule -
  'sitting on a man' - and with market hold-ups and sheer force of numbers,
  the women's rampages spread. 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. Late in December 1929 the women forced the Umuahia warrant 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. Some
  25,000 Igbo women over an 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.
  >From the 1930's to 1950's, using similar weapons, the Egba women of
  Yorubaland in western Nigeria pressed for and subsequently secured the
  abdication of the Alake (King) of Egbaland. Through the Abeokuta Women's
  Union, a popular organisation with a membership of some 100,000, the women
  succeeded in 1949 in forcing the abdication on the grounds that the king was
  collaborating with the exploitative colonial government. The Egba women also
  claimed that he was hiding under the cover and protection of the colonial
  government to perpetrate misrule, hardships and oppression on Egba people,
  and especially on the women. 
  Paralysing the trading system
  These instances of women's political intervention during the colonial epoch
  demonstrate the use of market power and the expression of indigenous
  feminisms. Rapid and massive mobilisation was possible because of women's
  strong societal organisations and effective communication networks based on
  concentration in the markets and dispersal along the trade routes. Nigerian
  women's actions have to do with market control and with women's dual focus
  on both the state and those among their own menfolk who were instruments of
  the state. First, women engaged in the business of long and short distance
  marketing took the initiative in mounting mobilisations. But peasant women
  and townswomen joined the market women to constitute a mass movement. The
  social power marshalled by this amalgam centred on the women's ability to
  withhold food from the cities. They paralysed the trading system within
  which they exercised considerable power. Not only was food denied the
  cities, but cash crops were denied the colonial authorities and their
  merchant allies in repeated confrontations over who should determine prices
  (in the western Nigeria cocoa hold-ups during the second world war, for
  Second, women mobilised not only against the British state directly but also
  against collaborating indigenous men whose power was underpinned by a 'male
  deal' with men in the colonial regime. In so doing, women stood against
  class formation which distorted popular control over indigenous political
  institutions. The women manifested their distress at the deterioration of
  their own circumstances with the encroachment of capitalist relations. As
  such their actions were feminist in as much as they were aimed specifically
  at defending the interests of women. However, the discourse which women used
  then and now to explain their motives and objectives cannot be assumed to
  resemble feminist discourses from other societies or periods, and requires
  analysis in its own right. In mobilising against the coloniser-chief
  alliance among men, women were acting simultaneously on behalf of women and
  on behalf of both men and women in the peasant and trading classes -
  illustrating the coincidence and indivisibility of feminist and class
  politics in the history of Nigerian women's uprisings.
  The 1980's saw a resurgence of women's militancy when the Nigerian military
  attempted to impose structural adjustment conditions. The particularly
  female weapons of song and dance ridicule used during the colonial epoch
  were employed again in the 1984 and 1986 women's uprisings against the oil
  companies near Warri. In the 1984 Ogharefe uprising 10,000 women also used
  the 'curse of nakedness' 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. Another key feature of the 1980's 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. 
  (Taken from: Women's uprisings against the Nigerian oil industry in the
  1980s, (T. E. Turner and M.O. Oshare, 1993); and Women, Oil and Land: the
  Ogoni Social Movement and the 1994 Oil Strike in Nigeria (T. E. Turner, 1997))
  DELTA: News and background on Ogoni, Shell and Nigeria
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