Dr Akindotun Merino is a professor of psychology based in the United States. She is the president of Jars Education Group whose goal is to help restore people and organisations to optimal well-being and productivity. She is also the founder of African Mental Health Alliance. In this interview, she talks about her mental health programme holding in Lagos on Friday, the importance of mental health and the various roles government, institutions and individuals can play to have citizens with sound mental health. Excerpts:
Why are you in Nigeria now?
I am in Nigeria to push this mental health advocacy. We do have programmes in mental health, a round table, a symposium of sort and we are gathering legislators and stakeholders, psychiatrists, psychologists, policy makers and anyone who has interest in mental health to see how we can as a nation move forward in making this a structured and systemic part of the nation. When we talk about mental health, we are talking about the mental wellbeing of people, one needs to know that mental health issues contribute a lot to human right violation, premature death, all kinds of deterioration of health, global and national economic loss. A study says that over $6trillion is lost as a result of mental. Mental health has to do with anything about health.
What do you tend to achieve with the symposium?
The vision of the programme is to gather practitioners, gather advocates, legislators, gather laypeople interested so that we can start to talk about mental health. It is for both awareness and policy development. Our goal is that people achieve the highest standard of health and wellbeing they can achieve in this world. It is important that socially, in your marriage, academically anywhere, mental health is very important. We are trying to reduce the stigma, reduce the discrimination, we are ready to talk about it.
There are a lot of issues around mental health ailments in the US despite the awareness, what’s your take on that?
When we talk about people killing themselves or carrying guns, they have to deal with the second amendment in the US that allows you to protect yourself. People committing suicide is a global thing and the reason why we do not hear about it so much in this country and Africa is because there is no much report on that. People are committing suicide here, domestic violence. There is nothing much that is going on in the outside world that is not happening here, just that we are not talking about it. Most people do not even know it is trauma, most people do not even know it is mental health. When you see someone who cannot keep a job, always angry, tends to be crying all the time or something like that if you do not address it the way it ought to be, it could lead to serious mental problems. Even in the United States we still do outreach to the minority communities, African communities, religious communities because these communities we need to train them and make sure we begin to address the impact of all the mental health in the society.
Do you think we have enough structures to manage mental health ?
We are having this symposium to see what is out there, what people are doing, not like there is no structure but just that individuals will like to manage it in their own spaces, there is no guidance. If there is no mental health, there won’t be a sustainable economy. Depression and anxiety in Nigeria cost the economy N21.6billion annually. The treatment coverage is low, that is why we are doing this, to stop losing people to this pandemic, there is a mental health pandemic that we need to make sure that we address it. We hear of few cases of suicide, we want to tell people that this is treatable, no one has to die from it. Do you know that when you have mental health issues, it lowers your life by 10 to 15 years? This is so serious that we need to talk about it. What I do tell people is that if you are experiencing any sort of suicidal thoughts, some kind of anxiety, you have to talk about it. One of the cures for depression is connection to check on people. In Nigeria, people connect together. But it feels people are getting isolated, people need to be checked on.
Which states do you think are investing in mental health?
The Kaduna State government is doing a lot, they have a structure, we are having a conversation with them and Lagos State has done somethings in mental health too. Everybody is at the beginning of putting structures together so that people can have access. The most fundamental thing is training, especially in trauma care so that they can care for people who are traumatized and when people are trained to know what to look for it tends to help a lot. One of the basic things we have to do as a nation is to know what to look out for. It is important to train staff members and teachers, it is just a little thing that is to be done in the system, to create a structure that is sustainable.
What’s your take on criminalizing suicide in Nigeria?
Criminalizing suicide, most states said they do not implement that legislation, it is an old law that needs to be changed, it has no business being in any kind of law in our land. It needs to be removed, it does not speak well for us a nation. It is like if you have cancer and somebody said they are going to put you in prison for having cancer, that does not make sense. People who commit suicide, it is not that they wake up one morning and decide to jump off the bridge, no, there are extreme mental issues that have impacted them. Sometimes it could be environmental, biological issue, it could be psychological issues and they do not just happen. It is one of the reasons we are having this symposium, it is very important so that we can talk about how to get our voices heard so that that particular law should be taken out.
A lot has been done n the area of mental health but yet not much outcome. What innovative approach are you bringing to ensure sustainability?
I am not sure a lot has been done, a little has been done in mental health in Africa. We have not implemented the WHO expectation of twenty something years ago, we have not allocated money to mental health. Saying that a lot has been done, I do not agree with that, we have not even done the bare minimum for mental health. What we need to do first, professionals have to come together, have a national resource and number two, we have a national mental health number so that everybody knows the number to get access to. We need to train all the medical staff so that they can know what to look for. We can start with these two basic things. Awareness, make sure medical personnel are trained in trauma and mental health 101 and also make sure that we have advocates who are championing the legislation.
People feel stigmatized and often seek refuge in faith-based institutions. How can these institutions be integrated into mental health care?
One of the things we need to do and are doing is to talk to faith-based institutions. We talk to churches about mental health that it is not opposed to faith. Mental health is everyone’s responsibilities. As a Christian, talking about mental health Jesus did not just die for our physical health but emotional and psychological health. So we connect with people with large congregations. We let them know we are not bringing anything, rather it is scriptural. We educate them on the importance of mental health wellness. Again, the faith-based institution need to get trained or hire trained personnel. We salute the work being done in some faith-based institutions who have done well in this area but one of the issues is that we need more rehabilitation centres and be monitored. Individuals, faith-based institutions need to be trained or hire trained people so that they can know what to do. If you want to have a mental health programme in your church, make sure you have to follow the mental health protocol.
What are the effective roles the government can play?
Government roles, create awareness, we need a mental health campaign, we need trauma-informed campaign, we need national and statewide campaigns, even at the local government. All hands have to be on deck. It is not a one-man show so that people will know that it is there. Trauma-informed care matters will need this sort of care. People need to know the symptoms to look out for regarding mental health issues, like if you see yourself yelling all the time, if you see yourself sleeping more than you should, if you notice you are crying when you are not supposed to, you have thought in your head you cannot go on, you need to talk to somebody. Persistent headache and stomach ache should also be looked out for.
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Sowore: Society, Sanity, Safety, and Stability
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH OMOYELE SOWORE, PART 3
In recent years, unfolding events in Nigeria have clearly shown that, in all ramifications, the country has swerved away from the trajectory of peace that was meant to be the facilitator of its exponential growth. Nigeria is immersed in intra-country conflicts with different agents of destruction claiming the perpetration of violence for the displacement of extant peace needed for the sustainability of economic and political expansion. Hardly does a day go without overwhelming instances of security breaches and challenges that usually lead to random killings, kidnapping, banditry, terrorism, depending on the mood of the evil perpetrators and ultimately resulting in the loss of lives in tons and metrics.
But as fearful as these events are, they are not detachable from the political gerrymandering as many of the incidences of attacks reveal political schematics that are believed to influence elections and then economic power in the country. As a result, while the need for political calculations is critical, at what point does moral values help to tame the overambitious political lords in the country who orchestrate violence due to their intention to control the political and economic prosperity of the country? In the recent Toyin Falola Interview Series with Omoyele Sowore, some illuminating things were revealed about Nigeria.
Asked about the possibility of reconciliation between the aggressive social extravagance in display by the wealthy Nigerian individuals who in recent times gave the country a vivid spectacle of opulence in social celebrations and the growing insecurities plaguing the nation, Sowore provided a stimulating view that gave an intellectual sensation to the issues making rounds in the country. We should be informed that featuring in these social events are the Obi Cubana’s burial ceremony of his departed lovely mother, the grandstanding wedding ceremony of the Nigerian First Son, Yusuf Buhari, with his affluent bride; the birthday party of Bobrisky, a famous transgender man in the country, among others.
To have a chaotic national environment at the level that it exists in Nigeria, yet have humongous parties accompanying this dysfunctional system, is something that should interest and stimulate an observer of the country’s snail-pace development. People throw parties in the country to the extent that non-residents in Nigeria will begin to doubt if it is true that the chaos in the country is of sufficient magnitude enough to destroy the country. The spectacle of opulence and riches displayed in these social gatherings is why Nigeria is dubbed a country with the happiest people on the planet.
