A new film, funded by a Nigerian oil baron and directed by Nollywood's Jeta Amata, has turned US politicians' attention to the Niger Delta.
Nigerian oil barons are not famed for campaigning for the victims of oil exploration. But Captain Hosa Wells Okunbo, a key player at the commercial end of the petroleum industry for three decades, has chosen to stand out from the crowd.
He says that he didn't want to go down in history as "just another rich merchant". In a bid to "give something back" to the region that has made him phenomenally wealthy, he has spent $22m on producing and promoting the film Black November – Struggle for the Niger Delta. It premiered at Washington DC's Kennedy Center in May, with a cinema release planned for the autumn.
Written and directed by a young Nigerian, Jeta Amata, Black November is not perfect, but it's good. The film is based on facts and named after the month when activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed in 1995. It is a moving, enraging, chilling, kick-ass adventure story about greed, brutality and injustice featuring three A-list actors – Mickey Rourke, Kim Basinger and Vivica Fox.
But Amata's wife, Mbong, is the real star with her impressive portrayal of a girl who gets a scholarship to study abroad. She starts off yearning for a normal, comfortable life but finds herself defending the exploited villagers she grew up with.
Mbong received death threats from a supposed militant group, but Amata told The Africa Report he didn't take them seriously. "I met with most Niger Delta militants to inform them of my plan and to ask them for their side of the story. As far as I am concerned, they believe in my film and project. What I'm doing is what they did, but without weapons."
The main purpose of making the film was to "bring to light the injustice and inhumane situation of the Niger Delta," says Amata. "If BP can be made to compensate the people of the Gulf of Mexico, why can't the world make the oil companies polluting our land make amends? We have been suffering spills the size of Exxon Valdez for 50 years, yet no one talks about it, as long as they benefit from the oil."
Black November is having a significant impact as a lobbying tool. Amata and associate producer Lorenzo Omo-Aligbe have been invited to the White House. Black Democratic congressman Bobby Rush and his white Republican colleague Jeff Fortenberry were so electrified by the film that they are sponsoring a joint resolution aimed at pressurising the Nigerian government and Western oil companies to clean up spills in the Niger Delta●