“We no go ‘gree o, we no go ‘gree, Chevron people we no go ‘gree!” (We do not agree, we never agreed, Chevron, we are never going to agree!) This chant reverberated across Chevron’s Escravos oil terminal for ten days in July 2002. To the surprise of oil companies and state officials, some 600 Itsekiri women had staged an anti-oil occupation of the extraction site, during which they exposed their bare bodies in order to shame male officials with the “curse of nakedness.” They made rights claims against Chevron and the government alleging illegal appropriation of property, broken economic development contracts, and environmental damage caused by oil spills and gas flares, but focused their demands on attaining local jobs for their male family members.
The Escravos takeover was my original case study when I decided to write my dissertation on resistance to oil. After several months in the field I surprised to find that aside from human rights activists in the region, no one had even heard of this event. In a meeting with an American Shell manager who was bunkered inside Escravos during the takeover, he remarked that all the women did was occupy the company kitchen and then left when the food ran out. He amusedly referred to it as his impromptu week off from work. He said the women were quick to leave as soon as the company promised a few token jobs to local men and that their demonstration had no lasting impact whatsoever. How could so many women mobilize so powerfully, only for their actions to wane in such a short time?
However, this occupation immediately inspired at least 12 additional takeovers, involving over 1000 women at six different sites. A year later, unarmed peasant women of various ages took possession of the Amukpe flow station by commandeering vehicles and changing the facility’s locks, and in another episode Ijaw women paddled canoes to takeover offshore oil platforms (Ikelegbe, 2005). Female vendors responded to the call for anti-oil action by closing their market stalls and cutting off urban food supplies near extraction sites (Turner & Brownhill, 2004). In all, women staged at least a dozen peaceful demonstrations between July 2002 and September 2003 across Delta State. By the end of that period, some male workers had joined in the occupations with their own labor stoppages, women forced out unionized workers who had refused to strike, and formerly disparate grassroots human rights organizations had come together in solidarity to support the demonstrations. So although the Escravos incident may not have been “successful,” political mobilization is collection of subversive actions that in the long-term may be more meaningful than any single protest, either in altering popular consciousness or enacting reform.