However, it seems Sowore has a beautiful perspective on that. According to him, Nigeria is a country full of fascinating internal contradictions, some of which can be explained using the sociology of the country’s political anatomy. For one, Nigeria and Nigerians are known to be good examples of social groups who use social activities to maintain their sanity. In its basic definition, social fun helps keep the people’s sanity so that it does not frail and fail in the presence of competing disasters that engulf the country.
Whether consumed by the display of opulence by the ruling class or the economic trailblazers in the country, the bulk of the citizens unwind their overburdened minds with shows and parties that give them memorable experiences. Whether they participate in it or not, whether the sources of the funds used to organize the parties are legitimately gotten or not, Nigerians consider these moral questions secondary when it comes to social gatherings and events that foster communal bonding. This culture has permeated their social existence so much that even during electioneering when campaign promises and manifestos are supposed to be flying and taking rounds, Nigerians have converted that into an opportunity to organize social events.
According to Sowore, beneath the throwing up of parties and the organization of social events are overburdened minds nearing depression and disappointment. They have resorted to using these social events, either by participating in them or watching the video recordings of these events, as sedative contents that help to distract them from, if not help them forget entirely, the expanding depression-inviting engagements and activities of their ruling and political class. This is what psychologists call a “defense mechanism”. Nigerians have carefully devised ways by which they can forget the overwhelming experiences they are subjected to by the class meant to ensure their economic and security safety and stability in the first place. In another language, such actions are called “coping mechanisms”.
It would be easy for an outsider to immediately ascribe happiness to a people who refuse to fall into depression despite the various pains and anguish they are taken through by the government of their country. While outsiders would formulate their opinions based on the outward demonstrations that the people show, the people themselves use the experience for different purposes, part of which was to maintain their sanity. Also, being happy in the face of terrorism is not something to disconnect from the people’s religious beliefs, as religion has taught them to give thanks in every circumstance, no matter how crude. For a people without a social safety net, no political dividends, no governmental support system, and the absence of opportunities to transform their conditions into something worth considering, if they can struggle individually and achieve maximum success at the end, they would be keenly interested in throwing parties to ease their tension and to celebrate themselves, their bravery, perseverance, dedication, and focus.
In another instance, however, the display of intimidating wealth and its encouragement in Nigeria has the underlying purpose of distracting the people. The Nigerian economic class understands how very important it is to distract the people once in a while to take their minds off the truckload of evils and injustices that are done to them from time to time. Therefore, when creating their social affairs, they ensure that it becomes big enough to temporarily distract the people from what matters. Of course, this argument is tenable on many grounds. For one, President Muhammadu Buhari enjoyed public patronage in his pre-ascension period for being someone with outstanding austerity measures and an individual who would be frugal with public wealth. The show of wealth at the wedding ceremony of the son of a man whom Nigerian citizens felt was financially prudent demonstrates that he also believes that the people have to be distracted occasionally.
All the above led to the question of revolution, as Professor Moses Ochonu, one of Sowore’s interviewers, brought it to the discussion ground. This question is necessary for different reasons. Despite the myriad of interests that run along the lines of ethnicity and political identity in the country, questions about the need for a revolution in Nigeria or whether it is the solution to the Nigerian problem become contextually reinforcing because they instigate a more intellectually inspired conversation about the country and are also crucial to finding lasting solutions to the problems in the country. Swiftly and purposefully, Sowore grabbed the question as though he was not interested in it, settling on the surface of the communication ground where it was raised. He responded that years of keen observation and participation in the democratic and military culture of the country have revealed to him why the country cannot be steered back into the right trajectory with ceremonial interventions that come occasionally, ceramic innovations that sauntered their way into the Nigerian political or administrative systems, or the superficial programs that the power hunters initiate to give a false impression that they are genuinely interested in the development of the country. Instead, there needs to be a revolutionary-like set of actions and actors that will shake the country back into its deserved position.
For a country that is perpetually stuck in the net of capitalist leaders whose primary interest about it is strictly the extraction of its economic resources for personal gains, Sowore continued, the inability to stage a revolutionary action would yield no positive or desirable results. From personal experiences, Sowore has gathered that the country is not only run by the powerful elites whose fixation about the amassment of the country’s resources is nearly hallucinatory, but they are also a group of organized criminals who have nothing close to the patriotic spirit needed to fire the country into its appropriate position in the committee of countries.
Because these people cut across different ethnic backgrounds, political groups and parties, and diverse economic enclaves, the commonality of their interests makes it appear like they are intricately interested in the sporadic and exponential growth of the country. Meanwhile, they are only concerned about expanding their financial networks to continue to live rent-free in the minds of innocent and defenseless Nigerians and preserve those juicy opportunities and positions for their generations yet unborn. This culture has made it possible for the transference of wealth from generation to generation in Nigeria. Scientifically and even realistically, the only way to forestall this continuity is through revolution, Sowore fired.
Our guest answered intellectually and experientially about the possibility of revolution in a multi-layered, pluralistic, and heterogeneous country like Nigeria. Sowore argues that the obsessive dream he has about a revolution in Nigeria under the heading of #RevolutionNow, for which he is popular in recent times, is rooted in verifiable research where it is established that only six per cent of the population is what is needed for the staging of revolutionary actions. He submitted that if six per cent of the population of a country, group, or gathering is convinced that their situation is dreadful, they are numerically strong enough to kick-start activities that would potentially push them into a new beginning, a new dawn.
However, it should be emphasized that this group that belongs to the tiny minority must be well-convinced about the struggle because that would be their visa to the commitment to their course of actions. In other words, they would not be irrevocably committed to that revolutionary action on the occasion that they do not see the reason for their position. This means that they must have been adequately informed about the struggles of revolution that they would commit themselves to, the results it would bring, and the very different ways by which they can enter into a new beginning.
Contrary to this sentiment and orientation, Sowore argued that revolutions take more time than what a feeble mind can imagine or condone. Revolutions begin by changing the orientation of the people that have been wrongly conditioned by their leaders’ long history of misrule. This is necessary because the first ground of revolutionary actions is in the mind of the people. Although in the Nigerian, and maybe African situations, people have wild expectations towards all revolutionary actions, and interestingly, they want these expectations managed and fulfilled. This means that they are appropriately and convincingly educated about the course of action they are about to embark on before being gradually mobilized for serious emancipation actions.
For Sowore, a revolution is like planting a seed that agriculturally needs sufficient time to germinate, grow, bear fruits, and then be ripe for harvesting. Whereas the result of revolutions cannot be doubted when it is successful, it requires more than the surface commitment that people see in everyday situations. In some very extreme circumstances, revolutionaries sacrifice their freedom, comfort, and even lives to pass across a solid message because they would not only have convinced their disciples about the necessity of their actions, but they would also have told them why there should be a radical change.
As intellectuals sense problems kilometers ahead before many others, it did not take Professor Moses Ochonu a long time to discern Sowore’s message, although he had his concerns. He wrapped these concerns in another thought-provoking question when he asked Sowore who would be the targets in his proposed revolution and what the revolution would look like. It is important to note that the situation of the Nigerian political system is different in habit and focus from the popular revolutions staged in history. First, Nigeria is a heterogeneous country that also has diverse religious groups and interests. These identities are very easy for the people to retire into them when national concerns are debated just because they are concerned about keeping their interests intact. Second, this diversity gives opportunities for sold-out ones to mastermind the downfall of actions by betraying the course of freedom that revolutions promise.
Of course, Sowore did not appear to be unprepared for a question like this. Almost in a similar swift manner, he responded that the primary targets of all revolutionary actions are the oppressive class, the political groups that perpetually frustrate the trying and thriving masses with agonizing policies in disposition and outlook. However, the determination of the oppressive class in this context goes in line with those identified by Karl Marx, who happened to be a strong voice in revolutionary philosophy. The oppressors begin from the political class, the excessively capitalist icons, religious leaders who sabotage radical development and changes because they are close to the political class, and everyone who is involved either actively or passively in the oppression of the common people. This is necessary mainly because the people would have received a different orientation that would open their eyes to the myriad of evils perpetrated by the neocolonialists and motivate them to take up new ideological convictions that are critically different from their old ways. In this time, they would see oppression for oppression and not some celestial conspiracy to hold them persistently under the carpet.
