This article is based on the research findings of a study on the role of films, fiction, and social media in promoting conflict resolution and peacebuilding in Nigeria’s resource-rich North West and Niger Delta regions. Films such as Blood and Oil directed by Curtis Graham, Black November directed by Jeta Amata, and works of fiction such as Egya Sule’s Makwala and Adamu Kyuka Usman’s Death of Eternity, were critically reviewed.1Amata Jeta, Black November. 2012. https://www.alibris.com/Black-November/movie/100622208; Egya Sule, Makwala. Lagos: Parresia Publishers. 2018; Graham Curtis, Blood and Oil. 2019. https://indiefilmsworld.com/en/movies/blood-oil Also, Facebook posts from Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FoEN), WhatsApp conversations drawn from Nigerian Environmental Humanities, and notes from interviews and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) were also analyzed using the Non-Violent Communication approach in explaining trends in both regions.2Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria https://web.facebook.com/search/top?q=environmental%20rights%20action%2Ffriends%20of%20the%20earth%2C%20nigeria; Nigeria Environmental Humanities WhatsApp Group. It was confirmed that excessive exploitation of natural resources has had a profound impact on the environment that sustains the livelihoods of the local communities in the gold mining community of Bagega, Zamfara State in the North West and crude oil mining community of Uzere in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria respectively.
The evidence collected and analyzed during the study strongly suggests that films, works of fiction, and art help to foster awareness about the debilitating effects of mining on the environment and the ways it fuels violence as well as local conflict. By the same logic, art forms can also help in promoting mediation techniques and efforts towards fostering a change in the mindsets of conflict actors through education, sensitization, compassion, and charting other pathways for peace. For instance, the novel Death of Eternity encapsulates how mining activities and other threats have degraded people and landscapes. The writer avers:
From his observation, the Tanka plateau was under three threats – chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and… mining. Today, if you don’t die of AIDS, terrorism will claim you. If you escape the arrow of terror, you will without fail find death under the canopy of environmental pollution. In this new Bermuda Triangle, no man, animal, or plant can fly over.3Usman Adama Kyuka, Death of Eternity. London: Athens Press Publishing Co. 2007.
Creatively using words, literary devices, and the art of truth-telling, the writer in the novel uses the main character Tibor to sensitize the people about the socio-environmental injustice and damage that has been done to their community. The writer also educates readers to support policies that protect human rights and the environment.
Furthermore, interviews conducted during the study among elders/youths in Bagega and the review of conversations on the Nigerian Environmental Humanities WhatsApp platform provided insights into how struggles over how natural resources fuel recurring violent conflicts involving bandits and local militias. This partly explains why foreign and local companies exploiting gold in the region are hardly ever attacked by bandits, kidnappers, and other criminal gangs. It also raises fundamental concerns as many local people are attacked, killed, or displaced, and living in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps. In one of the mapped-out WhatsApp interactions, an online participant speaking about peace mediation in the conflict region of Bagega noted that:
H.A.: A way for these issues to be mediated in the Northwest calls for justice. There will be peace when there is justice. The bulk of the work lies on the table of the federal government which controls the security apparatus. Some bigwigs who are in the corridors of government are involved in all these. So, the government must demonstrate a strong will and capacity to bring about peace in the affected areas.
Also, Focus Group Discussions on the impact of the films Blood and Oil and Black November trace the roots of natural resource conflicts in Uzere in the oil-producing Niger Delta region to the negligence of successive governments and poor governance, particularly lack of access among local people to the benefits of oil endowment. For instance, during a Focus Group Discussion, a woman leader had this to say after viewing the film Black November:
S.K.: The natural resource conflict in the Niger Delta was well replicated in Black November. Notwithstanding, as the women leader in my community, I wish the film centered on women’s agony and misery. The Cassava crop is the staple food women survive on but gets poisoned. Children go hungry as mothers scavenge for livelihood.
After watching the film Blood and Oil, a youth affirmed that:
A.M.: The film shows how the Delta youths are implicated in the natural resource conflict in the region. Out of greed, they conspire with foreigners to exploit their land. The result of the overconsumption and exploitation of oil translates to black soot in the air, low food production, no jobs, mass poverty, health challenges, and social unrest in the region.
