A review of the documentary ‘fueling poverty’

Ishaya Bako. The Film maker

The documentary which will be premiered in January 2013, takes up a serious issue – corruption in governance.

There is need to bring life back into art by bringing art into life so that the two can hold a conversation— Chinua Achebe.

This is really the natural ability of the documentary genre of film making and this is what the documentary, ‘Fueling poverty,’ does. It compresses the reality of Nigerians into a 30 minutes film that immediately evokes a lot of passion-mostly anger- that can drive people into action.

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.

Fueling Poverty is a partnership between the Open Society for West Africa and a filmmaker, Ishaya Bako.

The producers say the essential aim of the documentary “is to create a process of change driven by Nigerians.”

In the mind of the filmmaker, Bako, if Nigerians are properly educated, they can tackle the government and hold it responsible and accountable to its actions. So, in his 30 minutes production, he tries to document reality and advocate against corruption and greed.

Fueling poverty was supposed to be a film “advocating for the full implementation of the report of the fuel subsidy probe”.

But with intrigues interwoven into the scripts of Nigerian leaders who mange the oil resource and the uncanny manner in which the report of a probe into the fuel subsidy scam was made a charade, the film quickly evolved into one moving 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 Wole Soyinka and his commandeering voice which immediately seizes a viewer into listening. He talks about the subsidy scheme “a seven billion scam perpetrated at the federal government level. … Known as the oil subsidy scheme, 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.


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