Isioma Daniel, Journalist: 
Chat Transcript

Nigerian women protest ChevronTexaco
Isioma Daniel catapulted into the international spotlight after she published an article in the Lagos-based Nigerian newspaper "This Day," on the 2002 Miss World Pageant scheduled to be held in Nigeria. Her piece, which remarked, "What would Mohammed think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them" sparked religious riots that killed more than 200 people within three days. Zamfara deputy Gov. Alhaji Shinkafi called her comment "blasphemous," and issued a "fatwa" - or death sentence - against Daniel. A state government spokesman called on Muslims to consider her murder a religious duty. Rights groups around the world, including Reporters Without Borders, appealed to the Nigerian government to protect Daniel's life. Daniel has since fled Nigeria; the pageant was moved to London.

In the current issue of Ms., Daniel looks at the successful efforts of women in the Niger Delta to pressure ChevronTexaco into improving living conditions and employment opportunities in areas negatively affected by oil operations.


Jo Worsfold: I would like to know what role the Nigerian government has played in this conflict; has it shown support for Chevron, the community, or neither?

Isioma Daniel: The government gets most of it's money from the oil companies in the Niger Delta. It tends to be more supportive of the oil companies. For that particular incident where the women protested, a couple of weeks later there were other similar protests and news reports actually claimed that some federal soldiers were involved in trying to supress these protests. So they're usually on the side of the oil companies.

Victor Folayan: As a Nigerian living in the United States, with an unquenchable commitment to stamping out religious fundamentalism in that country, i would like to know; How can I be as effective as you've been?

Isioma Daniel: Well, I didn't try to stamp out anything. That wasn't what happened at all. I was just saying what I thought and felt honestly, and because I felt I was free to say that. I don't think anyone can singlehandedly stamp out extreme religion in Nigeria, because it feeds on poverty and illiteracy, and on unemployment. It's very hard, people cling to some kind of desperate form of religion. Those kinds of social ills have to be addressed or there will always be room for people to decieve others - which is what fundamentalist religion can do. Unless the Nigerian government actually improves the quality of life for people, there will be no way to stop that kind of violence.

Jo Worsfold: Ms Daniel, Can you tell me how well Chevron has honoured the deal struck by the Itsekiri women?

Isioma Daniel: I don't know what's happening anymore. It's been a very long time. I don't know how far they've gone in honoring the agreements.

Eric: After having read a lot about fundamentalism with regard to 9-11 it didn't surprise me to discover related atrocities in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, I was shocked to the max learning about Amina's fate and later on about the fatwa against you. For me Amina is the most innocent woman I can think of. In contrast to her, however, I consider you as a very skilled person, for me you are a very gifted journalist. I like your writing in style and content, and I not only defend your right of expression but I also feel sympathetic with your ideas, including the incriminated remark on the Muslim prophet and his relationship to women. Of course, not you are the problem but the fanatics who use you as a scapegoat for their own sinister agenda. I have a lot of Muslims in my classes and I don't hide my criticism of any religiously masked prejudice against women or "infidels". So, I directly feel threatened by what happened to you, and this is probably what the fanatics want to achieve. They want to spread fear in order to silence all criticism inside and out. Although I don't have any questions right now, you already answered them in your interview with the BBC, I do want to express my admiration for your courage. I feel very sorry for the hardship you have to go through and I hope you will be able to find your way to happiness despite all this foolishness. There is no need to give in. I wish I could help you in any way. So far I try to enlighten my students and my internet-audience (www.sds.de.ms) about the dangers of Manichean thinking and of fundamentalism in general. In the hope that your cause, our cause will prevail I wish you all the best.

Isioma Daniel: My plans at the moment...I'm thinking of writing a book. I'm hoping to be able to go back to university. I was planning to get my MA before all this happened, apply at Columbia for a graduate degree in journalism. It's very difficult for me at the moment. I just keep telling myself I want to be able to look back. When I look back I want to be standing in a place where I'm happy and I'm secure and I'm successful, and where even though all this was intended to bring something bad to me, something good has come out of it.

Chris Wrinn: Cudos for standing strong! I would like to know what you think we could do to spur our mainstream media into informing the public of these type stories.

