Fuelling Poverty: a Film on the (Mis)Management of Nigeria’s Oil Wealth


I met Ishaya Bako during my last trip to Nigeria, on 13th January 2013 to be precise, at a lunch appointment with a friend in Wuse, Abuja. When I got to the Salamander Café by late afternoon, my friend was already there with Ishaya and three other people eating and chatting. I joined them, ordered some food and we proceeded to chat about life in general, our career paths and of course, Nigeria.

Two other friends subsequently joined us and the conversation got really chatty as all seven of us i.e. the filmmaker (Ishaya Bako), the journalist (my friend), the graduate researcher (myself), the author, the two lawyers and two others, disagreed on some points, agreed on many others but overall, we were all clearly concerned about Nigeria’s progress.

It was towards the end of our lunch discussion that the journalist mentioned the documentary “Fuelling Poverty”, credited it to Ishaya Bako and urged me to watch it on Youtube. The filmmaker, true to his African values, was quite bashful as he smiled modestly, lowered his voice and acknowledged he made the film. It all sounded really interesting so I promised to watch the short film afterwards.

After I got back to the UK the next day, I tried several times to watch the documentary over the next few weeks, but for one reason or the other, each time I opened the Youtube page, I got distracted and kept procrastinating.

So, I woke up this morning to find Twitter all a’buzz with the story of how an agency of the Nigerian government, the National Film and Video Censors Board, NFVCB, which vets, classifies, and approves films and videos meant for distribution and exhibition in Nigeria had banned Fuelling Poverty. Parts of the story, as reported by Premium Times goes thus:

“…in an April 8 letter to Mr. Bako, exclusively obtained by PREMIUM TIMES Friday, the agency (NFVCB) 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.””

Of course, the buzz around Fuelling Poverty fueled my own curiosity and I didn’t hesitate further in finally watching the documentary on Youtube. I felt two things simultaneously. First, I was and am incredibly impressed by the technical quality of the film itself and how the feelings of Nigerians towards the fuel subsidy scam, oil wealth mismanagement, corruption and governance in general (the things that propelled Occupy Nigeria) are relayed in a simple, clear and lucid  manner. It’s even more gratifying to see such a gritty film about Nigeria made by a Nigerian (albeit in partnership with the Open Society for West Africa, OSIWA) living in Nigeria. It is a clear indication that we should and are beginning to own and tell our own stories.

Secondly, I am yet to identify what is so provocative about the documentary that put the Nigerian government on its toes. A good chunk of the film is based on content analysis of media reports available at the click of a button on the internet; footage from widely publicised proceedings of the Nigerian Parliament, the National Assembly, and from interviews with policy makers all freely available on the Internet. There is no leaked or stolen classified information, no interviews with people pleading anonymity, nothing suspicious or speculative… all the information and general themes are widely discussed online and on the streets. What is so inflammatory about this film, it is not clear. Perhaps its the use of Fela’s songs as soundtracks that pissed off the powers that be. I heard on the grapevine (unconfirmed) that the film maker has gone underground.

Ironically, the move by the government to ban the documentary from TV stations in Nigeria, simply fueled people’s interest in it – those who had never heard of it prior to this incident and others, like myself, who only just got round to watching it. Now the film has gone viral! Nigerians are sharing the link to the Youtube video via Blackberry Messenger, Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools. Soon, counterfeit DVD copies will be sold freely at traffic jams in Nigerian cities. Thanks to the internet, the days of media censorship are long buried in the past. Besides, I am technically not in Nigeria…so… here is the video below, enjoy!

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21 thoughts on “Fuelling Poverty: a Film on the (Mis)Management of Nigeria’s Oil Wealth

  1. Oh my Lord, save my motherland (Nigeria) from demonic Leadership, and protect us from poverty!
    I can now clearly see more reasons why distinguish Hon Faruk Lawal will never be speared by those treasury looters (PDP government), and Satans like the Otedolas’!!!

