Nigeria bans film on oil corruption, warns director

Lagos, Nigeria, April 17, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a recent decision by the Nigerian government to ban the exhibition and distribution of a documentary film on corruption in the state’s management of oil wealth, “Fuelling Poverty.”

In an April 8 ruling reviewed by CPJ, the federal government-run National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) called the contents of the 30-minute film by Ishaya Bako, “highly provocative and likely to incite or encourage public disorder and undermine national security.” The board, whose members are all appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan, warned Bako that “all relevant national security agencies are on the alert” to ensure that he does not exhibit or distribute the film.

Bako told CPJ that the board’s refusal to grant his application, which he said he filed in November 2012, means no Nigerian cinemas or TV stations are allowed to air the film. He said he is contemplating appealing the board’s decision. “I am so disappointed because all the information in the film is actually available on the Internet,” Bako said.

“Instead of banning the documentary ‘Fuelling Poverty,’ authorities should look into the important questions it raises about corruption and impunity in the country’s oil sector and at the highest levels of government,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. “We urge Nigeria’s National Film and Video Censors Board to overturn this censorship order.”

Neither Patricia Bala, the NFVCB’s acting director-general, nor spokesman Tanko Yunusa Abdullahi responded to CPJ’s inquiries on how the board made its determination.

Bako, in partnership with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), premiered the documentary in Nigeria in November 2012. It was screened at the 20th New York African Film Festival this month and has been nominated for Best Documentary at the 2013 African Movie Academy Awards to be held April 20.

Since the ban was issued, activists have been assertively sharing the film on social media, according to news reports. As of today it has more than 43,000 views on YouTube.

The film investigates the siphoning of Nigeria’s oil wealth in the context of nationwide anti-government protests that swept the country in January 2012 after fuel subsidies were suspended. Its introduction is narrated by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka.

The National Film and Video Censors Board censored 4,600 films between 1994 and 2005, and outlawed films with themes involving cannibalism, lesbianism, and indecent, obscene, or explicit sexual scenes, according to a joint report on Nigeria submitted last month by CPJ, PEN Nigeria, PEN International, and the International Publishers Association to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Censorship in Nigeria is administered by the National Film and Video Censors Board, the Nigerian Broadcast Commission, and state censorship boards.