This week, I am taking time off from the depressing and ugly life of discussing Nigerian politics to address the issue of beauty, elegance, love, romance and above all, happiness of all Nigerians at the traditional marriage ceremony of Rita Dominic and her heart throb, Fidelis Anosike in Owerri, Imo State, on April 19. I have looked at the photos circulated in the social media and both bride and groom looked radiant and happy. I have been following Rita on social media since 2009 and one of the central themes around her has been speculations and above all the genuine desire of Nigerians that this great icon of Nigeria should marry, and she has done it. Congratulations!
I have not followed Nollywood closely and know little about the industry and its personalities. My first encounter with the implications of my ignorance of Nollywood was while checking into a hotel at Jinja, the source of the River Nile in Uganda, almost 20 years ago. The receptionist decided to try her luck when she saw my Nigerian passport. “Do you happen to have the latest Aki and Pawpaw film?”, she asked me. I responded that I had no idea what she was talking about. She looked at me as If I was from another planet and said since Aki and Pawpaw are the best actors in the world and they are from Nigeria, I cannot say I do not know them. She added that given my corpulence, I actually look like one of the big ogas with mansions and four-wheel drive vehicles in Nollywood films. Her verdict about me was clear; if I don’t know anything about Nollywood, I cannot really be African, and certainly, not Nigerian. She appeared to be quite upset with me, checked me in with a frown as I wondered what the whole conversation was about. I quickly did my research, found out who they were and was ready for the next random person that would ask me about these two great Nigerian stars.
I did wonder, however, whether I am too old school in political science to get it, that being a Nigerian means being knowledgeable and passionate about Nollywood. My decision was that surely and slowly, I start learning about our film industry but as we shall see below, my learning curve was simply not steep enough.
My next encounter once again caught me totally unprepared. I had arrived in Lilongwe airport, Malawi, with a letter from the Commonwealth requesting I be given a visa on arrival to monitor their 2009 elections. I was worried about the usual airport humiliation Nigerians suffer. I handed my passport and waited with trepidation. The question from the immigration officer threw me off guard – “Did you travel with Rita Dominic?” I asked who Rita was and he responded that as a Nigerian, how could I ask him who Rita was. I apologised for my ignorance and he said that Rita was a Nigerian star who, like me, was to fly in from Johannesburg. Disappointed that I did not even know Rita, he gave me a form to fill and said when I got into town, I should go to the immigration office and get my visa. He was scanning the queue behind me hoping he would have the privilege of stamping Rita’s passport. Once again, I felt very bad about my ignorance of my country’s flagship industry.
On reading the local papers, I realised the visit of Rita Dominic was causing as much frenzy as the elections we had come to observe and both were connected. Rita Dominic was the headline story about the 2009 Malawian presidential election. The highlight of President wa Mutharika’s campaign was the unveiling of a mausoleum in honour of the late dictator, Kamuzu Banda, and Rita was invited by the president as the star attraction in the unveiling ceremony. That evening, a major concert was to be organised in Blantyre to present Rita to the people of Malawi. The newspapers and indeed everybody in the country referred to her as the girl with the silky skin. Mutharika’s election gift to Malawi was to bring the girl with the silky skin to voters live, and that was why she made all the radio and newspaper headlines during the elections.
Intrigued by the role Rita was playing in advancing Malawian democracy, I decided I must also see the world event unfolding. I convinced the chair of our observer team, former Ghanaian president, John Kufuor, to go and see Rita with her silky skin. To my surprise, he accepted and off we went to the sports centre where I quickly contacted protocol and we were led through the crowded VIP entrance to the executive lounge. Two hours later, the show had not started and the general manager of DSTV Malawi, organisers of the concert, came to explain that the hall was full, the crowd outside was larger than the one inside and the crowd had massed round the VIP entrance so they did not know how to bring Rita in safely.
I told him President Kufuor and I walked through the crowd so why couldn’t Rita do the same. He looked at me as if I was an idiot. Rita, he explained slowly, is a mega star and her security is very important. They cannot afford to take a risk. Knowing our place vis-a-vis a Nollywood mega star, President John Kufuor and I quietly walked through the crowd and left. The manager was right; no one took a second glance at us.
It was at that moment that I realised that Nollywood is Nigeria’s gift to the world and the branding of the country needs to pivot on the industry. The reality is that Nollywood is the institution branding the country, and the brand revolves around crime, treachery, drugs, superstition, black magic and sex. These for me were not the best elements for branding a country without throwing in some positives. I was however wrong to assume that this Nollywood formula used to lift Nigeria into number two position in the world film production league table would not lead to significant improvement in the scope and quality of their production.
In October last year, I illustrated this improvement in quality in this column while reviewing the Nollywood film, King of Boys, by Kemi Adetiba. It was released in 2017 and became an instant box office mega-hit. The film recounts the narrative of massive corruption in Nigeria’s political system through the rise and fall of the protagonist, the iconic ‘godfather’, Eniola Salami, excellently enacted by Sola Sobowale. It is a gripping story because she is not the typical Nollywood female protagonist engulfed in superstition and romance. She is a real ‘godfather’ and as the 2023 elections approach, I recommend the film to all Nigerians. Following the film’s runaway success, Netflix commissioned a sequel: a seven-part limited series. It was the streaming platform’s first from Nigeria. The series, the Return of the King, picks up the story five years after the events of the original. Kemi Adetiba assembled a stellar cast with RMD, Nse Ikpe-Etim and Charly Boy, displaying impeccable acting. This is just bragging on my side to show I am reducing the level of my Nollywood ignorance.
Back to the topic, I join billions of Africans, the Caribbean and film lovers the world over in wishing Rita Dominic and her heart throb, Fidelis Anosike, blissful marital life. President Buhari, do your job; I have not yet seen your congratulations to the couple.