  2. Thank you for sharing Zainab. I have argued for the removal of fuel subsidy in the past, with the believe that the money saved could best be utilized elsewhere, even though I don’t necessarily agree with the way it was carried out. Perhaps my sentiment was probably best summed up by Gov Sanusi para-phrased when he said “We have all these issues to solve….., and yet you want subsidy?, give the hierarchy of your priorities” …but I also understand the person that said “Nigerians have sacrificed and given everything, there is nothing more to give or sacrifice” which brought tears to my eyes.

    This is an excellent documentary, and the technical quality is indeed excellent, and has actually got me thinking (on top making me really angry that is), perhaps we should really be taking more frequent direct action against this quasi democratic establishment, rather than just writing about it? We can keep writing and discussing the issues till the cows come home, real change probably isn’t going to come until we leave the safety of our keyboards.

    General Disclaimer: Reference to direct action does not imply nor advocate any violent overthrow of any government democratic or otherwise by any individual,institution or group whatsoever; nor does it encourage damaging any property under any circumstances; and if you think it does,then you are delusional and susceptible to imagined threats where none exist 🙂

  3. Dis country is jst all sortsa nuts!dem tryn to justify their actions is even more nuts!not err1 in dis countr is a zombie and I tink dts wat kills dem.dts how they arrested some journalists from the Leadership Newspaper in a bid to make them reveal their source!wen we r not livin in a Military Regime.what happened to freedom of speech.if what is being published is a lie why is th govt. So scared that it’l incite the public?! Ultimately truth shall prevail and Nigerians WILL fight for what is theirs by right.#shikena.Arrests and bans can only wrk for a while

  4. I think I get where the government is coming from. Towards the end of the film the narrator says “As seen with the protests, the people realise that the power to change the status quo is in their hands. What they do with this power remains to be seen…” and Femi Falana’s addition: “I’m quite confident that things will never be the same in this country. Nigerians now know that if we are mobilized, they can send packing those who have continued to multiply poverty in the land…” These statements, to some, may sound provocative at worst, or at best enlightening and reminding to the Nigerian masses of their power to stand up to the government, which is something they (the gov’t) simply can’t afford to have Nigerians knowing. But the main issue here is whether, since we claim to be practicing democracy, the government has any right to ban the film; whether or not that constitutes an infringement on the freedom of expression of every Nigerian. Of course with the constitution full of loopholes as ever, the government will always find some sort of national security clause to justify the ban and any further actions they might take. In any case, the ban has served more in the interest of the film by publicizing it the more and thanks to the information age, it is quickly going viral. So I would say, for their own sake, that was a very bad call by the government.

  5. Indeed Nigerians are buried by government upon government through large elephant projects called with different names such as subsidy, poverty alleviation,primary health care etc . But when you look at the projects critically you will easiily duscover that it is another way of siphoning and looting peoole’s money. A typical Nigerian is left with nothing than abject poverty, shabby clinics as Hospitals and dilapidated buildings as schools. indeed, Nigerians must wake up to stand for their right for their future generations and better tommorrow.
    Lastly, i thank you zainab for sharing thid piece if clip

  6. The clamp down syndrome in Nigeria is actually becoming progressively disturbing; media houses, journalists, are all experiencing this. It’s a real shame that we have a Government that is condoning this sort of abuse of citizens’ fundamental right to expression.

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  8. […] 30分のドキュメンタリー『“Fuelling Poverty”(拡大する貧困)』は、2012年1月の抗議活動を記録し、ナイジェリアの貧困を捉え、政治腐敗に対し批判の目を向けたものだ。2012年12月、首都アブジャでのプレミア試写上映後、監督イシャヤ・バコは、ナイジェリア映画映像検閲委員会(NFVCB)の認証を得るためにこのフィルムを同委員会へ提出した。 […]

  9. “Ironically, the move by the government to ban the documentary from TV stations in Nigeria, simply fueled people’s interest in it – those who had never heard of it prior to this incident and others, like myself, who only just got round to watching it. Now the film has gone viral!”

    Even I myself was got to know about it that time too.

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