Local people’s perception of natural resource conflicts reveals a severely impoverished oil-producing region that lacks clean water supply and suffers from limited health services, poorly funded schools, high levels of youth unemployment, and environmental despoliation. Drawing on the interviews and Focus Group Discussions conducted in the Niger Delta and Nigeria’s Northwest region, this study shows that violence in both regions is the result of struggles over natural resources, extraction of minerals and oil and attendant environmental pollution, and socio-economic injustice. The content analyses of the films, novels, and social media posts of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria and WhatsApp conversations on Nigeria Environmental Humanities also show the extent of the disastrous impact of gold and oil on fragile ecosystems and local livelihoods. This is pivotal not only to understanding the spiraling effect of violence and resistance in the region, but also to providing evidence of peace interventions aimed at facilitating conflict mediation, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding. However, it is crucial to note that art forms alone are not enough to solve conflict issues in the resource-rich regions of Nigeria. They must be accompanied by concrete actions and policies that address the underlying concerns of the people living in resource-rich but impoverished communities.
Since the struggle for natural resources is one of the main drivers of violence in the Northwest and Niger Delta regions, it is important to explore how these films, other art forms, and social media can help explain the conflict trends and expand the possibilities for conflict resolution and peacebuilding in order to better inform practical actions and policy interventions. The natural resource conflicts in Nigeria’s gold-rich Northwest and oil-rich Niger Delta regions reflect some of the governance deficits facing the country and pose a serious challenge to the local populations. Corrupt and incompetent political leaders as well as various non-state actors have contributed to the local conflict dynamics. Leaders at the local, regional, and national levels must develop natural resource management and post-conflict reconstruction skills and demonstrate a firm commitment to providing equal access to essential public services, amenities, and infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, electricity, and good roads. Equally pertinent is the expansion of economic opportunities, political participation, and social justice.
In seeking ways to promote conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation, a non-violent communication (NVC) approach with an emphasis on empathy, harmony, equality, and quality of life will promote peace at the local, regional, and national levels. NVC and other restorative initiatives to foster empathy and understanding should be included in school curricula and taught in schools as a step toward promoting social healing and reconciliation in conflict-affected settings. In the same way, NGOs and CBOs should invest in promoting NVC knowledge, skills, and training for local peacebuilders operating in areas affected by violent conflict. Such skills would enhance constructive dialogue between the state, mining, and oil companies, and the gold and oil-producing communities. Such consultations with host communities and stakeholders should explore options for the equitable distribution of benefits from the extraction of resources, and the adoption of sustainable development programs that emphasize the protection of fragile ecosystems and sustainable livelihoods.
Based on the findings of this study, it is suggested that governments at the state and federal levels should allocate special funds, grants, and programs for supporting film production, creative writing, and fine and applied arts in the country. State promotion of the production and dissemination of artistic works that promote peace and harmony should be recognized as a viable avenue for promoting local peacebuilding. Cultural activities, including musical performances and art exhibits, should also be supported by the state, mining, and corporate organizations to foster mutual understanding and harmony among different groups and organizations in conflict-affected communities. Also, given the eco-degradation caused by mining activities, the state, mining, and oil companies must adopt policies and take action to implement clean-up projects in polluted resource-rich and conflict-affected regions. This will ensure the thorough remediation of widespread contaminations from gold and oil mining, and restore the environment, farmlands, and rivers that are of fundamental importance to the livelihoods of the inhabitants of local communities. This essay emphasizes the role of various art forms and creative writing in advancing conflict resolution and peacebuilding based on a non-violent communication perspective. By leveraging these mediums and approaches, the government and companies in collaboration with filmmakers, writers, and social media influencers can raise awareness, facilitate dialogue, and foster understanding among the general public, particularly in resource-rich communities and regions.
- 1Amata Jeta, Black November. 2012. https://www.alibris.com/Black-November/movie/100622208; Egya Sule, Makwala. Lagos: Parresia Publishers. 2018; Graham Curtis, Blood and Oil. 2019. https://indiefilmsworld.com/en/movies/blood-oil
- 2Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria https://web.facebook.com/search/top?q=environmental%20rights%20action%2Ffriends%20of%20the%20earth%2C%20nigeria; Nigeria Environmental Humanities WhatsApp Group.
- 3Usman Adama Kyuka, Death of Eternity. London: Athens Press Publishing Co. 2007.