A scene from Sony's District 9 which loads on Nigeria's image as a corruption zone and ridicules Obasanjo. USAfricaonline.com
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Is District 9 movie a fitting metaphor for the ugliness of Nigeria?
By Nkem Ekeopara
Special & Exclusive commentary for USAfricaonline.com
Our Igbo elders of south eastern Nigeria say that ‘onye yiri he e jiri koo ya onu wu achi ma achi bi achi bi’, anyone who resembles what is used to make a caricature of him/her provokes an unceasing laughter. This is the context I want to look at the controversy surrounding the film, District 9; a film produced and marketed by Sony Entertainment, with Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell as the script writers and the actors mainly unknown South Africans. According to studio estimates, the film has grossed US$108m in a five-week run. So, the film is a huge success. The film, which was set in Johannesburg, has drawn the ire of the Nigerian authorities. And that is what prompted this commentary.
Nigeria is a nation whose ugliness is increasingly troubling! Nigeria’s Information Minister, Professor Dora Akunyili, who many Nigerians now see as the poster lady of the President Musa Yar’Adua’s administration and who in my opinion is currently damaging the honorable, popular slate she kept as the head of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) will certainly dispute the above assertion. However, by initiating the “Rebranding of Nigeria” project, Professor Akunyili has implicitly accepted that there is something wrong with Nigeria’s image. She hardly accepts that there is something wrong with Nigeria. Trivializing her pet project to a matter of perception as she is doing with her usual zeal and outspokenness rather than accepting the obvious is very unhelpful.
The poignancy of such artistic endeavors like District 9, which has been described as “a science-fiction morality tale” ought to be seen as an effort not only driven by mercantile interest, but also an effort to employ art to deliver the message to the so-called Nigerian leaders, past and present of the incalculable harm they have done and continue to do their country and its inhabitants.
But are they listening? I have doubts. I say this because just on October 2, 2009, a day after Nigeria celebrated 49 years of political independence; its Defense Minister, retired Major General Godwin Abbey while answering questions on the Abuja-based African Independent Television (AIT) on the request made by the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) that Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and some other respected Nigerians negotiate on their behalf with federal government on the Amnesty declared by the government of Yar’Adua, did make a comment I find difficult to accept. He said that those who criticize Nigeria for underachieving are those who are not contributing anything to the system. And I wondered what system he was talking about.
Any honest appraisal of Nigeria would show that at the root of the failing of the Nigerian state are the skewed structure and institutionalization of corruption and criminality in all strata of its leadership for far too long.
Specifically, District 9 according to Professor Akunyili, the Nigerian rulers have had the opportunity of seeing this film after which they decided that those they lord over must not see it. They banned it. That is pure hypocrisy! The decision is wrong-headed and would in fact encourage more people around the world to see the film and may lead to films of that nature being made in the future knowing that it would yield handsome income. That of course is the trend in human history. And I believe a lot of Nigerians at home will eventually see the film.
Ostensibly, according to Professor Akunyili, Nigeria and Nigerians were portrayed in bad light in the film. Perhaps, more important to the Nigerian authorities is the film’s use of Obesandjo in the film, which resembles the name of Nigeria’s former dictator, retried Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo who was “arranged” into the civilian presidency of Nigeria in 1999, got “re-elected” in 2003 and whose reign was climaxed by his watching over the most fraudulent election in Nigerian history in 2007. In a scene in the film, Obesandjo, the head of the ‘gangsters’ in the film tried to cut off and eat the arm of the films protagonist in an attempt to acquire supernatural power. And Akunyili inferred that portrays Nigerians as cannibals. I agree that Nigerians are not cannibals!
However, can we really in clear conscience say that Nigeria of post 1966 coup does not look like a country being run by ‘gangsters’? Can we in clear conscience not liken the structural and physical violence Nigerian rulers have visited on their people over the years to some sort of cannibalism? Is it not a fact of our existence in Nigeria that politics aka ‘gangstarism’ is intertwined with pimping and prostitution? By this I mean the open secret that when some Nigerian rulers embark on national tours that their hosts arrange teenage university girls to keep them “company” for money as long as the tours last, and in some cases the girls are changed for them every night of their stay. Can we point to any other country where its leadership is as materially obsessed and morally depraved as Nigeria? What about the fact that Nigerian press routinely publishes stories of power and wealth seekers engaging in ritual murders to achieve their “dreams”? This information is now in the public domain globally.
