The Supreme Price (E) Close-Up Film Review



Dir. Joanna Lipper, US, 2014, 75 mins

Cast: Hafsat Abiola

This thought provoking and introspective documentary tells the history of the turbulent years Nigeria has experienced from 1993 to the present day, from the democratic election of MKO Abiola, who never took office, onwards. The film explores the role his family has played and the political impact it has had on Nigeria. In examining how the country has been managed since its independence from UK rule in 1960, the film concludes that the management has been mishandled.

Opening sequences shot while driving through the streets of Lagos epitomise the reality of the country. Despite oil being a major export, expensive cars drive across outsized pot holes, while the destitute beg at the roadside.

Starvation was used as a weapon during the civil war; images of this here are extreme. The government controlled the entire revenue of the country. Since independence and the oil boom, Nigeria has had decades of military rule, way too long to sink too deep into an abyss of corruption. Military are the enforcers and the vast wealth the oil brings to the country does not trickle down much further than to pay their wages. The military is also thought to be behind the suspected assassination of both President Elect MKO Abiola and his First Lady. The country has repeatedly stood up in revolt against military rule but only one man held the power to make the voice of the people of Nigeria boom louder than before.

MKO Abiola was one of the first nationalists, a man with ambition and an entrepreneurial spirit which was clearly infectious. He decided to run for presidency in the first democratic vote to abolish military rule. He was a Muslim man with four wives and over 50 children, and he was revered throughout Nigeria despite Christians making up approximately 40% of the country. A wealthy man with good investments, he became an ambassador for sports, supporting Nigeria’s teams and therefore automatically winning the nation over. After the military annulled his victory, he left the country only to return and be arrested for treason. His second wife Kudirat, who due to the passing of his first wife became the principle wife, was born and raised amongst the poor which gave her a sense of humility. She continued his work after his incarceration and risked her life for freedom, becoming the leader of the pro-democracy movement.

Assassinations are no new topic in Nigeria and the courage to remain on a mission for change is overwhelming. Both MKO and his wife Kudirat displayed an immense show of dedication for the country, her family and the needs of the people. Hafsat the second oldest of Kudirat’s daughters has continued this work to ensure that her parents didn’t die in vain.

The film focuses on the growing number of women in leadership roles in Nigeria. Hafsat Abiola is the epitome of this movement and may even one day become the first female Nigerian head of state.  The Supreme Price presents a Nigeria we were not expecting. An African Middle East war zone? Not even. Many of the film’s scenes suggest the USA in the 1960’s, when black people of that nation rebelled, rallied and marched for freedom and for their rights as US citizens.

The film uses some graphic imagery of the post-independence control strategies of the military; the bloodied car seats where military ammunition ripped through the exterior and the companions of the vehicle, ultimately killing Mrs Abiola. The film is shot with clarity, well edited and the scenes defined with narrative and voice over spoken by Hafsat.

419 fraud, internet scams, financial schemes and undecipherable accents; these are just some of the pre-conceptions held by non-Nigerians and unfortunately also first generation westerners, departed from their parent land, for whom the main point of reference is the largely negative media.

There is an ongoing struggle in Nigeria. Let us not forget that Nigeria has only been independent for just over 50 years, not even a person’s lifetime. The people are fighting for a better life for all. Pioneers like Hafsat Abiola are fighting for change. Is Nigeria ready for a female ruler? Time alone will show.

Review by Jennifer Chuks

The Supreme Price is screening at the ICA, London on 17 March as part of the Ciné-ONU UN Screening Programme.