Andrew is living the illusion of the ‘millennial middle class Nigerian’. He has a ‘good job’ drives a car and lives in a decent albeit sparsely furnished apartment in a nice neighborhood. His life is not perfect, but he lives better than most Nigerians. However, just like most millennial middle-class Nigerians, Andrew hovers only very slightly above poverty, having not quite made it to the upper-middle-class bracket.
“Tonight, We will be Millionaires”
In Ojukokoro (read, Nigeria), everyone has a tipping point; something that causes them to give in to their baser instincts. The film is a commentary on what it takes for people to eventually succumb to the already socioculturally ingrained kleptomania. For some, it is the desire to climb up the social ladder quickly, for others, it is the need to take care of a pressing challenge, while for others still, no real motivation is needed, just an opportunity.
Grammy award-winning Nigeria artist, Burna Boy gives us insights to unlock the psyche of the Nigeria dream through his single; Ye. The Nigerian dream is not complicated. It is telling that the first few requirements of the Nigerian dream — according to Burna Boy in Ye — speak exclusively of survival.
The average Nigerian must first aspire NOT to die before they can dream of achieving bigger things, and with Nigeria ranking 190th out of 193 nations in terms of life expectancy, this is not an exaggeration. Only after surviving long enough can the Nigerian begin to imagine buying a car or a house.
Having endured immense suffering due to a lack of social infrastructure, the ultimate aspiration of the average Nigerian is to have enough money to insulate themselves and their families from the ill effects of an underdeveloped and declining society. Sadly, achieving this through legitimate means is simply unfathomable for said average Nigerian.
A hypothetical Nigerian worker earning N100,000 (over three times the national minimum wage of N30,000) will have to labor for nearly two years (while saving every single Naira of their wages) to afford a car worth N2,000,000 (around $5,000).
Jide: “I can testify that you killed that man only in self-defence, I won’t tell that you were involved in the robbery…Just drop the money and walk away”
Monday: “Walk away, as how now?… You know since when I don dey hustle this bar?” (How can I walk away, do you know how long I have worked for this money?)
Monday would rather risk his life in a shootout with a trained police officer than to walk free but continue a life of penury.
Andrew did not decide to rob the ‘fuel station’ he managed because he wanted to move into a bigger apartment or buy a better car, but because he wanted to live. While this fact allows us to extend him a sympathy that we do not afford most other characters in the movie, it also serves to expose the hypocrisy in our sometimes arbitrary value systems.
It is easy for us to relate because Andrew’s story is the story of every Nigerian who must circumvent, and sometimes exploit a rotten system to get what should be their right to begin with — an education, electricity, a driver’s license, a voters card, good healthcare. But duplicity begets duplicity, and by becoming stakeholders in a rotten system, we help ensure its perpetuation.
The one character that appears to be above it all is inspector Jide Aina. Fearless, forthright, suave, and calm under pressure, his choices contrast the naked greed of the other characters. This is one character who deserved a more robust backstory. What are his motivations? What are his ambitions? Does he have weaknesses? Where does his sense of moral certitude — even within a hopelessly corrupt system — stem from?
Nonetheless, his presence teases us with the notion that it is possible to remain idealistically honest even within a dirty system.
In the midst of the chaos of Ojukokoro, a striking fact becomes apparent; no one is in charge. Not the politician, not the police, not the thugs, not the working-class citizens. Whether they are aware or not, everyone is both victim and perpetrator, justling for power and resources in a vastly complicated hodgepodge of conflicting vested interests.
Nothing is certain and nothing is a given, and perhaps those who come out on top are those who simply get to walk away from it all. This is the final aspiration of the Nigerian dream; to leave Nigeria completely and enjoy the luxury of sympathizing with its problems from a saner clime. Another Nigeria artiste; Naira Marley, seems to capture this succinctly in song;
Japa japa, japa lo London
Japa japa ja wo Canada
Japa japa, ja wo Chicago
Japa japa, ja lo si Africa
Get out while you still can.
Chukwudi Ukonne is a writer, designer, creative strategist who enjoys uninterrupted silences, clean sentences, and boiled plantains. His essays, articles, and short stories have appeared on several platforms including The Republic Journal, Stears, and The Kalahari Review. He is available on Twitter @c_ukonne.