Why ‘Japa’ craze of Nigerian youth is worrisome- Filmmaker, Femi Odugbemi

Why ‘Japa’ craze of Nigerian youth is worrisome- Filmmaker, Femi Odugbemi

Prolific Nigerian filmmaker, Femi Odugbemi’s new series ‘Movement-Japa’ premiered on Africa Magic Showcase on November 1.

Like his previous works, ‘Movement-Japa’ also explores relevant social themes that are prevalent in Nigerian society.

Odugbemi, who was one of the four Nigerians formally invited into the voting membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the U.S. in 2018, says the new series is a modern-day Nigerian society. He tells PREMIUM TIMES more in this interview

PT: What are some of the realities you found instructive when you were producing the ‘Movement-Japa’ series

Odugbemi: At the heart of ‘Movement-Japa’ is a story about youth emigration, human trafficking, and the desperation of young Africans to escape to seek better economic opportunities abroad.

MOVEMENT-JAPA is all about how we restore hope to the young people of our nation. Many of them have lost hope in the future. The spate of suicides by young people, and so many others who will want to leave the country by any means necessary should be a matter of concern to everyone. MOVEMENT-JAPA is an intense drama exploring the journey of typical Nigerian youths and the challenges of survival that force them into making tough choices and sometimes bad decisions that trap them into criminal activity.

It is difficult enough for many to see their way out of poverty and several other challenges of daily survival, but when adding unnecessary things like police harassment and exploitation of our young people by arbitrary police arrests SARS, EFCC, they then become desperate. And a desperate mind can be very dramatic. The story of JAPA is a rollercoaster ride of intensity, suspense, and surprises.

PT: Who are some of the cast members?

Odugbemi: The series stars some familiar faces like Gideon Okeke and Sambasa Nzeribe. Others include Shaznay Okawa, Chioma Agwunobi, Valerie Dish, Adjetey Anang, Chris Iheuwa, Steve Ogundele, Segun Obadare-Akpata, Esi Hammond, Ibe Breakthrough, and Leo Oji.

We shot in Ghana and Nigeria and the production crew built a set that was a full replica of the interior of a merchant ship. Over 100 actors —day players and extras — and over 45 crew members were deployed.

PT. Was taking on such a sensitive topic daunting in any way?

Odugbemi: Every production of this magnitude is daunting. My appreciation really goes to Multichoice and Africa Magic for the vision and support to realise this project given the scale of it. Can you imagine, we actually built a set that is a full replica of the interior of a merchant ship. We had over 100 actors, day players, and extras, over 45 crew members, and the story that took us from the inner slums of Lagos across the Atlantic to Accra Ghana, and back.

We filmed from early in the day through late nights on many days. We faced challenges of location permits and security issues. There were accidents and uncertainties throughout but thanks to God almighty and kudos to our really exemplary team of cast and crew, we concluded successfully.

That said, youth emigration, human trafficking, and the desperation of young Africans to escape to seek better economic opportunities abroad. I think this subject is very important and it cuts across Africa. It is the first thing that we realised just preparing to make the show. It is also important to make the show as realistic as possible and in doing so, we needed to ensure that the characters and those who are playing the characters had the right level of emotional capacity to create performances that were connecting emotionally.

Obviously, we also followed the story not just in Nigeria but also outside of Nigeria. In fact, the story travels to Ghana. It is a daunting and challenging production task. Having to work with a low budget and shooting beyond Nigeria, Ghana, and in more than one country. I think that to me is the most daunting part of it all. We thank God that we scaled most of those difficulties. There were also episodes where we were really faced with spaces that a lot of people have not shot in and we needed to be able to access those. I am not going to give away anything but the most important thing is that the show is packed full of scenes and places that we have put in a lot to achieve. So this was a stretch for all of us at ZURI24 MEDIA.

PT: I see that Gideon Okeke and Sambasa Nzeribe are featured in the series. What informed your choices?

Gideon Okeke in a scene in Movement Japa series

Odugbemi: First and foremost, I think Gideon Okeke and Sambasa Nzeribe are incredible actors and the intensity and power of their talent were delightful to behold. MOVEMENT-JAPA parades an incredibly strong cast of really great actors and actresses to support Gideon Okeke and Sambasa Nzeribe. You know this story is very intensive and very action-oriented and we needed really good actors and actresses who would be able to commit time and focus to the development process of the characters of this powerful story. I am very excited to see this team come together and deliver something we all can be very proud of.

PT: There is a scene in the trailer where a man is running and out of the blues, he is hit with a sack by another guy. It was so real. I wonder if that was captured in one take. Was it?

Odugbemi: Ah you are trying to make me give away the story? The scenes you see in the trailer are the teasers of what our viewers can expect. It’s a lot of suspense and action that is dramatic and exciting. There are also many surprises that we haven’t put in the trailer. Big scenes and unusual scenarios take the viewer on a memorable emotional journey.

Every scene in MOVEMENT-JAPA is true to its title – the plot, the characters have lots of twists and turns. Everything you can possibly imagine can happen, happens within a space of days. I am very excited about the kind of suspense that every episode brings to this story.

PT: Generally, how do you feel about the young Nigerian today? Is there hope?

Odugbemi: The youth of Nigeria are the future of Nigeria; and Nigeria is lucky because we have an incredibly creative, motivated, and resourceful young population who have a passion to succeed. Innovation and creativity are what build nations. And I think once we fix the various infrastructural deficits of the country – i.e. electricity, bad roads, etc and once we have the institutional efficiencies we need, the entrepreneurial spirit of the Nigerian youth will be clearly seen as Nigeria’s biggest blessing. It is our human capital that will make Nigeria great and if what we are told is true, that our youth make up 60 per cent of our population, then shouldn’t their welfare be a national priority? We need to invest better in their education, their safety, their healthcare, and their access to technology so that they can be truly empowered to succeed. Hope is a scarce commodity today in Nigeria. We have to be intentional to rebuild hope in the future of the country so that they are able to keep faith with the country as it develops. We have to do more to give them ownership and give them access so that they begin to be involved in politics, in governance, and in building institutions.

PT: Any thoughts on the EndSars movement?

Odugbemi: What happened with the EndSARS demonstrations a year ago shows you what the Nigerian youth can do when they are invested. They were able to organise a seamless demonstration for days using social media and technology to organise in several locations, creating an information stream, empowering those who come, feeding them, and sustaining everything that they needed to do to make the demonstrations impactful.

That happened because they were invested. That little window of capacity that we saw needs to be appropriated and aggregated and unleashed in the path of growth for Nigeria.

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