Preying from Paris: At the AMAAs, Nigerians Couldn’t Rig Anything!

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The Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) on Saturday, was all shades of tension, fear and surprises. People can decide to sound modest, but there was tension. It was so unpredictable. I am never going to compare and contrast the AMAAs with any other award, but there is a huge credibility attached to the AMAAs. Oh yes, you can be friends of the jury members, but once your film doesn’t live up to the judging criteria, it won’t fly. And if you are friends with the jury, they begin to avoid you so animatedly once you enter your film for it. If you eventually bump into them anywhere, they will smile at you and run away. I tried it. It’s the only place Nigerians will not be able to rig anything.

On Saturday, I was prepared to win, because I thought there was a way the jury members – most of who are my friends on Facebook, would compromise and just make me happy. No, they actually went straight-out for what they wanted. Oh dear Lord, I should not have wasted my mental energy, imagining anything could come out of that thought process. And this is not to make them feel great, but one thing is for sure: I do not think any serious person would be flown into Nigeria from anywhere, lodged in hotels for long periods, so as to watch and judge films, only for them to get influenced. I raised my hopes high and they came crashing when the Jury Prize was awarded to someone else and not me.

The truth is that people would like to sound modest and try to say a nomination is okay – it is – but just like we were told as kids, the person who came first in class does not have two heads. What did we do wrong? How can we impress the jury with our craft? How can we improve? I was humbled by the honesty and transparency of the jury. I only hope they can continue like this – as they have stayed this way for 13 years. You can buy other awards, but there is this flame of credibility that makes AMAA special.

My debut documentary feature, The House of Nwapa has travelled to so many film festivals and in a few days, I will be heading to Trinidad & Tobago. It will be shown to a very different audience. I remember this film took me years to make and I bore pains in that period. From losing files to being dumped half way by people who were supposed to support me. However, I was incredibly held up by the fact that I had made a film about a woman no one has talked about. There was also the fact that this was a film made on no budget. I had spent incredible time on so many things: editing, subtitling and everything in between. My life has been plastered by the conductivity of waiting for a miracle to happen. Life itself is a journey which needs to be taken.

In the past, however, people had battled with AMAA and abused them. They criticized AMAA for its logistical problems. I think I can explain better now. The previous editions of the AMAAs that held in Bayelsa and Port Harcourt, were logistics wise, a disaster. People who could not and can’t fix their bedrooms even shared opinions on how it can get better, but we know that these folks just wanted money. There was no kind of magic that would have done it. Now that the AMAAs is back in Lagos and Rwanda is taking it away next year, which is good, we can say that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode was the main ‘logistics’ problem on that night. Perhaps, he doesn’t realize just how disrespected people felt.

A certain diplomat, a day before the event, had told me: “Ambode wouldn’t come. He does that all the time. He will send a representative.” I assured this diplomat that he would come. On Saturday night, I buried my head in shame when Ambode did not show up – he sent his deputy. Okay, where did he go? Which event was that more important than AMAA that he attended that night? After months of planning? How do these politicians work? Was he ever coerced? If Governor Ambode was out that night to shame AMAA, he shamed himself and his deputy did a great job shaming Lagos State.

The Deputy Governor of Lagos referred to the founder of the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) as MR. Peace. And even when she read the Governor’s speech, she said: “AFRICA MUSIC ACADEMY AWARDS.” We were stunned. She had aides all over her! Just like I had my own aides that night too. I think there is something inherently wrong with Nigerians. But that is by the way. When something like this happens in the presence of Africa, we must begin to question our integrity! I always loved Ambode, but Saturday night was not a good time to love him. This was his state – he could have ditched everything else to be there to speak to the stars! What made it more glaringly annoying was not that she was properly informed that she would make a speech, yet she exhibited some ignorance of what the gathering was about, no. It was the fact that as a Nigerian, reckless with information, she came, prepared to disgrace herself.

What I took away from the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) is that not everything about Nigeria is fraudulent. The jury is interested in making sure that the best wins. But, how do you make the ‘best’ film? This is the thing: make it like the Francophone filmmakers. That is what we are learning, because the Ghanaians didn’t win anything. And the award won by the South Africans, was directed by a Nigerian, Akin Omotoso – who has been taken over by the South Africans now.

Dear Lord, give me the credibility of the AMAAs and may your Light shine on me from now henceforth. Give me the patience to make films like those who won.

Onyeka Nwelue

Onyeka Nwelue is the President of La Cave Musik, a record label based in Paris, specialising in music from Africa and the Caribbean. He’s an Assistant Visiting Professor of African Studies at the University of Manipur. His latest book, Hip-Hop is Only for Children won the Non-Creative Book of the Year at the 2015 Nigerian Writers’ Awards.

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