The Nigerian government has banned the airing and distribution of the documentary, Fueling Poverty, a 30-minute film which documents the massive poverty in Nigeria and advocates against corruption and greed in the country.
The documentary, released late in 2012, was produced by young filmmaker, Ishaya Bako, in partnership with the Open Society for West Africa [OSIWA].
After the project was completed last year, Mr. Bako sent it in to the National Film and Video Censors Board, NFVCB, a national agency which vets, classifies, and approves films and videos meant for distribution and exhibition in Nigeria.
But in an April 8 letter to Mr. Bako, exclusively obtained by PREMIUM TIMES Friday, the agency prohibited the distribution and exhibition of the documentary in Nigeria, saying its contents “are highly provocative and likely to incite or encourage public disorder and undermine national security.”
The letter, signed by the NFVCB’s Head of Legal Services, Effiong Inwang, warned the filmmaker against violating the order, saying “all relevant national security agencies are on the alert. A copy of this letter has been sent to the Director General, Department of State Services and the Inspector General of Police for their information.”
The banning of the documentary, seen by critics as further evidence of Nigeria’s creeping descent into dictatorship, came on the same day that four journalists of Abuja-based Leadership newspaper were detained by the police for refusing to name their source for a story which alleged the presidency was plotting to sabotage the merger of the leading opposition parties in the country.
A review of Fueling Poverty
Fueling Poverty, which addresses the serious issue of corruption in governance, compresses the reality of Nigerians into a 30- minutes film that immediately evokes a lot of passion-mostly anger.
The documentary goes into life, sucks from it and forms art out of it. In this sense, there is a connection between art and community in a way that art operates, socially responsible to the society it belongs.
The producers of Fueling Poverty say the essential aim of the documentary is to re-enact the “process of change driven by Nigerians.”
In the mind of the filmmaker, Bako, if Nigerians are properly educated, they can hold government responsible and accountable to its actions. So, in his 30 minutes production, he tries to document the reality of contemporary Nigerian abyss and chaos, but laces the the work with a pungent advocacy against corruption and greed.
Inspired by the huge scam around the fuel subsidy exposed last year, Fueling Poverty was originally designed to be a film “advocating for the full implementation of the report of the fuel subsidy probe,” however, its final realization included intrigues by Nigerian leaders who mange the oil resource and the uncanny manner in which the report of a probe into the fuel subsidy scam was turned into a charade. The film ultimately evolved into one moving, though painful, narrative against corruption and materialism in Nigeria.
The film, Mr. Bako says, was “not just talking about scam but the culture and greed in Nigeria”. He said it was a timely and interesting journey, because the film covers “real issues, on everyday life.”
The documentary is announced with an attention grabbing sound track, by Femi Kuti. He was one of the prominent figures of the occupy movement with ordinary Nigerian instantaneously drawn to him because of the popularity of his songs and his savour for criticising Nigeria’s government, something Femi Kuti learned from his father, Fela, whom Nigerians still revere.
The documentary starts with the strong presence of Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, and his commandeering voice which immediately seizes a viewer into listening. He characterizes the subsidy scheme “a seven billion scam perpetrated at the federal government level. …[as] essentially a scam scheme.” He goes on to relate it to the prevailing corruption in Nigeria’s ruling class.
The film then transits to actual footages of the occupy era. It was dominated by actual events of the occupy Nigeria movement, printed material of newspaper reports , recreations with animations, interviews with renowned Nigerians, and interviews of ordinary Nigerians impacted by the subsidy removal from fuel in January and the rising cost of fuel occasioned by the corruption in governance.
The filmmaker uses a lot of panoramic shots especially in presenting the occupy protests. This is particularly brilliant as it tells of the high number of Nigerians who were aggrieved at the exorbitant price of the fuel and the attendant poverty. Then, there are footages that recall the real violence government perpetrated on Nigerians during the protest with the aid of its armed personnel.
The fraud perpetrated by independent importers of fuel and Nigeria’s statutory oil agencies, was brought to lime light in the documentary. It captures footages of some of the sittings of investigations into the subsidy scam. At this point, what the viewer sees are various government officials brandishing contradictory figures, exposing the ongoing sleaze and sloppiness with which the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency handle the resource which Nigeria’s economy is heavily dependent on. There is also an insight into how independent marketers get subsidy payments for products that were never imported.
Mr. Bako, with his documentary, tried to articulate the sentiments, emotions and the frustrations of Nigerians. His method of selecting footages from reality and editing it to form a coherent, informative art is ingenious. He gives the viewer a peek into the lives of ordinary Nigerians who are affected by corruption in the oil industry. Several times, the viewer hears the voices of Nigerians in their own language, without sophistication narrating the pangs of the corruption.
In those voices, there is a lot of anguish, tales of not being able to afford a living, tales of frustrations abound, but most worrisome are the tales of resignation. One of the documentary’s participants, a commercial bus driver who is on an extremely long fuel queue that is characteristic of fuel stations across Nigeria, is heard saying “we can’t fight the government… they are bigger than us”.
In that scene, beside the revelation that the untold hardship and the corruption in Nigeria has created; there is a remarkable connection between the inability of government to address the corruption in the oil sector and the extremely long queues witnessed at filling station 11 months after the fuel subsidy scam was highlighted. Yet, 11 months after, no government official has been convicted.
The film wraps up with another Femi Kuti’s song, ‘bo bo’, a slang for lie. The song speaks about the lies of Nigerian leaders.
This immediately transports the viewer to January, when Nigerians staged the occupy Nigeria and shut down the economy of Nigeria. The sound track served as one of the major thematic songs, energising people at the various occupy centres especially in Lagos. At that time, a lot of Nigerians felt power in their hands, power to tackle corruption in governance.
It did not last for long.
Just one week after the protest, the strike was called off by the Nigerian Labour Congress, one of the key participants in the protest. Nigerians were left disillusioned. But the filmmaker says the film is a call to action, a reminder that citizens can hold their officials accountable.
President Goodluck Jonathan and Press Freedom
Press freedom in Nigeria has increasingly come under threat since President Jonathan was elected in 2011.
On December 24, the State Security Service, SSS, in a military-era jack-boot tactics, stormed the homes of two journalists who write for Al-Mizan, a Kaduna-based Hausa language newspaper, and arrested them.
They were arrested over a story which detailed how the Joint Task Force in Yobe State was allegedly engaging in extra-judicial arrests and murder of innocent citizens.
The two journalists were released on January 1 without charge only for one of them to be rearrested on February 14. He was released on February 22 and no charges were pressed against him.
On February 12, two radio journalists of Wazobia FM and a cleric were arrested and charged to court over allegations that their programme triggered the killing of nine female healthcare workers shot to death in the restive northern metropolis.
The Kano state police claimed the radio reporters incited the killings when they discussed fears about the vaccination campaign.
On February 22, the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, suspended the operating license of Wazobia FM over the same matter.
The NBC continued with its muzzling agenda on March 3 when it suspended the broadcast of a popular programme, Dimokradiyya a you, on Radio Gotel, Yola. The station is owned by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who is especially critical of President Jonathan.
The commission also suspended another programme, Taba Kidi Taba Karatu, on Adamawa Broadcasting Corporation, Yola, on the same day.