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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

On District 9 (long, maybe too long but na jeje we siddon ke!)

I finally saw District 9 in London recently, I was a little curious about the Sci-Fi film from South Africa but when Nigeria banned it, I knew l had to see it.
Maybe I was a bit sluggish from a combination of the cold and a monster sized dinner or I would have jumped out of that cinema afterwards laughing or did l actually jump out laughing? Can’t remember, the wine was excellent.
Please allow me to laugh now. He he he he ha ha ha ha ka ka ka ka!! That movie is a joke and the joke is on its makers.
The critics, mostly patronizing non-Africans have fallen over themselves to praise it as an alternate surprise Sci-Fi stunner of this summer. They are right as technically, it has all the toys and gadgets and in a world of over slick, over stylized action movies, it stands out with its realism and grit. What they also praise are the metaphors around apartheid and segregation as well as a culture mix, which they are not as qualified to understand, much less correctly translate. Africa will always deliver grit and substance anywhere and any angle you turn your camera. Much the same way the celebrities come here for the babies and charity photo ops, so does the Pulitzer hunting journalist for the bleed that leads. The writers come for the golden sunsets and the rest of the pirates and philanderers for natural resources, conniving dictators and young sweet flesh. They don’t always mean harm. They see, opine and write only from their own perspective, which, often incomplete, gets the highest airtime because they have the advantage of power. They are often aided and abetted by Africa’s own self-loathing children.
It is the way it is.

So what the fuck was that with District 9? Yes l used the f word, which is about 70% of the lines that pass for dialogue in lead character Wikus’ (Sharlto Copley) lines. I have no aversion to the effective use of the f word, as one of my favorite West End plays was Jerry Springer the opera with a whole music score around just that word. Priceless!

The film could have be a nice retro Sci-Fi if only the plot was plausible or if in the absence of that, the dialogue was sharp and witty, deep and evocative or downright irreverent. It does have good points for effort and buyable technical quality but fails woefully in nuanced story development, script writing and casting. Don’t even get me started on the acting; the scene between Wikus and his wife on phone was pure Nollywood wannabe (note that Nollywood does not fool herself with pseudo Hollywood aspirations).

The so-called subtext of apartheid, segregation and otherness falls flat and only the African in denial, the non-African or the non-other will fail to see this.

Finally, what was that about the Nigerian mafia with its leader called Obesandjo (nice touch that), if it is a parody of Nigerians, should it not be convincingly so? Why not at least find actors who can speak and act like Nigerians especially in a film with 17 Nigerian characters. How about also developing the characters properly so we see the point of being Nigerians as those could have been a rag tag group of bandits from any part of Africa. Even as a metaphor, it would require that sort of authenticity or real comic lines and timing. Instead it looks suspiciously like what my people call bad belle, or worse, the ignorant cheat’s way of hanging our continent’s go to bad dog for ratings. Either way it is exploitative and unintelligent.

I have no problems with a parody of Nigerians but why not apply some creative genius and fun to go? Surely that does not cost much more than talent.

The scene with the female witch doctor is simply bad research and startling ignorance. A Nigerian mafia don goes to consult a female witch doctor! Tufiakwa! We are too blatantly sexist! There is a reason they are called babalawo and not mamalawo. Who ever heard of a female head of a shrine! Which self-respecting Nigerian politician, crook or idiot would go and swear or drink blood from a female witch doctor!!! If District 9 has a female Sharman, the Nigerian alpha male crime lord will not go to her, if the Neil Blomkamp wanted to milk a piece of fun out of that then the delivery should infer it. l suspect that scene came purely from watching and misreading themes from Nollywood movies (hehehe, they watch it too) which as l have told you have no aspirations towards such vexatious technical details of research and representation.
The film sadly betrays its makers as lazy or too contemptuous of Nigeria to do their homework. The problem with hatred is it betrays the hater’s weakness and Discript 9 shows up its makers as ignorant.

Now that I have that off my chest, what is the correlation between District 9 and Chimamanda’s danger of a single story TED talk?
Let’s talk about it soon.

In the meantime I recommend that you watch Woody Allen’s WHATEVER WORKS, Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and Todd Phillips’ HANGOVER which are the movies I’ve most enjoyed recently. I’ll do anything to have been part of the script/story development meetings for Hangover.

