If We Die, Chevron Will Die With Us
A peaceful protest by 150 unarmed village women shut down most of ChevronTexaco Nigeria's operations for nearly a week. Not intimidated by police and soldiers armed with assault rifles,the women vow "If we die, Chevron will die with us."
ESCRAVOS, Nigeria (AP) -
Anunu Uwawah lets a small smile escape as she tells how she and a band of 150 village women shut down most of a multinational oil company's Nigeria operations for nearly a week.(By Friday, the women's representatives said there were 600 women inside the heavily fortified facility) Uwawah said the women from the Ugborodo and Arutan communities commandeered a ChevronTexaco staff ferry to sneak into the company's Escravos pipeline terminal on Monday. The unarmed women have occupied the terminal ever since, stopping exports and trapping about 700 workers, including Americans, Britons, Canadians and Nigerians, inside.
Increasingly heated talks resumed Saturday, with an American representative for ChevronTexaco at one point pounding his fist on the negotiating table and at another demanding the women give up the oil terminal.
The women want the company to hire their sons and provide electricity for their villages, some of which are less than 100 yards from the terminal. The protesters have blocked the docks, helicopter pads and airstrip that are the only entry points to the facility, which is surrounded by miles of Niger Delta rivers and swamps.
The peaceful protest by unarmed women is a departure for Nigeria, where such disputes often are settled with machetes and guns. In the oil-rich Niger Delta, armed young men routinely resort to kidnapping and sabotage to pressure oil multinationals into giving them jobs, protection money or compensation for alleged environmental damage.
ChevronTexaco's Nigerian unit said in a statement on Tuesday that the women protesters' complaints were not justified — saying the oil giant both provides jobs to the local community and funds development projects.
On Saturday, the women's representatives met ChevronTexaco officials again in a community center in Ugborodo village, a ramshackle collection of mud-and-brick huts with rusty tin roofs.
The women complained that company promises in previous years to transform the villages into modern towns had not been fulfilled.
Dick Filgate, general manager of asset management for ChevronTexaco's Nigeria subsidiary and one representative in the talks, said development projects required time to be carried out.
"Right now I can say we can hook you up to electricity. We have done it in other villages ... but it's difficult, it takes a long time to figure out how to do it," Filgate told the women.
Filgate at one point spoke more hotly, saying, "I want Escravos back."
During a break from a a similar meeting Friday, Uwawah described how the women occupied the terminal carrying only bundles of food to eat.
"I was the leader of the air strip team. If any plane came, I would drive my people there and we circled it," she said. "We wouldn't let anyone come in or anyone go out."
After her success on the airfield, she chased administrative staff out of the offices, Uwawah said. Other teams of women in bright printed skirts shut down the docks and the helicopter pads, she said.
On Wednesday, about 100 police and soldiers armed with assault rifles were sent to the terminal to protect the facility, but they were under strict orders not to harm the women, Delta state police commissioner John Ahmadu said.
Uwawah said the women weren't intimidated by security forces.
"If we die, Chevron will die with us," she said.
The women began talks with senior ChevronTexaco management in Nigeria on Friday after days of false starts, but Uwawah and other leaders in the group say they wouldn't leave the terminal until the company commits to hiring people from the neighboring villages and helps them build better infrastructure.
A ChevronTexaco spokesman said on Wednesday that the protest would not affect the facility's July production quota.
The people in the Niger Delta are among the poorest in Nigeria, despite living on the oil-rich land that makes the country the world's sixth-largest oil exporter and the fifth-biggest supplier of U.S. oil imports.
The lack of government development efforts in the Delta has prompted activists to focus their demands for roads, water and schools on the multinationals pumping the oil.
The struggle between international oil firms and local communities drew international attention in the mid-1990s, when violent protests by the tiny Ogoni tribe forced Shell to abandon its wells on their land.
The late dictator Gen. Sani Abacha responded in 1995 by hanging nine Ogoni leaders, including writer Ken Saro Wiwa — triggering international outrage and Nigeria's expulsion from the Commonwealth, an organization of Britain and its former colonies.
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