One of the most significant social developments of Nigeria’s recent history was the ENDSARS movement that started in 2017 as a spontaneous groundswell of complaints against police brutality in Nigeria, with especial focus on a unit of the Police Force known as the Special Anti-Robbery force (SARS).
The unit, spread all over the country, was well armed and resourced with special operational protocols, including the right to wear mufti on duty and to use unmarked vehicles for surveillance and operations.
Unfortunately, the privileges attached to the group led to widespread abuse. Ordinary citizens were often assaulted and brutalised for little or no reason. The group was notorious for extorting money from citizens.
The brazenness of the illegal actions was often very galling, and the predominant age-group that constituted their victims were young men and women who were out and about on their daily ‘hustle.’
Collision Course speaks to the necessity for struggle, and how everybody is involved, even in a world where everyone wants to be left alone to pursue their own hustle
Matters came to a head in October 2020. There was a ratcheting up of complaints on the social media, especially on Twitter. It culminated in public demonstrations in different parts of the country, the most visible of which was the sit-down protest around the Lekki tollgate in Lagos.
There was a sad denouement to the drama. The rest is history.
The central plank of ENDSARS and the aftermath of chaos and discontent linger to this day in the memory of many young people. There was no doubt about the truth of most of the allegations that were made. The critique of the psychology of untrammelled power and impunity underpinning law enforcement in Nigeria generally was perfectly validated by everyday experience.
One of the gains of the movement was, for the first time, to shine the light on the fact that the junior security officer who could carried a gun, and could extort and kill and maim, and who was rightly seen as the evil oppressor on the street and at the roadblock, was himself a victim.
He worked cruel hours, was daily harassed by corrupt superiors and was kept in an unending bondage of poverty and lack of social care and concern for himself and his family. He was immersed in a miasma of hopelessness by a leviathan known as ‘the system’.
There were faint efforts on the part of government for a period to address some of the documented incidents, including a renaming of the notorious outfit and an effort to monitor and rein in its excesses.
There was even the payment of reparations to some aggrieved citizens. On the other hand, there were allegations of efforts by vested interests to exploit the situation at different stages.
The sense of disaffection and disillusion aroused among the youths against ‘the system’ lingers and festers to this day, along with a determination to ‘take back the country’ which is seen and interpreted in different ways by different interest groups.
Bolanle Austin-Peters is a film maker (Man of God, The Bling Lagosians, 93 Days) and theatre practitioner and entrepreneur who runs the Terra Kulture centre in Victoria Island, Lagos. The film Collision Course is her most recent creation.
Collision Course is the story of a particular young man in a Nigerian metropolis, but it is also, in a way, the story of any young man in any Nigerian metropolis. To use the language of the street, he is determinedly pursuing his hustle.
The story opens with intensity and builds rapidly and almost breathlessly to an emotional, and very final climax. It is not just about Mide, the scion of a wealthy family who wants to do his own thing. It is also about Magnus, the law officer, whose entire life is going nowhere fast, and who is desperately seeking a way out of the morass of his life.
And, oh, it is also about TARZ, designed with intent for the public good, but now an ogre that has lost its soul. It is populated by elite officers who no longer know, or care, about the difference between good and bad. But they are the apogee of the ambitions of many of their less-privileged colleagues in the force.
TARZ, of course, is totally fictional. Any similarity to any known organisation, obviously, is unintended. Or then, perhaps, it is not.
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On a Lagos night, at an illegal checkpoint close to his home, in the dead of the night, every young hustling man meets the enforcer, who is breaking under the burden of oppression by ‘the system’, with a gun in his hand. Everybody’s life, predictably, is about to be changed for ever. There is no way out, no way back.
Collision Course is entertainment, and there is much music to be heard, even if it is not of the most popular genre. Deft camera work implodes changing reality on the viewer’s consciousness. Time moves forwards and backwards, with flashback. Some of the dialogue is uncomfortably formulaic.
It is Nigeria, warts and all, at least viewed through the prism of its young and vibrant citizens’ eyes.
It is fiction, but because it is the story of everyman, it will be easy for an audience familiar the Nigerian reality to relate to.
It does not despair, but it does not give false hope. If something is wrong, it seems to say, it can be fixed, if it is acknowledged and understood. Whether society will find the will to understand and reshape ‘the system’ is another matter.
Collision Course speaks to the necessity for struggle, and how everybody is involved, even in a world where everyone wants to be left alone to pursue their own hustle.
It is a film that should be seen by everyone who wants to grasp the present-day temperament of Nigerians, and who wants to understand the forces at play, leading up to the elections of 2023.
Collision Course is written and produced by James Amuta, and directed by Bolanle Austen Peters. It is available on NETFLIX.