LAGOS, NIGERIA - More than 2,000 women protestors in the oil-rich Niger Delta
Region of Nigeria ended their stand-off with Chevron on Thursday following negotiations
between the multi-national oil company and community leaders.
''We signed an agreement with the protesting women late yesterday (Wednesday)
and they left the facilities this morning,'' said Sola Omole, the company's spokesperson.
Omole told IPS on Thursday that the agreement covered three broad areas:
employment, infrastructural support and economic empowerment for local people,
who have been neglected by successive governments and multi-national oil companies
since production began over four decades ago.
Women occupying the ChevronTexaco oil export terminal in Escravos board a Chevron
owned boat to be taken to their respective villages, at Escravos, Nigeria, Thursday
July 18, 2002. The women agreed to leave after many of their demands were negotiated
and agreed upon by ChevronTexaco. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)
''We expect that the agreement will help put a permanent end to the frequent
seizures of our staff and facilities by restless youths in the region,'' he said.
In the late 1990s such violence had disrupted production to such an extent
that it sometimes reduced Nigeria's daily crude oil output of about two million
barrels by up to a third.
The government depends on crude exports for more than 90 percent of its export
Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) is the third largest oil company operating in
the Niger Delta Region, exporting 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The strike,
which began Jul 8, disrupted production activities at the company's 400-million-U.S.-dollar
Escravos Gas Plant.
Signs of a possible breakthrough emerged Tuesday when Chevron announced -
in a statement - it was close to reaching agreement with the women of Ugborodo
communities to end their occupation of the Company's facilities.
''There is a gradual return to normalcy following agreements that allowed
the Company to regain access to the TankFarm Control Room - the nerve center of
oil production and exports,'' the statement said.
James Ibori, the Governor of Delta State, as well as a number of traditional
rulers and the Management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)
participated in the negotiations.
The women, who initially numbered about 150 when the strike began, occupied
Chevron's airstrip, docks and stores. With their number gradually rising to over
2,000, they prevented aircraft from landing and boats from docking at the terminal,
which is surrounded by swamps, creeks and the Atlantic Ocean.
The women, who were unarmed, had demanded jobs for their sons and investment
in the impoverished Ugborodo and Arutan communities, which lie in the shadow of
the Chevron Escravos plant. The Ugborodo community has long demanded more access
to employment and funding from the oil firm.
First, the government reacted by deploying troops to secure the plant. But
Chevron opted for talks with the women, which led to the release on Sunday of
300 of the about 1,100 workers of the company, a subsidiary of U.S. oil giant
- Chevron Texaco - that were held hostage by the protesters.
The disruption of oil operations is common in the Niger Delta, where impoverished
local people accuse oil companies and the Nigerian government of neglecting them
despite the huge oil wealth pumped from their land. They also accuse the oil firms
of degrading their environments and economic activities, mainly from fish farming
and peasant agricultural activities, through oil spillage and pollution.
However, seizures of platforms or oil production sites had in the past been
undertaken by armed gangs of local youths who often threaten to kill staff or
burn down the plant unless their demands were met. This is the first time women
had taken over oil plant.
Restive youths in the Niger Delta region, apart from seizing oil facilities,
had often embarked on the tapping of siphoning of petroleum products from oil
pipelines that transverse the region. The youths are alleged to have blasted some
sections of the pipeline or drilled holes into the pipes from where they siphon
the product for sale.
Bunkering, which is a common practice, had in 1998 led to the death of more
than 1,000 villagers in Jesse, some five kilometers from Warri, Delta State, as
they scooped refined petroleum from a burst pipe, which caught fire, leading to
a huge explosion that consumed them.
The crisis in the Niger Delta Region heightened in 1995 when the government
of the late military ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha, executed renowned environmentalist
and author ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his kinsmen from the oil-producing Ogoni
community, sparking international outcry.
Copyright 2002 IPS