Nigerian Armed Forces

Threats to fossil-fuel systems help to motivate authoritarian practices to secure ongoing extraction and the privilege of those who reap the rewards of exploitation. Gender-sexual violence has been naturalized within the Niger Delta through excessive militarization during military dictatorships, where the Nigerian Armed Forces used various forms of sexual violence and repression to intimidate communities and contain the ongoing insurgency. Suppression, the dissolvent of local resistance campaigns and the extension of a message of overwhelming fear are all overreaching motives of gender-sexual violence enacted by State and non-state actors. Within the Delta, sexual violence has become an apparatus of Nigerian terror campaigns, where rape becomes an explicit weapon against perceived enemies of the State.

Notably, sexual violence is used by the Nigerian Armed Forces to break up organizing or resistance efforts against the Nigerian State or the various multinational corporations occupying the Delta. Testimonies, such as the following, exhibit the sexual violence that often occurs on a mass scale:

One day we were demonstrating [against the government and petro-businesses]. We sang as we moved from our town to Ken Khana. Singing near the main road we met face to face with the army…They asked us to lie down on the road. After using the Koboko [horse-tail whip] on us, they started kicking us with their boot. They dragged some of the women into the bush. We were naked, as our dresses were torn; our wrappers were being loosed by a man who is not your husband. They tore our pants and began raping us in the bush. The raping wasn’t secret because about two people are raping you there; they are raping you in front of your sister, they are raping your sister in front of your mother. It was like a market.

Such an act serves as a military tactic for instilling fear and humiliation, constituting what Odoemene calls “a gender specific tactic to effectively contain and stifle radical female agency at its early stages of political mobilization.” These women, however, continued to organize, and began to meet in secret for their insurgency meetings. In October 1999, the security forces of the State raped Ikwerre tribal women from Choba who were protesting against long-standing and unfulfilled promises by Wilbros, a US-based oil production company. Reports from Human Rights Watch document uniformed security forces and oil workers committing mass-rape against Ikwerre women, leaving women “to carry the burden of bringing up these fatherless babies.”

The investigation also concluded that many of the victims refused to speak to outsiders, but those who did confirmed that the rapes were widespread and systematic in nature. Graphic photos of the rapes were published in November 1999 by Lagos-based newspaper Punch, but the government denied any wrongdoing.

In November 1999, the military invaded the Odi community, searching for youth rebels who accused of murdering state officials in another incident. Following the invasion, upwards of 200 people were murdered and more than 50 allegations of rape surfaced. One Odi women noted that she had been raped in front of her children by two soldiers, while another claimed she had been raped in her own home by four different army officers. Two other women claim to have been kidnapped by the soldiers and held for several weeks, where they were repeatedly raped and beaten by soldiers. In November 2001, the military invaded the state of Benue, killing more than 200 unarmed civilians and destroying homes and businesses. Soldiers remained in Benue until February 2002, when Human Rights Watch arrived, where they documented numerous rapes committed by the soldiers, most of which occurred between October and December 2001.

It becomes increasingly clear that rape is not an isolated incident, but rather a systematic means of control of the Delta population. In February 2005, the military invaded the community of Odioma, a city in the state of Bayelsa, searching for members of an armed rebel group they suspected to have killed four local leaders. At least 17 people were shot and burned, while at least three women were raped by the task force that entered the community. One woman describes her experience:

They were shooting everywhere, everything was burning down. We ran to the bush. They came back, the armed people held my mother, they raped her, they fuck(ed) her. They bring some people to the sea. They shot them in the water…they raped me. I was two months pregnant and I had a miscarriage. They raped my nine-year-old daughter by using their hands inside her.

The military continued to occupy Odioma through February 2006, and no charges were ever brought against those accused of terrorizing the community.

Acts of sexual violence also served to humiliate and deter Delta men from engaging in forms of organization or resistance. In the sociocultural context, sexual violence against women serves as a means of emasculating Delta men by their failure to protect their wives, resulting in the destruction of their honor and prestige. The violent assault of women in the presence of their husband or children is a common practice enabled by the Nigerian Armed Forces. The following testimony echoes this:

On the 3rd of April, I was in a bus with other people and we were going to Port Harcourt. We were stopped by a team of armed military and police men. They ordered us to come down from the vehicle and told all the males to lie down facing the ground… They put their hands inside our cloths and started fondling our breasts. Some of them pressed on them so roughly that one of the ladies, my neighbour, made some sound in pain…The officer then asked her if she wanted a f—k; that her noise was that of someone who needed more of the fun… And some of our men lying there on the floor were husbands of some of us, helpless in the situation. It was very humiliating. Only God will judge their actions.

In some cases, women and men were forced to stand and watch their children, often teenage girls, be violated; while some women were raped along with their daughters while their husband was forced to watch. Such experiences serve as traumatic insult to family unity and sanctity as well as the psychological well-being of survivors.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence are noted to be “rampant throughout the Niger Delta.” The security forces of the state and multinational corporations have been identified as the primary agent of sexual violence within the Delta, while the military has been noted as the main perpetrator, not Niger Delta youth. Meanwhile, the government’s investigation into human rights abuses including rape have been limited to the work of the Oputa Panel, whose public hearings included sessions on the country’s chief oil-refining city, Port Haracourt, where the experiences of victims and their families were documented. In other words, it becomes clear the Nigerian state has no intention of altering the ways in which the flows of bodies and oil are regulated.

Such testimonies innately link women’s bodies with the security of oil production, a means of securing the flow of oil and revenues through the global system. Heather Turcotte’s framework of petro-sexual politics lends name to the foregoing, positing that sexual violence, through histories of colonial and military rule, is inherently linked with the security of oil production and export, the interstate system and nation-building. Traditional petro-politics creates areas of territorialized space which enable spectacular moments of petro-violence and dissolve the West of accountability in fostering the conditions for violence to exist. The framework of petro-sexual politics is central to understandings of gender-sexual violence enacted by the State in extractive regions – but also central to the modes of resistance