A gay, monochrome-cruise-wear-loving Chinese mafia don in high-heeled boots and gold bracelets? Mike Tyson singing? The tiger, the baby, the prostitute, the shrew and the boys, fabulous! My favorite lines? “You want to fuck on me?” threatens the naked Chinese mafia don as he leapt out of the booth of a car and holds off three clueless men with a monkey wrench. Now that is character development.
Thursday, October 08, 2009

The danger of a single story

This requires no lengthy explanations. Just watch and comment but let's talk about aspects of it tomorrow.
Monday, October 05, 2009

Grace Ushang’s Death And the indecent dressing Bill

By Asma’u Joda & Iheoma Obibi

Grace Ushang was a young Nigerian woman who had every right to expect a bright future. Now she is dead merely because she was female. On the day that Nigeria celebrated its 49th Independence Anniversary on 1 October 2009, NEXT Newspaper reported that Ms. Ushang from Obudu in Cross River State, a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) serving in Maiduguri, Borno State, was raped to death by some men still at large, who, according to the story, “took offence because she was wearing her Khaki trousers – the official uniform of the youth corpers.”
The cavalier brutality of this morbid tale of criminal vigilante action is compounded by the official response to it. The Director-General of the NYSC reportedly travelled to Maiduguri ostensibly to discuss this crime with the State’s law enforcement authorities. Rather than denounce this for the crime that it is and reassure our young graduates on national service that their wellbeing preoccupies the highest levels of decision making, the Director-General merely advised Youth Corpers to “take their personal security seriously because whatever we provided is not enough. They must learn to be security-conscious.” Pray, how?

The compounded crimes that killed Grace Ushang painfully return our attention to the pervasiveness of violence against women in Nigeria and the growing resort to vigilante action to police vague notions of feminine propriety and decency.
In 2008, the Chairperson of the Nigerian Senate’s Committee on Women, Senator Ufot Ekaette introduced a bill in the Senate to prohibit so called “indecent dressing”. At the public hearing on the Bill in July 2008, there was a consensus that its provisions portended great danger for the safety and security of Nigerian women. The Bill proposes to grant intolerably dangerous powers of arrest and invasion of the most intimate privacies of the woman’s body imaginable to both police officers and ordinary citizens to undertake vigilante action against women they merely perceive to be “indecently dressed”.

Senator Ekaette’s Bill covers any female above 14 years wearing a dress that exposes “her breast, laps, belly and waist… and any part of her body from two inches below her shoulders downwards to the knee” (such as the much-admired Fulani milk maid). Also liable to become a criminal if this Bill were to become law is any person dressed in “transparent” fabric (such as Lace) as well as men who expose any part of their bodies between the waist and the knee (such as men relieving themselves by the roadside). All these people and more would presumably attract arrest from zealous policemen. If this Bill becomes law, there will not be enough prisons or mortuaries in Nigeria for its victims. It will licence vigilante violence against women, leading to fatalities like the fate that befell Grace Ushang.

Grace Ushang’s story demonstrates the fallacy of the justifications for laws like the Senator Ekaette’s Indecent Dressing Bill. Those who wish to commit crimes of sexual violence need no excuse. They must be treated like the predators they are. If a woman, like Grace Ushang, dressed in regulation clothing prescribed by the Federal Republic of Nigeria is considered to be so indecently dressed as to be put to death by the most vile acts of violence imaginable, how do we guarantee the safety and security of Nigerian women in the uniformed services, such as the Armed Forces, Police, Prisons Service, and Immigration?

The killing of Grace Ushang is part of a pattern of violence against women that deserves urgent attention across borders in this year of the 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). In some countries of Sahelian and East Africa and the Middle East, women who survive rape get put to death for allegedly bringing dis-honour to their families. Or are charged with zina (adultery) as they “have made love”; as any form of sexual intercourse consensual or non consensual, can be translated to mean “love making”.
Only recently in Sudan, Lubna Hussein, a former employee of the United Nations, along with 12 other Sudanese women, were charged with the offence of dressing indecently for wearing trousers. Sudanese law prohibits ‘dressing indecently’ in public. Absurd? Yes, certainly, by Nigerian standards, where no person bats an eyelid at the sight of women in jeans, or in offices, clad in trouser suits – or so we thought until Grace Ushang was raped to death. Sudan’s laws, however, criminalise a woman’s dressing, prescribing lashing and an unlimited fine for any woman ‘in public’ dressed like a ‘man’.

Lubna resigned her employment at the UN, which would have granted her immunity from trial, to compel the courts to take a stand on an issue she feels (quite rightly) should be a matter of public concern, because they impact directly on her human dignity, freedom of choice and privacy. By her action, Lubna placed Sudanese ‘justice’ in the global spotlight and should, hopefully, trigger change in policy and law in that country.

