Ishaya Bako has made some crucial films over the years. His debut ‘Braids on a Bald Head’ is an edgy art house movie that pushed cultural boundaries and his follow up, ‘Fueling Poverty,’ narrated by the great Wole Soyinka was a documentary that ruffled a lot of feathers over Nigeria’s mismanagement of its oil revenues. So successful it was that the usually docile administration of Goodluck Jonathan banned it.
His latest flick, ‘4th Republic’ (in cinemas now) is many things in one. It is a political thriller, a crime thriller and a legal drama, and a brilliant take on the political culture of Nigeria.
Kate Henshaw stars, and she does really sparkle, as a resolute, uncompromisingly morally upright, Mabel King, who is running to be governor of the fictional Confluence State. She is trying to wrest power from the ruthless incumbent, Governor Sani, played by Sani Muazu.
Apart from incumbency, what Sani has in his corner is St. James, played by Bimbo Manuel, a ruthless fixer who will go to any length to achieve his boss’s objective. Manuel is so good being bad he is actually really good. His character sizzled on screen, and off screen at the Abuja premiere, he received a resounding ovation from the audience. Thoroughly deserved too.
At the heart of the conflict is the contest over the votes from Ikonu Local government, the largest in the state, with the two candidates running neck and neck. With youth corps members compromised to thumbprint ballot papers in favour of the incumbent, and King’s right-hand man, Sikiru (played by Jide Attah) challenging the malpractice and losing his life in the process, along with many others.
The violence in Ikonu results in cancelling the results from the local government, a situation that favours the incumbent. King challenges this in court, setting the scene for drama and intrigues and the exploration of guilt and morality and the murky complexion of the politics and how quickly stories are twisted.
What elevates ‘4th Republic’ from a mere political thriller to a movie in grave danger of being a classic is not just the brilliant acting and directing, well done visual effects (they actually burnt down cars and a building) is that it is not a black and white story, it is not good vs bad because somewhere at the intersection of the two, there is a grey area that is significant. For instance, is King’s man, Sikiru, really an angel or a villain, in political terms of course?
In the end, all the characters and everything they stood for are tested. They are literary run through the fire and some of them come out on the other side not quite what they start off as.
It has nearly everything. Nail-biting-edge-of-the-seat tension, challenging and uncomfortable questions, a love story somewhere in the relationship between Eyinna Nwigwe (as Ike, King’s right-hand man) and Linda Ejiofor and the intrigues that produce incomprehensible pronouncements from elections tribunal. Each character has something significant at stake and this heightens the individual conflicts.
One thing highlighted in the film is the role of women in the political space, summarized by Gov Sani offering candidate King a consolation for her election loss-the position of his third wife. It captures brilliantly the challenges female candidates face in running for offices and the dirt thrown in their faces for daring to.
People will remember 4th Republic for many things but will often forget that in politics, nothing is as it seems. With this movie, the case applies here. There are lots of memorable on-screen performances to take home. And to make one want to watch the movie again.
4th Republic is written by Emil B. Garuba and Zainab Omaki, wonderfully directed by Ishaya Bako whose Amateur Heads Production and Griots Studio’s Ltd did a fantastic job producing.
Co-producers Bem Pever, Kemi Akindoju and Ummi Yakubu must be proud of this effort, as every lover of good films, especially the truly good ones like this coming out of Nollywood.