BY ANDREW OKE
To simply say that Oloibiri is a good film would be to undersell it greatly. It manages to pull aside the curtain and take a good look at the social injustices and internal conflicts in the Niger Delta and its inhabitants without hitting you over the head with its message. Subtle where it needs to be, it deals with heavy themes of guilt and regret as well as the issue of the exploitation of the Niger Delta with complete respect. This Curtis Graham-directed feature is not just one of the best Nigerian films to hit the cinemas this year; it is arguably one of the best Nigerian films to be released in the past five years.
Oloibiri follows the stories of three very different men who, even if they don’t know it, are all championing the same cause; to get justice for the Niger Delta. These men are Elder (Olu Jacobs), an elderly man who lost his wife to complications from her exposure to the polluted waters of the Niger Delta; Gunpowder (Richard Mofe Damijo), a former geologist at an oil company and the leader of a group of militants; and Robert Powell (William R. Moses), the powerful CEO of a multinational oil exploration company. ForeShaw Explorations gets a lease to carry out oil exploration in Oloibiri, but when Robert Powell and the rest of his executives receive photographs of people that have been adversely affected by oil exploration in the area from the militant group led by Gunpowder, Powell decides to go to Oloibiri to see the community first hand and work out a way to make a difference. Unbeknownst to Powell, Gunpowder and his goons plan to kidnap him once he gets to Oloibiri. The abduction doesn’t go as planned and Powell manages to escape and run into Elder’s psychiatrist played by one of my favourite actresses; Ivie Okujaye. She takes him to Elder’s house where Powell comes face to face with the pain and hardship that his industry has caused in the form of Elder.
The dynamic between these three completely different, but clearly similar men is what carry this film and its story. There is a moment in the film where Elder mistakenly hands Powell over to a group of militants dressed as soldiers. The moment he realises what he has done, he is left with a moral dilemma; should he just go home and leave Powell to whatever fate may befall him or should he backtrack and try to save a man who he believes is as guilty as anyone else for the damage that has been done to the Niger Delta? Moments like this one are what make this film a joy to watch. So many moral questions are asked and so many characters are put in positions where they question everything that they have done up to that point. Add to that, the great acting performances from the amazing Richard Mofe Damijo and Ivie Okujaye and a performance from Olu Jacobs that can only be described as phenomenal, and what you have is a work of art that you will appreciate despite its many flaws.
The film opens with a mass funeral where we see a young Elder bury his wife and straight off the bat, you are thrown into this immersive world with visuals reminiscent of a Terrence Malick film. The film is brilliantly shot and Curtis Graham and his team do a great job of ushering us into this world and into this wonderful story with so much care, but once you’re in there, the gloves come off and you are thrust into the deep end with beautiful, but extremely grim imagery and symbolism that is practically telling the audience that crude oil is going to kill us all. This is a sharp contrast from the narrative of the film which, glum at times, tries to show a glimmer of hope for the future of the Niger Delta. I suppose the visuals are a representation of reality and the film’s narrative represents a dream. Save for some sound issues in every scene shot in Canada and the poor foreign actors (except William R. Moses), this film is truly wonderful and after seeing it, I cannot wait to see what next Curtis Graham has to offer as a director.
No film tells all the stories of a place or a people. Oloibiri does not tell all the stories or raise all the issues of the Niger Delta. But that’s fine. What it focuses on, it delivers competently and that’s enough.
Oloibiri is a film that should be seen by everyone who has an opportunity to do so and is concerned about Nigeria and its many contradictions of potentials and achievements. A few months ago, I reviewed Niyi Akinmolayan’s The Arbitration, which was truly a great effort, and since then, I hadn’t seen any other film that was worth labeling as even “half decent” not to talk of “good” That is, until now.
Gunpowder – Richard Mofe Damijo
Elder – Olu Jacobs
Robert Powell – William R. Moses