The Niger Delta crisis is coming to an audience of millions as BBC 2 screen the long anticipated and award-winning drama, ‘Blood and Oil’ on prime time television.
Guy Hibbert’s tense thriller (starring Naomi Harris (28 Days Later), Johdi May (Defiance) Patterson Joseph and David Oyelowo) follows two women as they investigate the circumstances that led to the deaths of four hostage oil workers and their militant captors in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
A fictitious oil company, ‘Krielson International’, stands in as a thinly veiled corporate giant, whose corrupt deals and failed development projects infuriate local communities.
Without giving too much away, the oil company, Krielson, and the Nigerian military are profiting hugely from illegal practice of oil bunkering, at the expense of local communities and ultimately risking the lives of their own workers.
It may sound like a thriller plotline, but it bears a striking resemblance to real life events in the Delta, and in particular one of the darker chapters of former President Obasanjo’s repressive rule of Nigeria.
As scholar and author Ike Okonta writes:
20th August 2006. On that afternoon, soldiers of the Joint Task Force, a contingent of the Nigerian Army, Navy and Air Force deployed by the government to enforce its authority on the restive oil-bearing Niger Delta, ambushed fifteen members of the MEND militia in the creeks of western delta and murdered them. The dead men had gone to negotiate the release of a Shell Oil worker kidnapped by youth in Letugbene, a neighbouring community. The Shell staff also died in the massacre.
Spokesmen of the Nigerian government had sought to represent the fifteen militias as ‘irresponsible hostage-takers’ in the wake of the slaughter. But those massed at the hospital that morning spoke only of heroes who had fallen in the battle for ‘Ijaw liberation.’
Okonta interviewed Oboko Bello, an Ijaw civil-society leader who traced a clear chain of command between Shell and the soldiers who murdered the boatful of MEND insurgents and Shell workers:
“Shell was in direct communication with the commanders of the Joint Task Force, even up to the time our young men set out in their boats to rescue the Shell worker in Letugbene. These young men were not hostage takers. They were Ijaw patriots, selflessly working to repair the damaged peace between the oil company and our people. For this they were ambushed and murdered by soldiers in the service of Shell.”
Then, as now, the Delta is betrayed by broken promises and military violence. With no end in sight to the devastation of the ecosystem and the ongoing exploitation of Nigeria’s oil, it is unlikely that the wider drama of the Delta’s will end as upliftingly as Hibbert’s movie.