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Bisina and film crew win release

Mary Ella Keblusek of Langley waits for the word that her  husband, pictured behind her, is free. - Spencer Webster / The Record
Mary Ella Keblusek of Langley waits for the word that her husband, pictured behind her, is free.
— image credit: Spencer Webster / The Record

LANGLEY — A Langley man and four Seattle-based film-

makers were released from custody by Nigerian authorities Wednesday evening into the hands of U.S. Embassy officials.

The five were arrested by the Nigerian military after they arrived in the African nation to shoot additional scenes for the documentary “Sweet Crude,” a film about the exploitation of the Niger Delta by the oil industry. Joel Bisina, a Langley resident who has led humanitarian efforts in the Niger Delta, was taken into custody with the filmmakers.

Bisina’s wife, Mary Ella Keblusek, was excited upon word of her husband’s release. Concerns remain, however.

“I’m very good. I’m thrilled,” she told The Record Wednesday afternoon.

“They’ve been given Thursday to catch up on their rest.

I don’t know what they will do after

Friday,” she said.

Bisina and the film crew from “Sweet Crude” — including director Sandy Cioffi, producer Tammi Sims and photographers Clifford Worsham and Sean Porter — were released provisionally and were transported in a van to a hotel where they were asked to wait until final processing could be completed by the government on Friday, Cioffi’s film company spokeswoman said.

“They are at a hotel in Abuja. Right now, we are all focused on final processing tomorrow (Friday), recognizing that their release is not final,” Leslye Wood said. “Their release will not be final until they are through that processing. We don’t know what that processing will include; we have not been given that information.”

The five people had been arrested by the military on

April 12 as they traveled on the Niger Delta in a boat.

When the military determined that Bisina was neither a kidnapper nor a spy, the group was rounded up for not having permits to be on the water.

Bisina’s brother, Tunke-Aye Bisina, is a reporter for the Daily Independent, a newspaper based in Lagos, Nigeria. In a phone call Wednesday from Asaba, Nigeria, he said he had talked to his brother since his release.

“I feel great. We had a brief discussion. The embassy people said they have to stay for processing. But this is good news,” Bisina said.

Lawmakers in Washington D.C. got involved with the diplomatic process to help free the captives. Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined

13 of her colleagues and sent a letter requesting the group’s release to Nigeria’s president.

Tunke-Aye Bisina said the arrest of his brother has helped him turn attention to conditions on the Niger Delta that have resulted from multinational oil companies’ exploitation of the region, he said.

“They have left the area in poverty, because the traditional occupation of the people (fishing) in the area has been eroded by the activities of the multi-national oil companies,” Bisina said.

As a result, the delta suffers from underdevelopment, neglect and environmental degradation, he said.

Bisina would like to see the Nigerian government held to the same standards for environmental protection as other countries.

“The international community is not aware of the Niger Delta. These are people who have been pushed to the wall,” Bisina said. “My message to the world, to the international community, to the U.S. government: Put pressure on the federal government to do things the way they are done elsewhere.”

In an effort to further document the impacts to the Niger Delta, the film crew came to Nigeria on

April 5 to continue filming interviews for the film “Sweet Crude.” They also wanted to visit the library they and Joel Bisina built for a Niger Delta river community.

After the five were released to U.S. Embassy personnel, Wood got to talk to her fellow filmmakers for about a half-hour.

“They are fine. I think they are doing as well as can be expected. They are in good health and seem to be in good spirits,” she said.

“We are all just letting the diplomatic process take its course to its conclusion. I am feeling cautiously optimistic and obviously quite excited that they are at a hotel.

“I am looking forward to having them here in person in Seattle. And that is when we will know this ordeal is truly over,” Wood said.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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