‘Conversations With Mercy Abang’ “I Just Want To Tell Our Stories, Good or Bad” – Ishaya Bako, Director of ‘Fuelling Poverty’


The conversations series with Abang Mercy brings to you Ishaya Bako, a young  Nigerian film maker and global shaper whose documentary “fueling poverty” went viral weeks ago after a federal government ban; Ishaya  bares his mind on the monumental fraud carried out by the Federal government of Nigeria in the fuel subsidy regime and he is also willing to produce a documentary on the Boko Haram Insurgency in Northern Nigeria if given the opportunity.



Fueling Poverty, is a documentary on poverty and fuel subsidy in Nigeria. Why did you choose this theme against other issues in Nigeria?

Fueling poverty is more a documentary about corruption, than about poverty. But it was more about corruption because of the fuel subsidy scam. I chose this theme because it was a story that needed to be told. Subsidy in 2012, was the biggest story in Nigeria from January till practically December that was the only thing that everybody was particularly concerned with because it affected every aspect of the society, and the fraud that was uncovered especially by the House of Representative probe which was on the backdrop of the protest in January was another reason. Another in-thing to just see the monumental fraud that was carried out by the government. It was a story that just needed to be told.


Did you envisioned it will be banned? Who banned fueling poverty and why?

I didn’t particularly envision it would be banned, I think maybe I was incredibly optimistic about the reception of the documentary especially in government quarters. The film was banned by the Nigerian Film and Video Censors board because we put the film there for it to be vetted because the organization is responsible for that in the country. I didn’t envision it to be banned, but as I said I might have been a bit optimistic.


You said the Nigerian Film and Video Census Board banned the Movie, were you sent a Memo to that effect? How did you get to know about the ban?

I was sent a letter, because when they sent a letter to me in-person I was at the premier of the movie in New York and then they e-mailed me a scanned copy of the letter informing me of the decision.


Is Ishaya Bako an  activist

Ishaya Bako is a film maker, I wouldn’t particularly call myself an activist. I just want to tell our stories, I want to tell the stories that matter to us whether they be good whether they be bad, I’ve told stories that celebrates our person, the Nigerian person, the Nigerian culture, the Nigerian spirit and I’ve told stories like Fueling Poverty that talks about the deeper issues like corruption, so no I’m not an activist, I’m a film maker, I’m a story teller.


How did you get the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) to sponsor the Popular OccupyNigeria Documentary (Fueling poverty)

The Open Society Initiative for West Africa actually got in touch with me, because the country Director at that time Adaora Ikenzie who more or less is instrumental, in putting it; is more like the un-sung hero of the documentary. She saw my graduation film Braids On A Bald Head which is a short film and then we got talking, lets just say the rest was history.


You won the Best Short Film Awards at the 8th African Movie Academy Awards; scripted and directed the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA)-winning Braids on a Bald Head and Fueling Poverty, also won at the 2013 AMAA in Bayelsa. How does it feel?

I suppose I’ll say it feels great. It feels great because it’s good to be accepted at home. Because in some of the films we make, we strive for a higher production value, and higher forms and methods of story telling, there is the danger that they wouldn’t accept us at home. So the fact that the film won the award twice in a row is a good sign, it’s a good sign that I suppose Nollywood is ready to change and be willing to tell stories that are socially conscious and important to the society.


The film, “Braids on a Bald Head” basically has the thematic drive of  Lesbian and gay individuals in a Northern Nigerian setting, a controversial approach, I must say? What inspired it?

I cannot talk about “Braids And The Bald Head” I’m sorry. For the exact same reasons that you mentioned, I cannot talk about it. Its a project that has been completed it’s done, it’s run. It is the child you’ll always be proud of but I can’t say anything more about the film, and that’s why nobody has seen the film.


Do you you think the LGBT community in Nigeria should be allowed the freedom of expression?

The LGBT community in Nigeria should be allowed the freedom of expression? Yes, absolutely.


You  attended the London Film School. How was it, compared to the Nigerian Film School in Jos.

I have never been to the Nigerian Film School in Jos, I have heard of it, the Nigerian Film School and obviously the NTA Television college. I mean it’s a privilege, if nothing, I recognize the fact that I am a rare breed. I had the opportunity many others did not have, and I supposed that’s why I just make the films that I make; I just want to make sure the opportunities that I’ve had, the experiences I have been able to go through, the exposure and the people I have been able to interact with, I can make it to good use. So I don’t know anything about the film school in Jos.


As a Nigerian Film director and screenwriter, one from the Northern Nigeria. Will you produce a documentary on the Boko Haram Insurgency in Northern Nigeria?

