What better time to put out an old school drama about aspiring for the highest political office in the land than electoral season? As the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) lifts the lid to allow for active campaigning, and political parties and their candidates scramble for a piece of the pie, filmmaker Bright Wonder Obasi weighs in with If I am President, a brazen attempt at patriotism and flag waving using Ayoola Ayolola that may inspire or annoy, depending on what part of the political and patriotic divide one falls in.
Supported by The MacArthur Foundation, If I am President is unashamedly propaganda filmmaking. It may not be tied to the strings of any political camp but the obvious title, plus rallying cry for citizens, especially the youth, to take their country back is unmistakable.
If I am President opens with an accident.
37-year-old Zinachi Ohams (Ayoola Ayolola) an exciting anti-establishment politician shaking up national discourse has been in a motor accident, alongside his entire family. His candidacy, once considered fringe and unsustainable, has begun to pick up steam, adopted by a support base clamoring for change. A lot of people, content with the rent seeking status quo In the ruthless world of politics, where elections are a matter of life and death, Zinachi Ohams must decide if love for country is worth the ultimate sacrifice.
If I am President is not pretentious about its objectives. A piece of advocacy timed perfectly to tie in with political season, it taps into the national mood and dares the audience to go out and do the needful. There are loads of speeches, and calls to action, and arguments for disrupting the status quo but ultimately it is hard to measure the effect of projects like this.
Ayoola Ayolola is the perfect salesman. It isn’t quite clear what he believes in more; the quality of the material he is working with or the Nigeria project but he gives it a concerted try, sprouting lines that would sound wonky on many other actors put in his position. It is a smart move that Obasi makes, casting a face that isn’t saturated as the hero, Zinachi as it takes a certain kind of naivete to believe that the Nigeria project is worth fighting for.
A more established star in the lead would have come with a credibility baggage that actors don’t necessarily work hard enough to shed. Ayolola steps in and gives a credible performance, one that constantly flirts with cheesiness but manages to emerge just shy of over-emoting. If I am President rests on Ayolola’s shoulders and he rises to the challenge considerably. Rahama Sadau, Joke Silva and Bimbo Manuel make supporting appearances but all they do is talk, contributing little beyond what the word dense screenplay requires of them.
The plot isn’t much to write home about as the protagonist mostly navigates screaming politicians and shady colleagues while convincing himself and family members of the righteousness of his course. There is a debate here, a protest there and lots of flag waving. Nigeria is a difficult country to believe in but If I am President makes one forceful sales pitch.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.