We may not yet have a law that determines what a woman (or man) can wear but there can be no tolerance of the growing tendency towards vigilante enforcement of notions of indecency. Sudan and Nigeria have similar lawmakers it seems. Surely, someone sat down and determined for Sudan, in his opinion, what is permissible as a woman’s choice of dress, and garnered Parliamentary support for his personal belief that wearing trousers was an abomination that should be penalized. In the same manner, some persons in the Nigerian Senate are unilaterally and arbitrarily attempting to decide for Nigerians what should be the acceptable form or mode of ‘dressing’ for women. No account has been taken of the diversity and the culture in both countries, or even of the fact that in African rural settings, women routinely expose much more, without giving a thought to it being ‘indecent’. Nor has there been any reckoning of the effect that this will have on the safety of women.
As Sudan struggles with the implications of its indecent dressing laws, and its courts struggle to find ways around it, Nigeria’s own lawmakers appear bent on imposing these retrograde and potentially explosive laws over here. While they are looking for ways to move forward, our legislators seem determined to throw us back into the past.

Our lawmakers should focus on passing measures that promote human dignity, preclude discrimination, and guarantee human wellbeing. Instead of a law on indecent dressing, they can accord priority to enacting a law to protect all Nigerian women from the wanton violence and ensure that all perpetrators of such violence are brought to justice. As a first step, the Senate should vote down the Indecent Dressing Bill and firmly close any further arguments on it. In its place, and in memory of Grace Ushang, we need a federal law on violence against women. That would be an appropriate way to commemorate the tragedy of her senseless killing.

Asma’u Joda & Iheoma Obibi are on the Steering Committee of the Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF)
Thursday, October 01, 2009

Inevitability of Hope

I wrote the piece below two months ago as part of a series I am working on. Seeing the mood of most on a day like this i thought it may be appropriate to share it.....

I could tell you many stories but maybe just the one will do. Three months ago I started filming a conversation series around Nigeria, I was sick and tired of the deafening noise of the voiceless in my head and was determined to give them voice. When we arrived at this forgotten community, area boys descended on us and threatened to beat us, kidnap the foreign crew, destroy our equipments or worse. I was less fearful than dejected and in my anger I confronted them completely taken aback that they did not seem to care that it was I, the aunty Funmi of the youth, the people’s champion, I believe my own bull, you see. We eventually calmed them down and I asked to use their toilet. As I walked through the narrow passage of the face me I face you shack, l had no premonition of what I was to be confronted with now and all day. The toilet was an exact replica of the slum dog millionaire shit scene without the beautiful colouring and diffusion of rough edges of that film. I peed mater of factly and lead my crew through the maze of homes lying as it were on a refuse dump sort of like a strange rotting carcass. We climbed the stilts and descend into the canoe that took us into the community of these people who live exclusively on water.

Now let me tell you about the water, it is the blackest, dankest, oiliest, smelliest water I ever felt in my life, yes felt, as it was so wrong it had a fetid life of its own which envelops you. There were large and small pieces of faeces, other wastes and the ubiquitous pure water bags flowing calming by as Dami my canoe man paddle sliced through it all. It was like some witch’s broth from a Dickensian tale, only worse because here you can smell it and once in a while you might taste it as bits fall off the paddle unto your skin. We spent the entire day filming, all sense revolting then numbed. This place has no electricity, no water, no hospitals, no toilets, nothing but the people had found a way to live a normal life of sorts. They trade on the water, run barbers shops, an alternative health clinic and salons with little generators all on the water, the only way of getting around is by canoe and there is no soil. The drinking water is piped through a hole dug into the shallow end of the water through pipes that are sometimes broken letting in the brackish water. The highest source of death is cholera and malaria.

In all of these you wonder how can this be, how can we have done this to our people and how do they remain human? However, slowly through the day as I interviewed them and collected their stories of triumphs and failures, fears and measured success, I saw their strength and our human commonality. There were many outstanding stories and many, far too many sad ones. But there is one really amazing one. A one-story building houses the four classrooms that serves the whole community, it was built by some “oyinbo” volunteers I was told. There are no seats, no tables, no books, and no teachers for the 130 children who are ferried there free by the community daily. No teachers but for two young boys, secondary school leavers who can barely speak English themselves. They volunteer everyday to teach the children who speak only Egun; they are unpaid, their own future uncertain. I even suspect they moonlight as area boys some times but the other thing I have noticed is how all the area boys have slowly shed their aggression on seeing our good intention. I saw these aggressors transform into the confused and sidelined youth they really are and I saw them, as they could have been if we did not have all those decades of ruinous leaders, how they maybe still could be.

Most importantly I was humbled by those two boys who everyday teach the children without pay, they are almost children themselves and will probably not live to be 40 but in the midst of all the lack, they stood up to be counted. It is because of people like these that I keep going. I recognise my destiny to tell these stories and give the people voice as I recognize that the beauty of Nigeria is you always turn that dark corner and find something unexpectedly special. Perhaps it is foolhardiness or even a desperate attempt at finding hope but I somehow somewhere deep inside think or should I say hope that Nigeria will herself turn around this dark corner one day and find blinding light.

Post note
Change A Life is currently working with the appropriate government agencies to do reward these young teachers and do something about the school itself. Send me an email if you’d like to be part of it.