Abba Makama’s terrific debut Green White Green felt heavy because of its theme: the tensions between Nigeria’s three major tribes. His sophomore The Lost Okoroshi, which premiered at TIFF, is more playful, colourful and funny. But beneath the purple sky, jokes and infectious music is the reoccurring reminder of how detached modern Nigeria is from indigenous Nigerian traditions. The Lost Okoroshi explores how the mass infusion of western culture and technology has complicated the identity of the Nigerian, a subject briefly discussed in Makama’s debut.
The film’s 4:3 aspect ratio, cinematography and some of its score pay homage to 90s’ Nollywood. However, while that Nollywood era painted Nigerian traditions singularly as evil, Makama’s films show them in a different light. The Lost Okoroshi opens in the spirit world, an Okoroshi is chasing a man and as the masquerade closes on him, he wakes up. It was all a dream.
That man, Raymond Obinwa (Seun Ajayi), is a security guard who hates his job and is growing frustrated with city life. A colleague, tired of his complaints, tells him: “every day you don tire, you don tire, leave job you no gree.” Raymond aspires to leave the city for village to start farming, but he needs to hammer first. He, however, has more pressing problems: the reoccurring dreams in which an Okoroshi pursues him. He narrates the latest dream to an older friend, Mazi (Chiwetalu Agwu), who encourages him to embrace the masquerade and not run from it because it is an ancestral spirit seeking connection with its descendant.
When Raymond finally embraces the Okoroshi, he is irreversibly transformed into the masquerade. He is mute and can’t remove the mask and outfit. Traumatized by the whole event, his wife Nneka (Judith Audu) decides to go seek help in what is an uproarious sequence. An okada will speed off at the sight of the Okoroshi approaching. A supposed Diving Healing Hospital won’t accept him as a patient. His wife’s laughable request that his boss allow him to work in the Okoroshi outfit for the meantime gets rejected instantly.
Raymond, trapped in the Okoroshi, will go on a spiritual journey that will see him become a saviour, entertainer and punisher of wrongdoers. He will save a prostitute, Doris (Ifu Ennada), from a troublesome client. He will entertain people on the streets and get acquainted with an enjoyable character Willy Willy, who thinks the masquerade, an ancestral spirit, should be packaged for prime entertainment. This comical journey reached orgasmic levels when a secret Igbo society—with a public signpost—kidnaps the Okoroshi. They call themselves the Igbo Peoples Secret Society of Heritage Restoration and Reclamation (IPSSHRR). (There is a madness of performance from Kelechi Udegbe here.)
If you leave The Lost Okoroshi not knowing what to make of it, it is because the film poses more questions than answers. Makama isn’t trying to tell us what he thinks; he’s asking questions about the place of traditions in modern Nigeria. The film’s final act, although illy abrupt, is symbolic for the death of culture and tradition in today’s Nigeria. It shows a weary Okoroshi which has lost its mysticism. It isn’t dancing and saving people again; it needs saving. Its power is drained by the disconnect between traditional practice and modern life. (Even ancestral spirits get drained by Lagos negative energy.)
Abba Makama has made another culturally relevant film and like his debut, the entertainment value of cinema is never left out. The thumping soundtrack by Shay Who is a mishmash of modern and traditional music, but unlike the film’s quagmire, both connect seamlessly. Ifu Ennada is as magnetic as she was in Judith Audu’s Obsession. However, the film doesn’t give plenty of screen time to any of his actors; it doesn’t need to.
The Lost Okoroshi isn’t about a masquerade- Okoroshi is representative of indigenous traditions. The layered script by Makama and Africa Ukoh presents profound questions in comical conversations. The film begs repeated viewing to be properly understood and appreciated. Makama’s mastery of satire ensures this social commentary is a joyful ride. You are going to laugh, maybe roll out of your seat, but when you are done, it will hit you—you have been laughing at yourself all along. You are Raymond and the Okoroshi is your ancestor.