This year, Obi Emelonye has embarked on a new film project that will see him unearthing the ‘darkest’ life of a quintessential but controversial Nigerian leader, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd), in a movie titled Badamasi: Portrait of a General. The movie, which will premiere on October 1, will critically and antagonistically look at the life of the man, who ruled Nigeria from August 1985 to August 1993 when he was forced to step aside.
Shaped to be hard-hitting, controversial but historically factual in its treatment of Babangida’s rise from obscurity, as an orphan, to the zenith of Nigerian military power, the film, according to Emelonye, will be unafraid in touching raw-nerves and being boldly revealing, with the ultimate aim of giving the viewers unprecedented access into IBB’s role in some of the most defining and controversial moments of Nigeria’s journey to nationhood. It will also cover the Nigerian civil war, the many coups of the 1970s and 1980s, particularly the Dimka coup and the bloodbath in the Gideon Orkar coup, and then the June 12 annulment.
According to Emelonye, “I’ve been telling African stories and trying to take them to the world through my films and we’ve enjoyed some level of success in the past few years. Increasingly, as I grow older as a man and wiser as a filmmaker, there’s this hunger to try and be a bit more responsible with my filmmaking. So, as much as people want an escape from the horrors of daily living, as much as people want to laugh and smile and enjoy watching fantasy on television and cinemas, the time has come for Nigerians to start telling our stories.”
Though the actual production of the movie commenced this year, the journey to making Badamasi started in 2012 after Emelonye watched the Mandela film, where Idris Elba, a Ghanaian, played the role of Nelson Mandela.
“As I watched it, I felt proud to be an African,” Emelonye stated. “I felt proud that an African film celebrating an African is being enjoyed by the world and being touted for international awards. I felt that, as Nigerians, we have a lot of historical figures – some dead and some alive – who have been immortalised in books, but with the advent of Nollywood and the magic that we are doing with telling stories from nothing, that we haven’t been able to replicate the celebration and projection of these national figures on the big screen for the world to see.”
As somebody born during the Nigerian Civil War in 1967, the first port of call for the filmmaker, if he were to go by raw emotions, would have been to tell a story about the war, but somehow Emelonye resisted that. To him, a story of the Civil War can really be told with authentic attitude that it deserves in a few years from now. From there, focus shifted to the litany of great and sometimes controversial Nigerians that have ruled the country.
“I had to evaluate each of them based on four principles,” he noted. “One was historical relevance. What was their contribution to nation building? Secondly, I had to look at the lessons to learn from these characters. I had to look at the inspirational quality of the stories around these people. And as a filmmaker and one who is interested in drama, special effects and all the things that make cinema, I had to look at the person whose story would lend itself easily to cinematography.”