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!