Meanwhile, the psychosocial consequence of such a shift in thinking is that people would lose interest in things they used to admire obsessively. People would be able to detect lies and political shenanigans immediately and would elect against the oppressors whenever they consider taking the route of oppression. In essence, the results of all revolutionary actions are predictable because they would install a new social and political order, among many other things. Even when the positions of revolutionaries appear to show a lofty outcome when carried out diligently, there is the clause of diverse ethnicities that potentially stands in the way of all prospective radical movements. However, Nigerians gradually agree that while revolutionary actions and achievements can appear too distant, something can be done to achieve almost similar effects in the country.
And this is where the conversation around regionalism and restructuring finds its place. It is believed that the tense atmosphere of the country can be doused when the country is organized along regional lines so that the activities of each region would be managed internally, and it would drastically reduce the burden of responsibilities that appear to be choking the government at the center. When the country is restructured, all the growing insecurities and economic desertification will experience acceleration improvement as strategies to be used would be contextually suitable and not inherently conflictual. Regional autonomy, devolution of power, resource control, among others, are byproducts of the restructuring agenda, and when it is granted, it will give the country the deserved respite. To be candid and fair to Sowore, the arguments in support of restructuring, even when they appear to be superfluous and overwhelming, need to be carefully studied before being railroaded into the people’s minds.
Different people who call for restructuring have irreconcilable ideas of what the nature of restructuring should be. Some are pointedly pursuing the agenda because it satisfies their desire and fulfills their fantasy. Supporting restructuring, according to Sowore, is not something difficult, especially when one has a clear picture of what the concept is and how it can be achieved. However, the problem lies in the understanding that if the people are not well convinced about the ameliorative project of restructuring, it would be difficult to direct them into following a project for which they have little or no knowledge. He further argued that his reservation about restructuring as an alternative solution to the problem facing the country is informed by the very belief that some of the individuals who are responsible for the grounding of Nigerian political or economic affairs are at the forefront of the campaign for restructuring, which further justifies some people’s suspicion about the movement. In essence, people pushing for different movements may find it difficult to buy into the restructuring agenda.
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At this point, Sowore is hinting that every interventionist ideology in Nigeria usually has its weaknesses because interests are always conflicting when they reach the climax of their agenda. Revolutionary actions are different because they deal with the sensitization of the people and then mobilize them for actions that would bring about their emancipation and liberation from the shackles of financial and economic deprivations from years of oppression. People’s skepticism about restructuring comes from the understanding that they are well divided along ethnolinguistic lines, and this is a weakness that is easily exploited by the ruling class whenever they see that people are carried away or engrossed in engagements that appear like better alternatives on the surface.
Keeping the country’s sanity without losing its identity requires more than the concoction of ideologies whose values would evaporate in no time when they get to the heat of the struggles. Obviously, Sowore wants what is best for his country, and the personal sacrifices he has made to ensure this are enough evidence of his seriousness and commitment.
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Dr. Obadiah Mailafia On The Parameters Of A Failing State
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH DR. OBADIAH MAILAFIA, PART 4
This occasion of the Toyin Falola Interviews featured as a guest of honor, the erudite scholar and accomplished development economist, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, to field questions on whether or not Nigeria is a failing state. We might agree that this is one query that sits securely in the minds of many a Nigerian, no thanks to the poor state of affairs in the nation’s economic, security, and governance aspects, which has won it the label of a failed state in some intelligent circles.
As it stands, even the very notion of Nigeria as a nation continues to generate dispute given the rising instances of crises developing along ethnic and religious fault-lines. According to some people, the rising expressions of loyalty to sub-national identities over any national sentiment that has characterized Nigeria’s slow but sure decline into utter chaos and predictable disintegration can be blamed on the nation’s arbitrary origins. Nevertheless, whatever problems Lugard might have visited on Nigeria through the 1914 amalgamation, there were periods in the nation’s development history when it showed great promise and competed favorably with the best economies of the world. How then has Nigeria fallen to such depths of socio-economic crises and severe insecurity?
The recent Toyin Falola Interviews provided the platform for stakeholders and concerned citizenry—in very uncertain and unsettling times—to participate in a discussion aimed at adequately identifying the Nigerian situation, how it developed, and the possible ways to come out of it. Thus, the interview opened with a welcome address and introductions delivered by the chief host and moderator, who also set the agenda for the day’s interview by presenting its theme: “Is Nigeria a failed state?”
Ms. Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, an accomplished media personality and the first interviewer, set the ball rolling with questions on why Dr. Mailafia would refer to Nigeria as a failing state when many others might call it a failed state; whether Nigeria as a corporate entity will survive, and if it deserves to; why the naira is failing so “precipitously,” and what can be done to bolster it; and how can meritocracy be taken seriously in the country to make it count?
In his response, Dr. Mailafia noted that the development of the concept of “failed states” has not yet been fully concluded, surrounded as it still was by controversy. He, however, went ahead, after some description of the deplorable state of affairs in the country, to elucidate that, as it were, Nigeria exhibits most of the identified symptoms of a failed state, including long periods of violence and the lack of state monopoly of the instruments of violence, the collapse of the economy and state institutions, widespread poverty, the failure of the state to deliver public goods, civil liberty, the rule of law, protection of human rights, and administration of justice. And that his decision to use the phrase “failing state” in describing Nigeria’s current situation was only due to his optimistic nature and some “residual nationalism.”
According to Dr. Mailafia, Nigeria cannot survive as a corporate entity based on the current trajectories of decaying infrastructures, poor governance, grand corruption, climatic changes, and lack of government capacity. And on whether the nation deserves to, he accedes that given the number of atrocities and bloodletting committed against innocents across the country, it ordinarily should not. However, the teachings and injunctions of his Christian faith make provisions for grace and redemption, but with one caveat: Nigeria must not continue to tempt fate.
Speaking on the falling value of the naira, Dr. Mailafia provided a historical account of the currency’s decline, from its days of advantage over the dollar till the present, where it is fast losing its value as a legal tender. These progressive stages of decline, he said, started perceptibly with the Structural Adjustment and currency devaluation of the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida regime and have been maintained by high inflation, the deficit in the balance of trade, lack of faith in the Nigerian system, misguided policies, and what he called “the dollarization of the economy.” He also alleged that vested interests have captured the country’s apex bank (CBN). To reverse this trend, a development strategy is needed, likewise a genuine interest in saving Nigeria.
Concerning the restoration of meritocracy, Dr. Mailafia talked about the difference in the standards set for educational performance (cut-off marks) across the country’s regions. He claims that not only does this undermine the entire purpose of education, but it also affects service performance where underdeveloped and unqualified personnel occupy positions of public service. For him, instead of engaging in nepotism, the regions affected should invest in mid-way schools to help struggling students come up to par.
The next set of questions were posed by Dr. Lasisi Olagunju, a distinguished scholar and editor with The Tribune. These touched on Dr. Mailafia’s thoughts on the North exporting crises to other parts of the country, the reintegration of “repentant” terrorists into society; why as a contestant to the country’s top position he felt Nigeria deserved him and vice versa; what the next president of Nigeria should do regarding the country’s designation as the “poverty capital of the world,” the role of the North in the situation, and whether Nigeria should be restructured, dissolved, or if it should just be business as usual. In response, Dr. Mailafia conceded that the North is plagued by insecurity, featuring rampant killings by insurgents and terrorist groups like the Boko Haram and ISWAP.
Furthermore, he pointed out the extent of social decay in the country, especially in Kano State, the high divorce rates, rampant drug addiction, large number of out-of-school children (Almajirai), and high levels of deprivation. According to Dr. Mailafia, the morally bankrupt elites have intentionally turned a blind eye to all of these social evils, choosing instead to perpetuate ignorance among the masses while attempting to drag other regions down to their level. However, he requests that the North must be looked upon with compassion and that any (new) administration intent on resolving these issues must first endeavor to look at the North with objectivity as the North is “deprived.” Additionally, such an administration must also reconcile the warring parties, return the out-of-school children to class, and employ more teachers to cater for their education, as the former has the potential of becoming a ready army in the hands of mischief-makers.
