Nigeria has always been a country of fantasized greatness since the collapse of the first republic. But the rebranding antics of the minister of information have added a risible dimension to the fantasy ride. This is not because the branding project is not necessary or even desirable, but because the project is geared towards a mere white wash; a spread of powder over an intolerably burnt face.’ Great nation, good people’. Yes we are good people but we are atrociously bad too, just like any other country. So what is the depth of thought here? Mere cant will not do, the paradigms to be pushed off the slopes are all too visible for any sloganeering cover up.
Nigeria celebrated its last Independence anniversary under a pall of a series of explosive image-attacks. The ones that seemed most irritating to the fire brand Mrs. Minister of Information appear to be (a) the portrayal of Nigeria as a country of fraudsters in the Sony website ad and (b) the portrayal of Nigerians as enterprising ritualists in the Hollywood-South African movie, District 9.Do not mind the intractable spate of arbitrary and unexplained assassinations in the country; nor the rot in the education sector ; nor the total collapse of security and economy; nor the endemic corruption among the ruling/ political class, and its corollary among the dispossessed youth- desperation for quick wealth, a situation that makes Sony’s wise-assed slur possible in the first place. I cannot be sure if the irony of it all struck Dr Akunyili when the chairman of her own branding project committee, the actor Pete Edochie, was recently kidnapped.
We could understand the minister’s especial grouse with the movie: aside making a hash of her much refrained-branding project, her political benefactor and former president of the country, General Obasanjo rtd., has had his personal image mauled in the ritual mud of District 9’s Obedsanjo. But wait awhile: who was trying to implicate the former president in the wizards’ brew of some screen-created pagan Nigerian exiles? Who had such audacity to tie the General’s name with his conquered country’s marauding diaspora of alien flesh eaters? For those who do not know, the name Obasanjo is not really a common Nigerian name, not even in Egba from where the former president comes. I think someone had mischievously chosen that name for the leader of the District 9 Nigerians to drive home a sly, rubbishing point. See, why not Adesanjo, Olusanjo and other such ‘Sanjo’ mutations that are more common? What, were they trying to paint the Nigerian community among those aliens as a macrocosm of Obasanjo’s Nigeria?
I did not see District 9 until recently. In fact too recently, for it was on the same day that Mr. Segun Ajayi, Action Congress agent in Ido Osi, caused a commotion at the on-going Ekiti Election tribunal. The man, whose leg had been amputated due to a gunshot attack from the PDP thugs during the election, brought the putrefying rump before the sitting, as an exhibit (or a kind of evidence in case the PDP lawyers attempted to claim he had never really had a leg before the election). While the whole court went into an odour-attack from the moldy leg-evidence, a tragic image flashed through one’s mind, a sad, ironic association of that amputation, a symbol of political violence and ritual dismemberment, with the other- an alien dismembered limb thrust on Obesandjo in District 9.And the tragic irony becomes more biting when one remembers that former president Obasanjo was, by indirection (no thanks to his political credo of ‘do or die’ which his party took to heart in Ekiti), responsible for the violent reduction of Segun Ajayi’s leg.
No doubt, as it has been famously expressed, that most of the dark impressions of Nigerians as a ritual-minded, scam-minded people get exported largely through the efforts of Nollywood movies. A Nigerian reviewer of District 9 suggested that the movie has bought into the sentiments of Nollywood creations but without the context. For really who was the Dibia that divined the ritual potential of the alien flesh to Obedsanjo and co? There must be a Dibia, a Babalawo, the Wise One, if the creators of District 9 had thorough digested the Wooden lessons of Nolly ventures.
I recently came across a series of Pieter Hugo’s photographs on Time Online photo gallery, taken from a book about Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood: The Stars of Nigeria’s Movie Business. The photographer had asked the actors to ‘recreate Nollywood myths and symbols’ like they do in movie sets. The results of these re-enactments are a bit unreal, even for Nollywood movies. There is one odd photograph of a Escort Karma in Long Jacket, a comic mask and an axe, standing on the middle of a road with a captured, fuzzy image of traffic about him. I think that picture could well be taken from a scene of any Hollywood horror film. A particularly horrifying one features Gabazzini Zuo in a suit and tie, standing over a disemboweled cow in a ritual setting, holding its bloody entrails to his chest- a ritualist in suit: could you think of a more fitting oxymoronic image of a sophisticated savage? Aside the fact that the names of most of the actors that posed for those photographs are not easily recognized in Nollywood, their bizarre representations also stretch the imagination of the Nollywood’s costuming really far.
Those photographs are captioned with insights that are no doubt from the book: ‘the plot revolves around situations familiar with the audience’ and these are listed, ‘witchcraft, bribery, prostitution’. Also Nollywood’s preferred aesthetic is ‘loud, violent and excessive’ and this aesthetic is supposed to spring from our ‘rich oral and written story telling’ and ‘deeply rooted in the local collective imagination’. But Nigerian story telling aesthetic is not loud and violent. Those Nollywood movies and their ritual templates do not exactly represent the realities of Nigerian experience. Those barely literate film makers have no time for research or historical truth, and they do not know the word aesthetic; they are only interested in creating their own fantasies for pure commercial purposes. Nigerians of District 9 are part of the damage Nollywood is inflicting on Nigerian image. Here we are, ye good woman of Brandingville.