Charlie Kimber looks at Guy Hibbert’s new drama about the close relationship between oil, inequality and corruption in Nigeria
In many ways it’s surprising that there has not already been a BBC drama called Blood and Oil. There’s hardly a lack of source material.
But now there is one and, on the evidence of the first programme, it is well worth a look.
Set in Nigeria’s oil-producing Delta region, it centres on the activities of the multinationals, the corruption of politicians, and the way the rich and powerful destroy people’s lives.
It begins with the kidnapping of a group of white men working in the oil industry by an organisation dedicated to using oil wealth for the benefit of the area’s people. It may sound like just another story about the brutality of Africa and its people, but it isn’t.
Claire Unwin, the wife of a kidnapped British man, travels to Nigeria and is plunged into a brutal series of events that begin to reveal the true price of oil profits.
Alice Omuka is the other focus of the programme. She is a young PR executive raised and educated in London—the daughter of a wealthy Nigerian businessman.
She is forced to question the ideas she previously held about the positive role of business and the honesty of government officials in Nigeria.
As the two team up to discover the truth, they are pitched against the forces that have sucked Nigeria dry, from the days of British colonialism to the present.
The drama is well-made, intelligent and consistently interesting.
Refreshingly, the militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend—a real group active in Nigeria), are not portrayed as bloodthirsty thugs out for their own enrichment.
Even the Nigerians who work for the multinationals—and therefore might get hurt in Mend’s attacks—call them “The Boys”, and their violence is shown as carefully targeted.
Blood and Oil writer Guy Hibbert is fast building a reputation as someone who vividly shows how ordinary people learn political lessons when forced into conflict with the authorities.
For example, he co-wrote Omagh, a film about the 1998 bombing in Northern Ireland.
Although it didn’t question why the bombing happened, it certainly showed the lies and cover-ups by the police and government.
Blood and Oil suffers occasionally from its excessively pared down “introduction to Africa” approach like many dramas of this nature.
The viewer tends to be presented with a very one-dimensional view of what life is like.
And I found it hard to believe that Alice would be shocked to discover that Nigeria has quite a lot of poverty.
Above all it’s view from outside Nigeria, not a view by and from Nigerians. Even Alice is a Nigerian from outside.
But this drama will at least make people think twice about accepting the usual accounts they hear about Africa.
It strikes at the heart of the issue: why in such a potentially rich country only 1 percent of the population benefit from oil revenues, and more than 70 percent of the population live on less than $1 a day.
Blood and Oil is on BBC2, Monday 29 and Tuesday 30 March at 9pm