Echoes of #Endsars as “Collision Course” wows towards Netflix premiere — Chris Iheuwa

I had registered for one of the foremost film festivals in Africa, Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) to celebrate its 10th anniversary, and was glad to receive a ‘Special Invitation’ to see the festival’s closing film, Collision Course, directed by a lawyer-turned theatre and movie guru, Bolanle Austen-Peters (BAP), and produced by Joseph Umoibom and James Amuta at the Landmark Event Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos State.

BAP, as the director of the film is fondly called, was dressed in a red dress and a well-groomed hairstyle, and gave a rundown of what to expect and kindly advised the audience to relax and enjoy the unexpected.

I have to admit that I am a little biassed when it comes to  Collision Course, because it touches on two nerves in me that caused me to become really agitated. 

First and foremost, I am a professionally trained actor/director, as well as a trained Supernumerary Police Officer. So, the presentation was anticipated, but in all honesty, it was the anticipation of what our sister lawyer-turned movie director had to offer. No pun intended.

Collision Course is inspired by the #Endsars demonstration on 20 October 2020, which shook the Nigerian fabric. The purpose of the protest was to petition the authorities about alleged heinous crimes and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigeria Police in charge of detecting, investigating, stopping and stamping out armed robbery and related crimes.

The movie has a main plot and several subplots that intertwine to give a potpourri or variants of life. The rich and the poor, the Government Reserved and Respected Area, and The Government Rejected Area, conflict of privileged parents and the perpetual war with their misunderstood children, the government and the governed, and of course, the Police and the civilian populace as personified by Corporal Magnus and Mide Johnson played by Daniel Etim Effiong, who plays the role of the overseas trained lawyer turned struggling musician and his insecure wife/wannabe pregnant girlfriend, Hannah, played by Big Brothers’ Bamike ‘BamBam’ Adenibuyon.

Temi has an encounter with TARS men (for the purposes of the film, SARS is renamed TARS) that leaves a perpetual scar on him and affects his respect for the men in black. He has seen firsthand how extrajudicial killings are carried out and how innocent individuals are literally wasted for failing to pay their way out of the clutches of TARS troops who have scented and tasted blood.

This occurrence serves as a preface to the film, and it is from this prelude that the rest of the film takes shape. 

The film begins with the beautiful Chioma Akpotha, who plays Corporal Magnus’ wife, played by Kelechi Udegbe (in case you didn’t know, Udegbe means “sound of a gun” in Igbo) scolding her husband for not taking care of the family and threatening to leave her matrimonial home for her father’s house with her children. He assures her that he will join TARS and make money, but his wife mocks him, claiming that he is lily-livered and incapable of killing a cockroach.

Now, what I like about the opening sequence, which was relatively captured by the writer James Amuta, and executed by the director, is the reality that stares us in the face, and just like the actors portrayed, the Police, who are grossly underfunded and poorly cared for, their remuneration is not in the least commensurate with the reality on the ground. I’ll leave what I don’t like for now till later.

Corporal Magnus rides to work on a bike that was seized and was in the possession of a colleague who, as another rank police officer, is also dealing with challenges. They bemoan the occupational hazards they face, and their conversation leads to Magnus deciding to visit the TARS Commander, played by Greg Ojefua.

The Commander or Boss, as he prefers to be referred to, is a quintessential example of a bad apple in any organisation, be it police, military or civil service, not to mention the private sector. A case of utilising what you have to get what you want, no matter whose ox is gored. The Boss informs him that his application to be transferred to TARS is complete, but that in order to demonstrate his commitment to the system, his (Magnus) wife must come to collect the transfer signal from the Boss. Of course, that gesture will have far-reaching repercussions for everyone involved.

While at work, Corporal Magnus receives a call from his wife informing him that she has carried out her threat of moving out of their matrimonial home and into her parents’ home. This piece of news has a negative impact on Corporal Magnus as he begins to forcefully collect stipends from motorists, an act that, prior to receiving the phone call, is a case of the motorists not being cooperative or generous in his opinion.

One of the few cars he stops for the ‘usual’ is sadly driven by Johnson, who is already upset over being cheated by a club manager who does not think he has what it takes to be a trendy and youth-centric dancefloor musical artiste, his father for not understanding his passion lies in music and not law practise, and of course, the ever recurring image of the executed civilians by the lagoon by TARS team members.

The double-nuzzled shotgun was sure to go off, shattering the delicate and glass-like stillness in numerous directions.