On the reintegration of alleged “repentant” insurgents, the guest of honor pointed out that there is nowhere in the world where that is obtainable, especially where such insurgents are integrated into the armed forces after just two weeks of rehabilitation. He alluded that this has adversely affected counter-insurgency efforts, with hostages being privy to sensitive information before they are executed. He also spoke against the practice of giving all such intervention attention to “repentant” terrorists while their victims are left to all manner of hardships. This, he said, was in very bad faith.
Addressing the question of his ambition to become president, Dr. Mailafia revealed that he tried to serve the nation and that it was up to the Nigerian people to decide if he was whom they wanted. He remarked that he was ill-prepared for the last elections he contested and also failed to gain the backing of certain “elders,” without whom one would be “on his own.” Nevertheless, the 2019 Nigeria presidential election candidate of the African Democratic Congress party promised not to victimize those who have attacked and killed his people should he be allowed to serve.
Reacting to the question on Nigeria’s designation as the poverty capital of the world, the former central banker and development economist agreed that with such levels—over 50 per cent of Nigerians (more than 100 million) living below the poverty line—of poverty, the situation truly deserves to be labelled so. He pointed out that this challenge has been exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread insecurity. Other contributory factors identified were those of prioritization and the failure to diversify the economy. Therefore, to turn the situation around would require a significant industrial revolution as the only way to employ the vast masses of unemployed citizens. There will also be the need for a comprehensive social transfer network to ensure resources get to those in need; empowerment of people, especially women; access to land and credit, with emphasis on agriculture; and support for Nigerian youths. He stressed support for the youths, explaining that “any nation that ignores its youths is digging its own grave.”
Coming to restructuring, dissolution, or “business as usual” for Nigeria, Dr. Mailafia stated that he stands for restructuring. Even if he does not subscribe to the idea of dissolution, he does not condemn secessionist voices. He explained that he believes Nigeria deserves another try because, despite the historical circumstances around its birth, the country was not a product of chance. He recalled that the peoples of the region had a long history of interaction before any British creation. According to him, Nigeria is worth fighting for because of what it represents to all long-suffering African people worldwide and for black people everywhere. For those who suggest business as usual, Dr. Mailafia called this a mistake.
The third interviewer, Prof. Iheduru Okechukwu, an experienced and widely published political scientist, asked a broad spectrum of questions that were anchored to Nigeria as a failed state and centered on Nigeria’s huge debt profile and who foots the bill; the condition of human rights and the place of the rule of law; if it were smart for the Nigerian diaspora to invest in the country; and if what happened to Jos was emblematic of a failing state, and whether it was reversible. Reacting, Dr. Mailafia noted that the issue calls for sobriety and retrospection. For him, he cannot tell what the loans are used for, citing the 1.3 billion USD loan President Buhari took in 2015 in the guise of rehabilitating the North-East, whereas there is no evidence of rehabilitation. He pointed out that if loans must be taken, measures must be put in place to ensure that such loans have a “calculated guaranteed return on investment;” otherwise, as he pointed out, these loans would be paid for by our children. He also highlighted the condemnable practice of project inflation.
On diaspora investment, Dr. Mailafia said this was critical to Nigeria’s survival and prosperity, given the delicate nature of its economy and the role such substantial amounts of remitted funds have played in the success of the world’s fastest and best economies, e.g., China and Singapore. He also explained that the Nigerian diaspora cannot help but send these monies as they all have dependents at home; moreover, about 70 per cent of the funds remitted are for family use and not direct financial investments. He, however, reiterated the importance of such remittances to the Nigerian economy and the need to devise better means of investing these funds to gain maximum social returns.
Reacting to the infringement of human rights and other freedoms, and why he should not be prosecuted for making unsubstantiated claims. Dr. Mailafia noted that “he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.” He pointed out that the Nigerian National Broadcasting Cooperation (NBC), which was dishing out rules, was embroiled in a corruption issue. He also stated that those concerned about “hate speech” mainly were against voices that contradict their opinions and interests.
Moving on to the human rights issue, the guest speaker avowed that though the human body can be killed, the truth cannot, and nobody can stop an idea whose time has come. As to why he should not be prosecuted for his earlier comments on the nation’s state, Dr. Mailafia responded that his comments were not made-up but were gotten from reliable sources he refused to mention for their safety. He confirmed that he has never recanted any of his comments because it is not his character to peddle tales and falsehood. He added that he only spoke up as a concerned citizen who could not sit back and feign ignorance about the widespread and relentless killings.
About Jos, Dr. Mailafia described the city as pleasant, with a temperate climate and hospitable people. He stated that the change in the city’s temperament resulted from the aggression inflicted on the people. This, he explained, was perpetrated through strangers who were imported into Jos and who have killed, evacuated, settled, and renamed whole villages. Another reason identified for the change of attitude in Jos is the prevalent indigene discrimination around the country, which Dr. Mailafia said the people of the state have been victims of, especially in Hausa-Fulani dominated states like Kano, Katsina, and Sokoto. According to him, these instances of aggression and discrimination against the people of Jos have transformed a peaceful and almost docile community into a relatively harsh one.
READ ALSO: Is Nigeria A Failing State?
Dr. Mailafia agreed that the Jos scenario is symbolic of Nigeria’s status as a failing state. He expanded that this is exemplified in the inability and possible lack of will by the state to check the widespread insecurity and killings in the country, emphasizing the cases of Benue, Southern Kaduna, and Niger State, where people have been killed, villages burnt, and vast chunks of land taken. The guest speaker closed with a prediction that the affected people will yet rise to reclaim their ancestral lands, no matter how long it takes. But, that as a man of peace, he advocates that this should be pursued in non-violent ways.
(This is the second report on the interview with Dr. Obadiah Mailafia on August 15, 2021. Well-attended, the number of live audiences was 1.3 million on six platforms. For part of the transcript, see Facebook https://fb.watch/7q9qf8tqEd/ Or YouTube: https://youtu.be/vskrSktBGJY).
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Mathematical 7 Goes On Stage: Segun Odegbami, Abeokuta, And The Making Of “Ayinla” By Tunde Kelani
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A Conversation With Segun Odegbami, Part 5
The Eagle Landed On Planet Nollywood
In this closing conversation with Segun Odegbami, Mathematical 7 speaks on his acting experience in “Ayinla”. All photos include some of the lead actors and scenes in the movie.
You wrote about a visit you made to the residence of Professor Wole Soyinka with Tunde Kelani. Many have wondered what a literary genius and teacher, a foremost cinematographer and film maker, and an exceptional football player could have in common? Tell me about the genesis of the visit and the encounter itself.
Tunde Kelani has been my family/friend forever – almost 50 years. He knew my elder brother, Dele, during their secondary school days in Abeokuta.
The elements were at mysterious work when TK and I lived briefly together in the home of a friend mutual to ‘Badmeat’ (as my elder brother was called at the time for his wicked tackles on opponents in football) and TK in Ibadan. That was in 1972.
TK and I also worked briefly around the same time in WNTV/WNBS, and, later in life, connected again in Lagos where we had a few close, mutual friends – Yinka Craig, Tunde Oloyede, Tunde Adegbola, and so on, from the mid-1970s. We became neighbours again in FESTAC Town for over a decade, meeting for coffee and conversation many evenings in TK’s home, in the late 1980s till the mid-1990s.
We remained very close throughout. I was an integral part of TK’s family, just as I was in the periphery of his film projects for decades. I just enjoyed listening to his endless stories, film after film, and he enjoyed hearing the comments and opinions on his works as seen through the untrained eyes of a football player. Once, he showed the premiere of one of his movies in my house with an assembly of our two families over a feast and plenty of drinks.
He inspired and smoothened my path into the audio/visual world, helping me successfully navigate the challenges of sports TV production without any formal training in the 1990s.
