Women’s Uprising against the Nigerian Oil Industry in the 1980s


Turner, Terisa E., and M. O. Oshare. 1993. “Women’s Uprising against the Nigerian Oil Industry in the 1980s.” Canadian Journal of Development Studies 14 (3): 329–57. 

Authors: Terisa E. Turner, M. O. Oshare


In the 1980s women attacked oil industry installations and personnel throughout Nigeria. This article considers two revolts: the 1984 Ogharefe women's uprising and the 1986 Ekpan women 's uprising. In the oil centre of Warri where both took place, women do most of the peasant farming but land is controlled by men. The study argues that oil-based industrialization superimposed on this local political economy a new regime which dispossessed women of access to farm land. Women responded by attacking the oil industry with varying degrees of success. The different levels of success are explained by reference to class formation and gender relations in the uprisings themselves. The study concludes by noting the prominent place of women 's initiatives linked to gender solidarity in the success of the exploited classes in struggles with big business and the state.


  • The paper argues three things: “1) the uprisings were clashes resulting from class formation spurred by oil based capitalist development; 2) the gender character of the uprisings, the fact that they involved particular class factions of women against specific class factions of men, followed from changes in gender relations that took place in the process of capitalist development; and 3) the degree of success enjoyed by women in their struggles reflects both the extent to which peasant relations persisted or were eroded by proletarianization, and the degree to which men acted in solidarity with women.” (330-31)


“In Nigeria not only did capitalism break up women’s social order but it also created the conditions for resistance. The uprisings are products of capitalist development just as much as is women’s marginalization… support for the objectives of the uprisings, and the organizations and alliances that facilitated them, would contribute to the empowerment of women and of all exploited people. In short, it is suggested that it is through uprisings and the successful consolidation of the social power marshaled through them that women can be empowered” (332)

“The change in gender relations which aids capital in harnessing women to household production of labour is the institution of men as the disciplinarians over women’s work. Men in the state, capitalist men themselves, but most significantly proletarian men are encouraged to define themselves as men with reference to their control over women… resistance by women to this type of capitalist exploitation takes many forms including struggles for better work conditions (electricity, water, schools), the fight for control over fertility… and efforts to get or keep means of survival independent of men” (333)

“The thesis in this study is that capitalist development promotes such a gender realignment and hence the basis for both the transcendence of capitalist relations and the creation of an egalitarian society free from gender exploitation as a condition of freedom from class exploitation. The women’s uprisings of the 1980s against oil companies in Nigeria reveal, if only in faint outline, these patterns and this direction of movement.” (335)

“The state sector expanded dramatically as oil wealth financed infrastructure and some industrialization. Imported fish, chicken, wheat, cloth and other consumer goods undermined indigenous production. This rapid extension of market relations throughout Nigeria encroached on women’s spheres of economic and social power. Land alienation, pollution and the disturbance of fishing grounds, the absence of men who answered the call of the construction boom, labour shortages and high cost of labour, lack of credit and the need for cash… were factors which contribute to most women’s heightened insecurity and marginalization.” (337)

“The women challenged compensation policy and the very concept of compensation for land taken by the state for the oil industry. How, they asked can a way of life be destroyed and ‘compensated’ through the payment of a small sum of money? The women objected to lack of amenities, comparing the privileged western style housing across the fence to their own poverty… They raised the fundamental issue of who benefits from the oil wealth. This tremendous national treasure from their own communal lands was being used to benefit others and in the process their own lives were being destroyed.” (350)

“The women’s uprisings against the oil industry in Nigeria in the mid 1980s confirm the double complexity of capitalism’s denigration and empowerment of women. On the one hand, the extension of exploitation worsened the situations of women. Earlier relative reciprocity between men and women dissipated into intensified sexism… On the other hand, industrialization led to land alienation, which motivated women’s fight back. It elevated women’s political impact by offering them vulnerable oil industry targets against which to concentrate their collective social power.” (354-55)

Topics: Class, Economies, Extractive Industries, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Multi-National Corporations, Political Economies, Rights, Land Rights, Violence Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Nigeria

Year: 1993

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