by Eke Kalu
Nearly 6 hours of Netflix’s first Nigerian Original series and it feels like Sorkin on steroids. There’s a lot of talking, chest-thumping, wise-cracking, and some more talking but it never really feels like anything is happening. One episode left and you’re still waiting for ‘it’ to happen. Whatever ‘it’ is, you tell yourself you’ll know when you see it.
The finale – A Handover Ritual – begins right where we left off the last episode. The unsuspecting Odogwu Malay finds himself at the mercy of Makanaki and his Halloween-themed gang. He desperately wants to believe it’s a dream but Makanaki, like some inverted resurrection of Christ, appeals to him to touch the hole in his hand. It’s too clever by half. Odogwu Malay is wasted in his role as the sole Igbo gangster in the Lagos underworld. There’s much that he could mean, much weightiness that his character could reflect, but he is perpetually stupefied into banal dillydallying. He will be best remembered more for his lasciviousness and the slapstick of his accent and mannerisms more than anything of consequence. Unsurprisingly, RMD’s Reverend Ifeanyi shares no such failings. How convenient. The greater tragedy beyond Malay’s demise is that he had not been dealt with sooner.
Makanaki was first re-introduced in the third episode of the series, where much work was done to drench him and his gang in a red hue. It worked to his benefit, giving him an almost ghastly feel as he stared down his traitors. Here, Odogwu shares much of a blue hue in contrast to Makanaki’s red-green highlights. It’s rather distracting. Makanaki wastes no time in making his intentions clear to Odogwu Malay. I mentioned earlier in my review of episode two that Odogwu’s family will be little more than a plot device in future proceedings. As expected, Odogwu finds that Makanaki has already murdered his wife and children in cold blood. It leads to him breaking down in tears as he cradles his dead sons. The trick is that this dehumanizing moment is also supposed to be his character’s most humanizing, which could have worked if his wife and children got anything more than five minutes of screen time. They didn’t. It’s the only offer at depth that Malay is afforded before he is shot dead. Makanaki amusingly quips “Chop up and burn the body before sunrise. I don’t want any surprises in five years.”
Not bad for the opening five minutes.
The Nigerian polity, by nature, is inseparable from gangsterism. The very fact that we continue to use ballot papers as a means of voting in the twenty-first century is an enabler of corruption in the political process. Strong arming and blackmail come first in a country where the foremost of its leading political class all have some more than murky pasts. Eniola Salami best typifies this narrative. Occasionally, she rolls out the businesswoman garble; talks of refuge and shelter homes built in slums meant to soak sympathy. But Eniola is foremost a thug who also happens to be running for one of the most important political positions in the country. When that happens, politics becomes less about the need to serve or grow any sense of national consciousness and more about the need to defeat enemies and attain more power.
It’s unfortunate then, that Kemi Adetiba’s Return of the King soaks much of the nuance of our far-from-regular political climate in the simple loudness that is the return of Eniola Salami. The film is much more interested in convincing you of Salami’s hardiness and inevitable vengeance and the rightness of her person and ideals, which, by the way, are never really explored. Why exactly does she want to become Governor? To what end? What does she want to do with this power beyond greed?
It’s more melodrama than a political thriller. Ironically, it’s a lot of meat, but not enough bone. There’s plenty to watch and see, but not much that leaves you thinking.
There’s a lot to be said about Dapo’s “Journalism” and the representation of Nigerian Journalism as a whole. While I find Efa Iwara’s take on the troubled journalist to be worthy of commendation, he doesn’t appear to be done any favors by a script that hands him “sugar daddy” like packages from his mysterious source. The only bit of work that Dapo appears to do is to pay an impromptu visit to question the head of the NCCC in episode 5. His response to the Head of NCCC’s decision to repossess confidential documents that belong to the state – “You can’t do that, those are mine”
In this episode, Dapo’s mysterious source is revealed to be none other than Mrs. Jumoke Randle. Added to that reveal is the fact that Ade Tiger has decided to relay sensitive information and documents to Dapo on Eniola Salami. Ade Tiger’s constant stoicism masks whatever ulterior motives may be behind this decision. Afterward, Mrs. Randle stops him to thank him for his “great service to the people of Lagos.” And I can’t stop myself from thinking. Why is Mrs. Randle the big bad? Isn’t she the one preventing an under-qualified political wannabe from assuming office?
The competence of the Randle Government is never invoked. The only thing going for Eniola is the rhetoric that being born into wealth is an automatic disqualification from being able to serve the masses. The wealth that she also obtains through less virtuous means. The trick is that Eniola seems to be the only one to possess such a sure conviction of her God-given right to rule. At least, it looks that way. She’s spent much of the past episodes with the younger Salami at her throat. In this one, she seems to have finally found her fighting spirit. Interspersed with the primary narrative is what feels like the Akin Lewis reality show. At this point, he feels more like a chicken fattened up for inevitable slaughter than anything else beyond his “King of the Jungle” assertions. You almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
For a near one and a half hour runtime, the episode wraps up on the thirty-minute mark, with a tell-all press conference from none other than the Editor-in-Chief of The Conscience Newspaper, Dapo’s boss. The scene is difficult to watch, not only because of the betrayal from Dapo’s father figure but because of the general portrayal of the independent press. The journalists’ exaggerated reactions to the bombshells make this scene much more comical than it should be.
The scene does its job, however, and by its end, the show is essentially over. Eniola has secured the much-coveted endorsement of Reverend Ifeanyi. Mr. Randle’s political career is finished along with the reputation of his wife. Dapo’s arc is, as expected, tragic. In trying to fight against what had taken his father from him, he becomes the same kind of victim. It’s unfortunate that the only person who’s pining for truth and justice in this story just happens to be a terrible father and husband. Nollywood seems too content with merely poking fun at idealism in Nigeria rather than saying something meaningful about it. Post-end-SARS, this kind of representation should mean more. Not only for Efa Iwara’s Dapo but Eniola Salami as well.
Eniola Salami’s number one priority had always been the governor’s seat. Once she’s secured this, she finally finds the time to pay Odubariba a much-awaited visit. Odudubariba and the elders may take themselves seriously but the script does not. The scene feels like nothing more than an afterthought and given she’s already won the political game, it makes no sense to have her killed off. You’re just waiting to see how she murders everyone, and what new proverbs she’s learned.
Kemi Adetiba takes a page out of her playbook here. Makanaki’s downfall was preceded by a betrayal from a close ally. In this one, Makanaki’s rather surprising enthronement is similarly preceded by a betrayal from an ally of Eniola who has managed to embed himself in the opposite camp. Ade tiger had been playing Aare and the table all this time with a fake defection. He declares to Salami stoically as he bleeds from a bullet wound in the chest – “Till I die, Oba”.
Regardless, the day is saved. All is won. Eniola is Governor, Makanaki is King of Boys. She rules from above, he rules from below. All those who previously abandoned her arrive to solicit her favor. The people are happy and the celebrations can begin with drinks and parley. Once the logic that Eniola Salami could easily install her unknown choice as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from her exile in the UK but struggled to win her governorship race dawns on you. You find yourself wondering. Your disbelief slowly turns into amusement as you consider. Then you remember, in Nigeria, anything is possible. And perhaps, that, more than anything else, is the true story here.