I have remained around the TV production business till now, and I am in the process of setting up sports radio and television stations as a business and public service and as a production centre for films, documentaries, capacity training, scholarship and research.
During some of our conversations a long time ago, TK found out that my uncle, my father’s immediate elder brother (by the same father), was the same well-known writer, Amos Tutuola. When the man died in 1990, TK desperately wanted to speak with my father to get complete information about his brother. That’s how TK came to interview my late father. That’s when I also heard more about my uncle and stopped wondering where my inborn interest in storytelling, literature, the arts and Yoruba cultural issues sprang from. Uncle Amos and I are from the same genetic stock.
Amos Tutuola was originally Amos Tutuola Odegbami. His children still bear the Odegbami surname. He lived in Ibadan, and my father used to go and visit him in the early days of my sojourn in the town in the early 1970s. I took my father a few times to his brother’s house in the Apata area of Ibadan.
My father told us about his famous brother and how they were all shocked by his global fame. Like the rest of them (brothers), he had minimal western education, only as much as their mothers could afford or arrange with other relatives to give them. My grandfather did not send any one of his children, from many wives to school.
Amos wanted very badly more education than the few years in primary school that he had. He was so angry later in his life with their father that he dropped his surname from his name and decided to bear his mother’s surname when the unexpected path to fame opened up through his writings.
My father, who only had a standard four education, and could read and write, never had a copy of the famous book, “The Palm-Wine Drinkard’, that made his brother famous during my childhood years in the 1960s Jos where we lived.
I believe, like his brother, my father was a master at telling us folkloric stories on some moonlit nights in front of our house at 64/5 Yandoka St. in Jos. Later in my life in Ibadan, I once tried to read the book. I was amused at the relatively ‘bad’ English it was written in and did not read far enough into it to appreciate the fascinating fantasy, imagery and creative mind of Amos Tutuola.
TK’s enquiry many decades later triggered my interest to reread it. This time I enjoyed reading it. TK enthusiasm for telling stories on Fagunwa, Bayo Faleti, Akinwunmi Ishola, and other Yoruba writers opened my mind to Nigerian literature and writers, including Wole Soyinka, and their relationship.
I went to Roman Catholic Primary and Secondary schools. We studied Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare and the Anthology of Longer Poems for literature in English. I did not read and was never exposed to any African writers.
Once, at the prompting of TK, when I tried to read Ake by Wole Soyinka purely out of curiosity to read a Wole Soyinka book, I could not go beyond the first chapter. Navigating through the words and style of his writing were too difficult. I laboured in reading it. I later read ‘The man died’. I did not find the true-life story fascinating reading. Recall that I grew up feasting on the diet of ‘James Hardley Chase’ for my novels and Thomas Hardy and Jane Eire for my more serious school work.
During my football playing days, reading novels was my pastime in camp. I loved to read all manner of books. Every time I travelled abroad, the first thing I did (and still until today) visits WH Smith and charter books and novels.
As I grew much older, particularly after my footballing years from the mid-1990s, and had new friends, many of whom were in academia or the arts, my mind started to be fertilised with a different mindset about literature.
Many persons around me, led by Tunde Kelani, were ardent ‘disciples’ of Wole Soyinka – Tunde Fagbenle, Tunde Dabiri, Tunde Makanju (Capone), Peter Badejo, Uncle Tunji Oyelana, Tunji Odegbami (Capone), Rufus Orisayomi, and so on.
Through the years, I was always fascinated when they discussed and spoke so glowingly of Prof Wole Soyinka and their different rather unique relationships. Everyone had incredible stories to tell about Kongi. He was like a god.
Yet, in all my ‘walkabouting’, my path with the great man never crossed. We met once at the airport, but with people milling around him, I never had the space to approach him and introduce myself; after all, a smaller crowd milled around me too. Remember that I was a little bit of a celebrity too at the time. Even when TK finally did the introduction at his 60th birthday celebration that Prof attended, it was so flitting that I could never have registered in Prof’s mind. A footballer’s name or face would be the last thing to register on the Prof’s sophisticated mind. TK’s introduction was drowned by the noisy tenor of the evening. My name would have flashed and faded immediately through Prof’s mind. Football and scholarship did not go together in the world of scholarship and intellectualism.
I was so frustrated not being close to WS, like all my friends, that I got Prof’s email from TK, sent him a short message introducing myself, shockingly received a warm response, and started a conversation thread that lasted quite a while with one of the greatest living literary giants in the world. For that period, I lived on the moon.
One day, WS actually agreed to meet with me in Lagos at Uncle Yemi Ogunbiyi’s. Uncle Yemi is one of my late cousins, Tunji Odegbami’s best friends. He knew me very well.
That’s how I met Prof, one-on-one, for about 30 minutes for the first and only time before I had the better opportunity to meet him again over a decade later with the preparations for the filming of ‘Ayinla’ by TK.
This time it was so close to home in Abeokuta. TK asked if I wanted to fulfil my dream to visit Professor Wole Soyinka in his Abeokuta residence in the ‘jungle’ of Kemta. I jumped at the chance.
TK told me he needed to brief Prof about the new film project and to secure his blessing. He told me he never did any film production involving Professor Wole Soyinka, mainly since several were adaptations of books and plays written by renowned Yoruba scholars. TK told me he had secured a ‘visa’ for me, that is, permission to bring me along.
TK is very close to Professor Wole Soyinka. They have an umbilical relationship through their mutual work, passion and life in the arts. So, that’s my story. That’s how a film-maker, a writer and teacher, and a football player found themselves in ‘Ijegba’ for an uncommon conversation.
Fascinating. Tell me about the encounter.
It is Tuesday, the 24th of November 2020. The signposts at the gates reflect the nature of the man who lives beyond them.
We leave the entrance and drive a short distance through a canopy of dense vegetation of trees. We cross a small trickling stream and emerge into a beautifully lawned clearing, a shaded paradise.
Open sesame – our eyes riveted on this reasonably large building of exquisite beauty planted on the higher ground in the environment, a unique architectural masterpiece of red bricks and unpainted walls.
Everyone that comes here must be as intrigued as we are, arriving at a place with a name that reminds one of another person and place from the past – Fela and Kalakuta Republic. But here is different.
I am riding on Tunde Kelani’s ticket to meet with the man lovingly referred to by those that have known him well and long enough as Kongi or any one of other names depending on the nature of their relationship with him – Capone, WS, Eniogun, Captain Blood. There may be other names, but I prefer to respectfully and simply call him Prof.
I am TK’s ‘handbag’ on this visit. I don’t have a visa. It is a requirement before anyone can visit the republic located high up in the hills of Kemta, a short hop from town in the outskirts of Abeokuta. TK assures me that he is my visa to the place on this trip and that I am ‘covered’.
So, we go to this place, once a secluded environment far from the bustle of town, but is now teeming with new buildings.
It is not every day that you get to meet with the man who spends more time in the skies than on the ground, flying from one continent to another to meet up with the endless demands for his talks and speeches.
I have been looking for a second opportunity to share some time with Professor Akinwande Babatunde Oluwole Soyinka, writer and teacher (as he likes to describe himself), since meeting him one-on-one for the first (and last time) over ten years ago at Uncle Yemi Ogunbiyi’s in Lagos. But that was a different setting. It was very brief and not on his own turf. I needed to see and experience him where he lives. Now, here I am, in an anticipated experience of a lifetime.
TK and I are here alone with the iconic literary giant, a global ambassador of humanity, scholarship and deep thinking. We are having a conversation without boundaries or structure, pure talk from the heart.
Two hours come and go very quickly in a flash.It is an incredible journey into the unguarded side of Prof. We gently traverse the periphery of various subjects, one magically conjuring another in a seamless stream of light-hearted banter – phenomena, spiralism, spiritualism, philosophy, films, literature, the state of Nigeria, the Yoruba race, Ogun State, my political odyssey, the incredible agricultural revolution in Ogun State driven by a certain Dr. Adeola Odedina, and so on, one subject dovetailing into another.
