Enough Say the Women of Gbaramatu to Chevron
As we known, U.S. oil companies over time have usually been successful in achieving their profit-based goals at the cost of the communities concerned, without compensating those communities. Hence, it is no surprise for many to hear of a revolt when communities have suffered miserably.
When women rise up, it is usually as a result of deep grief and destruction of all that they were brought into the world to create and sacrificed for.
The women of the Gbaramatu communities of the Delta State, Nigeria, did just that early September 2011, as they laid siege to Chevrom Nigeria’s site located at Chanomi Creek. Their action disrupted new pipes about to be laid for a multi-billion dollar liquid gas project by Escravos Gas. This is not the first time that Nigerian women have risen collectively to defend their rights, as Nigerian Fenog Nigeria Ltd. Felt helpless as the women refused to vacate the site as the soldiers present merely watched!
Women from 10 Gbaramatu communities led by Comfort Oguma stated their objections to the actions of the Federal Government, and that of Chevron, who demanded that all pre-contract agreements be fulfilled.
“We are here for a peaceful demonstration. Before this pipeline contract started, Chevron and the Federal Government agreed to provide us with water and light. Right now, they have not done anything” said Mrs. Oguma to the local Vanguard.
“We are in pain. Chevron has failed in its promises to us. We need these basic things of life which they promised us. The contract is far gone and they have not done anything. They are insulting our sensibility as a people” said Edith Odafe.
But in fact, these demands are small when compared to their suffering.
In 2008, 12 local NGOs wrote an Open Letter referring to the violence perpetrated against Gbaramatu communities by the Federal Government. Addressed to the Prosecutor’s Office, they demanded an open investigation into the massacre of their people on the pretence of attacking a militant camp. The Joint Task Force had bombed members on what was a day of festivities forcing those who lived into the bushes. Four helicopters, gunboats, two naval ships (NNS Obula and NNS Nwanba), and a large troop of soldiers were active in the operation on 163 Gbaramatu communities. It all does not seem to make sense, accept for one thing only; the Gbaramatu communities are located in an oil rich region.
The Joint Task Force had prevented humanitarian aid to those who hid in the bush, medical aid and media access to an estimated 20,000 people trapped in the bushes.
In their blind attempt to destroy a people, the JTF destroyed the pipelines from the Warri Plant were damaged. The Warri Plant supplies the Warri and Port Harcourt refineries which had to be shutdown leaving them with no crude oil to process. They had destroyed Shell, Chevron and Agip facilities – partners with the Federal Government. The short-sighted government offered amnesty, but of course that amnesty was rejected as the people not only demand control or role in the control of their natural resources, but the release of those who have been arrested.
One hundred communities had been displaced, and assistance eventually came in the form of relief from individuals, institutions and corporations, as well as from the Ijaw communities who have had similar experiences to that of the Gbaramatu. On the incident, Secretary General of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Comrade Paul Bebenimibo described to the local daily Vanguard in 2011:
“Since the fracas with some youths in the kingdom, people are still passing through hell due to the destruction in the land. Imagine Okerenkoko community that was destroyed completely, there was no single building standing after the invasion. The Governor of Delta state promised to rebuild the community. But as we are talking now, nothing has been done to rebuild the community.
“Our people were left with nothing, their source of livelihood was destroyed and nothing has been done to cushion the effects of the damage done to us. It is sad that this is happening to us because Gbaramatu Kingdom is contributing immensely to the unity and development of this country through its oil revenue.”
Twenty-one year old Peres Popo from the Gabaramtu village of Okporoza recounts the event to Friends of the Earth, Nigeria as follows:
“Most of the students like me who tried to escape during the deadly incident are dead. Some in the streets, forests …they were killed by the bombs. I lost my mother and six of my brothers in the incidence. Two of my three sisters are still trapped in the forest. The place is too dangerous for them to come out now. They can’t cross with boat and they can’t risk swimming. The JTF people have blocked the waterways. One of my sisters has been missing. Nobody seems to know her whereabouts.
“The military people were using their helicopter chopper to destroy everything we have ever had. I saw war with my naked eyes. I saw my mum’s dead body. I saw my brothers lying helpless on the ground (here she started sobbing). Everyone was running without direction. It is a bitter experience.
“They are wicked people. They are heartless. I don’t have any family member as militants. We used to survive with fishing. It was through fishing business that my mum pays our school fees. Why will the FG send military men to kill us, to destroy our community? We don’t have anywhere else to go now. No home – no place to go… My OND certificate, my only hope for a better tomorrow has been destroyed”.
Collecting the personal accounts of the Environmental Rights Action – Friends of the Earth, Nigeria made the following reasonable demands:
· The FG should withdraw JTF operatives from Gbaramatu Kingdom and the entire Niger Delta region.
· Federal Government should engage in genuine dialogue with the peoples of the Niger Delta as gun duels will not resolve the deep political issues
· Adequate provision of medical treatment and relief materials to all displaced persons
· Grant Immediate access to NGOs and other observers to Gbaramatu Kingdom
· Compensation for all affected persons in the attacks.
· Reconstruction of all bombed buildings and communities
By 2009, in the defence of the Gbaramatu communities, lawyer Femi Falana filed a suit (FHC/ASB/CS/139/2009) on 23 June 2009 with the High Court in Asaba. In the suit it states:
“The men folk have been driven into the forest by the prowling army of occupation which has mounted blockades everywhere in the Gbaramatu communities. The men and male youths have continued to remain in hiding for fear of being branded “militants” by the JTF. The prowling JTF have continued to torture, arrest and/or kill hapless citizens of the region and raping the women and girls. Social and economic life of the communities has been grounded to a halt. Hundreds of innocent citizens including women, children and the aged were killed during the military invasion. Thousands of others including women, children and the aged have also been displaced. Thousands have been declared missing. Houses and other properties worth billions of naira have been destroyed as a result of the actions of the Defendants,” the plaintiffs further added.
The plaintiffs also claimed that “The Defendants have extended the land, water and aerial attacks to other parts of the Niger Delta, including Abonnema Town of Rivers State and Opoye in the Ijaw Community, Rivers State, in the guise of flushing out militants. The ongoing military attacks on the innocent population as well as individual civilians in the Niger Delta area premeditated campaign by the Nigerian Government against the region. The attitude of the Nigerian Government toward the area found expression in the comments of some members of the National Assembly made on the Parliamentary floor and encapsulated thus: “We can do away with 20 million militants for the rest 120 million Nigerians to live”. There is no sign that the ongoing occupation of the armed forces in the region and the attendant atrocities will end any time soon.”
When one cannot be safe under one’s own government, or safe from the exploiters of one’s own natural resources, there is only one thing left as far as human beings are concerned, and that is one’s self.
A year after the massacre, in 2010, the King whose palace was destroyed by the JTF, Ogieh Gbaran III, the Aketekpe inaugurated the new executive to steer the Gbaramatu Youth Council charging them with the responsibility to live up to the challenges ahead. This was done out of the experience that it is the youth who have set the high standards in the move towards emancipation. Gbaran III instructed:
“I want you to set a pace or rapid youth development, when you do so others will want to emulate you, in so doing you will etch your names in the annals of this kingdom.”
No matter how rich one’s land is in crude oil and gas, it is no benefit if the water one drinks is contaminated, and electricity is rare, yet the company who is taking your wealth has electricity 24/7, while your wealth is being pumped out to the rest of the country, that is far too much for a mother to bear!
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