As is typical of coming-of-age films and fables, Ijogbon is replete with didactics for both younger and older audiences…
By Joseph Jonathan
When Nigerian director, Kunle Afolayan first announced the anticipated release of Ijogbon on social media, I was excited just as much as I was curious. This curiosity came from the title of the film – Ijogbon in Yoruba translates to chaos. Ijogbon, like most Yoruba words with multiple meanings and contexts, also depicts a state of conflict arising from disagreements among people. Such conflict is usually characterised by intense emotions and tensions, making achieving resolution and tranquillity a challenge. And this is what Ijogbon is about because, from just the second scene, we are introduced to the conflict which sets the tone for the chain of events that signal chaos.
The coming-of-age adventure film is set in the remote Oyo-Oke town, with the plot revolving around four teenagers; Jamiu (Kayode Ojuolape Jr.), Oby (Ruby Akubueze), Ranti (Oluwaseyi Ebiesuwa) and Omooba (Fawaz Aina) who come across a pouch of uncut diamonds. They make an impulsive decision to keep this find to themselves. This sets off a chain of chaotic events that puts them at risk and challenges their friendship. As is peculiar to Kunle Afolayan’s film, the conflict in Ijogbon portrays the actions of men when thrust into difficult situations, such as seen in movies like The Figurine (2009) and Anikulapo (2022).
The plot unfolds with a folktale of how Oranmiyan; founder of the Oyo Empire blessed Oyo-Oke with minerals and wealth but despite the joy it brought, this blessing also turned brothers against each other. Employing a cyclic storytelling technique, the events of the plot circle back to the folktale as the lives of the four teenagers provide a contemporary context to an old fable. Ijogbon, written by the award-winning Tunde Babalola (October 1, Citation) might be compared to Hollywood young adult films due to its similarities with the Hollywood teenage adventure trope. But this film shines with a hugely relatable plot. The sometimes tumultous relationship between the main characters and their parents is a reflection of the complicated nature of Nigerian parents; who being so full of love, sometimes display their affection in an overbearing manner. The language use is brilliant, with an incredible blend of English, Yoruba, Igbo, Igbirra, Mandarin, and local Beninoise languages contributing to a rich dialogue. The use of local slang is relatable to the average Nigerian and will get audiences excited.
As is typical of coming-of-age films and fables, Ijogbon is replete with didactics for both younger and older audiences. In one scene, Jamiu and Ranti challenge their fathers’ choices, accentuating the importance of open communication, trust, and guidance from parents, which play a role in shaping the lives of their children. The lives of the four protagonists further highlight the consequences of poor decision-making and youth recklessness.
The “Japa” syndrome: the mass emigration of Nigerians (particularly young people) in search of greener pastures, is another theme which the film explores. Jamiu, who often offers leadership to the group, is desperate to leave the country in search of greener pastures. It is his decision that overrides the rest — Oby, Omooba, and Ranti — in harbouring the diamonds which eventually brings trouble their way. Ijogbon also portrays a reality which every Nigerian hopes for; a society where people of various ethnicities and cultural backgrounds can live in peace and harmony.
The film’s main characters bring life to the plot. Ojuolape Jr., Akubueze, Ebiesuwa and Aina exhibit remarkable on-screen chemistry as friends, delivering commendable performances. Their portrayal of camaraderie adds a layer of authenticity to the narrative. The film also benefits from the experiences of the established stars in its cast, with names such as Sam Dede (Rev. Sangodoyin), Bimbo Manuel (Kabiesi), Gabriel Afolayan (Broda Kasali), Femi Branch (Banjo), Adunni Ade (Chidera) and Femi Adebayo. They seamlessly blend their experience with the new generation of actors, lending a refreshing dynamic to the film. Kunle Afolayan is known for regularly casting non-actors and first-timers in key roles. From Demola Adedoyin as Prince Aderopo in October 1, Temi Otedola as Moremi Oluwa in Citation, to music artiste Niyola as Tolani Ajao in the period film Swallow (2021). Ijogbon follows this trend as Ebiesuwa (Ranti), Jamie Lee (Ming Ho) and Aisha Alabi (Latifah) are handed their acting debuts.
Beyond acting, the setting of a film affects the plot development as a good location is supposed to tell when, where, and how the place and the time affect the narrative. This is a technique explored in Ijogbon. The film setting is bordered by the Republic of Benin and it sparks Jamiu’s desire to travel out of the country. The idea of another country lying just beyond the mountains in Oyo-Oke symbolises hope for Jamiu, which is reflected in his statement to his friends; “a whole new world awaits us out there”. Amidst their chaotic journey, the harsh realities of the four teenagers’ tough lives are mirrored by the dry terrain of their town, eliciting empathy for their desire to escape it.
However, the film does not dedicate much time to substantiate this point, swiftly shifting focus to intense and rapid clashes, misunderstandings, and betrayals. This leaves a few unexplored character motives and questions unanswered; Are Chidera and Banjo legal miners? Why is the diamond so important to them that they’re ready to kill for it? How does Teju come across it?
The film also raises questions of verisimilitude: the appearance of being true or believable. The parents do not sufficiently show the grief of having missing children. This is further exacerbated by their passive emotional response when they discover the dead bodies of the foreigners – Rev. Sangodoyin even offers a prayer for the dead. While this may have been for comic relief, it certainly watered down the needed tension from such tragedy. It is also puzzling that there are no flies around Teju’s corpse when it is found, even though he had been killed earlier. Another issue for continuity is the fact that Jamiu doesn’t have any bag on him when he goes to meet with Omooba’s abductors but at some point, he is seen with a bag.
The cinematography in the film is, however, something to cheer about. The close-ups and wide-angle shots are simple but very compelling and intriguing. The subtle tilting of the camera each time the conflict gets intense points to intentional storytelling as it reflects the state of mind of the protagonists.
Ijogbon is a film which delivers on its premise as a coming-of-age adventure, as it takes the audience on a familiar journey of teenage life: the unfiltered and occasionally impulsive energy of youth. However, some parts of the plot seem rushed, hardly believable and not well thought out. There is also a lack of attention to detail that though not obvious at first glance, could be irksome to the average film watcher. Nevertheless, the film serves as a reminder of the universality of human nature and how the majority of us would respond to a sudden change like this in our lives.
Joseph Jonathan is a historian who seeks to understand how film shapes our cultural identity as a people. He believes that history is more about the future than the past. When he’s not writing about film, you can catch him listening to music or discussing politics. He tweets @JosieJp3