I am told that the Nobel Laureate lives in this forest of woods, shrubs, and even some monkeys. A shallow stream meanders gently directly in front of the house. The chirping of unseen birds punctuated the silence and interrupted the serenity of this kingdom. Here, there are no ugly and unnecessary physical structures, no pollution of any sort, no obscene images, only tokens of artworks strategically positioned around the house’s exterior like a woman’s facial ‘makeup’.
Prof. welcomes us at his door and takes us into his sanctuary, a small but special part of the house where he escapes when he wants to get away from the world to commune with the spirits of creativity.
It is here that we sit, with shelves of books, files and video cassettes as a company, to have our chat and later have a communion of wine specially selected by Prof himself from his famed cellar of rare and exotic collections from different parts of the world.
The only decor in the room is a few works of art. TK assures me there is nothing more to see anywhere else than books, more books, and more unique works of art.
Prof is not a victim of materialism, so his home and lifestyle are spartan but very with a touch of class.
The only items of furniture in the room are three cushioned cane chairs and a 3-seater settee. The floor is of beautiful rugged brown wood. Could it be Iroko? I wonder.
Pablo Picasso will not go back to his native Malaga in Spain should he come here. He would make it home to create his most imaginative works.
I am thinking and watching Prof from the corner of my eye. He is very calm, a gentle smile dancing on his face. His deep rich baritone voice is providing melodious music to my ears as he discusses Ayinla Omowura, TK’s next movie project that has listed ‘yours truly’ as a ‘major’ actor. The shooting starts next week. I can’t wait to get started and ‘conquer’ Nollywood.
I eventually join in the conversation, and we travel through time, space and various subjects. I observe that Prof is thoroughly enjoying the conversations. I like the man very much.
Then it is time to go. Prof has another appointment to keep. One day, probably, I shall write about our conversations.
Finally, I remind him of my open invitation to visit the sports academy in Wasimi Orile. He gladly grants my wish. He will come pretty soon to meet with the students and the people in the community. I am enthralled.
How about TK and I transforming to flies on the wall to watch Prof and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo spend a day together, just the two of them, in a room? What would they talk about? What would happen?
He laughs out very loud, immediately seeing the humour and ‘trap’ in my plot of an unlikely event that could only be made possible if TK, arguably the foremost cinematographer in Africa, turns on his creative genius and scripts a fictional blockbuster film series to capture Ebora and Eniogun in a duel of any sort.
Between them, Prof says, there is no enmity or animosity, but lots of mutual respect. They obviously don’t belong to the same planet and see the world very differently. For that reason, my proposed scenario and TK’s movie would not last more than 10 minutes before Kata Kata will burst, and there would be a ‘tsunami’. Still in that mood, he tells us a few of their past encounters. Gripping, interesting and humourous stuff.
Prof walks us to our car. We depart. TK and I are silent for a while as we head back to town. It has been a truly fascinating experience on my first visit to ARI, the Autonomous Republic of Ijegba.
I forget. If you ever want to visit the Republic, do not think of doing so without securing a visa first. There is a whole list of Ministers of the Republic that can be of help – Tunji Oyelana, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Jimi Solanke, Peter Badejo, Wale Adeniran, Jahman Anikulapo, Bankole Olayebi, Tunde Makanju, Peter Badejo, Teju Kareem, Tunde Awosanmi, Makin Soyinka, Kunle Ajibade, Segun Ojewuyi, Tunde Kelani, and a few others. They are all citizens of the Republic. I may soon be one, too, the elements permitting. However, all visitors are advised to always keep in mind the grim warning signs at the entrance. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
What is a footballer’s connection with the cultural movie on Ayinla, the late legendary Apala musician?
I have known Tunde Kelani, TK, the filmmaker, for almost half a century. I have never been a close part of his film community through this long period. This time, we are ‘5 and 6’, tied in a knot.
TK has been ‘close marking’ me, the way Claudio Gentile marked out Zico at the 1982 World Cup, giving me no breathing space. Everywhere Zico went on the field of play, Gentile followed him like his shadow. That was the strategy Italy adopted to stop Zico.
In my case with TK, he may have adopted a similar ‘strategy’ to forestall any possible ‘escape’ for me. He obviously remembers my ‘versatility’ as an actor; that’s why he is investing a lot of time in me this time. I am all set for him to play a significant part in the movie. He thinks a footballer cannot conquer Nollywood. I will show him.
The only caveat is that apart from playing my part, I shall keep a diary of the highlights of my experience, telling it all, tiworo tiworo, mainly what this faded football star thinks of the experience and how well he does in Planet Nollywood.
What have you learnt so far in the two weeks that you have spent on the set?
The past two weeks have been intense, exciting and a blast. Working with TK and seeing how a movie is being put together has been a unique experience. The details in producing an epic film like ‘Ayinla’ are mind-boggling.
READ ALSO: The War In The Cameroons
Tell me about it.
The only subject anyone can get TK to discuss these days is the film. Every conversation starts and ends with ‘Ayinla’. I am in his ‘prison’.
The good news is that, at last, the actual filming started some days ago in Abeokuta. That has taken over his life.
Before that, TK had been prancing around like a boxer on the eve of a big fight. He reminded me of how I used to feel before a big game – restless, singleminded, anxious, poor sleep, fasting and praying, adrenalin pumping in the veins, all emotions unleashed. At such times, time moves very fast, racing at a thousand kilometres per hour.
We have an exciting but challenging movie script in our hands. It is tasking TK’s creativity and stretching the limits of improvisation in securing the tools and locations for a film set a long time ago, in the 1970s and early 1980s.
The other day I jokingly teased TK about why he is not using me as his lead actor, considering the rave reviews I got for my ‘world class’ performance in one of his previous movies, Campus Queen.
His response left me confused. The protagonist in ‘Ayinla’, TK says to me, is not Ayinla Omowura, but the ancient ‘town under the rock’ around which the movie is intricately woven – its environment, people, culture, history, language, and a social life that moulded a local musical genius, whose songs were deep socio-cultural and political satire.
Abeokuta provided all the ingredients that created Ayinla Omowura and gave him all the ‘materials’ for evergreen songs for those who understand the Yoruba language and appreciate his genre of music, Apala.
So, the movie captures the odyssey and adventures of the local musical hero and recreates them in Abeokuta, this quiet town in the heart of Yorubaland, saturated with nature’s ‘accidents’ in its resultant ‘catastrophic’ topography of meandering brooks, rocky boulders, dangerous rapids, rolling hills and valleys, deep gorges, and so on. Abeokuta also birthed some of the most accomplished and educated people in Nigeria’s history in virtually all sectors. This was where Ayinla lived, loved, worked and tragically died on the eve of his greatest triumph.
TK has always wanted to let people see and appreciate Abeokuta in all its splendour and spectacular beauty.
I can almost read TK’s mind about his ultimate but unwritten mission – to market Abeokuta to the world through this film. His greatest challenge, however, would be how to do justice to the sites, sounds, culture, architecture, people and the fear of the Coronavirus pandemic lingering in the land in order to achieve that goal.
Do not let me take the thunder out of the movie. It promises unique music, suspense and great drama.
How did the filming eventually go? What were your experiences? Were you able to get rid of the butterflies in your stomach? What were the differences between a football field and a film set?
For three days, I saw action in two locations in Abeokuta as soon as filming started. The first was on a Saturday, at a police station in the Ibara GRA area of town. There was little to report. The crew were just milling around, and no filming had started by the time I left.
The second day was on Sunday, in the evening, at Ake, behind the Palace of the paramount ruler of Egbaland, the Alake, at the location chosen as Ayinla Omowura’s residence during his lifetime.
The external scenes in Ake were incredible. The entire community came out of their homes and gathered in the big square in front of Ayinla’s house to watch the filming. Tk would surely not need to invest in any ‘waka pass’ actors. There were enough from the environment during the filming of several major scenes.
I watched the production at Ake, a particular scene inside Ayinla’s apartment where he welcomed a neighbourhood masquerade. The conversation between them was not part of the original script but an absolutely natural and brilliant improvisation that must have been inspired by the actors on set caught in the spirit of their characters.