Isioma Daniel: That's a big question. I think at the moment the media is more interested in what's happening with Iraq. Because of that a lot of things have been pushed out of the news. People don't know about other things that are important that are happening in the world. Unless you change the news, I don't know what anybody can do. Because, that's the way news is...unfortunately. And also, because what happened to me is more or less an African event, it's not given as much importance or commitment as it deserves.

Emilie Karrick: Do you still stand by what you wrote in that column?

Isioma Daniel: I stand by the fact that I don't believe that there was anything wrong in the column; that there was not anything justafiable in the 'fatwa', in the violence. I stand by that.

Emilie Karrick: How has your life changed since you wrote the Ms. World column?

Isioma Daniel: Everything has changed. One, because right after the time that article appeared, I had just graduated from university and I went home to put my experience to use in my country. I had a plan. I was going to work for a year. I was going to go do my Masters. It was all laid out and visualized in my head. And then overnight, poof, everything just disappeared. And now I'm having to start again in a country I've never been to, and I never ever ever in my wildest imagination...didn't even know where it was on a map and now I'm here. I have to start again on a different path.

Melissa Potter: What are the other oil companies operating in the region? Have they been targetted by similar protests?

Isioma Daniel: I don't know if there have been any other protests this year. Shell and Chevron were the 2 main companies targeted in that original protest.

Jo Worsfold: Ms Daniel, Thank you for answering my questions. I would like to know if you have had previous experience with (or against) these major oil companies before the Nigerian incident outlined in this web article. Jo Worsfold

Isioma Daniel: Actually, yes, when I was a student. I was quite involved with activities at my university. Like Jubiliee 2000. Social groups were holding protests, writing letters to Chevron. We formed a group at the university concerning the activities of that particular oil company in the Niger Delta.

Emilie Karrick: How hard is it for young women and men to be feminists in Nigeria?

Isioma Daniel: It's very difficult. It depends on... Nigeria is a sexist society. And most women are taught that their most important role is the home-building role. The home, having children. Their taught that's the best thing they can do with their lives, basically. When a woman breaks that role, says, I want to be a success in the workplace... it can be very difficult because the power is held by the men. They find it difficult to believe that a woman is capable to function intellegently in a business environment. In anything outside of domestic work. Equal rights in Nigeria is a bit of a laugh to most men.

Melissa Potter: Did you ever expect that a fatwa would be placed on your head for what you wrote in the article about the Miss World pageant??

Isioma Daniel: No. The very first week when the riots began, I, um... I was worried for my life. Because if they were killing people who had nothing to do with the article and who didn't write it... what would they do to the person who actually did write it? So I had to leave the country. But at the same time, I thought that after awhile that everything would just cool down and then I'd be able to return. I never expected that they'd come out with a fatwa.

Roz: What prompted you to go into journalism?

Isioma Daniel: I decided to go into journalism during my Cambridge A levels. At that time it was just a pragmatic decision. I wanted to be able to do something where I was using English, writing. And it turned into a career, a profession. The more I learned at University, the more passionnate I became. It wasn't just a job anymore. I really do believe that journalism is a valuable and necessary profession in society. Just as you need doctors and teachers you need journalists in society.

Jo Worsfold: Ms Daniel, So, given the cultural pressure on the Nigerian women to be, I assume, docile and not pro-active in the politics of the region, were they able to formulate and carry out this very efficient and effective action with little prompting or outside help?

Isioma Daniel: The women who carried out the protests, they are not middle class, or rich wealth socialite Nigerian women. Those are they types of women who usually get into politics. They weren't trying to get into politics. They were just angry and frustrated that their sons couldn't get work. All the oil companies had ruined the land. They couldn't fish, they couldn't farm. In the middle of all that is the oil company that wasn't giving back, just taking and taking. It wasn't about politics, it was just the natural thing to do. They couldn't just sit back and allow these things to happen. And they used the fact that Nigeria is a society that views women as the weaker sex to their advantage... because when they went out to protest, no one wanted to hurt a woman. The protests held by young men, are usually surpressed easily with violence. But you can't just come out shooting at women whose ages range from 17 - 60, 70, 80. It wasn't politics, just fighting for what they wanted.

Moderator: Isioma Daniel, Thank you for joining us today.

Isioma Daniel: I hope I've answered the questions honestly, and with as much information as possible. And I thank you for taking the time out and showing an interest.

Ms. Magazine