Tag Archives: chieftaincy

One of My Presentations on Women’s Protests

Below is an excerpt from part of a talk I gave on women’s role in Nigerian protests against oil extraction. Oil activities are blamed for environmental destruction, police violence, corruption, and lack of economic growth.

One of my research findings on Niger Delta oil politics was what I termed “positional arbitrage.” This means that local chiefs and male elites used their positions to help incite protests against oil companies and the government at times, as they were well positioned to gain from women’s demonstrations.

The talk also covers some other details about the oil reform movement in the region.

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Dissertation on Niger Delta women and the oil movement published

My dissertation is available online. If you are unable to access it because you are outside the academic network, please feel free to contact me for a copy. I am an avid supporter of open, author-permitted access to publications.

ABSTRACT:

Since the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta in 1958, there has been an ongoing low-level conflict among foreign oil companies, the federal government, and rural community members in southern Nigeria. Armed insurgents and small cadres of male protesters have resisted oil activities, demanding environmental cleanup, employment, and local compensation for extractive operations. In 2002, however, large groups of women began engaging in peaceful protests against oil companies and the state, making the same demands as men. Current work describes these women as coming together autonomously to assert their rights in the face of corporation exploitation.  This project challenges such accounts and investigates how common perceptions of law and politics inform women’s role in the oil reform movement.

Employing constructivist grounded theory, this dissertation argues that women’s protests were largely a product of local elite male politicking among oil companies and federal and state governments. The first finding is that local chiefs, acting as brokers engaging in “positional arbitrage,” urge women to protest because it reinforces their own traditional rule.  In this sense, women have not implemented new tactics in the movement but instead are the new tactics. Secondly, Niger Delta women see law as innately good but identify individuals as the corrupting force that thwarts law’s potential for positive change. Women also perceive a binary between local and state law, thus allowing chiefs to act as gatekeepers between women and the state. As a qualitative case study, the project uses in-depth interviews, direct observations, and archival documentation to analyze a series of all-female demonstrations that occurred around oil extraction sites in Rivers State from 2002-2012. Ultimately, these findings welcome a more critical look at social movements by identifying ways in which apparent episodes of resistance may actually be reconfigurations of existing power arrangements.

Methodology:

 

 

grounded theory

For a link to my final dissertation, please see:

http://pqdtopen.proquest.com/doc/1666393541.html?FMT=ABS

Chiefs and the Provision of Resources

Chiefs hold immense political, social, and spiritual (due to their perceived relationship with the ancestors) in the Delta. This continued legitimacy of traditional rule has been found in rural communities across Africa, despite the perversion of the chieftaincy institution by colonial indirect rule (See Martin Chanock).  In additional to their historical authority, chiefs also play a direct role in the provision of collective goods for collective benefit that encourages individuals to follow their directives.  Anne Swidler (2010) describes how, if villagers are to act collectively on their own behalf, it is the chief who organizes that cooperation.  If a village needs a path cleared or a school building repaired, the chief calls villagers together and requires them to contribute a day’s work to the collective task. In turn, chiefs reward those who contribute to community well-being, and they may keep accounts about who has or has not shown public spirit.  Chiefs then redistribute spiritual and material goods to reward those who have helped their fellows. Thus, chiefs solve a collective action problem by contributing to the solution of communal problems, and they use their prestige to create “selective incentives” to those who contribute to the provision of public goods.

Beyond provision of goods, chiefs also act as gatekeepers to those from outside of the community. A new arrival must often first visit the local chief to ask permission to be in the village, which I did in all of the River State communities I stayed in. This makes sense, since a Chief will want to know that the visitor means no harm and to better understand what kind of community resources or goods the new arrival will be using.

To conduct research in each community, I first needed to "sit court" with the local chief and offer him libations for him to grant me permission.

To conduct research in each community, I first needed to “sit court” with the local chief and offer him libations for him to grant me permission.

Chart Depticting the Hierarchy of Traditional Rule in the Niger Delta

After remarking several times that “Chief is law” during her interview with me, I asked a female farmer in Rivers State: Why is Chief law?  Why do you listen to your chief?  Her answer was a rich explanation of the hierarchy of local rule in the region, and the she drew me a chart. Her is an electronic version of her drawing:

Chairman of the State Council of Traditional Rulers

                                               |

   Chairman of the Local Government Area (LGA) Of Traditional Rulers

                                             |

  King of Kingdoms

                                            |

                         Second Class Chiefs

                                           |

                           Third Class Chiefs

                                          |

                             Paramount Ruler

                                          |

              Community Development Committee (CDC)

                                           |—————-(Male) Youth Leaders

                                           |

                                Clan Chief

                                           |

                              Family Chief

                                         |

                             Family Head

Source: Rose (3/15/2012)