|Sweet Crude - the Niger Delta
Black History Studies recently screened the documentary "Sweet Crude", about the Niger Delta.
I am going to say up front that I was upset by this film, although I was aware of the situation in the Niger Delta, having seen a film produced by the BBC a few years ago which covered much of the same ground.
It is vitally important that Black History Studies continue to screen these kinds of films and provide us with the information we need about the experience of African people all over the world.
It is equally important that we remember we can transform the situation. More about this later.
Oil was discovered in the Niger Delta in 1956. Once international oil giants Shell and Chevron moved in, they devastated the region, with the complicity of successive Nigerian military regimes. For more about modern Nigerian history, see Naij: A Film History of Nigeria.
The natural life expectancy in the Niger Delta is in the sixties; today, the life expectancy is 40. Forty. Four-zero.
During the enslavement period, the Niger Delta was known as the "slave coast". Many thousands of people were taken down the river in chains, to be sold in the West.
There is a long history of resistance in the region.
Today, because of the constant illegal burning of natural gas released by the oil drilling, toxic chemicals are released which pollute the air and the water and destroy the wildlife. The rain that falls in the Niger Delta is toxic enough to destroy metal roofs.
There are few, if any, schools in the Niger Delta. The Nigerian government and the oil companies want to drive the locals off their ancestral lands.
You can view the trailer below.
One of the most disturbing episodes covered by Sweet Crude was when Director Sandy Cioffi, having cultivated a relationship with MEND (The Movement to Emancipate the Niger Delta), arranged for a member of MEND to be interviewed on Nightline.
MEND wanted the international media to cover the situation. A member of MEND courageously agreed to be interviewed on camera, but the interviewer repeatedly asked him if he was a terrorist and if M\END were holding hostages. When the MEND member answered "no", the interviewer appeared bored and looked at his watch, and when the MEND spokesman began to explain the situation, the interview was terminated.
The subject was broadcast with a screaming headline about "Africa's New Terror Crisis" and references to a threatened increase to the price of oil for Americans.
Although we know the media often manipulate stories, and manipulate us, it was still shocking to watch this.
The Joint Task Force (JTF), a branch of the Nigerian military, maintain a presence in the region with brutal violence. The U.S. government under George W. Bush agreed to supply intelligence about activists in the region to the Nigerian government. Thus, in a way, we are all complicit in this scenario.
The author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned and killed because of his involvement in the Niger Delta protests.
Thank you once again to Black History Studies for screening Sweet Crude.
For more information and to buy a copy on DVD, visit Sweet Crude.