Starting early this morning, dozens of Ijaw women from the Kolu-Ama community in southern Bayelsa State traveled to Warri, Delta State to protest in front of the Chevron office there. Their single demand was for the company to extinguish a fire that has been burning for ten days on an offshore gas platform. They claimed that Chevron had abandoned the fire after it started, leaving local to deal with the air pollution, fuel spillage, and other environmental degradation that accompany such an accident. Their placards included grievances ranging from depletion of fish stocks due to oil spills to Chevron’s failure to build hospitals in the area.
The Kolu-Ama fishing community where the demonstrators live is also the home of the Foropa, Alaibiri, and Sagbama groups. Bayelsa, the home state of President Jonathan, has experienced some of the most severe environmental damage caused by oil in all of the Niger Delta. Neither the Bayelsa Governor, Timipre Sylva, nor the Delta Governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, have commented on the fire nor the demands of the protesters.
This Chevron office, one of four in southern Nigeria, has experienced demonstrations in the past. In 2010, over 200 ex-militants from the Niger Delta Welfare Committee (NDWC) marched through the front gates demanding more jobs for local youths. NDWC had been in talks with Chevron officials regarding local job creation but demonstrators turned violent once it was decided that negotiations were moving along slowly. The youths became even more aggressive when company officials argued that it was the responsibility of the federal government to create employment opportunities for locals.
So far, the women’s mobilization has been peaceful. There was no indication whether the women would return to continue their protest tomorrow.
The women moved on to Chevron’s office in Yenagoa the following morning and then returned to the creeks. The chief has been their spokesperson in negotiating with local authorities and Chevron. There was a tentative plan for the women to have a meeting with Chevron today but I have not heard any more about negotiations since then.