The acting was out of this world -hilarious, spontaneous, dramatic and colourful.
Lee Evans, the African American athletics legend who was with me, could not get over the experience long after we left.
It was fantastic watching TK and his team of producers at work from very close quarters.
TK had grown more grey hairs and plenty of additional worry-lines on his face in a few days. His eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep and from peering for long hours through the lens of a camera like a sniper in a war zone.
Filming went on all day and part of every night. I could see, just as many in the audience of watchers confirmed in conversations on the sidelines, that this movie had all the potential and trimmings of a blockbuster.
TK called me early on Monday morning to give me the message I had been quietly dreading – that my part in the movie would be shot on Thursday and that I should prepare for it.
Butterflies started to rumble again in my stomach. All my bravado of an Eagle coming to conquer Nollywood disappeared in an instant. I was shaking like a leaf. This was my litmus test.
All-day that Monday, I wrestled with my simple lines.
An interesting debate was taking place in my head: between football and acting, which was more difficult?
Those were the thoughts racing through my mind since TK gave me my filming schedule. All my earlier ‘sweet talk’ about some past acting records and prowess evaporated, and reality stared me in the face.
A film is an eternal documentary. I will either be applauded or crucified!! There is no place to hide anymore. That’s why I needed Uncle Jimi Solanke.
I had watched him act at close quarters in the past. He chews up acting with the ease of a Lionel Messi doing things with a football.
That is why I needed to make the pilgrimage to Ipara. I am glad I did. It helped me when the time finally came for me to act my part.
So, what happened to TK’s concept of Abeokuta as the film’s main protagonist? Did it unravel to you? What is it about the town that is so fascinating?
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Ha, it is a long story. The most unexpected things happened.
The filming of Ayinla lasted three gruelling weeks. It ended on Christmas day. On Boxing Day, at my insistence, Tunde Kelani, TK, went into ‘hibernation’ to catch his breath, to catch up with sleep and to recover from the mixed bag of the good and the ugly of experiences whilst filming inside Abeokuta. Stress and satisfaction found common ground on this his most challenging of works. Filming amid a global pandemic cannot be anything but a challenge of monstrous proportions.
One week into the filming, the arrival of Kunle Afolayan, actor, filmmaker and cinematographer, to Abeokuta to play his role in the movie provided an excellent lift for TK. Kunle arrived with refreshing energy, charisma and vivacity. Almost effortlessly, he charmed his way into the hearts of those watching the quintessential actor in his best elements as his role was knitted together, scene by scene, like a complex jigsaw puzzle.
Kunle is no stranger to Abeokuta, but he had not worked there in recent years, at least. He fell in love with the town all over again for its scenic beauty and told TK that his next movie, titled ‘Swallow’, still on the drawing board, would be shot in the ‘City under the Rock’.
That was all before he got down to filming his parts in Ayinla.
After 12 days of sharing in TK’s experience and having a taste of the reality of a new Abeokuta under Coronavirus, in the morning that he was to leave town, he announced that he would be taking his proposed new movie anywhere else but Abeokuta. He had changed his mind about the town.
What he experienced, first-hand, and saw beneath the calm exterior, the quiet streets, and the peaceful ambience of Abeokuta, were ordeals. Miscreants and hoodlums may now be holding the town by the jugular.
They were everywhere, lurking at every location, like leeches. Their daily demands of ‘filming rights’ are presented as threats and warnings of dire consequences should their illegal demands not be met.
In the absence of any form of protection by the police (rendered impotent since Endsars), the miscreants became a law unto themselves. If TK could have aborted the filming at a point, so frustrated was he that he would have. He did not.
Kunle saw all these and decided Abeokuta had become a no-go area for a serious movie producer, for now. The risks are not worth taking. Abeokuta is under seige!!
Abeokuta, today, has become like a girl, a figure-8, ten-over-ten, beautiful on the outside, but a simmering volcano on the inside. It took the filming of Ayinla for us all to see beneath the superficiality of life on the streets, the amount of unseen damage that the pandemic and other social ills are wreaking to shatter the innocence and the magic of this once-enchanting town.
TK’s dream was to use Ayinla to ‘sell’ Abeokuta to the world as the new Mecca for foreign filmmakers in Nigeria.
The good news now is that a few nights ago, TK called to tell me that Kunle Afolayan has again changed his mind. Like a pregnant woman that gives birth and immediately forgets about the pain, she goes through, the allure of Egbaland is overpowering. Kunle has changed his mind again – he will return to Abeokuta to shoot ‘Swallow’. But this time, he would come prepared to take on the menace and nuisance of the hoodlums and miscreants all over town.
Ironically, the best night of TK’s filming almost turned out to also be a nightmare. It was the filming of a major scene at the famous Centenary Hall, Ake, the historical and cultural landmark of old Abeokuta, the venue of many epochal events in the days of yore. To be able to use the hall, TK did a cosmetic refurbishment and restoration. With some fresh paints, new rugs, and excellent lighting, a magical transformation took place. The whole of Abeokuta knew something big was to happen.
Like locusts, they descended. Every area boy in that part of town used the opportunity to feed their extortionist appetites. TK paid through the nose that night. Despite that, there were fights between the different groups of miscreants, some of the artworks on the walls went missing, chairs and tables were upturned, and filming was disrupted intermittently for hours. Some calm finally returned at the end of the day, and even TK was over the moon with the pictures from that unforgettable night, where the scripted plot and unscripted reality blended to make Ayinla Omowura’s concert at Centenary Hall a scene in the movie that is a must-watch for the world when ‘Ayinla’ is finally released.
So, did you find out why the town, Abeokuta, rather than the man, Ayinla, is the movie’s protagonist?
That’s very interesting. It is an unconnected incident that opens my eyes finally.
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It is five days to Christmas, the eve of my first major shot at cinema stardom. The scene of my special appearance in ‘Ayinla’ is to be filmed in 24 hours’ time. I am preparing hard.
Then, Tintin comes to town.
Tintin is a media and communications consultant based in Lagos. He is a new friend. I like him a lot – young, wickedly handsome, lively, brilliant, on top of new technology, immensely gifted, creative, and a real guru of the broadcast media.
When he arrives, I am in a depressed place in my mind, the product of second-hand pressure. I have been worrying that TK is worried. The menace of the area boys and miscreants everywhere in town, whilst trying to film, has been making life miserable for everyone. I am worrying about Abeokuta. This is the same town TK intends to market to the world through ‘Ayinla’ as the new Mecca’ of cinematography. Can’t these hoodlums see the damage they are doing?
The Ogun State government must come to the rescue and quickly establish a special place where filmmakers can get adequate security support for future filmmaking and other projects.
But Tintin is entirely oblivious of my movie involvement and also of the mood around me in Abeokuta. He walks into it all like a man with a blindfold.
On alighting from his car in front of my house, the first words out of his mouth are jolting. The filming crew must not hear him, I tell myself. The prevailing mood is too reflective. TK is frustrated. Kunle Afolayan is angry. Everyone is depressed. Abeokuta, our fantasy paradise, has been under the siege of miscreants.
And then, in the midst of all these, Tintin loudly and innocently arrives and proclaims: “I love this town”.
Ha! Love ke? Abeokuta? Who is this?
I am looking at him and thinking: Tintin does not know anything. He is fooled, like we all have been, by the surface-look, the quiet and peaceful ambience of the residential estate where he meets me.
Tintin must be thinking he is making a good impression and goes on: “driving into town is breathtaking. You cannot miss the beauty of the landscape; the undulating hills and valleys stretching out as far as the eyes can see, by the Muhammadu Buhari Estate on the Sagamu entrance into town”.
This Tintin is in love, indeed.
“Who owns those empty houses?”. He is pointing at some uncompleted houses in the GRA. The man cannot be serious.
“There is something about Abeokuta that makes it different from every town I know in Nigeria. The moment you enter the town, all the tension and pressure imported from Lagos dissolve and evaporate. The streets are clean and uncrowded. They calm you down. The sanity and casual pace of life suck you in. Chief, I am thinking seriously about moving here to join you o”.
