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An oil-polluted site in Nigeria's Niger Delta

Russian TV documentary crew finally returns home after two weeks in Nigerian limbo

21 November 2018

An RT (Russia Today) environmental documentary crew, which went to Nigeria to film footage about international oil business and the toll it takes on the environment, was instead caught in red tape limbo and almost prosecuted as spies.

The two-person crew, filmmaker Natalya Karachkova and cameraman Dmitry Tararako, safely arrived back in Moscow via Turkey this week after a pretty nerve-wracking working trip to the African nation. Shortly after they started filming in Nigeria’s southern Bayelsa State, a local immigration official seized their passports.

A grueling confrontation over the crew’s legal status ensued, drawing in the Russian embassy and increasingly higher-ranking Nigerian officials. At one point RT journalists were threatened with charges of espionage and were told they were lucky they have not been jailed. After almost two weeks, they were allowed to leave the country in what seemed more like a forced deportation than a regular end of a visit, they said after returning to Russia.

The entire ordeal meant they filmed four or five times less footage than they intended. The documentary itself is not Nigeria-focused and intends to show how international energy giants get away with sloppy cost-cutting business practices in African countries while upholding much stricter rules at home and how much damage countries like Nigeria suffer because of it.

“We had really big plans, and we now realize that we did much less,” Karachkova said, adding that she and her partner are still not sure why their work was undermined by red tape.

It could have been an attempt to extract a bribe, which grew into this espionage story. Or it could have been an order from higher up: don’t let them film anything that would hurt the corporations. We wanted to interview people suing those oil giants, and somebody may have had a problem with it.

Karachkova assured that the setback will not torpedo the documentary. Their experience simply gave them a new angle on the situation in Nigeria.

A version of this report first appeared on RT.

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