20 November 2005

Nigeria: A Season to Grow Up


IN many a discourse or treatise on a neo-African renaissance, I have tried to look at many of the little heralded and obscure Nigerian facets of this call to an African rebirth. The US-based Ghanaian philosopher, Molefi Asante may have chosen to call it exploring "Afrocentric themes" but I have chosen to call it 'Afrisecal thoughts'. Initially, like the erudite Nigerian son, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi alongside many others, I had looked at the petri-dish of the Nigerian swing of the rebirth (pax Nigeriana) from mainly the purview of its foreign peacekeeping missions, conflict resolutions and globetrotting antics of our leaders. This is a bit narrow and almost harrowingly Romanesque in a 21st Century setting. This is even more so in the current drive for an African bi-pod (or is it tripod?) on the UN Security Council. I have grown up to the realization that Nigeria's export to the global stage to sharpen the milieu of international perceptions is far wider than that.

Do you know the four things that have been notable about Nigeria in recent years? I may be wrong because I do not have a calabash of wisdom like the one that resides in Aso Rock Villa, but two things endear Nigeria to the world while the other two have denigrate the global perception of the Nigerian psyche. The first two: are you ready? Football and Nigerian home movies. The other two are not too difficult to pinpoint: 419 and political brigandage. I had considered corruption, on its own, but I think 419 represents Nigeria's special brand of shameful export of the colossus to the global stage. I think the last time my wife and I counted, I was receiving an average of five scam letters a week. That eventually made me to close some of my email boxes notably which I had used for some years in the course of writing on the website. This particular mailbox had attracted scammers like a moneybox! On the other window of vision, it was political brigandage that scuttled an international beauty pageant, caused Jos riots, caused Ngige saga as well as set international crude oil prices spiraling from the Niger-Delta to new heights.

From the soccer world, the international disbelief in Nigeria's inability to make it to soccer's mundial should tell us that the world had kept faith with us in that department as if we were another Brazil. Who can forget the captivating images of the Okochas and Kanus, and their dizzying dribbling abilities? Somehow, the immaturity of our soccer administrators failed us. Growing up for Nigerian soccer has not been easy for many reasons, which I will discuss another time. The bottom line is that football is one of Nigeria's hottest exports and Nigeria Football Association (NFA) needs to grow up.

Nollywood! Nollywood! With that lackluster name and smacking of copy-catism reminiscent of Bollywood's poor quality films of the 70s, it has sold and captivated the world especially Nigerians in the Diaspora. This Nollywood enterprise now rated the third largest film industry after Bollywood and Hollywood, may soon be on the Guinness Book of World Records for their spectacular speed of churning out all kinds of films; the good, the bad and the ugly. Despite its shortcomings, it had grown up in leaps and bounds. Maybe Mohammed Sule, the author of such classic Nigerian novels like "The Undesirable Element and the Delinquent was right when as a special guest of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA-Kaduna) and the Kaduna Writers' League two months ago; he surmised that there was rebirth in the air for the Nigerian art industry. He had particularly harped on the advantage of our sizable population and the growth of Nollywood. I tend to share his optimism and wish to also add that Nollywood stands to have an impact on what Ntone Edjabe, the South African writer and pan-Africanist of Chimurenga magazine termed Africa's complicated relationship with Nigeria. He viewed this relationship in the form of a Japanese Ying-Yang cycle of opposites (love-hate, dread-fellowship, admiration-envy, etc). Thus, in redefining pax Nigeriana, one must not dismiss the possibilities inherent in Nollywood on the global stage as well as a tool of pan-African rehabilitation through the arts. After all, Americans first defined their vision of "the American Dream" through Hollywood.

On Friday, November 11, the Association of Nigerian Authors held their convention in Kano, in collaboration with the Nigerian Film Corporation. Most of the big players in the Nigerian home video industry were present including a guest in the person of seasoned Senegalese moviemaker, Usmane Sembene. It's quite auspicious following on the tail of the 10th anniversary of Kenule Saro-Wiwa's death. Remember Ken was not only a past ANA president but a prolific playwright. A big thrust of the convention will be the assessment of scripting in the movie arena, with a bid to improve it through ANA collaboration with those in the industry. I am one of those who have long advocated for the convergence of the arts as in this forthcoming conclave. We need to pray for its success, because the quality of our movie scripts sometimes leaves one's mouth agape. I firmly believe that it will definitely be a success and a defining moment in the art history of Nigeria. It will be a growing up Pentecost for all. Nollywood will definitely be enriched by the matured and spell-binding works of young dream-catchers like Crispin Oduobuk, Helon Habila, and Danja Abdullahi, though I cringe to think of Nollywood producing or adapting blasé soft-sell works of the likes of Toni Kan Onwardi and others that one fears to classify even as dysfunctional literature. The threads should hone on matured works that will go a long way from the 419, blood money, and evil mother in-law themes.

Writing about "growing up", a film of the same title recently made its debut on the movie scene. It was the latest production from footballer-turned Nollywood entrepreneur, Emma Babayaro. It can best be described as a revelation and robust treat for me, from the angle of the coming together of Nollywood and Nigerian football. It was a surreal concept with Basorge Tariah leading a pack of Nigerian actors alongside the appearance of new generation Nigerian football stars like Osaze, Obodo and Obafemi Martins. The story revolving around a laid back scriptwriter was simple and devoid of the usual overkill we see in some Nollywood movies. The film was deeply ingrained with messages beneath the romantic cloud for those in the artistic sphere as well as the larger society with its double standards. Being his first serious movie after the semi-documentary: Living Football, I think the young man has come to take upon Nollywood.

Four days ago, I had walked into my house, the usual newspapers and magazines supplied by my vendor were carefully folded in one corner of my bedroom table instead of the centre point. The reason was not hard to see considering that the biggest magazine I have ever seen was then the master of my table. I had quickly looked at it and on its upper limits was emblazoned the words: Nollywood Alive! Well, the writer, Adewale Maja-Pierce who has a way of using words; would have probably written that Nigeria knows no end to wonders. Considering the small staff strength, Ishola Stephen, the publisher, has really done a good job. It is also obvious that Kila Odunayo (Editor/Manager) did some fantastic work too in the editorial quality. Keep it up! It's a season of growing up.

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