11 Jul 2002
Police Patrol Waters Around ChevronTexaco Facility
As Siege by Women Enters Fourth Day
By D'ARCY DORAN
Associated Press Writer
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) - Police, army and navy personnel were patrolling the waters around ChevronTexaco's oil export terminal in southeast Nigeria on Thursday, as a siege by local women, who have trapped American, Canadian and British workers inside, entered its fourth day.
Patrol boats manned by 100 security agents were circling the Escravos facility, which is surrounded by rivers and swamps.
The officers were under strict instructions not to harm the unarmed women who forced their way into the facility Monday, Delta state police commissioner John Ahmadu said Thursday.
The 150 women, from neighboring Arutan and Igborodo communities, want the company to hire their sons and provide electricity for their villages.
The women were preventing the 700 workers from entering or leaving the terminal, Ahmadu said. ChevronTexaco has not identified the employees, but a worker who answered the phone at Escravos on Wednesday said they included Americans, Canadians, Britons and Nigerians.
"They are trapped because the women will not allow movement," Ahmadu said, adding the workers were not in danger. He said ChevronTexaco was providing the women with food and medical help.
ChevronTexaco officials in Nigeria, Britain and the United States did not respond to repeated attempts to contact them about the situation.
The protesters were demanding to meet ChevronTexaco's Nigeria managing director and refused to speak with a lower-ranking delegation of managers who visited the plant Wednesday, Ahmadu said.
The company was expected to send another delegation Thursday,
the police commissioner added. He was unable to give details of who would
be included in the
The protest was peaceful but the chanting women - many of whom wore bright printed dresses and carried bundles of food - had frozen movement on the docks, the airstrips and the oil tank farm, ChevronTexaco's Nigeria spokesman Wole Agunbiade said Wednesday.
Although the protest was disrupting work at the facility, which accounts for most of ChevronTexaco's Nigeria exports, it would not prevent the company from meeting its July production quota, Agunbiade said.
The protesters, however, have vowed to continue their occupation until their demands are fully met.
"No amount of intimidation by security agencies will make us shift our ground," Anunu Uwawah, the protesters' spokeswoman, was quoted as saying Wednesday by Punch newspaper.
Nigerian newspapers said Thursday that 2,000 women had joined the protest since it began. Police said the number of women remained around 150.
The peaceful protest is a departure for communities in the oil-rich Niger Delta, where armed young men frequently resort to kidnapping and sabotage to demand jobs, protection money and compensation for alleged environmental damage.
"They are not armed. That is the difference from protesters in the past who have been very militant," Agunbiade said. "In this case, it's just women."
The people in the Niger Delta are impoverished, despite living on land that yields dlrs 20 billion in oil exports annually. Nigeria is the world's sixth largest oil exporter and the fifth biggest supplier of U.S. oil imports.
The lack of government development efforts 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.