A more specific title would be ‘Nollywood for Child Rights, Women’s Rights and Against Human Trafficking’.
For those of you who don’t know, I currently work with a non-governmental organisation and part of my job entails attending all sorts of meetings. Last week, I attended press conference at ActionAid on their new project, in collaboration with the Swedish Embassy, called the ‘African Cinderella’. The ‘African Cinderella’ is basically a theatre production aimed at educating Nigerians on women and child rights. It will show in three Nigerian states and I believe the Abuja premiere will take place this Saturday the 18th. During that meeting, it was explained that other forms of media employed to let the people know about the Child Rights Act have been quite ineffective, they say a drama production as the best way to communicate with audiences, change mentalities and encourage them to consider and implement the rights of women and children.
I’m sure I would have forgotten about the ‘African Cinderella’ project if I did not attend yet another ‘meeting’, this time the Na Wa Film festival, which also aimed to use film and Nollywood to combat human trafficking. I attended the first day of the film festival and spent a disproportionate amount of my time reading my Kindle because the thing didn’t start early. We watched a documentary ‘Sisters of No Mercy’ dealing with women who are tricked into prostitution in Europe and afterwards there was a panel discussion. The documentary didn’t tell me anything I did not know already; women sold by family members on the promise of work in Europe, they cross the border into Niger where they are finally told that they are going to live as sex workers, from Niger they cross into either Libya or Morocco and then into Europe.
The documentary went into the ‘voodoo’ involved in human trafficking where the women are taken to graveyards or to ‘witch doctors’ and told never to run away or else they’d die or run mad (there was a particular scene devoted to one of women who had run mad because she tried to run away, apparently none of the European doctors knew how to cure such an ailment because it involved ‘voodoo’/’juju’/black magic and no modern-day medicine worked). There was also some, a lot of, attention paid to the ‘Madams’ some of whom were formerly trafficked themselves and succeeded in buying their freedom from their own Madam. The documentary interviewed about five women who had returned to Nigeria after they were trafficked who narrated their experiences firsthand. I remember one woman, Linda who said that after her experiences in Europe, after sending money to her relatives back in Nigeria through a Nigerian account, her relatives told her to her face that she ‘had given them nothing.’
The discussion following the movie was enlightening, and I don’t mean the panel discussion which was in some ways tailored with the moderator only choosing certain ‘important’ people to speak up. There was a lady behind me, adding her wry commentary as the documentary rolled on; ‘They haven’t stated why these women are mostly from Benin and not from the rest of Nigeria.’ and ‘This is not trafficking! Are you trying to tell me that these women did not know what they were going to do abroad?’. With those kind of comments coming every five minutes, I got a bit irritated but it turns out I completely misread her. She made a particular comment, which I can’t recall now, that immediately grabbed my attention. I cannot remember what she said but I believe it was in reply to one of the foreign observers who said something about how it was difficult to deal with the Madams because they were European citizens.
After the discussion, I and a group of other young women, got talking with the wry commentary woman. She took apart the film and the entire festival and tore everything into little pieces. There was a part in the documentary where the women talked about their experiences in Niger, how they had to sleep with blankets over them because by the next morning they’d be covered with sand, how at every stage of the journey a girl died. The documentary mentioned that the women who were alive were usually happy that they were not among the dead ones, and wry commentary women took offense. She said such a portrayal showed the trafficked women in a negative light and made them seem almost inhuman. It was about then that I started wondering if wry commentary woman had spent her entire life in Nigeria.
I was not surprised when she gave us her cards which showed a Florida address, she said she was an American citizen and branded the festival a waste except for the snacks at the end. At the end of the festival, we didn’t leave with much, there were no numbers to call in case we see any cases of human trafficking. There were no solutions given, we really just watched a movie and really all discussion about that movie died within the walls of that hall.
And then on Tuesday I was invited to watch the premiere of ‘The Fake Prophet’ by my cousin. ‘The Fake Prophet’ is a proper Nollywood production with some well-known actors and a popular direction, we watched it in the cinema and afterwards there was some discussion with the directore but we didn’t stay for that. ‘The Fake Prophet’ is a movie that deals with both child rights, human trafficking, and religion used as a means of enrichment and oppression. The movie was about child witches and con man pastor (the titular fake prophet). The movie had a happy ending, not for the fake prophet he was almost lynched by a mob, but he was arrested and the Child Rights Act mentioned.
Which leads me to another issue, I still don’t know exactly what the Child Rights Act says even though I’ve been exposed to the possibilities in using movies and dramas as a medium to educate the general Nigerian masses on such rights. I mean I have an idea, I will not claim total ignorance but I have to wonder how other people will absorb the message. If you’re wondering how this will reach the masses, all productions mentioned promised to be available whether through free public screening or distributing free DVD copies.