242 days ago,
Hidden deep in the mangrove swamps of the Niger Delta lie hundreds of illegal refineries, “cooking spots”. It’s the stronghold of hostage takers and armed groups. For some ten years these men have been spreading terror in the region. Few cameras have been able to penetrate the closed worlds of these oil thieves. For one month?with the assistance of one of their number?we managed to film the everyday existence of the traffickers. On the one side, Nigeria. An extremely unstable region with economic and political stakes on a global scale. It’s the biggest oil producer in Africa and one of the ten biggest producers in the world. 95% of its revenues derive from this “black gold” On the other side, Western countries, major consumers of fuel, for whom oil is indispensible. Between the two, the inhabitants of the Niger Delta, cast aside from this manna and the enormous profits generated by the “black gold”. Driven by a sense of dispossession, they engage in increasing armed action to deviate a part of the oil production. Nicknamed “Bonny Light”, it’s one of the purest crude oils in the world. It is so pure, they say, that you could run an engine with it without any refining… exactly as it is extracted. However, the robbers of the Delta still have to refine it. They put the “crude” into drums that have been cut in half, heat it and sprinkle it with chemical products. It’s a dangerous operation. It can explode at any moment. So that their clothing doesn’t catch fire and turn them into human torches, the traffickers work naked, in a choking atmosphere, without the slightest protection. They have no other choice. To survive, they must take risks. Once refined, the fuel is put into buckets before being transferred into cans. It is then refined by traditional methods and distributed on the parallel markets of neighbouring countries. This “black gold” road passes via Cameroon, Benin, Togo and Ghana. However, in the Delta, oil is above all a plague. The water is filthy. The earth, fields and forests are polluted. Here, oil is a curse. All the villagers live below the poverty line. In the village of Okrika there is no drinking water or electricity. So, in order to survive, most of the farmers have a strange occupation. They fish for sand. Such is the case of Daniel, 55, who in order to feed his family tirelessly scours the beds of rivers for sand. It’s an unthinkable job, harsh and exhausting, for this new Nigerian slave. Every day, and sometimes at night too, and totally naked, he dives to depths of 5 metres to fill his buckets with sand. When his boat is full, he has to deliver it far away, at the mouth of the river. Once his boat has been unloaded, he must start his labours all over again. Once the oil has been stolen and refined, it has to be delivered. Neighbouring Benin is a major consumer. In the south of the country, along the border, oil trafficking is a real industry that supplies 70% of national consumption. Every day, 25 year-old Antoine risks his life to transport stolen oil on his motorbike. A real “bomb on wheels”, he carries more than 700 litres of oil on each trip, with the sole protection of the Voodoo gods!