UGBORODO, Nigeria - Elisabeth Omogobohe brushes against the crumbling walls
of what was once her home and points to the bedroom where rival tribesmen hacked
her husband to death.
"The Ijaws burned down my house. They killed my husband. Everything burned,
finished," said the 60-year-old widow as she recounted the attack on her village
three years ago. Today she lives next door in a hut made of tin scraps.
Competition over oil money fueled the ethnic violence that has shattered
villages across southeast Nigeria's Niger Delta, killing thousands in the past
Elisabeth Omogobohe works inside her tin hut made from collected scraps of wood
and metal in Ugborodo, Nigeria, Saturday, July 20, 2002. Omogobohe built this
hut after her home was burned down recently by Ijaw tribesmen. The smoke in background
comes from an unconnected fire. Competition over oil money has fueled ethnic violence
that has shattered many villages across the Niger Delta killing thousands in the
past decade. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)
The prospect of more ethnic violence lingers, even after Omogobohe and other
women from her village won promises of jobs, electricity and other amenities after
a peaceful 11-day occupation of ChevronTexaco's multimillion-dollar Escravos export
Villagers accuse oil companies of fanning resentment between the two main
tribes in the area surrounding Escravos the Ijaws and the Itsekiris
by forcing the longtime rivals to jostle for scant jobs.
The Ijaws' resentment toward the Itsekiris dates to the 19th century, when
the Ijaws accused Nigeria's former British rulers of giving the Itsekiris preferential
The Ijaws say that kind of treatment continues today under foreign oil companies.
The rivalry played out sharply last week. After Itsekiri villagers launched
their unprecedented all-woman takeover of the Escravos oil terminal, which exports
nearly a half-million barrels of crude oil a day, the Ijaw quickly sprang into
all-women occupations of their own.
Ijaw women seized at least four pipeline stations that feed into the Escravos
They are demanding that half of all workers at Escravos' new gas plant be
Ijaws, that tribe members be given management jobs in human resources and public
affairs departments, and that the company appoint an Ijaw director.
That is more than what the Itsekiri women got: a promise of 25 new jobs over
five years at the Escravos terminal and an assurance that 15 contract workers
will be made permanent staff.
Some more radical Ijaw activists have threatened violence if their demands
are not met. Kingsley Kuku, spokesman for the tribal Ijaw Youth Council warned
Ijaw men would "burn down all Chevron oil facilities" and attack Itsekiri villages.
ChevronTexaco negotiators continued talks with the Ijaw women on Tuesday,
the company's Nigeria spokesman Wole Agunbiade said.
Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest exporter of oil and the fifth-largest
supplier to the United States. Nigeria's production of 2 million barrels of oil
a day almost all from the Niger Delta leads that of African nations.
The Niger Delta remains one of the Nigeria's poorest and least developed regions,
despite its oil wealth, however.
Bloody conflicts are common in an impoverished region where people have little
A dispute over municipal boundaries in 1997 escalated into a three-year war
between the two tribes, leaving entire villages razed and hundreds killed.
The tribes attacked each other with machetes and guns, believing their rivals
were trying to gain control of oil land so they could press oil multinationals
for demands. Both sides remember that dark period as "the crisis."
Accusations are now flying that protests by women of both tribes are aimed
at advancing each tribe's influence over ChevronTexaco.
"If we do not do this, the Itsekiris will say this is their own place," protest
leader Josephine Ogoba said, explaining why Ijaw women took over the pipeline
ChevronTexaco insists no one tribe is favored. "The policy for hiring is a
very open and competitive," Agunbiade said. "If you have what they want, they
will hire you, wherever you come from."
Tribal patronage is still seen by many Nigerians as the only way to advance
in government and private enterprise.
Ijaws accuse Itsekiris of winning favor because their culture is more open
to outsiders, explained Esther Tolar, a playwright who is part of the Ijaw occupation.
Tolar wrote a play about "the crisis" showing the strain on marriages between
Itsekiris and Ijaws. In the piece, the Itsekiri husband goes into a rage upon
learning his Ijaw in-laws killed his father.
"It's not as bad as it was before," Tolar said of relations between the two
tribes. "But people still carry a lot of anger. You're still reminded this person
made me fatherless, this person made me a widow or a widower. The pain goes on
Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press