BADAMASI: Filmic recreation of the Babangida years – Ngozi Emedolibe

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 that movie produced by Okey Ogunjiofor and Ken Nnebue, rumours were rife that emerging millionaires in the southeast 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 of addressing 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 commeuppance of the Andy, played by actor, Kenneth Okonkwo.

It became a hit. 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 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 evoked a lot of interest.

It was expected.

General Ibrahim Babangida occupies a unique rung in Nigeria’s socio-political ladder. While being on everyone’s lips, 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 less you understand. So many issues about him have been contrived, distorted, perhaps hyped, leaving Nigerians with an obfuscated 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 critical 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, the assassination of famous journalist, Dele Giwa and the chaotic annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election, the story of Ibrahim Babangida, cannot but leave so much to be desired. In reality, Nigerians have always looked out for an autobiography from him, but this intervention, an authorised biopic by international filmmaker, Obi Emelonye is a credible substitute. The thematic collage of drama, education and history will appeal to a larger segment of the society in contrast with the average Nollywood film.

For the regular fans of Nollywood films, the stellar cast, comprising Enyinna Nwigwe, Sani Danja, Ali Nuhu, Yakubu Mohammed, Kalu Ikeagwu, Okey Bakasi, Julius Agwu, Charles Inojie and Anthony Monjaro in this intense military drama, in addition to Emelonye’s signature cinematic aplomb will make the 2-hour long watch enthralling. Outside the regular Nollywood fans, it will avail the history-conscious individual an opportunity to understand some of the most remarkable events that have shaped Nigeria’s political landscape, as seen through the eyes of some principal actors who participated in these epochal events.

Many influential Nigerians had reportedly tried to stop the movie in the past but the time now seems right because in all fairness, Nigerians deserve to know who has done what in their turbulent history.

·       Ngozi Emedolibe, a journalist and art critic has served as editor in publications like National Mirror, National Daily and Hints magazine.

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