Nigeria: Nollywood As Compass to National Questions

The modern film industry in Nigeria came to real reckoning when it became the purveyor of heavily-guarded information about the society, more like the investigative reporter. One can illustrate this with the film that (arguably) gave birth to the phenomenon called Nollywood: Living in Bondage.

Prior to the advent of the movie produced by Okey Ogunjiofor and Ken Nnebue, words were rife that emerging millionaires in the South East of Nigeria were probably living off the benefits of membership of certain secret cults. It was a perception, no one truly knew to what extent it held true.

Okey and Ken stepped in with the brilliant idea to address that information gap. The result was Living in Bondage, which not only established that there were secret cults but also highlighted the consequences of such fraternities as exemplified by the character, Andy, played by actor Kenneth Okonkwo.

Save from the storyline, which satisfied that information gap, there really was nothing to write home about the technical richness of the film, which is understandable, considering that the crew worked with the equipment their resources could afford at the time. Living in Bondage’s storyline captivated a lot of people. It became a hit, availed fame for the actors, spawned sales and ignited a renewed interest in the movie industry as other producers simply jumped on the wagon to spin similar tales.

Overtime, the need to fill an information gap has produced other blockbusters, and Nollywood has done well in being the investigative reporter, in a playful and dramatic manner. Productions like Thunderbolt by Tunde Kelani, Issakaba directed by Lancelot Oduwa Imaseun in one way or the other played this cardinal role.

With the reinvention of the cinema culture in recent times, some films have continued on this path. There has been Last Flight to Abuja by Obi Emelonye, 93 Days by Steve Gukas, October 1 by Kunle Afolayan, and 76 by Izu Ojukwu; the other breakaway successes the industry has witnessed have come from the romantic-comedy genre.

On account of this, the film industry still yearns for authentic stories that can fill the information gap of the nation. This is why the announcement that BADAMASI: Portrait of a General, the biopic on Nigeria’s former President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida would premiere on June 12, 2021 at Cinewold, O2 Arena, London is evoking a lot of interests.

It ought to be so.

General Babangida occupies a unique rung in Nigeria’s socio-political ladder. While being on everyone’s face, he is also distant, mysterious, much like what Michael Jackson held for millions of his fans worldwide. The more you try to know him, the little you understand. So many issues about him have been contrived, distorted, perhaps hyped, leaving Nigerians with an obfuscate personality, yet many are still very eager to probe and understand him. Reputed to be a major participant in most (if not all) of the coups that have taken place in Nigeria, he is believed to be endowed with a unique vista of Nigeria’s political space and his unpredictable nature when it comes to discussing same, roundly compounds issues for the people.

As a head of state, who chose to be addressed as military president, his reign oversaw some of the elemental points in Nigeria’s history, most of which have remained fuzzy. From issues about the Nigeria-Biafra War, foiling of Dimka’s coup, sacking of Shehu Shagari and Buhari, to the infamous Structural Adjustment Programme , assassination of famous journalist, Dele Giwa and the chaotic annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election, which left Nigerians with new lexicons, like ‘impasse’ and others, the story of Ibrahim Babangida cannot but leave so much to be desired. His background, outstandingly lowly, and how he rose to the zenith of political influence in Nigeria, makes him a subject for students of motivational speaking.

In reality, Nigerians have always been looking out for an autobiography from him, which would offer the needed explanations for some of these knotty issues in our socio-political history. This is largely why the film, BADAMASI: Portrait of a General, an authorised biopic by international filmmaker Obi Emelonye is today one of the most anticipated films ever in the history of Nollywood, which has given Nigeria the reputation of being the third largest film producing nation in the world. The thematic collage of drama, education and history therein, captures a larger segment of the society in contrast with the average Nollywood film.