To an ardent Nollywood follower, the perfect caper remains elusive.
Perhaps things may have changed with Ojukokoro, a 110 minute film written and directed by Dare Olaitan.
Ojukokoro is the graphic Yoruba word for avarice with roving eyes to boot! Greed, the film’s subtitle, is the scaffolding around which the plot revolves.
Set in a dystopian Nigeria not too different from ours, the camera cuts into the shabby realities of an ensemble cast at a petrol station.
Lubcon Petrol Station is inefficient, unkempt and run-down but the staff running it seem unperturbed. The petrol station is a front for a drug cartel operation. Attendants—Sunday (Tope Tedela) and Monday (Seun Ajayi)—enjoy banters when they are not playing draught or extorting clients. The two guards, ill-equipped to secure the premises, bask in larger than life stories. The bespectacled accountant keeps the book meticulously but also helps himself with some of the cocaine powder. The station manager is Andrew, a soft-spoken young man with a hard cough.
Ojukokoro follows a day in the life of Lubcon petrol station. The day in question is somewhat unique; it is Andrew’s birthday. Andrew (superbly played by Charles Etubiebi) is neither excited nor cheerful about this because his narration begins with a gun to his head, head lowered into a toilet bowl overflowing with excrement. In what happens to an anti-hero disclosure, he announces that today, his birthday, is also his last day on earth.
The film spools back to how Andrew’s day began. He had visited his politician friend whose wife had been kidnapped and then headed to work for a normal day except that pleasantries were punctuated with birthday wishes. Andrew had plans of taking an enormous birthday gift; he intended on snatching the weekly proceeds from the illegal drug business. His birthday cake and a crate of beer are his bait—but he has failed to factor in other possibilities, especially that he was not the only character after the loot.
Ojukokoro has a masterful plot revolving around its ensemble cast which also include Wale Ojo, Shawn Faqua, Ali Nuhu, Somkele Iyamah, Emmanuel Ikubese and Afeez Oyetoro. The major players take their assured turns in a game of smarts and greed that those familiar with crime thrillers and heist film know too well. The film’s direction wears its influences like a badge of honour: Quetin Tarantino’s evocative dialogue (properly situated in the Nigerian context) and his enduring aesthetic of grit and gore.
Even when Olaitan is aping Tarantino, he is also aiming for allegory. Easily the petrol station is a nation that has failed without redemption. A system given to slow entropy is thrown into complete chaos when the anomie finally finds its footing.
The idea of telling the story in an elliptical manner underserves as the film starts slow until it catches momentum and the viewer realizes that this is no navel-gazing poverty porn but a carefully planned series of tragic happenstances.
Heavy on machismo, dispensable female characters are done away with rather ungraciously. Once the film comes into its own, the implicit dark comedy thrives and the most telling humour is the hopelessness of these characters.
To the ultimate question, is Ojukoro the perfect Nollywood caper, you be the judge of that as you stream it on Netflix.