The Storyville documentary "The New Kings of Nigeria" on BBC 4 last night was a sore disappointment. It was hard to know what the thing was about. As the minutes ticked by, any hopes that a theme would emerge drained away. The focus was most of the time on the great grandson of King Jaja of Opobo, a young chap called Walter. Walter had just returned from an expensive education and a stint selling electrical appliances in Jand which he seemed proud of. He was now being shoed in to a role producing reality tv shows and music videos. He seemed to know little more than anyone else about his ancestor, resorting to the internet to find out pictures. It might have been nice to have had him return to Bonny and be greeted by the locals or provide some kind of context beyond interviewing his sister at the Boat Club.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
However, the title of the doc suggested that there were other Kings who were going to be featured and that the story would extend beyond Lagos. Walter's story, as a repat living with his sister on the mainland, is hardly the typical elite case. The New Kings of Nigeria might then have focused on Nigerians returning to live in Lekki and working in either banking, telecoms or starting their own business. It might have dwelled on places such as Ikoyi Club and the Polo Club and their new members. It might then have asked the question of whether the diaspora was/is helping to develop Nigeria, at the same time as looking at the contrasts between lives back in the UK and new generator driven lives in Lagos. It might even have asked into the backgrounds of the elite and how many generations the privilege extends back. The theme might have developed into whether there is a two tier class system that has developed thanks to returnees lording it over the natives and to get perspectives from both sides.
We had none of this. Instead, we had endless headshots of Walter lolling about in the back of a chauffered car or in his room, extolling his undeveloped views in his public schoolboy brogue. We were treated to Walter's adolescent analysis of polygamy and poverty. The lighting was terrible; much of the time you couldn't really see his face. Clearly, the crew hadn't brought any basic lighting equipment with them. The lack of a narrator added to the general sense of helpless drift (you have to be bloody good to avoid a narratorial voice).
One was left thinking two thoughts in parallel: what kind of public schoolboy network ties to the Storyville's Series editor Nick Fraser had allowed this piece of amateurish tosh to get on the usually excellent BBC4? And: the film about the new colonialism of the Lagos elite has yet to be made. It was not a patch on Welcome to Lagos.