Beyond Baba Shege’s Homily To The Nigerian Actors' Guild

by Nnaemeka Oruh

Fascinating how the Nigerian movie industry (popularly known as NOLLYWOOD) became the third largest in the world. Yet if one considers the abundance of talents in the country, one will not be too surprised. The conscious amalgamation of such talents will no doubt produce the best in the world. However, the strength of the industry lies mainly on the explosive number of films produced annually. Unfortunately, the large quantity of films produced is not followed with an equally high level in quantity. A check that has nearly reduced the industry to the level of cheap pamphleteers, and their products, to roadside nursery rhymes.

This piece was actually prompted by Mr. President’s injunction to the Nigeria Actor’s guild, which recently paid him a visit in Baba Shege’s seat of power- Aso Rock. While addressing the actors, Mr. President had enjoined them to try and represent the positive side of Nigeria in their movies. An advice that was directed at the wrong group, since actors only act out what has already been scripted down. Nevertheless, Baba Shege’s homily set my thought process in motion.

Of course, literature (all literatures) is basically reflections of societal events. Yet the final decision of choosing what aspect of society to represent remains in the final analysis the sole duty of the creator of the literary piece. But we must also agree that to a large extent, the creative artist tries to remain realistic, to present events, almost as they are in his society. Which brings us back to Shege’s homily: what positive aspect of the Nigerian society is to be represented by the actors assuming they have the power to do so?

Let me take us to Hollywood and indeed to the blockbuster movie Air Force One where Screen legend Harrison Ford starred as the U.S President. A very interesting movie which foregrounds the length to which a U.S president will go in saving the lives of his Citizens, while protecting the pride and integrity of his country. The picture painted there is completely realistic as certain events in the U.S history have made manifest. For instance, following the Watergate affair, former U.S President Richard Nixon humbly resigned his position after confessing to his involvement. An act which shows Nixon’s humility and the average U.S President readiness to at all times respect public opinion, while protecting the integrity and pride of his country, even at his own detriment. Bill Clinton was later to toe a slightly similar path when he apologized to the country for his involvement in the Monica Lewinsky affair, thus saving himself from impeachment, while gaining the admiration of many people.

But the Clinton / Lewinsky issue demands a slight examination vis-à-vis the Nigerian situation. We have to agree that what happened between Clinton and Miss Lewinsky is personal: the personally dirty life of the leader of a large country.

Let it was still immoral and a thing of shame. Given the Nigerian situation the President would have seen no reason to apologise. Indeed, such an incident would not have been allowed by the Nigeria President to become a national issue talk less of leading to impeachment. It would have been so easy to trash out the incident: either Lewinsky is quietly “put to sleep” and her news branded NTBB or any media house that tries to make news out of the issue will be branded traitorous and probably closed down. That is if the “nosy” journalists are not sent home to their forefathers. All these will of course be necessary if the affair is termed news in the first place.

Our country also boasts of numerous cases of political assassinations as cover-ups for evils perpetrated against the citizenry, and the country itself; Presidents shamelessly amassing wealth through public coffers, and ostentatiously displaying them while still in office. There are also incidences of Nigeria Presidents boldly squashing impeachment bids, and recklessly flouting the rule if law, and indeed all the dictates of the constitution (assuming there is in actuality a constitution). Now given this situation, can there be any enactment of any film in the manner of Air Force One especially if such film has to adapt to social realism?

On the comical side, if such film is to be enacted, the actor playing the part of the President (say Baba Shege) should look like him. So the person must be pot-bellied and bloated (a clear symbol of one who stuffs himself to excess, with what belongs to the entire people), so how can such an actor display such antics of bravery, necessary to save the lives of the citizens, as Harrison Ford did?

I believe our movie industry has produced political films that portray the Nigerian situation as it is. The movie Executive Crime is an example. This movie clearly shows the extent to which our rulers (and all close to them), will go in covering up their dirty lives, at the expense of the lives of the citizenry and indeed the stipulations of the law of the land. The only check to that film is that the agent who was able to dare the entire machineries of power and still survive, has not been born in the country.

I must point out that I was embarrassed by the response of the President of The Nigerian Actors Guild Mr. Ejike Asiegbu, to Baba’s homily. Mr. Asiegbu had commended Baba for all he has been doing for the country. If asked to point out “all” the thing Baba has been doing for the country Mr. Asiegbu may find it difficult doing so. I feel Ejike Asiegbu’s response is the honey-coated speech of a confused man who was asked to make a speech, when he actually had nothing to say. He should have plainly thanked the President for receiving them, and then shut up.

In any case, I expected Mr. Asiegbu to have told the President that every artistic production tries to adhere to social realism and thus until such a time that the situation in Nigeria is garbed in positivism, the movie industry would continue to represent the negative sides as the social situation actually is.

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