Monthly Archives: March 2017

Nollywood: The Cultural Importance of Nigerian Cinema

*This also appeared in the Language Compass published by the National Language Service Corps. 

I saw the filming of a “Nollywood”, or Nigeria’s highly profitable film industry, movie for the first time a week after moving to eastern Nigeria. I was passing through a neighbor’s grassy yard on my way to a party one evening, and I heard heated yelling that alarmed me. I was surprised to peer around a corner and find a camera crew flooding lights on two young actors filming a dramatic fight scene. As I watched, I was impressed with the innovative electrical set up of the camera crew, attention to detail of the makeup artists, and vibrant energy of the actors. I was in Nigeria to learn a local language and was pleased to overhear that the characters’ names were of that tongue, Igbo.

I gained a greater appreciation for Nollywood during my time in Nigeria. I think it makes the cinematic representation of Nigerian life feel accessible to the audience. Unlike Hollywood, Nollywood movies are made on small budgets, often in people’s homes using amateur actors, and without any visual or special effects. It was easy for me to have friends point out filming scenes to me as we explored Lagos. Also, because of their modest funds, scripts often focus simply on the dynamics of human relationships—marriage, parenting, siblinghood, etc. Although these relationships are highly dramatized in sometimes silly ways, they are still ones that many of us have.

I saw that Nollywood gives Nigerians a way to tell their own stories in their own way. Historically, so much of what the rest of the world has understood about them was narrated by Europeans, by outsiders. This was the basis of my academic research before I arrived. However, these films are a way for Nigerians to be their own storytellers. Then, at the same time that it narrates what West African culture is like, Nollywood also helps create it. Often, the clothes that I saw friends wearing there were fashionable because of a certain Nollywood star, and I heard idiosyncratic phrases in daily conversation that I knew had been popularized by a local movie.

Years later, I still try to watch Nollywood cinema to practice listening to Igbo. I also do so because it reminds of the moment I realized that I was no longer watching Nigerian films from the U.S. as a way to understand a foreign culture, but actually living that culture.

Here is an excellent short documentary on Nollywood:

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One of My Presentations on Women’s Protests

Below is an excerpt from part of a talk I gave on women’s role in Nigerian protests against oil extraction. Oil activities are blamed for environmental destruction, police violence, corruption, and lack of economic growth.

One of my research findings on Niger Delta oil politics was what I termed “positional arbitrage.” This means that local chiefs and male elites used their positions to help incite protests against oil companies and the government at times, as they were well positioned to gain from women’s demonstrations.

The talk also covers some other details about the oil reform movement in the region.

Nigeria of Superlatives

At a recent talk I gave on oil protests in the Niger Delta, an audience member asked me about my interest in Nigeria during the question and answer session. More specifically, he asked, “So, why Nigeria?”

If you are fascinated by social science, then a country that embodies the exaggerations of all social phenomenon is nothing short of intriguing. I am fascinated by culture, conflict, power, history, race, gender, and all social dynamics, and Nigeria demonstrates the dramatic extremes of all of these. It is the most and the least, the best and the worse, of so many measurements.

It produced the most victims of the transatlantic slave trade. It is the most populous country in Africa and is the third most ethnically diverse country in the world. Lagos is one of the top ten megacities of the world, and is growing faster than any other in Africa. It produces the most oil and has the fastest growing economy of any country in Africa. Nollywood surpasses Hollywood to be the planet’s second largest movie producer. To get more obscure in the statistics, it has the fifth highest rate of traffic fatalities in the world.  It is even has the world’s largest singing choir. A survey several years ago even ranked it as the happiest country on earth. How could I not want to learn more about a country that is such an amalgamation of fascinating facts?

In short, I love Nigeria because it is a puzzle I can never solve. 

For the PPT of the presentation, click below. Please feel free to contact me for the audio recording.

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Are U.S. border officials really qualified to test IT knowledge?

The following story has just emerged about a Nigerian software engineer who was made to answer computer engineering questions at New York’s JFK airport, as a way of testing the validity of his work visa to enter the U.S. This is a bizarre and untested way of confirming the validity of a visa, a product of the new “Wild West” of U.S. immigration policy.

It is troubling because it targets a highly skilled professional with the ability to fruitfully contribute to the American economy and human capital. To have been hired by this American firm, Celestine Omin must have valuable IT acumen. To impede his work for a U.S. company is a detriment to the American IT sector, the  spread of knowledge across borders, and the millions of consumers who benefit from IT development. The story is below.

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US immigration officials force Nigerian software engineer to complete written test to prove his computer knowledge

It looked to him like someone with no technical background Googled something like: ‘Questions to ask a software engineer’

US immigration officials forced a Nigerian software engineer to complete a written test on binary search trees to prove his computer knowledge.

Customs and Border Protection officers, took Celestine Omin, 28, into a room for further

He told them he worked for Andela, a tech start-up with offices in New York, Lagos, Nairobi and San Francisco, which claims to take “the most talented developers on the African continent” and link them with potential US employers.

The firm has offices in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, San Francisco, New York and the Nigerian city of Lagos, which was visited by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

One of the  officers then presented him with  a piece of paper and a pen and told to answer these two questions to prove he is actually a software engineer:

“Write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced.”

“What is an abstract class, and why do you need it?”

In computer science, binary search trees are a particular type of data structure that store items such as numbers or names.

Omin told Linkedin that he thought the questions could have multiple answers and looked to him like someone with no technical background Googled something like: “Questions to ask a software engineer.”

After spending about 10 minutes working on them, he handed in his answers only to be told they were wrong.

As time passed, he said that he expected to be sent home to Nigeria, only for the official to let him go.

“He said, ‘Look, I am going to let you go, but you don’t look convincing to me,’” Omin said. “I didn’t say anything back. I just walked out.”

It later emerged that the officers had phoned Andela to verify his story.

Nigeria is not one of the included in US President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.