For the Survival of Ogoni People: Women’s Contribution to Movement-Building in Nigeria and the United States
The Ogoni movement has become a key example of civil resistance in postcolonial Africa, yet women’s role in the movement has been largely suppressed. Since the early 1990s, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) has organized against the Nigerian government and multinational corporations’ oil drilling activities in Ogoni. This study explains how and why the Ogoni women of Nigeria (1990-2017) joined their community in calling attention to the exploitation of their people at the hands of the Nigerian government and multinational oil companies, while documenting how and why they became key players in nonviolent campaigns in the Niger Delta in seeking correctives and justice. I not only examine women’s contribution to the movement by looking at the issues that has drawn women into the movement but also seek to understand how those issues are reflected in the campaigns that they waged. Furthermore, I investigate how Ogoni women continue to participate in both Nigeria and the diaspora since many of them migrated to the United States following the federal government’s violent repression of their organizing. For this ethnographic study, I collected data by conducting interviews, focus groups, participant observations, and archival data search in both Nigeria and the United States. Gender-sensitive theoretical frameworks and methodologies including Critical Race Grounded Theory, decolonial feminism, Black feminism, and localization theory guide my study. My findings reveal that women participated in the Ogoni movement using nonviolent methods including singing, dancing, and prayer that enabled them to evade scrutiny from military forces. Their methods reclaimed the types of spiritual leadership for which women had traditionally received formal training before colonialism. Furthermore, women transformed the movement’s organizing platform by including women’s issues such as women and girls’ education. As immigrants in the US, Ogoni women continue to draw upon spiritual practices to maintain connections among each other that facilitate their survival in a new land and their transnational organizing. My research suggests that women’s contributions in this mixed-gender social movement has been drastically understated as their participation and methods supported longevity for the movement which, in turn, paved the way for making meaningful gains for women and for the movement as a whole. By examining African women transnationally, this research methodologically corrects the continued separation of immigrant and African studies in contemporary scholarship.