April 22, 2013, 3:24 pm
By FRANKIE EDOZIEN
Nigeria’s movie industry — often dubbed Nollywood — has been a source of pride and escape for years for many of Nigeria’s 160 million residents.
But the recent banning of a Nigerian documentary on corruption and the country’s oil wealth, “Fuelling Poverty,” has left many crying foul.
“Fuelling Poverty,” a 30-minute film depicting the massive street protests in 2012 over the removal of billions of dollars in oil subsidies had been online for months before the director, Ishaya Bako, was told he could not screen it at home.
The film, which features Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka and civil rights activists, explores the siphoning of billions of dollars from government coffers to private companies.
It can be seen in its entirety here but is “prohibited from exhibition in Nigeria” according to officials from the National Film and Video Censors Board.
The film has been viewed more than 50,000 times on YouTube as of Tuesday.
The director told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that the board’s decision means no Nigerian cinemas or television stations can show the film. “I am so disappointed because all the information in the film is actually available on the Internet.”
CPJ officials urged a reversal. “Instead of banning the documentary “Fuelling Poverty,” authorities should look into the important questions it raises about corruption and impunity in the country’s oil sector and at the highest levels of government,” said Mohamed Keita of CPJ in a statement. “We urge Nigeria’s National Film and Video Censors Board to overturn this censorship order.”
Instead the board warned Mr. Bako that national security agents were on alert and a government spokesman told the Associated Press that this was done for “security reasons.”
“What is national security for Nigeria is different from that of the U.S.A.,” Tanko Abdullahi said. “We made that determination because of the content of the film. That’s why you have regulators.”
“Fuelling Poverty” was screened at the 20th New York African Film Festival this month and won the Best Documentary at the 2013 African Movie Academy Awards on April 20.
All the censor board’s members are appointed by the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan. Mr. Jonathan has grown increasingly unpopular with many who voted for him believing he’d usher in an era of change.
“We don’t have government. It’s a whole big banana republic,” Emmanuel Tom Ekin, a barber, says in the film. “They’ve been coming telling us story all the time, deceiving us. And right now, in our faces, they are still deceiving us.”
Last week many Nigerians who normally might be appalled shrugged off the comparison of Goodluck Jonathan’s name to a children’s book character on the American TV show, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.
All this comes on the heels of journalists critical of the government being jailed on forgery charges. The Associated Press also points out that reporters who wrote about abuses by the military have been harassed by security agencies.
In spite of this, Nigeria’s film industry could get a boost next month if the film “Half of A Yellow Sun” is screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
The $8-million production featuring Hollywood stars Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor marks the first true collaboration between Hollywood and Nigeria.
You can see a first look here.
The film, and book, examine a time in Nigeria’s history where more than 1 million people died during the Biafran war.
The conflict and the blockade of aid led to the formation of Médecins sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders. To see more or leave a comment click here