Ha, Tintin. 5 minutes in town, and you are singing such a lullaby. I can understand, though.
Coming straight from Lagos, a city that never sleeps, a city groaning and bursting at the seams with the weight of competing forces – an exploding population, impossible and chaotic traffic jams, hustle at every turn, deafening noises and mega environmental pollution, and an ocean of okada riders and area boys that make our Abeokuta-experience look like Kindergarten stuff.
Tintin’s romantic melody about Abeokuta starts to make some sense. His words are true, despite our troubles with hoodlums during filming ‘Ayinla’.
They jolt me back to reality. In the heat of some local challenging social problems, we forget to appreciate the bigger picture of what Abeokuta offers that we (TK, Seun Oyefeso and I) saw some years ago as we traversed Ogun State on my theatrical but very fruitful political odyssey.
I remember vividly.
We were constantly fantasising about Abeokuta; how, through the arts and entertainment – film, music, dance, sports, drums, theatre, sculpture, literature, culture, poetry and other artistic expressions, we would position and promote the town as a deserving capital for a new Black civilisation to be established in the world.
Our ambitious plan was to plant the seeds of a socio-cultural, political and economic revolution in the Statè, by building a solid relationship with our Black and African Diasporàn ‘brethren’ in all parts of the world through projects that will bring them back to their roots in Africa, re-settle those that are interested, provide opportunities and incentives for them to invest, to work and to live in a land they can rightly call their homeland. Ghana has embarked on that route in the past two years!
Abeokuta has the ambience, the knowledge base, the cultural institutions and traditions, the human and intellectual capacity, and the resources to justify our belief that it can be achieved within a short time with the right kind of leadership vision and political will.
We fantasised about reviving and repackaging the FESTAC ’77 project and goals; of recreating the festival with an ingeniously new funding mechanism and methodology; using it to catalyse and facilitate the design of a new cultural, infrastructural architecture that will transform Abeokuta into a global destination of choice for an annual cultural pilgrimage for all Black people!
We were like prophets.
As if we saw the future, our plans have become relevant in the past few months. The Black Lives Matter movement and the global fight against racism, inequality and social injustice have become trending global struggles. Sports have become a potent tool in the global struggle. Sports and politics that used to be two parallel lines have now become Siamese Twins.
All these things mean that in our little heads and for our little town, we were dreaming right – Abeokuta can become the epicentre of a new and mighty cultural army in the world. It has all the essential ingredients. One only needs to visit the old sections of Abeokuta, look deeply into the history and surviving traditions, and take lessons from local cultural and spiritual institutions to stimulate a revival of a once-well-established and very sophisticated society and civilisation in history.
So, Tintin’s coming to town is a divine commission to re-set my mind temporarily dislodged by the troubles that TK has been facing. So, he comes, re-ignites the fire, fans the embers, revives the flames, and departs.
‘I love this town.
His words continue to ring in my ears. They are magic words, and Tintin says them with innocent sincerity. He is ‘rewarded’, of course, with an unforgettable evening. Outdoors in my little compound in the sequestered serenity of Ibara Housing Estate, I fete him with charcoal-grilled freshwater fish, boiled same-day corn, the freshest palm wine in the world (trust me), some good company and elevating conversations under the half-moon of mid-December!
The following morning is the day of my filming. Tintin announces his final, new Egba residential ambitions. He is unable to resist the temptation of the squirrels and the rabbits scurrying in the surrounding bushes full of ‘singing’ birds. The tranquillity, peace and leisurely pace of life under Olumo Rock have won him over. He has decided to set up both shop and home here in Abeokuta.
Tintin returns to his Lagos base a very happy man, his unplanned assignment to restore my waning spirit in the ‘Ayinla’ movie accomplished. Now I understand why Abeokuta is the protagonist in ‘Ayinla’.
So, how does your filming go?
Well, things start to happen very fast.
All schools in Ogun State are shut immediately by an order of government due to a second wave of the Coronavirus all over the country.
In Abeokuta, there is a virus-fatigue. As far as the public is concerned, the virus does not exist. Wearing masks in public is a rarity. A gentleman asks me the other day to mention one poor person I know in Abeokuta that has caught the virus or died from it.
“Corona is for rich people o”, he declares and walks away.
I hope we all do not have to pay the price of this disrespect and carelessness.
My advertised role as Vice-Principal of Abeokuta Grammar School in the movie is no longer feasible. All
schools are closed for the year.
A completely new plot has to be scripted into the movie and a new scene created in order to accommodate me, the ‘joker’ in TK’s pack of screen cards!
TK is smart. He knows he cannot leave me out of this movie no matter what happens. The noise of an Eagle landing in Nollywood has reached even to the moon and back. ‘Ayinla’ without ‘Mathematical’ will be incomplete, like sauce without pepper. We have even consulted with the gods of theatre and obtained their blessings. Remember our trips to the Autonomous Republic of Ijegba, to Ososa and Ipara?
A new plot is, therefore, written into the movie. I do not know what to make of it. I notice it does not give me the space to put on the full array of my acting skills😜.
This TK cannot be serious, I tell myself. We shall see.
The day of filming my scene arrives, four days to Christmas. The preparations at the Sports Lounge in the Panseke area of town takes the whole day. Heavy trucks, cranes, the army of technicians, set designers, make up artists and the ‘waka pass’ audience all land at the location. That’s the nature of filming – the preparations take more time than the actual filming.
Later in the evening, after sunset, the time finally comes to play my ‘lead’ role. The set is beautiful. The lighting is fantastic. I am in my full royal purple regalia. Even Tori Adelanwa, my friend, travels from his home in the hilltop outskirts of Abeokuta to bear witness to my performance.
TK is all over me and all over the place. I am taken through my lines.
“Chief Ishola”. That’s my name in the movie. I am called to the stage.
I climb onto the podium. A million eyes are trained on me. The lights, a packed audience of guests in the set, the large technical crew of cameramen, audio specialists, and many others with or without functions are all focused on me.
Expectations are high. I have made too much noise about this role and my prowess. Too many people are interested in what I will do. The smile on my face is plastered and cosmetic. The words I have been memorizing all evening freeze halfway between my brain and my mouth. I am struggling. Kai, Universe, don’t disgrace me o.
I open my mouth. Words start tumbling out. My heart is racing.
“Cut!”. TK’s shrill voice cuts through the suspense on the set. I pass out.
After all the weeks of preparation, prayers, and fasting; after all the noise I have made; after visiting Kongi and Jimshow; Kai, this TK is wicked.
On the outside, I am cool and calm. Inside, I am trembling like a leaf. But I survive! 30 minutes come and go quickly. The shoot is like a minute. I keep asking myself: Is that it? All my ‘noise’ about an Eagle landing in Nollywood with a bang, is this it? What is all my lala koko fefe for, if this is all to it?
Anyway, I believe TK, the filmmaker, has an ace up his sleeve. I am waiting patiently for the final magic he will perform to make a footballer an actor.
At the end of the day, TK appears to be very happy with everything. That’s the best news.
Tell me, did your expectations and reality coincide? Did they meet at all?
I believe so. For me, being a part of filming ‘Ayinla’ has been an incredible experience, even with my limited days on the set. It was better than I had imagined it would be but more complex.
When I finally depart Abeokuta 3 days to Christmas, I carry an unbelievable catalogue of pictures in my head of unique moments. I can still picture the legendary filmmaker from very close quarters on this greatest of his projects. TK is my own subject in this movie.
I can already see what’s coming, though TK’s relief and excitement when we speak on the phone on Boxing day.
TK swears that the movie has been everything he dreamt it would be at the start and even more. He thinks we have an international blockbuster in the kitty.
So, in the end, I am glad too.
So, in your estimation, did the Eagle finally land successfully on Planet Nollywood?
Yes o. This Eagle landed safely on the planet. I am not sure if it is with a bang or a thud. Either way, that he safely lands at all is enough to hold on to until ‘Ayinla’ comes out of the production furnace. The rest of the world will have to wait to make up their mind about landing quality.
The movie will be released, I am told, by June.
Thank you. I cannot wait to see how you will fare in your minute of fame in “Ayinla”.
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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