‘GANGS OF LAGOS’ vs PEOPLE OF LAGOS: PROVIDING PERMANENT SOLUTION TO A PERSISTENT PROBLEM
Crime is non-existent in a town that has no law.
Ever since the release of ‘Gangs of Lagos’, a Nigerian crime-action thriller produced and directed by Jade Osiberu on Prime Video, there has been a hullabaloo from different quarters, from the government to institutional spokespersons, and concerned individuals.
Firstly, it must be established that the relegation of our cultural and traditional institutions to the background by the state and federal government is the major reason for the misinformation that is being reflected in the citizens’ works of Art, and that includes Filmmaking. The people who are uninformed about their cultural heritage are bound to misrepresent the culture, in addition, misinform the world about their culture.
The bulk of our law came from the Western world. The West primarily subscribed to Christian ethics and ethos. After the upsurge of Protestantism, which was championed by those who through historical and Christian theological literature are known as Reformers. The ancient World Order, which had the Roman Papacy authority at its nucleus, gave way to the New World Order, which was hugely influenced by the impact of Reformers like John Wycliffe, John Huss, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, etc. The Western legal structure in extension has had much influence on our national legal structure and jurisprudence: the cardinal reason being the colonial influence.
On the other hand, Sharia, which is an Islamic law based on the teachings of the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet (Hadith and Sunna), has been instituted as a main body of civil and criminal law in Nigeria. This has been the reality in twelve Muslim-majority states since 1999, the then-Zamfara State governor Ahmad Sani Yerima began the push for the institution of Sharia at the state level of government. A “declaration of full Sharia law” was made in the twelve states in that year, and the states created Islamic legal institutions such as a Sharia Commission, and Zakat Commission, and a hisbah, i.e. “a group expected to promote Islamic virtue, whilst discouraging vice”.
Without mincing words, the constitution of Nigeria mainly favors Islamic and Judeo-Christian organizations/entities.
While in film school, I vehemently opposed the practice of cultural misrepresentation in storytelling. Truth be told that I have never been alone in this advocacy, some cultural ambassadors are blaming the mass misinformation of our cultural values and heritage on Nollywood, they believe the Nigerian film Industry is the arch-enemy of our Cultural Institutions. I am in partial agreement with this school of thought.
The only legal framework that is capable of protecting our Cultural organizations is the Customary law, often referred to as local law or native law: the oldest source of law which has been existing before Nigeria was formed and even before the advent of the British. For centuries, Native law and customs were applicable across the various territories that made up Nigeria.
Even though the Customary law continues to be applicable, albeit with some limitations, it is only applicable in civil matters as Section 36(12) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) states that all criminal laws should be written and customary laws are mostly unwritten. I suppose the law that should protect the Institutions like that of Adamu Orisa, which is popularly known as Eyo is unwritten, if it’s written, it is not available to the public. Therefore, if it is unwritten, how can it be read? If it is not available to the public, how can it be known?
As the Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Pharm. (Mrs.) Uzamat Akinbile-Yussuf, brilliantly explained the significance of Eyo in a release signed by her: “Eyo Masquerade is equally used as a symbol of honor for remarkable historical events. It signifies a sweeping renewal, a purification ritual to usher in a new beginning, a beckoning of new light, acknowledging the blessings of the ancestors of Lagosians.
In the same breath she blatantly register her displeasure, saying: “We are of the opinion that the production of the film ‘The Gang of Lagos’ is very unprofessional and misleading while its content is derogatory of our culture, with the intention to desecrate the revered heritage of the people of Lagos. It is an unjust profiling of a people and culture as being barbaric and nefarious. It depicts a gang of murderers rampaging across the State”.
The Commissioner’s position is apt, being the lead spokesperson for all the matters that concern Tourism, Arts, and Culture in Lagos State. And her view should be respected by all filmmakers in Lagos. In actual fact, there is no state in Nigeria that has invested a quarter of what the Lagos State government has invested into the Creative Industry. This I suppose should count for Lagos State in the way it is being projected in our work of Arts.
Jide Kosoko, a Nigerian actor, director, and producer, born into a Lagos Royal family said, “I find the issues surrounding the movie sad; not because of lack of technical quality but for the desecration of the culture of the good people of Lagos. “Let me say here that the movie industry in Nigeria, especially movie producers, and directors, are guilty of lacking respect for our culture and failing to carry out quality research on their storylines before embarking on movie projects.
“Stories woven around our culture are the best movie materials we can export to remain competitive. If we, however, destroy and desecrate that same culture, what then do we have to compete with?”
The concluding part of the maestro’s view should be carved into multiple stones, which will then be donated and stationed at the entrance of all film schools/academies in south/west Nigeria: “Stories woven around our culture are the best movie materials we can export to remain competitive. If we, however, destroy and desecrate that same culture, what then do we have to compete with?”
In the words of my great friend, Asoko Emmanuel, “If you want to say something about my culture, you must be willing to go to my village to ask questions.”
Having said that, the Lagos State government also must share part of the blame for its failure to legally protect the state’s Cultural Institutions. Beyond the verbal position of all the designated authorities, a written code that spells out boundaries is urgently needed to strengthen cultural institutions in the state. Hence, rather than exhausting all the energy on Jade Osiberu based on her obvious error of misrepresentation of Eyo Masquerade, it is important the Lagos indigenous people and all concerned parties and institutions turn to the state lawmakers so they can come up with a legal framework that will protect and further strengthen the state cultural heritage.
