Anele Mdzikwa* reviews an inspiring movie and real life story about women organising themselves to achieve environmental justice in the Niger Delta, Using their nakedness.
On July 8 2002, 600 Niger Delta women, took over the largest oil producing facility in Nigeria. For 10 days, unarmed, they stopped the production of 500,000 barrels of oil per day, from the 5 largest supplier of imported crude oil to the United States by threatening to strip naked in public.
This story is the inspiration for the The Naked Option: A Last Resort – a documentary movie that celebrates the power of an organised group of women. Fueled by the determination for a better future, grassroots women in Nigeria’s Niger Delta used the threat of stripping naked in public – a serious cultural taboo – in their deadly struggle to hold the oil companies accountable to the communities in which they work. The women, at the risk of being raped, beaten or killed, are not trained or armed.
The purpose of the movie directed by Candace Schermerhorn is to inspire women’s leadership globally, to create market pressures by educating women and men to question corporate responsibility; and to promote community action on a local and international level where women and men take collective action to make unprecedented change in their own communities and beyond. Through the leadership of the courageous, charismatic and inexhaustible, these women take over where men have failed and are peacefully transforming their ‘naked power’ into 21st century political action and mobilisation. “Filming in the militarised zone of Nigeria poses signiﬁcant risks. The ﬁlm is shot guerilla-style, predominantly on the ﬂy, using a hand-held camera, natural light, and a limited crew of one to two persons. The lack of electricity, inadequate lighting, constant noise, stiﬂing heat, ﬁlthy air, and military presence are visual illustrations of the many physical constraints which are woven into the ﬁlm to show the hurdles the women are up against,” says Sam Olukoya, a Nigerian journalist who shot the footage.
Nakedness a weapon
“Our weapon is our nakedness.” Through the personal stories of Mama Bata, Aret Obobo and Lucky Ogodo, residents of Ugborodo and Amukpe communities where oil giants Chevron and Shell operate, the movie reveals the strength, the power, and the drive of these women to ﬁght environmental ruin, loss of livelihoods, brutality, and corruption brought about by corporate giants.
These women constantly struggle to maintain healthy, equitable, and self-sustaining livelihoods, and we witness the hurdles that drive them to risk their lives taking over major oil-producing ﬂow stations.
“We are the women who decided to take over
the Chevron yard,” states 70-year-old Mama Bata, of Ugborodo. “We’ll go naked. We’ll do our naked. Shell wants us to suffer and we’re not taking it. Fear will come”, threatens Lucky Ogodo of Amukpe. Fed up with the oil giants dismissing their demands to clean up the environmental destruction and to provide jobs for their husbands, the women were pushed to the edge. With nothing to lose they decide to risk everything and ﬁght back using the lessons taught by their female ancestors. Stripping naked in public, which is a sacred weapon of last resort, has given them unprecedented power over both government and oil through landmark moments in Nigerian history. Their anger erupted July 8, 2002 when for ten days, 600 rural women, aged 20 – 90, took over Chevron, the largest oil producing facility in Nigeria, which is the third largest oil supplier to the United States. Unarmed, they held 700 male workers hostage.
The women blocked the ﬂow of a half million barrels of oil a day by threatening to strip naked in public. Actual footage of events combines with ﬁrst-hand accounts from Mama Bata, Lucky, and Aret who joined the wave of women’s uprisings that swept the Niger Delta.
Emem Okon founder of Kebetkache Women’s Development and Resource Centre, plays a crucial role in the women’s ability to negotiate with Chevron. “Education doesn’t reduce the risks but it provides women with the skills and knowledge to confront that risk. It makes them bolder. In my organisation, we don’t promote that option (of stripping naked) but if it gets to the point where stripping naked is the only way they can get government attention, we will not stop them.”
Emem however, is now championing a new vision for women and a safer way for their voices to be heard. Reaching across ethnic divides, she ﬁghts injustice with education, mobilisation, and perseverance. Set against this backdrop, where government sends military soldiers to protect multinational oil companies from protesters, The Naked Option also shows Emem as she travels to rural communities where women are prepared to use their weapon of last resort. Encouraging women to step up to decision making positions in government, she spearheads democracy and peace building trainings, teaches negotiating skills, and continually challenges the overpower created by the collusion of ‘Big Oil’ and the Nigerian government through non-violence.
“Now, today a woman can be president. Before these workshops we had no thoughts. The only thing we knew was every morning carry your cassava, every morning go to your farm…but today with ‘the awareness’ in us most families are training their children,” says Stella Fyneface, Emem’s protégé. Dedicated leadership, a passion for women’s rights, and new opportunities develop and merge in this movie. Emem passes the baton to hundreds of rural women, inspiring and mobilising them to take charge of their futures, to stand up against injustice, and to become leaders.