Obviously, it is something that you want to talk about, it’s something you want to comment on, but the Boko Haram insurgency is very complex, it’s very complex because year in year out a lot of people are just trying to understand it. I don’t understand it i’m not entirely sure the government particularly understands it, i’m not entirely sure that the people of the country entirely understand it. Yes. In answering your questions, yes I would want to, but at the same time I think I have made a lot of controversial films already. In talking about the conversation, its very sensitive, because it is complex in the motives, in the drive, in the way everything is executed. If I’m given the opportunity, yes, definitely.


Your film has been featured at various film festivals across the globe – what has it been like for you? Are you fulfilled?

I’m not fulfilled because I know that there is a lot more that needs to be told. There are a lot of Nigerian stories that need to be told, a lot of African stories that need to be told, there are a lot of stories about man that need to be told, and I’m still a young person. I mean its great to have the opportunity to go to different film festivals and showcase your work, and see how other audiences perceive and accept or decline your work. But, I have only just begun, or I haven’t even barely begun.


As an emerging voice of this generation and a member of Global Shapers, (a collection of enterprising youths initiated by the World Economic Forum.) What would you do differently if you were in a position of influence in terms of policy and execution ?

I think what I would do differently is to listen, I don’t think we listen enough, I don’t think we listen to the voice of the people; I don’t think we listen to the travails of the people, I don’t think we listen to the pain of the people. Because if you don’t understand what the people are facing, then you can’t know how to help or ease or even know what to do. I think we don’t listen enough. We like to talk, we like to take action, but we don’t listen enough, and I think if I was in the position of authority I would listen a lot and try to understand, and at the same time try to be disciplined enough to be able to effect change.


What do you make of the Nigerian Film Industry?

I think it’s exciting, I think the Nigerian Film industry is amazing in many ways, an industry that was created out of practically nothing, with no government support and to be one of the largest film industry in the world. I mean like, say what you will, criticize it as much as you want; Nollywood is a fort in the Nigerian film industry by extension if you take it as a body, I mean it is the largest cultural export in Africa. It’s amazing and I think what is even more exciting is the fact that it is still at its infancy and there’s a lot that can happen, there’s a lot that can still be done in terms of how we tell our stories.


Who are your mentors in the film genre ?

My mentors are, well mentor’s you have to know your mentors in particular. Unfortunately at this point of time I don’t have anyone in film, but the people I look up to. I won’t say my mentors, but the people I look up to. The people’s films that I really like, obviously first of all Tunde Kelani who is just an amazing director and incidentally we are from the same alma mata we went to the same film school. Danny Boyle, who did slum dog millionaire and Guillermo Deltoro a Mexican film maker that made Pans Labyrinth.


What practical ideas do you have to curb corruption in Nigeria ?

I think accountability, I think everybody needs to be held accountable, I think it is very easy for us to point to the government and say that they are the cause of our problem. But I think corruption is from ground up, I think everybody is liable in corruption and I think everybody needs to imbibe that spirit of accountability. So if there were any practical thing that could be done is to enforce accountability. How we enforce accountability obviously remains to be seen but to put that spirit of accountability, to make sure everybody has that sense of responsibility.


What’s your next project?

My next project is a feature film, its about trafficking. I can’t say anything further than that, we are still in very early stages, we are talking to different partners but it is about trafficking and it follows the life of three different people.


As a young person do you hold the conviction that young people in Nigeria hold the key to unlock change and build a new country? Especially with the young subjects in Fuelling poverty.

I worry for my generation, I worry for my generation because everybody is excited about us, everybody feels like we are the people that are going to change the country and by extension change the world. But I worry that we are still finding our voice, I worry that we do not have proper mentors ahead of us to stand on their shoulders or to emulate. I worry that the weight may be too heavy for us. I worry that we are young people that are very passionate, very energetic, but we still don’t have a collective voice. I hope, I suppose I hope, because I have to hope; because I am here and I am trying to do my possible best. I hope that we will be able find our voice, I hope that we are able to push, I hope that we are able to actually lift the weight and to lift this country from the pit that we are into greater heights. I hope that we are able to create a better Nigeria for our kids.


What is the one thing you want Nigeria to get right?

I think, a sense of pride in our country, I think we need a sense of pride in our country. I think we need to get it right. I mean in many ways you’ll say patriotic, and obviously at this point in time there’s not a lot to be proud. But there’s a lot to be hopeful for and that’s something to be proud of. The fact that you still have a fight in you regardless, that’s something to be proud of and think that’s what i want Nigeria to be proud of i mean if you get the fact that you want to be in Nigeria, you want to work in Nigeria, you want to live in Nigeria, you want to make Nigeria a better place, you’ll want to not take bribe because you believe that you are instilling a sense of culture.

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