The vast environmental phenomena characteristic of Africa’s most populous nation – Nigeria – are displayed across the current social occurrences in an independent, politically engaging, one-hour documentary screening at Oslo’s upcoming Human Rights Human Wrongs Film Festival.

Aleksandra Biernacka
Aleksandra Biernacka
She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: February 7, 2017

Nowhere to run

Dan McCain

Nigeria 2015

The film’s dynamic reporting style based on conversations with numerous experts, activists and witnesses creates a wide panorama of interconnected issues. However, it leaves little space for a direct, in-depth observation of reality. The definite and assertive voices attempting to build Nigerian public awareness, solidify efforts at spreading environmental responsibility, proving the film’s close affinity with crusade journalism. But, it might simultaneously alienate Western audiences for whom an open-ended, unmediated investigation of specific facts would be far more enriching. Nevertheless, the film provides a rare opportunity to see the Nigerian first-hand critical account of the most important environmental questions of the day and the people who play lead roles in solving the problems facing the country. Providing Nigeria’s importance on the African continent, and its growing significance for determining environmental policies internationally, Nowhere to Run seems a useful introduction to a plethora of environmental questions tormenting this part of the world.

The firm, ordered structure of the film is punctuated with inscriptions on screen and throughout features a map of particular Nigerian regions each plagued by a different, pressing problem. Starting with a reminder that the environment is first and foremost “a loan from our children,” it addresses problems including the desertification of lands, deforestation, recurring floods and draughts and massive oil spills. The film shows how particular phenomena give rise to distinct social issues, often radiating far beyond their immediate surroundings. The ongoing deforestation and desertification of the North induces a migration of communities in search of new land. Consequently, this brings about the rising levels of violent conflicts and clashes over strained natural resources between the new and old inhabitants of the southern areas.

The disappearance of lake Chad on Nigeria’s north-eastern border, classed the world’s sixth biggest lake in the early 1960s, results in the rapid impoverishment of hundreds of thousands of people. Something which fuels anger and frustration, plus fixes a social base for Boko Haram activities. The colossal gas flaring coupled with monstrous and repetitive oil spills destroy the country’s Niger Delta region, and contribute to immense air pollution, acid rains, and water contamination.  This, in turn increases the levels of human diseases as well as destroying all animal life and vegetation. It extends to the eradication of the natural barriers against the ocean tossing away more and more of the coastline, thus minimising access to land and resources for the next communities. Located on the country’s south-eastern borders, the environmentally wealthiest Cross River region is in turn racked by unrestrained robber economy activities carried out on a vast scale by criminal, heavily armed groups, resulting in a fast shrinkage of the world’s third largest rain forest. This is accompanied by an expanding erosion of lands all across the country and floods that ruin increasing numbers of communities and disrupt people’s everyday lives.

This enumeration of problems is fortunately at this point stopped, as the film changes direction and starts to point to possible positive social solutions, along with actions and people who are already actively implementing them in various areas. The major one – an improvement of the country’s inefficient electrical system involves the traditional and non-traditional sources of energy. It also looks at the daily means of its acquisition and transformation, such as stoves. The other – the advancement of a system of food production stresses the importance of sustainable farming methods and the small community initiatives. It all ends with the Igbo proverb: “He who burns down his father’s house, inherits the ashes.”    

The richness and inflow of the environmentally-conscious documentary films from around the world already enables one to distinguish them as a sub-genre. Nowhere to Run is, however, stylistically far removed from the recently popular, big-budget documentaries such as the Oscar-nominated Orlando von Einsiedel’s Virunga or Fisher Stevens’ Before the Flood. It employs a TV-report style and dynamic editing in a presentation of facts occurring within the scope of one country, but within the vast and differentiated area of numerous complex and interconnected social and environmental issues. Its style is precise and disciplined, but the abundance and ramifications of each point seriously outgrow the limits of form. In effect, there is a sense of a hastened inventory of problems, reduced to stating the facts with no place for searching for less obvious, but perhaps better tailor-made solutions to the grave obstacles Nigeria is dealing with. The hope for shaping and influencing a public opinion with the help of a cross-cutting of numerous talking-heads and illustrative photography, which leaves little room for an engaging analysis or thought-provoking investigation, makes one aware of the seriousness of debate and its possible long-term consequences. Not only for Nigerians, but for many of their neighbours as well. The extent of the disastrous human-inflicted activities that ruin and wipe out Nigerian natural environment is shown in devastating and detailed pictures, combined with the realisation that an ordered, consequent and responsible action could easily remedy the vast majority of problems, are truly moving and generate a resounding call for action. The scale of the presented phenomena is distressing and urges for more decisive and swift reaction to the issues, whose consequences are already also felt globally.

Nowhere to Run is a final testimony to the severity of Africa’s environmental situation with its explicit and unequivocal title; there is no escape from endangered regions as there are no pristine, untroubled areas left. The only way to protect human life is through a simultaneous care about preservation of its natural surroundings that suffered severe losses during the last 30 years. Only humans and their actions right now, can help themselves to live the life enjoyed by previous generations. Otherwise all will be affected.V

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