The problem with Nigerian rulers is that whenever issues that expose the evil existence of their country are mentioned, instead of accepting the criticism and making genuine and honest amends, they become irrational and embark on the sort of propaganda that will shame the antecedents of Goebbels of the infamous Nazi regime. We saw this happen after the US Secretary of State, Senator Hillary R. Clinton visited Nigeria on August 12, 2009 and rightly criticized its so-called leaders for its leadership failures in governance and in particular in fighting corruption. How can any critical observer say that Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria’s anti-corruption watchdog, is working at full steam when corrupt czars straddle freely on the Nigerian streets and in the corridors of power? Yet Mrs. Clinton’s critical, but correct observations were contested by Nigerian officials who went on a publicity blitz to challenge her.
Sometimes, the propaganda is carried to a ridiculous level. For instance, when UNICEF issued its last report on the state of the Nigerian child, positing that more under 5-year old Nigerian Children were dying than the previous years, Nigerian government officials at the highest level went all out to discredit the UNICEF’s report instead of going to the agency to find out how they can improve, in addition to taking a critical look at their policies and programs in that sector, if they have any. How can Nigeria move forward with this kind of mindset?
I am aware that countries that have verifiable better development indices in UNICEF, UNDP and the very important Index, “Strengthening African Governance: Index of African Governance” published yearly by Rotberg, Robert I. and Rachael M. Gisselquist of the Massachusetts-based World Peace Foundation reports still go to these agencies after the release of their reports to enquire from them on how they can sustain and improve the gains they have made. But not Nigeria!
I think it is high time that Nigerian rulers understood that the world has truly become a global village. The world has become so miniaturized by ICT that people easily get information about events from around the globe. I am sure that if an imaginative mind comes up with a material tomorrow and integrates into it the notorious age cheating of Nigeria in FIFA organized Youth tournaments, the Nigerian Information Managers would rise up and rile against such a script writer.
But just this summer, nearly all the members of the squad they assembled to prosecute the defense of the under-17 FIFA world cup they won in South Korea last 2 years, which Nigeria is hosting from October 24 to November 15 this year, were disqualified after an MRI test, which showed that they were over-aged. And no head rolled! No high official of the Sports Ministry or the Football administering body, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) was sanctioned. And this is a problem, which the late social critic, Tai Solarin brought to the attention of world football governing body and the world at large while he lived, and which earned Nigeria suspension from participation in the same tournament for a time.
No one is saying that Nigeria is the only country where corruption and criminality abound. These evils are universal. They abound even in those countries, which Nigeria spuriously says it wants to be like by 2020 through its much-touted “Vision 20–2020”. However, the difference between Nigeria and those countries is that when people indulge in these evils, the law expeditiously takes its course even if the person involved is an ex-president as we saw in Taiwan recently, where their former two-term president, Chen Shui-bian, got a life jail term for embezzling $3m and taking $9m in bribes. He was in addition to the prison sentence fined $7m. And his immediate family was not spared. The wife was given a life jail term too and fined $10.5m for various graft offences. Only his son and daughter-in-law got off with lighter sentences. Also, in Costa Rica, their former president, Rafael Angel Calderon, has just been sentenced to a 5-year jail term for embezzling $520,000 while in office.
A cursory look at the various amounts mentioned above for which these former presidents have been sentenced to jail for life and for 5 years respectively, pales into insignificance when compared to what the so-called leaders in Nigeria have been looting from the national wealth of their people as documented by international agencies and some foreign governments. So, when will such stories come out from Nigeria? When will there be change in Nigeria?
And as long as Nigerian rulers prefer riling rather then rationality and truthfully addressing the rot in their system whenever its ugliness arising from their misrule is brought to the fore using any means including films such as District 9, so long would “Vision 20-2020” and “Rebranding” remain what they really are: megaphonic slogans. And, so long would the clay-footed giant of Africa, its rulers and its people remain metaphors for such creative work.
•Nkem Ekeopara is a contributing editor of USAfricaonline.com, since 1996, and a poet. He is based in Nigeria.
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