Refusing to pay the ‘bribe,’ Johnson asks his girlfriend and their friend to drive him home in a hired taxi while he is held hostage on a drive. It is during this forced drive that the Policeman and civilian realise that they are both victims of bad society, a society where the upper echelon cares less about the less fortunate, where a policeman has no insurance and must pay for his own injuries. 

It is spent before it reaches the beneficiary’s account, resulting in a disastrous society in which 10% of the population controls 90% of the commonwealth of a people. The relative serenity and somewhat friendly resolution are shattered by the thunderous sound of a recoiled chamber and the wayward life arm that has left its now revolving shell casing into Johnson’s torso.

In a panic, Corporal Magnus calls The Boss, who sets up an-armed-robbery-with-a-gun-gone-wrong scenario, while Hannah, who is pregnant, reports to the DPO, played by Norbert Young, with her friend Nneka, played by Ade Laoye. The DPO dispatches his officers to the crime scene, where Corporal Magnus is caught.

Without a doubt, this is a sad tale, but it is a glance into the ever-revolving black door that exposes and reveals the unfortunate situations that abound in our society and beyond.

A year or so ago, George Floyd was murdered in America primarily because of the colour of his skin, an Indian Hindu family was apprehended in England for masterminding the gruesome murder of their only daughter because she wanted to marry someone who was not acceptable to the family, and xenophobic attacks in South Africa are still fresh in our minds. Unfortunately, it is the culture in which we live, and every society has its peculiarities.

I must applaud Austen-Peters for broadening the scope of the topic of police brutality. Several shows and films would linger on how the police did this or that without delving into the causes of such acts, yet we cannot state that underfunding is an excuse for such behaviour.

We can’t stress the importance of police welfare enough. These men and women have needs, as well as families and homes to care for. The government must ensure that an enabling environment and tools of service are readily available and not out of reach of non-gazetted personnel; and those non-commissioned officers are not forced to sit and watch junior colleagues with similar attributes, qualifications and pieces of training climb the promotion ladder at their expense.

Before I start sounding like an armchair critic, let me say that I admire and applaud the casting. Kelechi Udegbe’s portrayal of the role is right on, and it’s no surprise that he carted home the festival’s (AFRIFF) most coveted prize, ‘Best Male Actor.’ Aside from the casting, accolades should also be given to the location manager, technical team, and set and property crew.

Even though the sound wasn’t emanating from there, I didn’t have to squint or get close to the cyclorama to hear the voices. The camera work was likewise excellent, and I must pay shining respect to BAP for these aspects. My concern, on the other hand, is with two units: the Costume and Continuity departments. When commencing on a project of this magnitude, it is necessary that each unit conduct a thorough study in their respective departments.

The police uniforms were woefully insufficient in terms of form, presentation and appearance. If we had chosen to wear any adornment instead of the eagle, elephant, and two crossed batons, I could have missed the severe error. But, despite the fact that this is a creative process, as Aristotle stated, “Art is a collaborative process,” the elephant, eagle, and two crossed batons are the symbol of the Nigerian Police.

The DPO’s uniform, worn by Norbert Young, should have been tucked in because it lacked the two bottom pockets. Magnus should have only two buttons on his shirt as a Corporal, and his name and file number should be plainly written on his clothing. All military and paramilitary crests or cap badges are worn to the left in Nigeria, with the cap twisted to the right. Any non-civilian personnel seeing Corporal Magnus wearing the cap bent to the left will have a fit, just like I did. I suppose the message is clear: his handling of the firearm, indeed the handling of the rifle by all those involved reeked of ignorance.

BamBam’s seatbelt is frequently off and on during their journey from the Island to the Mainland, which the script supervisor/editor should have seen. This should be double-checked because such a glaring continuity issue in such a big movie is embarrassing.

Yes, before I forget, newly deceased bodies tend to sink and only rise once rigour mortis sets in and the major stage of internal organ and tissue breakdown begins. Police officers and medical pathologists should be contacted before proceeding with any police-related endeavour; I didn’t even see a Nigerian flag.

Bimbo Manuel, Kenneth Okonkwo and other actors who demonstrated genius must be mentioned and commended. Thank you, BAP, for a worthwhile piece of work; I greatly enjoyed myself and look forward to knocking on your door again in future to see another masterpiece.

Collision Course will premiere on Netflix on Friday 2 September  2022.

-Iheuwa, an actor-director & supernumerary police officer, writes from Lagos.


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