From MAGNUS EZE
Sixty years after oil exploration began in Olobiri, the Niger Delta community in Bayelsa State where oil was first struck in commercial quantities in Nigeria, the community has nothing to show for it.
Instead, the community is a classical case of “used and dumped” as it today lacks every known social amenity coupled with the attendant implications of the rapacious degradation of its eco-system.
That is the story told in the historical movie, called Oloibiri, which command screening recently held in Abuja. In fact, the story of Oloibiri is the frustration and anger of a people whose land was exploited of its resources and abandoned to a life of hopelessness and poverty. It is indeed a metaphor for the oil bearing Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
Chief Executive Officer of Rightangle Productions Nigeria, which collaborated with Theatron Media, Canada to initiate the National Heritage Production Series (NHPS), Mrs. Oge Neliaku, vividly captured it this way: “Sadly, today, 60 years after, the Oloibiri community has nothing to show for the wealth tapped from their soil but for dry and rusty wells, a polluted environment and a host of health, economic and social challenges.”
The movie features Nollywood bests like Richard Mofe-Damijo, Olu Jacobs, Taiwo Ajai Lycett, Ivie Okujaye, Ifeanyi Williams and Hollywood’s William Moses of the CSI fame.
Representatives of the Federal Government at the command screening admitted collective guilt in the deplorable state of the Niger Delta, which gave birth to the unending restiveness in the region.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and his Environment counterpart, Mrs. Amina Mohammed, in their separate remarks were united that there has been age-long injustice against the people and their oil-rich land.
Mohammed, who was very clear that only diplomacy can resolve the Niger Delta issue, stressed that violence was not the answer. He urged those who are disenchanted with the plight of the region to embrace peaceful tools of seeking redress:
“This film is reminding us of our collective guilt. What this film is saying one, that we betrayed our people. I am also saying, yes there might be justification for the anger, but the manner in which we have vented our anger has also become counter-productive.
“There are really no victors for whichever end of the divide one falls there remains only the wounded and trauma of bloody memories. In its essence, Oloibiri the movie speaks of the Niger Delta to us Nigerians; to our essence as humans, as a nation, as students of history and hopes of our tomorrows. Oloibiri in its form points out to us that in addressing wrongs, the place of diplomacy can never be successfully replaced with violence; for the violent creates victims of himself and others, and in all of these it is the land who loses precious citizens.
“We must be sensitive to the yearnings of people; we must respect their view; we must not exploit the people and then leave them to suffer the consequences of exploitation.” Mohammed further noted that the Federal Government has commissioned the Central Ogbia Regional Water Supply Project in Bayelsa, as part of efforts to complete all abandoned water projects to improve livelihood.”
The Minister of Environment described the film as a wake-up call on everybody to join hands and fight injustice and corruption stressing that the injustices of the past were still there to be redressed.
She said the present administration by way of laying a strong foundation for the speedy development of the Niger Delta, has commenced the implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the Environmental Assessment of Ogoni land, which was launched last June.
The recovery of what happened 60 years ago is going to take another 60 years: “I believe that what we are doing in the Clean-up Ogoni, a tiny island in the middle of the Niger Delta; those four local governments-Gokana, Khana, Tai, Eleme; hopefully would become the goal standard of what should be when we decide; no more, that we are cleaning up and we are staying clean in the future.”.
Cast and crew speak
Neliaku said if it were in other climes, Oloibri would have been a major tourist destination hosting a national museum of oil exploration built to preserve history. Instead, the community is in itself a museum of collective negligence and failure of leadership:
“There is no functional hospital or health facility of any type in the community. They get their drinking water from a river whose water that we that are here today will hesitate to flush our toilets with.
“Electricity comes from a generator which runs on diesel on an erratic schedule. The schools we saw were in a state of utter disrepair to the point where a palm tree had actually sprouted in one of the rooms.
“We are all aware of what this level of deprivation portends for the youths born into such an environment, and for us as a nation.”
For Jacobs, what has happened has happened but something must be done immediately like setting up a committee to redress the injustice of the past.
He reasoned that the days when people came into a place, gave “the chiefs little kola and small money”, and begin exploration were over.
“Now that we own and control our resources, what are we doing with them, what is our tomorrow going to be like?” He queried.
His colleague, Lycett, said she was depressed on getting to Oloibiri but more depressing to her was that people from the area who have had opportunities had actually forgotten their own people: “The past is gone, it’s finished. The future is nigh and what we do now is important to the survival of our country.”
She urged that art, particularly the performing art has a great role to play to “show ourselves to ourselves and to know that personal agrandisement, personal wealth, collective greed is not going to take us anywhere.
“I want to say resoundingly that this is a new dawn when we can sit at home and appreciate the value of art in disseminating information and inspiring our people. This is the first time that we are telling own story through the power of the visual art. I just hope that it’s not going to be a one off thing. We have to be sincere to one another.”
Essence of the film
Neliaku said the movie is their own way of giving a voice to the people of Olibiri: “It is our hope that in their voice, we all can also hear the voices of other communities, people and groups who also do not have a voice, calling us to return back, to ensure they too benefit from the resources God has blessed their land with.”
For her, Nigeria as a nation must pay its debts to Oloibiri. She disclosed that part of the proceeds from the film will be used to address some critical needs of Oloibiri community after recovering the cost of production.
Another Nollywood star, Mr. Sydney Diala, appealed to the minister to prevail on the National Film and Video Censor’s Board (NFVCB) not to dilute the message in the film when it is eventually sent in for vetting; a request the minister immediately approved assuring that it would not be tampered with.
The command screening preceded the national premiere billed for Lagos next month before it finally hits the cinemas on October 21, 2016.