by Okon Ekpo
As we were taught in school, oil was first discovered in Nigeria in commercial quantities in a sleepy little village in Rivers state named Oloibiri. As events have proven, that discovery has been both gift and curse as it has enriched the nation’s coffers immeasurably, but plunged the host community and others like it, who share a similar fate into an abyss of disease and death.
The discovery of oil has also been responsible for among many other things, the choking recession that has gripped the economy this year. Awash in sudden petro-wealth, government officials and host communities alike became lazy and abandoned all other legitimate pursuits of wealth for the risk averse, easy option, the business of oil. This far reaching operation includes mining, exploring, refining, bunkering, stealing, slushing and everything that came after.
The year 2016 is as good a time as any to look back on the choices we have made as a nation and reflect on what we could have been done better. As the recession bites harder, and government works overtime to break the crippling dependency on oil, while opening up other sectors of the economy, it is important to look back at how it all began in the first place. Oloibiri offers that opportunity.
Part action thriller, part historical eye opener, part government propaganda, Oloibiri, directed by Curtis Graham, working from a script by Samantha Iwowo tells the story of the Niger Delta region at large, and Bayelsa state where present day Oloibiri is located.
It personalizes the tragic cycle that the region has become through the interconnected stories of four natives. Boma a.k.a Gunpowder (Richard Mofe-Damijo) is the first class University graduate of Geology who declines to work with an oil company because they represent the big bad evil that has crept into his once peaceful creek paradise, destroying lives in their wake. In his self-righteous anger, he becomes a law unto himself, serving justice through militancy operations, to the eternal chagrin of his mother (Taiwo Ajai-Lycett).
Elder Timipre (Olu Jacobs) has benefited from both the gift and curse of oil. As a young man starting out life in sleepy Oloibiri, he is a helpless bystander as his wife becomes one of the earliest victims of the pollution of the village’s water supply. Disillusioned, Timipre flees to the West on a scholarship but returns as an old man with a secret agenda to make his torturers pay for the crime.
Chisom (Ivie Okujaye) is the medical doctor who makes house calls administering care to her patient, Timipre. One day she stays past her consulting period and on her way home runs into a distraught foreigner, Powell (William R. Moses,) who has just escaped a bloody kidnap attempt while on a working visit to Oloibiri, host community of a lucrative oil well which his company, Foreshore Exploration recently received licence to operate.
The lives of these four human beings intersect in ways that would leave them changed forever as events take a turn for the worse, culminating in a blood bath while battling for the soul of Oloibiri.
Oloibiri, the film has received backing from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) so while blame is being passed around (and there is plenty of it to go round,) none gets to the doorstep of the government- federal, state or local. Government according to Graham, is an innocent bystander, called upon to settle deadly feuds.
Instead blame is shared between the citizens of Oloibiri who fail to get someone to take responsibility for the environmental disaster that the region has become, and the big bad multinationals, united in their common greed.
Oloibiri is peopled with characters that are neatly delineated into predator and prey, almost cardboard cut outs with the exception of Gunpowder, whose bottled fury and misguided indignation humanises the young men of the creeks who choose militancy as an option. Played with a tinge of cartoonish despair by RMD, the end for Gunpowder is predictably tragic but RMD keeps him eminently watchable and almost makes you root for him despite his bad behaviour.
As the brave elder Timipre, Olu Jacobs brings gravitas to a role that could have been forgettable and becomes the MVP of the entire affair. His scenes of verbal sparring with RMD are an upcoming screenwriter’s dream and his commitment to character keeps the film grounded even when the bullets are going off around him.
Speaking of, the director has quite the blood thirsty eye and films his fight scenes with a glee not usually associated with Nollywood. Some of it is just plain schoolboy filmmaking but it keeps the momentum of the film at a certain level that is a plus for the production. The script by Iwowo is passable and the technical detail deployed in bringing her scenes to life are quite impressive. Music too is immersive and captures the production design.
Graham displays a fine taste for striking imagery with some of his scenes, like one powerful shot at the end, when a character falls to his death in slo-mo with dollops of black petroleum pouring freely on his face, signifying the needless waste of both human and natural resources.
Oloibiri isn’t a perfect film. Some of the writing needs an editor’s sharp eye, the acting could have been better captured and extras could have used some more training. In one laughable scene, Okujaye’s doctor character, Boma confronts a patient having a hypoglycaemic crisis. She offers him sugar and the next minute, without the simple courtesy of a blood sugar test is searching for Insulin to administer.
The ending is rushed and events fail to occur naturally as much as they are rushed just for the sake of arriving at a logical conclusion. Oloibiri isn’t the film that tells the Niger Delta story in a deeply effective and engaging manner, but it is a bloody decent start.