The Nigerian Armed Forces and Sexual Violence in Ogoniland of the Niger Delta Nigeria, 1990-1999


Odoemene, Akachi. 2012. "The Nigerian Armed Forces and Sexual Violence in Ogoniland of the Niger Delta Nigeria, 1990-1999." Armed Forces and Society 38 (2): 225-51.

Author: Akachi Odoemene


Ogoniland in the Niger Delta was subjected to excessive militarization during Nigeria’s military dictatorships. Nigerian Armed Forces used acts of violence and repression, including various forms of sexual violence, as instruments to intimidate the people and ultimately contain the ‘‘Ogoni insurgency.’’ This article reconstructs the history of the military occupation of Ogoniland and the acts of sexual violence perpetrated by Nigerian Armed Forces—an area in which little research has previously been conducted. It examines the factors contributing to acts of violence in the Ogoni conflicts committed with the active complicity of the State in the context of a nationalized conflict. Data for the study were derived from both primary and secondary sources, including in-person and focus group interviews. An imbalance of power relations was identified as the ultimate cause of violent acts, which were used as demonstrations of power and weapons of State terrorism. The wider sociocultural meanings and implications of these violations are diverse, deep-rooted, and altogether utterly destructive to the social fabric of Nigeria. Finally, the unwillingness of the State to engage with this historical episode in Ogoniland could lead to repeated violence in Ogoniland and elsewhere.

Keywords: sexual violence, military, military dictatorship, insurgency, militarization



"There is apparent tension in the relationship between the military and civilians in Nigeria. The military often evoke images of terror in the minds of the civil populace. This is because it is seen as basically committed to violence. Prolonged military  rule has helped reinforce the ‘‘higher-image’’ feeling of the military that anyone outside of its formation is of a lesser status. This thinking was also enforced by patterns of military brutality against civilians, such as intimidation, wilful attacks, the use of armed forces personnel by civilians to settle personal scores, the setting-up of roadblocks to extort money from civilian motorists, public whippings and beatings, and other severe punishment of civilians. In some extreme cases, civilians are killed by military personnel, usually for the flimsiest reasons. These incidents are all too frequent around the country. Thus, civilians try as much as possible to avoid confrontations with the military. One such way to avoid the military has been to accord them preference and privileges, not due to respect for their service to the country but out of palpable fear of their being able to dispense unwarranted, vicious, and humiliating punishments to civilians. Civilian affinity for the military is also a measure of social relevance and is useful for intimidating and manipulating one’s milieu, as well as averting sanctions prone to military influence." (Odoemene, 230-231)

"Thirdly, among men of the Armed Forces, acts of sexual violence against civilians are not regarded as serious offences. It is not surprising that many of them view sexual violence as a ‘‘fringe benefit,’’ and an unspoken perk in many conflict situations. Similarly, their leadership has often dismissed incidents of rape on the pretext that these men simply ‘‘get out of hand or out of control after a rough day on the ‘battlefield.’’’ This underlines the mindset of most Nigerian Armed Forces members on issues of sexual violence. Accordingly, the notion of playing God—given their authorization to ‘‘decide’’ who lives or dies—and knowing the usual ‘‘official position’’ on such matters, sometimes motivate these men to indulge in several forms of misconduct, including sexual felonies." (Odoemene, 237)

"This shameful and humiliating act of mass rape took place as a military tactic for psychologically ‘‘breaking’’ female protestors; to ‘‘put them in their place’’ in society; that is, their socionormative position ‘‘under the men.’’ By this act, the women would be too ashamed to even face and talk to each other, constituting a gender-specific tactic to effectively contain and stifle radical female agency at its early stages of political mobilization." (Odoemene, 238)

"Thus, even after experiencing such violent acts, these women were required prove their 'innocence,' and that they did not enjoy the acts. This was typical in many Ogoni cases." (Odoemene, 240)

"The Ogoni atrocities, therefore, represent a form of organized ethnic warfare, since they used one or more dominant ethnic group or regional formation to humiliate another minority ethnic group, specifically using sex as a weapon. Indeed, it is very difficult for the men of the armed forces of a country to be used against its own population, and even more difficult to use this establishment in such circumstances  for acts of sexual violence. Consequently, for the State to get men of its Armed Forces to sexually violate its citizens, the ‘‘ethnic card’’ must have been fully exploited and channeled toward this end." (Odoemene, 242)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Occupation, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Militarization, Security, Sexual Violence, Violence Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Nigeria

Year: 2012

© 2023 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at