I think it’s easy to criticise the predominant style of talking-head documentaries, but when dealing with a complicated and (certainly to me, and I imagine to many western audiences) largely unknown political situation, it can be good to have a point of entry and a linear structure to a story. In this case, the situation is Nigeria since its independence from the UK in 1960, and the point of entry is the story of Hafsat Abiola, the daughter of deposed president-elect Moshood “M.K.O.” Abiola and his second wife Kudirat. Director Joanna Lipper shows a firm sense of structure in the early parts of the film, expertly widening it out from what starts as a story of Nigeria’s military dictatorships interrupted in 1993 by Abiola’s free and fair electoral victory. As we learn how this victory was quickly overturned by General Sani Abacha’s newly-installed regime (who imprison Abiola the following year), the film moves on to become a story of his family and the country as a whole, where the “supreme price” of the title is the murderous force used by the oil-rich and corrupt dictators to shore up their power. Employing interviews with the Abiola family, as well as US ambassadors to Nigeria, and their Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, we learn of the work Hafsat’s mother Kudirat did to continue MKO’s cause for democratic freedom while he was imprisoned, as well as being given a background to Nigeria’s ethnic and cultural mix, their reliance on oil, and the traditional marriage arrangements for men (which the testimony of Hafsat’s brother proves are still a strong force within the country). There are so many strands in play by the end that the structure somewhat disintegrates, but for the most part this is a clearly articulated film about the work that has been and continues to be done in the country. Hafsat’s work challenges traditional patriarchal attitudes while continuing to agitate for democratic freedom — still only imperfectly realised in the country — not to mention justice for her family (though that seems to take a back seat given what else is at stake). It’s a fascinating work for anyone interested in the pitfalls and promise of democracy.
Director/Writer Joanna Lipper; Cinematographers Lipper, Lisa Rinzler and Richard Sands; Length 75 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury (Bertha DocHouse), London, Tuesday 26 May 2015.