The Choba massacres, 1999

Nigeria

Violation: rape, murders.

Choba is an Ikwerre community that hosts the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT). It is also the site of the Nigerian headquarters of Willbros Nigeria Ltd, a pipeline construction business and a subsidiary of Willbros Group, Inc., an American company with an administrative base in Oklahoma. The people of Choba have long expressed discontentment with Willbros for its lack of interest in maintaining good relations with the community and failing to provide employment opportunities for more than a handful of indigenous Choba people as transnational companies are required to do by law.

For many years, the community led periodic demonstrations at Willbros’ gates, in the heart of Choba, and undertook blockades to disrupt company operations as a form of protest. On September 17 1999, after a period of demonstrations, Willbros reached an agreement with the community to, among other commitments: build a secondary school on land to be provided by the community; employ an administrative assistant from Choba who would be responsible for general staff recruitment; and to review from time to time the number of Choba community members employed by the corporation. 

Willbros also committed to repair damaged sections of road near the plant and to provide equipment for construction of a new road; provide for water distribution; and to remove Chief Nwasuruba, the company’s administrative manager, and Sam Oniyide, the security manager, by 30th September.

On the 9th of October, representatives of the Choba community, who had signed the September 17 agreement, were called to the Port Harcourt headquarters of the Rivers State Swift Operation Squad (SOS), a police successor unit to the paramilitary Operation Flush established by the military government. Three community members went to Port Harcourt and found the Willbros Manager at the SOS office. There they were compelled to sign an agreement which greatly limited the prior 17 September agreement and only committed Willbros to employ 100 community members immediately, and in return the community would remove obstructions from the Willbros gates. The agreement was rejected by the wider community and the demonstrations continued.

On October 28, 1999, soldiers and police were deployed to Choba where they dispersed the demonstrators at the Willbros gates. Community members reported that soldiers killed four people the next day, injured several others, and raped at least sixty-seven women. The soldiers also ransacked several stalls near the Willbros gates, and reportedly detained twenty-one youths. 

Source of testimony: Kebetkache Women & Development, EJ Atlas, Human Rights Watch.

“The people of Choba have long expressed discontentment with Willbros for its lack of interest in maintaining good relations with the community and failing to provide employment opportunities for more than a handful of indigenous Choba people as transnational companies are required to do by law.”

Choba Massacre

Mama Nthuwa

Mozambique

Hannah Deen

Sierra Leone

Read powerful testimonies reflecting the experience and resistance of activists and communities from across the African continent.