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Confronting rape of minors in Ego Boyo’s new film

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Inspector Folashade Adetola (played by star actor, Kate Henshaw) in a canoe in the waterways of Makoko, Lagos, chasing a sex pervert and child killer in Ego Boyo’s new film, The Ghost and the House of Truth

What spirit or demon or disturbed state of mind pushes a grown man to exert sexual violence on a minor, a child, 11 years old, and then murder her as well? What becomes of her traumatized parents who comb streets day and night looking for her, with just the faint hope that she might still be alive somewhere and waiting to be found and returned home to continue as a beloved daughter? And when all hope seems lost of ever finding her, what does the law and its enforcers do to find the monster and prevent other minors from being victims and their parents from suffering the trauma of a lost child? You may not get answers to the first question from The Ghost and the House of Truth, from Temple Production, produced by Ego Boyo and directed by South Africa-based Nigerian film director, Akin Omotoso. But you will get some answers for the last two questions in this artistically realized and gripping film told with the right cinematic language and currently showing in cinemas across the country.

Bola (Susan Wokoma) works in a correctional home that sort of mediates between killers and traumatized relatives of their victims. And like most people, she probably saw herself as being above such situations. She lives alone in a part of the city with her daughter Nike (Imoleayo Olusanya) as a struggling single mother, her husband having abandoned her years ago. She is doing her best to give her daughter the best she could afford, but her best sometimes come short. But there is love between mother and daughter. Like most city children, Nike commutes to school and back in a bus driven by a man (Toyin Osinaike) with a dark past, but who is trying to live a clean life. But this does not come to light until things go dark for Bola and Nike.

Then one day Nike asks her bus driver to drop her off where she intends to meet a schoolmate for some assignment. That is the last time anyone who knows her sees Nike alive. That is also the day the world of Bola takes a steep dive down a slippery slope. A frantic mother thus begins the search for her missing daughter among known friends and relations to no avail. Then she turns up at the police station and thankfully meets a pregnant Inspector who her colleagues hail as ‘Stainless’, because she does not take a bribe, a rare trait for an officer in her line of job. She heads the Police Protection Unit that deals with such cases. Adetola seems slow in her pace, as it is often the case with the law, a particularly Nigerian slowness, but she is methodical and quite thorough as she pursues leads to the disappearance of Nike. Burdened also with a pregnancy, Inspector Adetola also pursues Nike’s case with the grim determination of a mother who could possibly find herself in Bola’s desperate position. Her soon-to-be mother status gives her added impetus in seeking answers to Nike’s disappearance.

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The bus driver is, of course, the first suspect, but Inspector Adetola soon eliminates him from her list. Then Ayodeji, who has a dark past in child molestation, but he too exits Inspector Adetola’s suspect radar. But not so Bola, who resorts to self-help and trails Inspector Adetola in her pursuit of Nike’s abductor. So desperate is Bola that she seeks help from a man in the under-world for a gun, which soon lands her in a deeper mess than looking for her missing daughter. Bola soon finds herself squaring up with the law she has enlisted to help find her daughter.

But Inspector Adetola pushes on regardless of Bola’s rashness. The chase for Nike’s abductor takes Inspector Adetola to the grim neighbourhood of Makoko, perhaps Lagos’ 21st worst ghetto after demolished Maroko. The grim existence, the dirt, and the slum of Makoko are heartbreaking. Certainly, the humanist in the producer and her crew may explain the subtle campaign they are forced to wage against Makoko, an obvious blight on the face of Lagos and all such backwater places in Nigeria. Authorities need to act to remove such blights for better living spaces. Interestingly, setting up Makoko as a habituate of some criminal elements, with its maze of brackish waterways, excites the tourism palate of those who have the eye; that indeed, Makoko and such places in the Niger Delta could easily become the Nigerian Venice (an Italian city with its famous gondolas) if properly developed. In The Ghost and the House of Truth, Boyo has wittingly set a development agenda for Lagos State Government, that a different, nobler habitat can be carved out of the current infamous condition of Makoko, where Lagosians can live better lives than the wretched existence it is.

Inspector Adetola and her police team’s chase of the real rapist and killer of Nike and other children is stuff conjured out of legends in its realistic portrayal as the two parties navigate the meandering waterways woven among the rickety, wretched houses erected on stilts.

The producer, Boyo, is clearly on a social crusading mission in The Ghost and the House of Truth. In police stations, courtrooms and news channels, stories of violent rape and murder of minors are rife and have become a stain on the conscience of society. Who becomes the next victim is just a matter of time. But Boyo and her crew will not wait for another victim; The Ghost and the House of Truth is her response, that indeed something needs to be done and done fast to save innocent victims like Nike from the menace of rapists on rampage.

The Ghost and the House of Truth is their apt response to the conscience of a society that seems dead to decency and appropriate living. In a society that treats sexual violence against minors with levity, this film couldn’t have come at a better time. The producer also challenges the system, the authority to go beyond mere lip service to the rape of minors. Inspector Adetola’s Police Protection Unit, if it doesn’t already exist in police divisions, must, as a matter of urgency, be established at once, with dedicated women and men like Inspector Adetola put in charge.

The dialogue in The Ghost and the House of Truth is bare, austere and stripped of the needless volubility and loudness usually associated with Nollywood movies, thus allowing a crisp visual, cinematic narrative of the story, which makes the movie a delight to watch. The music, too, is sombre and appropriate for the dark mood evoked in the movie.

The Ghost and the House of Truth, a great piece of filmic art, comes highly recommended for everybody: for parents, who bear the unspeakable horror of losing a child to such perverts; for children, who may be tempted to wander off at a tangent; for criminals and perverts, who may believe they can get away with their crimes; for the police, whose duty it is to act promptly to bring to book perpetrators of heinous crimes against minors and who must not treat such reports with disdain or derision. Again for parents, who might be tempted to take the law into their own hands; they still need to trust the law, slow as it may seem.

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