Friday, 2 April 2010

Blood And Oil: A Response To The Film

Couple of days ago, I took out time out of my tight schedule to watch a BBC Two film on the Niger Delta of Nigeria. It is a long film, about two hours and runs into two episodes. Without mincing words or beating about the bush, my verdict on the film is that it is awesome, very interesting and something to write home about. I am highly impressed with the talent, sincerity, research, balance, maturity and high sense of responsibility exhibited in the film. In fact the balance of the film especially as it pertains to apportioning blames to appropriate parties without minding whose Ox is gored is unprecedented. In this case, both Nigerians and the west were equally implicated and blamed for the problem with the Niger Delta of the country. These problems are multi-faceted and I am quite impressed with the way the brains behind this project were able to squeeze these problems into one film. Though oil takes the front bench as the main issue in the Niger Delta, this film was also right in acknowledging and highlighting the problems of prostitution, paedophilia, child labour, unfaithfulness, make-money-quick syndrome, oil bunkering and sabotaging of oil pipelines by those in high places. Abject poverty is also given a prominent position as another hydra-headed monster threatening the survival of the Niger Deltans and region.

In a nutshell, the film is about three expatriate oil workers who were apparently set up by their Nigerian colleagues to be kidnapped from an oil installation in the Niger Delta by the MEND. One of the expatriate oil workers is Mark Unwin whose wife Claire had to abandon their home in London to see to his release. She was very unlucky for despite the assurances from her husband’s employer, Krielson International that Mark would be released alive, he was released but as a dead man, an unfortunate event very uncommon with the kidnappers in the region thereby raising a strong sense of suspicion within Claire that somebody must have been up to something very fishy. Her discovery also of a clip recorded by an apparent distressed Mark in his laptop shortly before his kidnapping and death added more weight to her suspicion and set in motion series of events that made her to determine to stay back in Nigeria until the truth is told of what happened to Mark. Claire’s discovery opened a can of worm that revealed the duplicities of Mark’s infidelity and corruption surrounding the oil politics in the Niger Delta.

MEND, an acronym for Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a local militant group that kidnapped Mark and his colleagues were later confronted by bold but terrified Claire but they assured her that they took the ransom money and released the men alive as promised and therefore had no hands in their death. In fact MEND would later tell Claire that the three expatriates were obviously murdered by the officials of the Nigerian government as a decoy to get both the US and UK military support to kill and silence them and by implication silence the plight of the poor Niger Deltans. A Nigerian and mercenary trainer who survived the ambush by the Nigerian military personnel corroborated the MEND evidence. Krielson PR executive Alice Omuka is given the task of managing Claire until her husband is returned. Omuka, a Nigerian by parentage was also weaved into the web. Her father, a onetime government official made his money corruptly by oil sabotaging and bunkering.

The film which features some notable Nigerian actors including Sam Dede, David Oyelowo, Chike Okonkwo, amongst others is frankly a true reflection of what happens in the Niger Delta today. Most of my friends do not share same opinion with me for they are strongly of the view that the BBC Two used the film to add more injury and insult to the already battered image of Nigeria. I appreciate their argument but the fact is that very important issues were highlighted in the film including the perennial issue of corruption which is the bane of Nigerian future today. This is not the time to defend our country. It is the time to be in solidarity with millions of Nigerians, about 80 million of them, living in abject poverty. It is a shame that being one of the biggest producers of oil and gas in the world, about 80 million Nigerians are still living hopelessly in misery, hunger, squalor and abject poverty. This is not the time to protect the rich and the image of the country. It is the time to feel pains and be part of the misery of the poor and the down trodden.

It would be a great injustice for anyone to criticise the film negatively or accuse the film of having a sinister or evil motive against the welfare of Nigeria and Nigerians. I refuse to see the film from that angle simply because the film despite its supposedly hidden agenda and ulterior motive was also able to highlight the plight of the common people and that has been what I have been preaching ever since I entered the world of journalism and blogging. Journalism should always be on the side of the poor and never on the side of the rich, the oppressors of the poor. This is my whole idea of Liberation Journalism. It is a corporate social responsibility on the part of the media. It would be a huge ethical and moral failure, if the media fails to carry out this function of being on the side of the poor and it is basically because of this that we must praise the film for using the medium to speak for the millions of speechless residents of the Niger Delta of the South South of Nigeria.

I have always maintained that the oil companies in Nigeria should not be solely blamed for the evils in the Niger Delta. You should therefore imagine my happiness when the film actually spoke in my own favour. The problem in the Niger Delta is principally with corrupt Nigerians especially the village chiefs in the affected communities who would take money from the oil companies meant for the development of their place and siphon it into their pockets. The government officials including the ministers and former heads of state of Nigeria were also implicated in the film. It is no more a secret that most of this corrupt Nigerians have private oil refineries outside Nigeria where they refine oil and gas illegally tapped from the sabotaged pipelines they masterminded. This is true and nobody alive on earth today would ever dispute this. These people are corrupt and the poor people are bearing the consequences of their glutton and corruption. That is what the film is saying and that is why we must support the film because it speaks our mind.

How on earth could a human being accuse the film of being anti-Nigerian? Are we not in the first place anti-Nigeria by the mere fact of sabotaging our own oil for selfish motives and not even speaking against it in the name of protecting the image of our country? Wealthy Nigerians pay poor Nigerians to sabotage the oil pipelines and illegally tap oil for them and at the end of the day they get richer while the poor suffers and we are here blaming the BBC Two. This is not acceptable. The problem is with us. People are dying and their futures are being gambled upon and sacrificed on the altar of greed and corruption. We therefore must use every available means including the use of films, facebook, twitter, YouTube and all of them to highlight the corrupt government officials behind this heinous situations; a situation that has demoted the Niger Delta to the status of one of the poorest and most dangerous places on earth.

Niger Delta is the main and only source of the oil and gas revenue for Nigeria yet majority of its people live below poverty level. The gains of millions of dollars being generated daily from the proceeds of the oil has not tickled down to the people simply because few unscrupulous elements in the government and communities in the region are siphoning the money meant for the development of the region into their pockets. This situation has led to untold calamities. The farms in the region are all turned into wastelands coated with oil, their source of potable water is also coated with oil while gas flaring which has been banned for long is still in use by some oil companies courtesy of corrupt Nigerians who take bribes and refuse to speak out against the evil. It was these notorious acts that Ken Saro-Wiwa was strongly against.

Prior to his hanging, Ken Saro-Wiwa had predicted that the evils being perpetrated by the oil companies in the Niger Delta would come back to haunt them. As the film is being shown here in the UK, the region is rehearsing another Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan combined with bombing, shooting, kidnapping and likes of them becoming the other of the day. The peaceful protests against the companies especially the Royal Dutch Shell strongly encouraged by Saro-Wiwa is now turned into a violent hell leading the oil companies to be recording annual looses of unprecedented level since their arrival in Nigeria. A clear case of had we known, we would have listen to Ken. Even the overall export of oil from Nigeria has since gone down almost by half. And we know the solution; get those past head of states, government officials and community leaders to answer one or more questions and everything would be okay.

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