Mobilising Yoruba Popular Culture: Babangida Must Go

By Haynes, Jonathan | Africa, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Mobilising Yoruba Popular Culture: Babangida Must Go

Haynes, Jonathan, Africa


Nigerian video films are often characterised as apolitical. A rare and significant exception is Gbenga Adewusi's Maradona (also known as Babangida Must Go), which was released in 1993 in response to the annulment of the 12 June 1993 presidential election by the military ruler Ibrahim Babangida. The film is a fierce denunciation of the annulment and of the whole political regime, employing a number of Yoruba and transnational cultural forms: the chanted poetic form ewi, skits by artists from the Yoruba travelling theatre tradition, the televisual forms of music videos, news broadcasting and call-in shows, and the resources of print journalism. This film demonstrates the political potential of the video film, but also the limitations of the video distribution system.


Les videofilms nigerians sont souvent qualifies d'apolitiques. Une exception rare et significative est le film de Gbenga Adewnsi intitule Maradona (encore appele Babangida Must Go), sorti en 1993 en reponse a l'annulation de l'election presidentielle du 12 juin 1993 par le chef miliataire Ibrahim Babangida. Ce film denonce avec force cette annulation et l'ensemble du regime politique, en employant diverses formes culturelles yoroubas et transnationales: la forme poetique chantee ewi, des sketches satiriques d'artistes issus de la tradition du theatre itinerant yorouba, les formes televisuelles de films musicaux, les programmes d'informations et les emissions avec appels d'auditeurs/telespectateurs, ainsi que les ressources de la presse ecrite. Ce film demontre le potentiel politique du videofilm, mais egalement les limites du systeme de diffusion de ces films.


The 'video boom' in Nigeria since the early 1990s, during which the production of feature films shot on video and sold as video cassettes has risen to the level of 500 a year, coincides with a period of political turmoil and deep crisis (Haynes, 2000). Cassette technology has enormous radical potential--because it is so cheap, mobile, and dispersed, the state apparatus can hardly control it (Sreberny-Mohammadi and Mohammadi, 1994, demonstrated its importance in the Iranian revolution; Larkin, 2000, has applied their theory of 'small media' to the Nigerian situation)--but the orientation of most Nigerian video production has nevertheless been resolutely commercial and extremely cautious in political matters. Invaluable as evidence of the effects of the economic collapse and social anomie of this period, only a few video films produced before the end of military rule in 1999 attempted anything like a direct political analysis of the causes of the crisis, and fewer still can be seen as direct political interventions. (1) The rare and significant exception under consideration here, Gbenga Adewusi's Maradona (2) (1993; also known as Babangida Must Go) indeed advertises itself on the jacket as the 'First Yoruba Film on Nigerian Politics'.

The silence of other film makers is remarkable in contrast to the role of Nigerian print journalism--the other great chronicler of this terrible period of the nation's history--which constantly tested the limits of the military regime's tolerance, at the price of many arrests, detentions without trial, beatings, assassinations, seizures of equipment, and closures of media houses. Popular music, which is the only other art which commands anything like the same level of attention as the videos now do, has also carried many oppositional voices, sometimes strident, of which the late Fela Anikulapo Ransome-Kuti's was only the most famous.

While censorship of video films on political grounds is not unheard of, it is rare, and the relationship between the video industry and the Nigerian Film and Video Censors' Board became increasingly cosy and lax as production boomed. The main reason the merest threat of censorship deterred film makers from addressing political topics was doubtless the precariousness of their financing: though made on shoestring budgets, video films are still relatively major investments for those involved, and few producers could survive the total loss consequent on having a film banned. …

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