Another limitation of Customary law that needs to be strengthened is that: there is no uniform customary law in Nigeria as even amongst communities of the same ethnic group, the laws might vary from one community to another. If this is the case, how do you expect Jade Osiberu, who was born into a royal family in Ogun State to be aware of Lagos Cultural values, when the values are not written? She won’t probably misrepresent a similar institution in her state of origin because she is aware of the implication. Having said that, a filmmaker of her status and pedigree ought to pay premium attention to Yoruba Cultural representation in her work, especially because she has royal blood in her vein. I’m sure no door could have been closed against her if she had made an effort to research, and no mouth would have been shot if she was willing to listen. When an apparent error/mistake has been made, apologies should be made by the offender.
Recall in the EbonyLife Media Classic movie, Elesin Oba(The King’s Horseman), Olunde, played by Deyemi Okanlawon says to Mrs. Pilkings, the role played by Jenny Stead, “You forget that I have now spent four years among your people. I discovered you have no respect for what you do not understand.”
Olunde’s opinion in this classic exposes the major challenges of most filmmakers in our clime.
However, the approach of Lagos stakeholders can somewhat be likened to a father, who is beating his child over the error that was partly committed by the father. The question is: if the father beats the son, who will beat the father? In this case, the government is the father. And the error is the failure of the government to protect our cultural institutions under state laws.
While it is not out of place for Pharm. (Mrs.) Uzamat Akinbile-Yussuf to register her displeasure, I suppose with the same vigor the Honourable Commissioner must take her displeasure to the Lagos State House of Assembly, other concerned parties also should join in mounting pressure on the Lawmakers to come up with legal instruments that will protect the Lagos Cultural institutions. I’m sure if success is achieved in Lagos, in time, the other five western Nigeria states will follow suit.
It is noteworthy to acknowledge that a little degree of such victory has already been won in two states. Namely, the states of Osun and Ogun.
We shouldn’t be quick to forget the torchbearer being the former governor of Osun, Rauf Aregbesola, who in 2013, approved the 20th of August as a public holiday in the state for traditional worshippers, under Section 2 (2) of the Public Holidays Act CAP P40 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2010.
‘Isese Day’ was first declared as a public holiday by the Osun government in 2014. During this holiday, Banks, government offices, and other establishments in Osun remain closed.
The same progress has been achieved in Ogun State. About three years ago a request was made in August 2021, by Ifalola Olalekan(Amona Egbe Ijo Orunmila Ifakoseunti), while speaking on behalf of the Isese worshippers at a special service lined up for the ‘Isese Day’ celebration, noted that worshipping of Ifa is not evil.” He further solicited that the Governor validate ‘Isese Day’. He said, “even this one that we are doing, we are begging Governor Dapo Abiodun to give us holiday as done in other states. We in Ogun State, are expecting our governor to declare a public holiday for us.”
The request was in turn granted by the Chief Executive Officer of the State, Prince Dapo Abiodun, who has declared Aug. 20 of every year as ‘Isese Day’ (Traditional Worshippers Day) in the state.
The feat achieved by the Isese community in both Osun and Ogun states is only a fraction of what proper state protection will offer the Yoruba Traditional Worshipers.
Rather than tearing each other down, concerned individuals and institutions should use their anger as a springboard to bring about a lasting solution which in my opinion is to constitutionally protect our Cultural institutions.
Adedayo Thomas, the Executive Director/CEO of the Nigerian Film and Videos Censors Board unequivocally exposed a major legal limitation, in terms of Nigerian media cyberspace.
“However, we don’t have an exclusive mandate on what goes on the internet. Our bill, which was made in 1993, has stayed the same. A new account is present with the National Assembly. It has passed the first and second readings, gone through public hearings, and is on the concurrent list.”
Speaking on the matter at hand, he said
“As it is, we are doing a strict carrot and stick because a mandate you don’t have, you cannot execute. We can only mediate between both parties,” he said.
The Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Chief Olusegun Runsewe, also called for calm over the displeasure of Lagosians because of the wrong representation of Eyo in the movie; “Gang Of Lagos”.
Runsewe, in a statement last Friday, advocating for a strategic rethinking of culturally related narratives by filmmakers in Nigeria to avoid public resentment and reactions.
He further described the sacredness of Eyo based on an experience he had with the Oba of Lagos
“During the last National Festival for Arts and Culture in Lagos, we, at NCAC wrote to the Oba of Lagos, requesting the participation of the iconic Eyo masquerade.
“We were made to appreciate and understand that Eyo masquerade public appearance is guided by certain traditional ethics and procedure, so we expect our filmmakers to follow the same engagement route.
Not leaving the causative part of this argument, he eulogized, and in the same breath admonished filmmakers to be intentional in their research work before dolling out creative content
“Honestly, we at NCAC appreciate Nigerian filmmakers for the efforts to use such narratives, to contribute to national cultural tourism rebirth and acceptance, including its international cultural tourism value chain.
“But we must advise that a cultural sensitivity context and content analysis should be part of both production and post-production ecosystem,” he said.
While I know Chief Runsewe’s stance is going to usher in momentary success, a more lasting solution will be to legally protect our Cultural institution.
People are fundamentally defined by their language, culture, and tradition. Since culture is an integral part of individuals and society in general, the preservation of it is tantamount to the preservation of the people’s history.
As the Yoruba adage goes, “Ìlú tí kò s’ofin, kò. s’ẹ́ṣẹ̀.” Meaning: Crime is non-existent in a state that has no law. If no Federal or State law speaks to the protection of our cultural institution(s), Jade Osiberu and Kemi Akindoju, the duo Producers of ‘Gang of Lagos’ have not committed any offense.
In conclusion, the state should not only make cultural and traditional laws that will protect its cultural heritage but should also make provision for the enforcement of such laws, that is when ultimate success will be achieved.