Poison Fire: Oil and Gas Abuse in Nigeria

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Poison Fire, a documentary exposing oil and gas abuses in Nigeria and featuring Friends of the Earth Nigeria volunteers, was launched with a world premiere at the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA) Nov 20-30.

The Niger Delta in Nigeria is an environmental disaster zone after fifty years of oil exploitation. One and a half million tons of crude oil have been spilled into the creeks, farms and forests. Natural gas contained in the crude oil is burnt off in gas flares that produce as much greenhouse gases as 18 millions cars and release toxic substances in densely populated areas.

Africa, oil, climate change, globalisation, repression, violence, rights. Poison fire shows some of the world's most urgent challenges in a microcosm – the strained relationship between the oil industry and local communities in Nigeria's Niger Delta.

Ifie is a local artist, feminist and environmental activist who works to promote dialog between the communities, the oil industry, and the federal government. She travels around the Delta with her younger (and considerably less polished) aunt Tina, to record "video testomonies" on the environmental impact of Shell's oil exploitation. People show them gas flaring sites, where the natural gas produced along with oil is simply burned off – wasted. They visit creeks and fish ponds literally filled with spilled oil. They see a violent fire from a wellhead explosion that has been burning for months, and blackened mangrove swamps where oil continues to seep up from spills long ago.

Lie-Lie Men follows Ifie on three tours of the Delta in 2005 and 2006, and to the Hague, where she attends Shell's Annual General Meeting. The film opens here, with Ifie shaking hands with the CEO of Shell, Jeroeen van der Veer. Then she meets informally with the Managing Director of Shell Nigeria, Basil Omiyi, who hails from the Delta, making Ifie think she'll be able to relate with him. But she is stunned by Omiyi's replies. Some of what he says seems to be outright lies; and other statements reveal what is, to her, a twisted, "money-drunk" perspective. She brings the video of her meeting with Omiyi back to the Delta, and asks people to comment on what the Shell bosses tell the shareholders about the situation there. And then she sets out to show the communities' responses back to Shell.

The conflict in perspectives as to what is actually happening on the ground reflects immediate global challenges: climate change, corporate globalization, "energy security" in the West, the causes of poverty, and resource wars and militant violence in Africa. This is a grim view of the situation in the Delta, yet it's far from a doom-and-gloom picture. Because Lie-Lie Men also gives voice to some very convincing and colourful community activists who are not giving up, and whose urge for communication, dialog, justice, democracy, and peace – is infectious.

The film director followed a team of local Nigerian activists to impoverished communities, creeks full of crude oil, devastated mangrove forests, wellheads leaking gas, and to oil giant Shell's annual general meeting in the Netherlands. Communities fight back with non-violent means and win over Shell in a Nigerian court.

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