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Eyimofe hits home, appeals to global film industry, says Nigeria’s Ambassador to Germany Tuggar

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Tuggar (left); Lady Alex-Ibru; and Executive Director of Guardian Newspapers Ltd, Toke Ibru…in Germany.

Nigeria’s Ambassador to Germany, His Excellency Yusuf Maitama Tuggar, not only attended the screening of Eyimofe at Delphi FilmPalast, one of the Berlinale’s special venues in Berlin, on Friday February 28, but also provided the audience with some closing remarks. By coincidence, and given his role in Germany, the Ambassador, in this interview with ANITA KOUASSIGAN in Berlin, is able to provide some very useful insights into the realities captured in the movie and Nigeria as a whole.

Your Excellency, Nigerians must be grateful that you and key members of the Embassy as well as their spouses attended and supported the screening of Eyimofe. What was your very first impression of this film, or how did you feel during the first few minutes of viewing the film?

The storytelling was better than I had expected. I liked the idea of having two separate stories that converged, and the fact that it dwelled on the push factors of migration. To foreign viewers, it provides a better understanding of what makes some Nigerians want to leave their homeland, even if they find out life is not exactly rosier for them abroad. I also did not expect the plot, as set, to be filmed in Nigeria in its entirety, because I had seen one or two Nigerian movies dwelling on migration that had to be shot at home and abroad to tell a migration story. I like the fact that this one pulled it off without having to leave Nigerian shores.

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Would you say that Eyimofe as a film, truly met your expectation, given the previews you may have seen, or was it something entirely different?

Well, from the outset, I was impressed with the quality of the production, the cinematography and the intuitiveness of the acting. Even before it started, I was intrigued by the fact that one of the issues the film throws up is that of migration, which perhaps is one of the most topical issues in Europe today.

Talking about migration, could you explain the impact this film may have on the subject, which is actually one of the challenges you have to deal with on your current mission in Germany?

My hope is that the quality and presentation of Eyimofe will draw in German and, indeed, European audience to have a better understanding of the push factors of migration. Electricity is a major challenge for us in Nigeria (as the point was resoundingly made in the movie), and it often dashes the hopes of many looking to live a modern life. This is why the Nigerian Embassy and the Nigerian government as a whole have been working on the electricity roadmap with Siemens to find a lasting solution to the problem

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The rise in irregular migration has created a backlash of xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiments in Germany and Europe. This ‘othering’ relies on a comparative approach to the subject that often dehumanises migrants. But Eyimofe employs what an 18th century German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder referred to as sympathetic identification, putting aside one’s prejudices to understand those from a different culture and country.

I am certain that many in the German audience who have experienced personal tragedies can relate to Eyimofe’s travails. And let’s not forget that Germany was one of the major emigrant countries in the world, with Germans emigrating to different parts of the world to seek better opportunities.

Movement of people, like that of goods and services, is one of the aspects of globalisation. It must however be legal and structured. Nigeria’s Social Investment Programme (SIP) seeks to address some of the root causes, especially institutional mechanisms of managing risk such as credit programmes for families.

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The film generated two contrasting views. That, on the one hand, may have painted a dreary view of (some part of) Nigeria, but do you agree that, in fact, the talent of Nigerian artists (the filmmakers and producers) were very much on show in Berlin?

The average German does not know much about Nigeria and even Africa as a whole because, unlike some of their European counterparts, Germany’s colonial exploits were brief. It is easy to reinforce certain negative stereotypes when we Nigerians have already created an echo chamber effect of negative discourse about our country that global media draws from. I know it may have been for story-telling effect, but you do not need to go to a forger to obtain a Nigerian passport, as depicted in the film. I was also concerned about creating the impression of a bifurcated society where you only have the very rich and the very poor, leaving out the fact that we have an expanding middleclass riding the wave of the digital technology leapfrogging, agricultural renaissance and the global Music & Entertainment preponderance we are currently undergoing.

Beyond this, social mobility has always existed in Nigeria.” And yes, Nigeria’s talent (which I think is never in doubt) was on display in Berlin. Movies are a powerful medium that has to be used responsibly though.

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There are two main characters —Mofe and Rosa — with two very different stories depicted in the movie. Which one could you most identify or empathise with (if any)?

With Mofe’s; because it best addresses the universality of the human condition.

Before attending the screening of Eyimofe, did you feel that a fair amount of the German public were open to learning about some of the stories coming out of Africa, in this case Nigeria?

Yes. Germans are very keen and eager to learn more about Nigeria and Africa as a whole. You will find that German society is impassioned with intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to learn new things — which is probably why they are technologically so advanced. And you have to remember that there is also curiosity in the arts, which is why Germany produced so many greats in classical music and film, as well as creating movements such as Bauhaus. Fela had a huge following here. Something fresh like Eyimofe was certain to be well received in Berlin.

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Or, perhaps, some of the audience attended mainly due to the heavy marketing of the film and sheer curiosity?
The Berlin Berlinale is very prestigious, so people would be eager to watch whatever makes the proverbial ‘cut’ in the first place. The Berlinale also attracts a lot of open-minded people interested in new ideas. I like that the movie was in pidgin with subtitles and I’m sure this authenticity further attracted people. It was not pretentious or made in the image of Hollywood.

What other themes, aside from migration, did you pick up from Eyimofe, like the entrepreneurial and resilient spirit inherent in many Nigerians, anything else?

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You have already answered part of the question. The film certainly portrays the strong Nigerian work ethic and resilience. It also gives a glimpse of the huge Nigerian market. Outsiders need to know that millennials are beginning to drive the Nigerian economy and 49 percent of Nigerians aged between 18 and 64 are entrepreneurs. This is three times the world average.

Finally, Your Excellency, do you have any advice for up-and-coming filmmakers and professionals in the Arts industry; how can they best contribute to this growing industry?

Be original, be authentic and pay attention to detail. We must imbibe in the culture of precision, which enables a society to develop and the ideas emanate from Art. But we must also tell more positive stories about ourselves.

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