In their struggle with the global oil giant Pan Ocean Oil the women of the Ogharefe used blockades and a traditional African custom to force the company to give in to their demands.
The Ogharefe people of Nigeria suffered from the effects of oil pollution and oil exploration. The Ogharefe community was afflicted with a number of health issues, ranging from skin rashes to stomach ailments, from the gas flares and release of "oil production water." Additional damage from oil production included heavy metals in the water, the eroding of iron roofs due to corrosive ash from gash flares, and the decline of productive fishing ponds and farming land.
The Ogharefe people were also denied compensation for the land seized for oil exploration. Pan Ocean, the United States multinational oil company present in the region, rejected most of the community's evaluations of the amount of compensation needed in return for losses as a result of oil exploration. Of the claims that Pan Ocean accepted as legitimate, none were met as Pan Ocean refused to pay the sums. As a result, the Eghweya, or Council of Women, joined the Council of Youths to protest against Pan Ocean.
The young men of the Council of Youths strengthened the women’s cause when they publically denounced the secret deals that the older men had made with the oil company. The Council of Youths also offered to join the Council of Women in the protest should the extra assistance be needed.
In 1984, 10,000 women of Ogharefe surrounded Pan Ocean’s Ogharefe Production Station. The women barricaded the workers already inside the station from coming out, and also prevented outside workers from going into the station to relieve those “held in captivity.” The employees inside the station made radio contacts with Pan Ocean’s offices in Warri and Lagos requesting for help. Several hours later, the higher authorities responded to their request; the company’s managing director would be coming with his team to ask the women to come to the negotiation table. The Ogharefe women rejected this offer, saying that what they wanted was not negotiations but compliance. The women threatened to strip naked if the director came appealing for negotiation.
In several countries, including Nigeria, Kenya, Trinidad, and South Africa, the public disrobing of women is thought to bring a serious and irreversible curse to those who see their nakedness. Any foreign man who sees exposed women is considered to lose his credibility in Nigeria as a result of the curse.
When the company’s managing director and his team arrived at the Ogharefe Production Station, they were met with a throng of naked Nigerian women, singing and dancing. This sight, and the threat of the curse, was something that neither the director nor the police could stand. They all fled.
Pan Ocean met the majority of the Ogharefe women’s demands. The oil company reimbursed the Ogharefe community for land taken for the company’s operations, paid most of the compensation for pollution damage, and provided assistance for the installation of water and electricity for the villagers.
This protest by the Ogharefe women paved the way for the Ekpan women's uprising (see Nigerian Ekpan women protest against oil company policies, 1986). (2)
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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy:
Yein Pyo, 02/12/2012
Published for the Global Nonviolent Action Database