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19 Feb Written by  Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

What Does Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Bafta Win Mean For Enugu?

To answer the question that serves as title here, it means nothing. Although the Enugu state government, unashamed in its misplaced mendacity, believes otherwise. But more on that shortly.

 

The BAFTA, short for British Academy of Film and Television Arts, is supposed to be the British equivalent of the Academy Awards (the Oscars).

 

But the might of American pop culture and, specifically, the worldwide dominance of American cinema means ‘equivalent’ in that sentence can only be used very loosely. Powerless in its diminished position in relation to American hegemony, its appeal is now mostly in terms of its winners’ potential at the big one, the Oscars; a role it has managed to play, in recent years, so admirably it deserves an award for Oscar prescience.

 

Last year, the Best Film winner, Argo, went on to win at the Oscars. The Best Actor and both supporting acting categories were won by same actors. There is usually some consensus come award season.

 

This year’s list of winners has hardly settled the question of who becomes victorious at the Oscars: Chiwetel Ejiofor may have won but he is no shoo-in for the Oscars, same as Jennifer Lawrence winning Supporting Actress for her turn in American Hustle. Miss Lawrence stands in the way of the one most Africans are rooting for, Lupita Nyong’o for her 12 Years A Slave role. Last year Europeans rooted for aged Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Riva but Ms Lawrence won Best Actress over her.

 

J-Law is America’s favourite actress at the moment, and I think she’ll break another continent’s heart this year.

 

*** 

It is the convention to congratulate one’s countryman or woman in the event they win prestige in another country. In the twenty-first century, with wars routinely condemned, there may be no greater nationalistic act. It is why the Olympics are a big deal. Last month, David Cameron, British PM, congratulated the makers of 12 Years A Slave on their win at the Golden Globes. The Brits are generally happy to win in the US; and Americans are generally happy to give thespians from the UK awards, Colin Firth, Judi Dench, Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Caine, Helen Mirren having all won Oscars.

 

The difference between Cameron’s shout out and Enugu State Governor Sullivan Chime’s full page ad, besides the waste of state resources, is that at least major players in the first identify as Brits. (Although the film itself has raised questions about what exactly is a British film.)

 

While 12 Years A Slave was directed by a Brit and stars a Brit in its lead role, both identifying as same, Enugu state’s— and by extension, our country’s— contribution to Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance and eventual win is merely chromosomal.

 

The tribute itself is curious. Here are the words, annotated in the spirit of mischief far less malignant than the fact of the ad’s existence.

 

First the ridiculous: “I congratulate our brother, Mr Chiwetel Ejiofor (OBE) on his historic and unprecedented feat of winning the 2014 British Academy of Film and Theater Arts (BAFTA) Best Actor Award.”

 

Then the clueless: “This achievement is indeed a great victory not only for Nigeria but also for Enugu, your home state, in particular.”

 

Having come this far, with sense running on fumes, the ad delivers Nigeria’s greatest cliché, used by both pastors and the PDP, yes, the one incomplete without a mention of youth: “It will also certainly inspire other young Nigerians to strive for excellence and recognition in their respective endeavours.”

 

And then the vacuous valediction: “We wish you even greater accomplishments as you continue to push the frontiers of excellence in your career.”

 

At that last flourish, you can just picture the aide or Governor Chime himself— who in repose, is one of those politicians whose lack of humour is (mis)taken as proof of gravity— flopped into his chair, swivelling to the glory of God and country.

The pedant may wonder at that ‘Theater,’ in the first sentence, the faux pas of using American spelling for a major British award, but we live in a country where that is not a detail aides, special assistants, special proofreaders, or whatever positions created for this purpose, are expected to know. He or she may also query the genius of spreading four sentences into four paragraphs. But apparently, for Governor Chime’s Enugu only a full page would do, and only the naïve can be perplexed.

A public holiday may not be far behind.

 

Times have changed. In 1996 when for Kiss from A Rose, Seal (Henry Olusegun Olumide Samuel) won three Awards at the Grammys including the coveted Song of the Year, the country was in a different place and it would have been somewhat strange to have a military administrator taking out a full page for that purpose. Or perhaps his use of a pseudonym may have obscured the ‘truth’ of his nationality. We’d never know now.

 

More recently, the band Sade (fronted by Sade, real name Helen Folasade Adu) won its 4th Grammy in 2011, by which time any imagined romance between the band’s frontwoman and Nigeria had expired— the band won its first in 1986, barely a year into the Babangida regime.

 

Since then our democracy has deepened, allowing our leaders to add to buffoonery unabashed brazenness, taking out silly ads for super sums. It is playing to the gallery. As the wording of Governor Chime’s congratulation makes clear, it is not for Mr Ejiofor, almost certainly oblivious to what his win has wrought in the country of his parents’ birth. It reads like a perversion of the last lines of TS Eliot’s A Dedication to My Wife, “But this… is for others to read: these are private words addressed to you in public.”

 

Governor Chime’s full-bodied, full-page congratulation, besides craving an undeserved association with acclaim, has ignored the efforts of Nigerian cinema. But who hasn’t? Until a Nollywood filmmaker wins an award from elsewhere it would reap only scorn. Our own award shows, rightly ignored, are bedevilled with ineptitude and many times the list of winners appears to be in thrall of federal character.

 

The Oscars are not so far away, and should Mr Ejiofor win there as well, maybe the governor would give a speech on the absolute genius of the Nigerian blood, the south-eastern blood, particularly the Enugu blood. It is about visibility, about the allure of honour, in some oblique way, it may be about political survival.

 

I am not sure what music Governor Chime listens to, but he may have been humming the chorus from Seal’s 1990 song  Crazy, as he swivelled in his chair: “No we are never gonna survive, unless we get a little crazy…”

 

A good song then as it is now, one only wishes the governor didn’t take its message literally.

 

Dog