Contrary to the series title, The Plan has no concrete plan in sight for the development of its numerous subplots…
By Seyi Lasisi
Minutes into the female-led series, The Plan, a character who we will later identify as Baba Jodda (Victor Decker) speaks Hausa. After I heard those words, two thoughts gained my attention. Firstly, Northern Nigerians and its teeming population have repeatedly been seen as the dredge of society. Rarely will conversations bordering on education, societal advancement and patriotic urge for liberalism have a Northerner in an attractive position. However, its position as a footnote is ousted with its front-line position in conversations around dogmatism, illiteracy, and conservatism. This bond of the Nigerian Northerners as backward, in news stories, conversations between peers, and films often borders around stereotypes.
The second thought that flickered through my mind after Baba Jodda’s words is the meager amount of films or stories, in mainstream Nollywood, dedicated to spotlighting Northern Nigerians. Tope Oshin-directed picture, Up North,; the Queen Amina of Zazzau-inspired Queen Amina by Izu Ojukwu, and, not to forget, the terrorism-themed Milkmaid, are stories set, to some degree, in the North, and which have crossed to the mainstream. The Plan, the 5-part episodic limited series, is a recent addition to these list of films, in this case, a series, with the prospect of not just attracting mainstream Nollywood audiences but the ability to tell the Northern women’s stories. Set in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, the series tell the stories of three women. The series’ promotional material already set the feminine undertone of the Dimbo-Atiya-directed The Plan.
As the series moved on, with me increasing the playback speed from the usual 0.5 to 1.5x, it became glaring that the expectation I had for the series being a sequel to the films I had earlier mentioned wasn’t the intention of this series nor its creators, Dimbo and Karachi Atiya.
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Atika (Rosy Meurer), Karama (Ramara Sadau), and Mairo (played with less of an impression by Onyinye Ezenkwe) are friends of two decades. They have inside jokes and secrets only the trio are privy to knowing and sharing. Like the women of Flawsome and Isokem, they are rich (Karama is married to the scheming and corruptible Alhaji Takur Madugu), opinionated (Atika has the feminist vibe) and docile (Mairo’s relationship with her husband shows this). Their position of affluence doesn’t faze their bond, or so we believe. In a swift turn of events, Alhaji Takur Magudu (Ali Nuhu), Karama’s husband, fall under the radar of investigation for embezzlement of public funds. Moments later, he is hospitalised, only to be declared dead. If you recognise, in Alhaji Takur’s sudden death, relics of actions taken by Nigerian politicians when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) comes knocking, you aren’t wrong. It was a staged death — prosecuting a dead man is elusive. Alhaji’s death, as we will discover in minute detail, poses a threat to the decades-long friendship between the women.
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Female friendship is a tortuous issue to address. Despite its conflicting nature, as a subject of discussion, Nollywood can boast of numerous films that address feminine relationships. What ties these different films together with The Plan is the ever-present issue of patriarchy. In The Plan, enforcers of patriarchal ideology aren’t present, but the action of the women is reminiscent of patriarchy. Atika’s feminist-inclined statement on how marriage lessens the societal value of women in the North was constantly censured and considered insensitive by her friends. Tanko (Paul Sambo), Mairo’s husband, the series repeatedly convince us, wasn’t pressuring her for a baby. Mairo’s constant recourse to IVFs as an option for conceiving counters the narrative that Tanko isn’t pressuring her. Marriage, as Karama will discover, could potentially mute the brain cells of women. These women are miles apart from the regular and conventional Northern women who are religious and introverted; rather, they share a similar societal burden. Although these women aren’t the conventional Northern women who are veiled and usually accustomed to domestication, Karama and her friends still answer to cultural and religious rules. Their financial status makes their struggle with patriarchy less conspicuous.
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Whatever advancement Nollywood has attracted to itself in recent times, in its handling of technical details of filmmaking, the script writing department hasn’t grafted this change unto itself. This clarion call for improvement hasn’t been yielded to by Nollywood. All through its five episodes, I kept reluctantly surging forward, in faith that I would discover the story being told. And there are interesting stories here: the societal and religious expectations of Northern women, the political embezzlement, adoption and IVFs for women, and commentary on the energy sector. But Abiodun Cassandra Kuforiji’s script, rather than bonding the intricate and interesting stories together, was merely interested in flirting with them. The series floated many grandiose ideas, and, painfully, fails to address any.
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Countless revelations were made towards the end of the series — Karama knew Alhaji faked his death; Tanko has a family outside; Nelson, who doubles as Atika’s boyfriend and Tanko’s business partner, holds grievances against Tanko; the three friends have a start-up NGO with the view of using it to address issues facing Harewa women; Baba Jaddo, Alhaji’s trusted servant, is Karama’s uncle. As numerous as these revelations were, and with their prospects of being interesting subplots in the series, the script’s inattentiveness to them lessened their importance. Rather than eliciting relieving gasps as suspense is wont to do, it indicates how aimless the series is. Contrary to the series title, The Plan has no concrete plan in sight for the development of its numerous subplots,
Nollywood has inundated its audience with an array of choices. Netflix is prolific in its churning out of films and series. One notable issue these motion pictures have is how quality, in storytelling, isn’t pursued. The streaming platform has been the habitat of numerous Nollywood films. The destination of Nollywood films isn’t the cinema anymore. Streaming platforms are their new abode. How this series, like others of its kind (Shanty Town, A Sunday Affair, Weather for Two, and The Wedding Party 2) with such bland storyline, got to this platform is, then, questionable. What stood out while reflecting as I wrote this paragraph is this: Netflix is a charitable God; it attracts motion pictures, despite glaring lapses, into its warm embrace. With The Plan, I can confidently say that Netflix has become a dumping ground for Nollywood films that clearly only belong to Iroko TV, or YouTube.
(The Plan is currently streaming on Netflix)
Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how it aligns with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email: email@example.com.