SECTION TWO

Social and economic impacts of corporate practices on the communities of the oil-producing areas.

In every community we visited, we heard people speak about the adverse effects that oil exploration and produc-tion has had on their livelihood. People's food sources depend on the same natural resources that are destroyed by polluting oil operations, and communities claim they commonly receive no compensation when these resources disappear.

1. Loss of land and resources to communities and families

Land for oil operations can be appropriated for use by multi-national oil corporations with the Land Use Act, a decree established in 1978 under the Obasanjo military regime (which was transformed into an Act of Parliament). This Act enables the state governor to execute the transfer of land ownership by simply claiming that the transfer is "in the public interest." Where the land is unused, his signature is all that is required. As a result of this act, the interests and con-cerns of communities are placed beneath those of oil corpora-tions and the Nigerian treasury, which limits communities' ability to make their own decisions about their surroundings.

2. Difficult or no access to food and basic goods

Having lost their traditional subsistence lifestyle to pollution and other drastic changes in their immediate environment, many oil-producing communities are now forced to buy their food. This puts local people at an immediate disadvantage in comparison to the purchasing power of salaried company employees, many of whom come from other parts of the Nigeria or from abroad.

In Eket, Akwa Ibom State, where Mobil's operations have reportedly led to the loss of fish populations along the coast, fishing is available only to those who can afford large boat engines and trawlers to venture into the high seas. The rest of the population must buy "ice fish" (frozen fish) from commercial fishermen, a practice totally unknown a few years back. Since market prices are constantly on the rise, many villagers have to go without fish. Only a small sector of the local population in Eket finds employ-ment in Mobil's facilities,23 and thereby earns money to buy food.

At the mangrove community of Iko in Akwa Ibom State, we heard a similar sad refrain. Where people had previously made a living amid a once healthy and productive mangrove forest by fishing and farming, gathering their wood for building and fuel from the nearby mangroves, they related that they now find it impossible to make a living. Since Shell came to their area in 1974 to establish oil wells, community members explained that repeated oil leaks have coated the breathing roots of the mangroves, killing off parts of the forest and the animal and marine life that depend on it.24

3. Scarcity places an especially heavy burden on women

The diminished productivity and viability of local economies due to the environmental and social degradation caused by oil exploitation has affected the lives of women in unique ways. As Joi Yowika, a Port Harcourt attorney explained, "the rights of women have been violated by the oil companies." Several women told the delegation that they are no longer able to provide food for their families by performing their tra-ditional roles. They explained that women used to sustain their families through farming, and trading in agricultural and other goods. But each of these is now extremely difficult with the effects of oil industry pollution. Grace Ekanem, a women's group leader in Eket, Akwa Ibom State, explained that since farms are failing, palm trees are not bearing fruit, and fish are depleted, women are not only unable to feed their families, but cannot earn enough money to send their children to school, or to afford medical treatment. "Women are now redundant," said she. 25

4. Prostitution, rape, and fatherless children

Faced by such devastating economic circumstances, many women are forced to turn to prostitution as a means of survival. Joi Yowika, an attorney who is currently representing several young prostitutes, explained to the delegation that many girls and young women claim that they prostitute themselves as a way to pay for their education and to support their families. She explained that the sex industry in the Niger Delta is directly linked to the oil industry, since it is oil company employees and the employees of oil-related service companies that patronize the prostitutes. As a result, prostitution is rampant in oil-producing communities and in cities where oil workers reside.26 Stories of extremely degrading and inhuman treatment of prostitutes by expatriate oil workers are common. Children sired by expatriate oil workers are frequently abandoned.27

Despite the social mores of a predominantly patriarchal society, and economic difficulties resulting from the oil industry, women in many communities have been very effective in voicing the demands of their communities to the oil companies. The delegation met with two women's group leaders in the towns of Eket and Egi. Each described strong, well-organized groups, which have been instrumental in their communities' dealings with multinational oil corporations and the military. They have organized demonstrations and protests that have mobilized entire communities.28
So as the secretary of the IYC [The Ijaw Youth Council] and as the president of Niger Delta Women for Justice, we have been trying as much as we can by using campaigns in communities and doing our meetings to also mobilize women to also get involved in the process and also take it back home. It's more or less like training of trainers. They take it back home and they continue the process of reorientation, creating awareness, the reasons why a women should know her rights.

So the Nigerian women, specifically the Delta women mean a lot to our men and they mean a lot to the development of the Delta. And they will also have the contribu-tion of the success of resource control and to the process of self determination. And that is why the women have been mobilized to be involved in the struggle. It's a very participatory struggle. And I know some day, some day we'll get hold of it.

In the southern part of Nigeria the women work harder than the men. The women farm, the women fish. And that is the reason why we quarrel so much about the pollution of the waters because when the waters are polluted due to oil spillage and all, whatever we have, drillings, the women suffer so much because there definitely wouldn't be any food at home. We don't have land in our communities because Shell and most other oil companies have actually used the process of canalization, you know, to cut up most of the land [...] we have lots of erosion problems because of speed boats and all that.

[..] I believe in stake-holding and self devel-opment, that's what I call sustainable development. So we're trying to see how we can develop the women, specifically the traditional bed attendants, improve their standards and they can work hand and hand with medical doctors who are ready to do volunteer work for or organization, for these women.

When they [women] give birth to these children you find out they have lots of death rates amongst little babies in our communities. It's not crib death because we don't use cribs in our communities. We don't even know what cribs are, we cannot afford cribs. But we just have deaths here and there because the women drink from the river — the babies' food is from the river. Whatever food they use for the child is from the river. The bathe the child with the river water and you very well know that the river water is extremely polluted. And at the end of the day you have lots of skin diseases, cholera, diarrhea, no medicine. No drugs to take care of these children and [...] Before you know what's happening the children are gone. This is very difficult [...] the process is so frustrating and that is why I assure you...we will never, ever as long as we live stop campaigning for self determination and resource control. It's our property. When we have a negotiation with the multinationals and the federal government, and the people in a very participatory method we will take decisions because it affects us a great deal. The decision shall be ours. During the process of monitoring and evaluation it will still be us. When the project fails it's us. When the project is good it's us, we benefit. We should be involved in that process. So when the oil companies, we will state it out to the oil companies and federal government that they must respect international rules and regulations on environment. It is our duty —they don't care. They don't even know how we live this way. The federal government doesn't even know how we live. All he knows is get in there, drill the oil and bring my money. And that's the reason why I said we will never, ever accept it and we will continue to fight for justice until our last day and until we win."


Excerpts from our interview with Annie Brisibe, Sept. 9, 1999.