Published on Friday, July 26, 2002 by the Associated PressNigerian Women End Protests in Triumph
LAGOS, Nigeria –– Hundreds of Nigerian women left ChevronTexaco pumping stations in canoes and on foot after ending a siege to demand more jobs, business loans, schools and hospitals for their communities.
Hundreds of Ijaw women protest inside a fuel station in Abiteye, Nigeria in this photo taken on Tuesday, July 16, 2002. The Ijaw women took over the flow station soon after the Itsekeris had taken over the ChevronTexaco oil terminal in Escravos, to ensure that their tribe got a better deal from Chevron and did not have to lag behind the Itsekeris. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)
The women chanted triumphantly as they dispersed Thursday following an agreement with company executives late Wednesday.
It was the second time in less than two weeks that ChevronTexaco reached agreement with village women occupying their facilities. The first occurred last week with women occupying the company's main export terminal, Escravos.
ChevronTexaco spokesman Sola Amole would not discuss details of the deal but said the company soon would hire an aid group to help realize the new development projects.
Production resumed Thursday at the export terminal after four days of safety inspections following an unrelated oil fire there, the company said in a statement.
The occupation began July 17 just as the siege of Escravos by a separate group of village women ended after ChevronTexaco promised jobs for their sons and electricity for their village.
The peaceful, all-woman protests were a departure for the oil-rich Niger Delta, where armed men frequently use kidnapping and sabotage to pressure oil multinationals into giving them jobs, protection money or compensation for alleged environmental damage. Hostages generally are released unharmed.
"History has been made," said Esther Tolar, a spokeswoman for the pumping station protesters. "Our culture is a patriarchal society. For women to come out like this and achieve what we have is out of the ordinary."
The women said they held five pipeline stations for more than a week, although the company confirmed takeovers at only four.
Tolar said ChevronTexaco has agreed to create jobs for 10 people from nearby villages, upgrade 20 contract workers to full-time positions and create 30 new contract positions.
ChevronTexaco also will set up a $160,000 credit plan to help village women start businesses, she said.
The company also will provide schools, hospitals, water and electricity systems for nearby communities, Tolar said. Another meeting is set for Aug. 6 to discuss scholarships and a training center.
"Chevron has promised a new beginning, and we want to believe them," Tolar said.
Both sides burst into celebration after the deal was signed.
"The atmosphere was truly astonishing compared to where we started," said Amole, who participated in the talks. "People were apologizing, shaking hands, we were dancing together."
The sieges were among a string of setbacks paralyzing ChevronTexaco's Nigerian operations in recent weeks.
Unarmed village women occupied Escravos for 10 days beginning July 8. They initially prevented 700 workers – including Americans, Britons and Canadians – from leaving until the company agreed to hire their sons and provide electricity for their villages.
Under that deal, the company agreed to hire 25 villagers over five years and to help build clinics, schools, fish and chicken farms.
Two days after that takeover ended, a fire sparked by lightning forced officials to again shut down the facility.
The Niger Delta is one of the West African country's poorest regions, although it is the source of the country's $20 billion in annual oil exports. Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest exporter of oil and fifth-largest supplier to the United States.
© 2002 The Associated Press