-By Lilian Nwokobia
In the early hours of Thursday, August 14, 2019, the coastal communities of Batan, Kokodiagbene, Akpatagbeghe, Okerenkoko, Omadino, Ekpemu, Odidi, Kantu, Gbokodo Itsekiri and Ajuju (all Ijaw oil host communities) would normally have been busy with women rowing their canoes for fishing, taking their wares to neighboring markets, doing their little businesses in the communities or attending to their domestic chores, but they had a different agenda that day. The women had mobilized very well. They stormed the three flow stations at Jones Creek about an hour (by speed boat) from Warri, Batan, 25 minutes drive from Jones Creek and Odidi only 15 – 20 minutes away from Batan.
And the mission, a collective protest against the failure of the oil company operating in their communities to address their needs and halt abuse of their environment. They came in their numbers and with a number of placards displaying their demands and grievances. Among the demands were provision of social infrastructure like hospitals, scholarships for their children, employment for their qualified youths and husbands at managerial level, and other entitlements due to the communities which form part of corporate social responsibilities. They carried placards on which their grievances were boldly written and some took their suckling babies along. Their grouse was directed at the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) and Neconde another major oil operator in their communities, called.
The protesting women some of who came with their babies, threatened to strip naked and vowed to continue occupation of the locations until their demands are met. Security operatives at the firms were taken unaware and could not restrict their access into the premises following the serious threats of stripping naked.
This protest is very peculiar compared to what women did in Gbaramatu on April 14, 2002, because then the women were afraid that their husbands might not support them, so they kept their plan a secret away from the men.
Indeed, when the men got to know after the women had taken over the Gbaramatu flow station and jetty, they felt unconcerned. This time the community men are solidly behind the women as they are the ones supplying them food and cover even though they did not go there with the women.
Prior to this time, the women did the fight alone, but having gained a lot in capacity building through Kebetkache and other NGO’s working on women’s rights, their skills have been properly enhanced. They know how to mobilize and organize better in order to achieve results.
The chairman of Kokodiagbene Community – Mr. Powede and the secretary – Mr. Timyan Jackson corroborated the evidence of the women and confirmed that several letters had been written to the affected companies including the Federal and Delta State governments long before the women decided to take the battle to the flow stations, but no response.
At Odidi, Timinimi Beke and Monday Meneko were mandated by the community to speak to us and at Batan, the chairman – Mr. Isaac Akaba was very bitter about the inhuman living condition of the communities where most of Nigeria’s oil wealth is drilled. Apart from polluted water, ill health, dead aquatic lives, the ground is now sinking, he added.
Mr. Akasa was emphatic that the women would not leave the stations until they are satisfied. The neglect, he said is enormous. He however promised that once their demands are met, the flow stations will be opened.
A senior official on duty said about 39,000 barrels of oil is lost daily as a result of the shutdown. As at 4pm Monday, August 19, 2019 4pm, they still occupied the stations.
Report by Lilian Nwokobia
#Gender and Accountability