Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Vandals or Victims? Poverty, Risk Perception and Vulnerability of Women to Oil Pipeline Disasters in Nigeria

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Vandals or Victims? Poverty, Risk Perception and Vulnerability of Women to Oil Pipeline Disasters in Nigeria

Article excerpt

Abstract

Since the Jesse oil pipeline fire disaster in October 1998 in Delta State, oil pipeline fire disasters have become a recurrent source of morbidity and mortality in Nigeria. Undoubtedly, the past decade has witnessed increasing incidences of pipeline vandalization with concomitant cascading explosions that pose serious threats to human security in Nigeria. One social category that is hardest hit by oil pipeline disasters in Nigeria are women. This paper examines both the sources of risks of oil pipeline disasters and the factors that underlie risk perception by, and the vulnerability of, women to pipeline disasters. It argues that the vulnerability of women to oil pipeline disasters in Nigeria is mediated through complex processes involving geographical, economic, social, and political factors that exposes them to risks as well as greatly influence their perception and interpretation of risk situations. The article concludes with a range of policy recommendations suggested by the analysis.

Introduction

Since the first major pipeline fire disaster in October 1998 which claimed over 1000 lives and nearly wiped out two communities in Jesse, Delta State, pipeline explosions have become a recurrent source of physical and permanent injuries, internal displacement, environmental degradation, destruction of means of livelihoods, and loss of lives. Undoubtedly, the past decade has witnessed increasing incidences of pipeline vandalization with concomitant cascading explosions that pose serious threats to human security in Nigeria.

The resultant fire disasters have attracted the attention of leaders, scholars and analysts, both nationally and internationally. For instance, shortly after the pipeline fire disaster of December 2006 in Abule -Egba, Lagos State, the then United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, called for 'a review of [Nigeria's] fuel supply management, as well as a thorough regional review of risks that could lead to other environmental or technological disasters in West Africa' (cited in BBC News, 2006). Recently, an online opinion poll was conducted by the Punch Newspaper on the subject of pipeline disaster in Nigeria. The pollsters sought to find out the views of readers on the major causes of the recurring pipeline fire disasters in the country. Specifically, they asked the question: "What is to blame for the persistent pipeline fire disasters in the country?" Respondents were offered three options to vote on: "greed", "poverty" and "government's failure". Out of the 404 online readers that responded to the question, 125 respondents or 30.9 per cent of the total attributed the unfortunate incident to greed, 158 or 39.1 per cent blamed it on poverty, while the remaining 121 or 30.0 per cent blamed government's failure (Shobiye, 2008).

A critical look at the question will reveal that the pollsters are interested in the causes of the persistent pipeline disasters in Nigeria. The slight differential in the answers captures the intricate reality of oil pipeline disasters in Nigeria. Fundamentally, the question posed in the online poll is different from the question: why are some people more vulnerable to oil pipeline disasters in Nigeria (Onuoha, 2008a)? Though these questions are different, the way they are framed and contextualized in Nigeria have serious implications both for our understanding of the causes and victims of oil pipeline disasters, and the efficacy of any policy response designed to prevent and manage such disasters. In fact, the tendency for the poor to fall victim of oil pipeline disasters has led people, especially government officials to erroneously, if not deliberately, conclude that poverty is the cause of incessant oil pipeline vandalization, and the consequent fire disaster in Nigeria.

Onuoha (2007) has critiqued this dominant notion. The writer argues that although poverty has explanatory relevance in terms of the ubiquity of oil pipeline explosion, such attribution conceals more than it reveals: it clearly shows that the poor are the direct and hardest hit in oil pipeline explosion in Nigeria, but conceals the fact that rich vandalization barons are behind these threats to human security; it conceals the contradiction between the material circumstances of the victims and the sophisticated technology deployed in such nefarious acts. …

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