From its groundbreaking box office achievement as the all-time highest-grossing Nollywood film to bagging nominations at the AMVCA 2023, Battle On Buka Street has earned its fair share of recognition. However, with its recent debut on Prime Video, the satirical comedy drama has gained the attention of more fans who may have not seen it since it first came out in the cinemas last year. Produced by Funke Akindele in conjunction with FilmOne Entertainment, the film is based on a polygamous household that is fraught with a bitter rivalry which starts between two wives of the household and spreads to their offspring.
Told through the narrative eyes of Yejide and set in the fictional community of Otanwa, the story begins with the backstory of the incessant quarrels between the wives of Maazi Kanayo Maduka—Ezinne and Asake—over privileges. Both women have their daughters, Awele and Yejide, on the same day. As they come of age, Yejide and Awele bring home their suitors, Olanshile and Chukwuemeka respectively, on the same day. They have their marriage ceremonies on the same day as well, with the feasts ending in a fight between the wives.
The narrative soon shifts to the present and settles on Buka Street where Yejide, assisted by her mother, runs a local restaurant, popularly known as a buka. Yejide already has two children, Ademide and Fadekemi, while her husband Olanshile is in jail. Awele is also faced with marital crisis, as she leaves her abusive husband’s home and relocates with her children, Ifunnaya, Kaira and Kaiso, to Otanwa. When Awele secures a food stall on Buka Street directly opposite Yejide’s, the enmity between the two women is rekindled, and this time around, it takes a more destructive turn as they are supported by their mothers. At the peak of the persisting conflicts, Awele’s shop is burnt down by Fadekemi, and the warring sides liaise with different spiritual mediums in order to outshine each other.
Meanwhile, Olanshile escapes after a jailbreak and reunites with his family, but it’s a struggle for him regaining the trust of his children. Ademide holds a grudge against him for being an uninspiring father whose criminal record is a drawback to the son’s budding music dreams. Yejide reveals to the children that their father is innocent of the crime, and through a flashback, the filmmaker shows the audience how Olanshile went to jail for Yejide’s self-defense killing. The filmmaker exposes Nigeria’s flawed legal system through the representation of Olanshile’s travails. All the years he was remanded in prison, he never faced trial in a law court. Such is, sadly, the fate of many suspects in Nigerian prisons.
Another issue which the film addresses is the dangers of unhealthy rivalry and competition. While it is not out of place for those in a polygamous family to subtly compete with one another, it becomes worrisome when the rivalry is driven by bitter, malicious intent. Even though the filmmaker tries to foster a sense of reconciliation towards the end when Yejide and Awele unite for the first time to protect Olanshile from the mob, there is a strong campaign against polygamy throughout the film. Asake’s unyielding attitude shows this, so much that she has no sympathy for her senior wife when the latter dies after a period of illness.
Perhaps the truth, which the filmmaker hides, is that polygamy has been successfully practiced in several African cultures, too. Although the institution dates back to primordial times before the establishment of Western ways in Africa, it is still in practice. But when the institution fails, such as in the case of Maduka’s family, the family head and husband is to blame. Maazi Maduka lacks the patriarchal authority to put his house in order, and this is obvious in the opening scenes. He could have insisted, for instance, that his daughters Yejide and Awele have separate dates for their marriage ceremonies. Also, his decision to take a third wife while he was yet to broker peace in his home was an ill-conceived one.
The japa syndrome is swiftly addressed in scenes where the envious mothers fake the travelling of their children Ademide and Ifunnaya abroad. Meanwhile, the children have only been taken to Lagos, where they run into each other and have friendly relations. Not only does this expose the tomfoolery of their mothers, but it also highlights the desperation of Nigerians in their quest to move abroad. In Nigeria, moving to Europe or America for studies or other reasons is a status symbol.
Directed by Funke Akindele and co-directed by Tobi Makinde, Battle On Buka Street is full of action and runs on a melodramatic backdrop. The sensationalized opening moments and incessant face-offs are tailored to suit the Nigerian audience. Nigerians have a soft spot for too much drama— it’s evident in our party culture (owambe), relationship and dating stories, music, social etiquettes— and the film lends its microcosmic perspective on this. But despite having an appreciable run from box office to storytelling and casting, the film’s resolution is rushed and unconvincing. The whole affair of Olanshile escaping from the mob through a truck without arousing their suspicion is rather superficial. An extra scene of a meeting of the Maduka family would have also been spot-on. That atmosphere would have been perfect for reconciliation.