by Tola Sarumi
I have often wondered about the interplay between Nollywood and politics, like, on the macro level. Of course this relationship is not one that is readily obvious to most people but can we deny the way Naija politics permeates everything we care about?
It was June 12th the other day, the significance of this date is not lost on us. The cancellation of the last elections that had nothing to do with religion or ethnicity, the winner, MKO Abiola, a Yoruba from the south, won the support of Nigerians of all ethnicity and religious persuasions. The powers that be and we the governed are not ready to see that reality being the status quo again anytime soon.
But anyways, I digress, back to Nollywood, a quick check on Wikipedia reveals that Nollywood took off with the release of ‘Living In Bondage’ (LIB) in 1992. What became apparent in LIB and films that followed it is the desire to interpret what the sudden collapse of the middle class meant, how to explain people getting stupendously rich over night? Corruption was not a new phenomena in Nigeria, we have been battling that particular ill since most Nigerians alive today can remember, what makes this period different though is that the shame of being a thief dissipated.
The fear of the political powers that be was thick, it seeped into every aspect of Nigerian life and this young industry could not take the risk of being the one to call out the obvious.
Money rituals became a way to explain this sudden wealth acquisition and the industry found a receptive audience. People who had often suspected that these ‘Money miss roads’ had somehow rigged the game unfairly, that they played some slight of hand were eager to see their suspicions vindicated. Corruption was (and is still) the surest way to get rich, no need to worship at the altar of one Dibia, correct lip service (the metaphorical and literal kind) would have gotten you paid (as it still can).
As mentioned, the palpable fear made it impossible for the industry to entertain its audience with exposés on the machinations of the political class and as there was no direct and relatable condemnation of these overlords, their actions became expected, tacit acceptance was given to them and their money. Had Nigeria had the kind of liberty Hollywood enjoyed, things might have played out differently. Hollywood in the 50s & 60s found Communist antagonists in several films, the films juxtaposed what the industry saw as quintessential American ideals to undesirable Soviet ones. Freedom of speech, religion and association (Never mind that African Americans were at this time denied access to social, judicial and political rights), against the perestroika, a system which sought to impose religious and thought uniformity on Soviet citizens.
The rapid acceptance of the political status quo and its mealy mouthed exponents meant Nollywood had no choice but to present characters with no depth, storylines that required its audience to suspend all disbelief, after all, the fantastical was happening right before our eyes. The military regime in the late 80s into the 90s ushered in a period of laissez faire, everybody wanted to chop and no one said a thing.
The politics of today’s Nigeria demands that middle class doesn’t exist in Nollywood, the characters are either wealthy or desperately poor to begin with only to end up wealthy anyway. The characters do not work hard, if they do, it is usually to set up the storyline of an unsympathetic spouse or a free spending relative. That is how it is in Naija though, several loudmouths whose job one cannot put one’s finger on but they are somehow wealthy beyond the means of most (upstanding) Nigerians. These stories we present do not tell the full story of the Nigeria that we all know, but perhaps that is why the industry is so popular… It is a nice escape from the everyday impossibilities that a sizeable chunk of Nigerians experience.
Things have changed since the military era, we are now labouring under a pretend democracy, everybody lies to everybody else and somehow, we all feign hurt when this fact becomes apparent. ‘Reloaded’, the hit film by Imem Isong is the perfect example of this. The charade we all partake in, explicitly or impliedly, only works so longs as the other party’s ‘own doesn’t get too much’. The husband can cheat, so long as he doesn’t bring the evidence home, the wife can put a front for her friends, so long as they don’t see any physical evidence to the contrary and in the end, to borrow this oft used Naija phrase, it is well.
To God be the glory.
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