On July 10, 1999, five students of Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Osun State, were murdered and eleven were injured. George Yemi Iwilade, who was popularly known as Afrika, a 400-level medical student and the Students’ Union Secretary at the time, was among the casualties. Lugard.
This heinous crime was perpetrated by forty members of a cult group known as the Black Axe Confraternity. To this day, the Obafemi Awolowo University Massacre is still commemorated every July 10. Lanre Adeleke, popularly known as Legacy, who was the Students’ Union President at the time, came in 2019 when I was still a student of the institution. The involvement of the vice-chancellor at the time, Wale Omole, remains a mystery to this day.
The history of cultism on Nigerian campuses is a bit more complex than that. The Nobel Prize Winner of Literature, Wole Soyinka, along with fellow students, formed the Pyrate Confraternity in 1952 as a form of colonial resistance against academic politics and aristocracy. These secret cults or organisations have since turned to killing machines and terrorist groups involved in rapes, kidnappings, etc. They’re also used by politicians. Some of the popular and notorious secret cults include the Black Axe Confraternity, the Buccaneers, the Aiye, etc. Old Nollywood has explored the theme of cultism in Nigerian universities. In 2005, “Dugbe Dugbe Mbo,” a movie produced by Bukky Wright, was inspired by the Obafemi Awolowo University massacre.
The film “Lugard”, directed by Tunde Olaoye and written by Segun Akejeje and Quadri Qidad, is similarly based on the massacre.
“Lugard” depicts the life of the titular character, Lugard (Quadri Quidad), a final-year psychology student and the charismatic head of the Vanguard, an activist group that fights for student welfare and rights as well as against corruption and cultism.
The film is set against the backdrop of the school authorities’ indiscriminate increase in school fees. The Vanguard group organised a nonviolent demonstration in defiance of the school administration. When the VC (Zack Orji) summons Lugard with the hopes of bribing him into appeasing the student, he is unhappy that Lugard will not budge and maintains his moral compass.
But Lugard’s past as a cultist comes back to haunt him; when a picture of him as a Golden Wolves cult member surfaced, he is suspended from the Vanguard organisation. Little (Gabriel Afolayan), the leader of the secret cult, the Red Boys, is likewise out for vengeance—a mission to assassinate Lugard.
Lugard’s demeanour is reminiscent of the school martyr, Afrika, in terms of demeanour, tenacity, and attire. Lugard, like Iwilade, is a vibrant student who opposes cultism. Perhaps the most obvious indication that Lugard’s character was inspired by Afrika is Lugard’s African necklace and accoutrements; he’s constantly wearing a native shirt or trousers. Other members of the Vanguard group dress similarly (it must be part of the group’s rules and regulations). However, Quadri Qidad as Lugard is never totally convincing. The character was always bigger than him.
I felt the sequence in which Leonard (Debo Adebayo), the President of the Students’ Union, addresses the students about the increase in school fees to be memorable and nostalgic. It felt nostalgic because it reminded me of how student union officials were more concerned with seeming intellectual, confusing obscurantism for communication. The sequence is memorable because it cuts to the students Union president prostrating like a lizard after promising the students outside that he will face the school administration like a blizzard. In terms of corruption and sycophancy, the scene depicts how Nigerian universities have become the micro-reality of Nigerian politics.
The scriptwriters, Tunde Laoye, who is also the director, Quadri Qidad, and Segun Akejeje, flatten the characters in “Lugard.” Except for the title character, all other characters were so flat that you’d think they served no purpose other than to garnish the film, while the main character is “lonely at the top.” We know Lugard is a final-year psychology student, but we don’t know anything about his Vanguard comrades’ studies. We also don’t know what Tolu (Adeniyi Johnson), his betrayer, studies other than the fact that he’s a jealous man and a cultist. We also don’t know what Little, the assassin, studies. For a film about students, we’re in the dark as to what these students study in school.
Despite the flatness of the characters, “Lugards” can boast of excellent performances, particularly from Gabriel Afolayan and Kehinde Bankole in the roles of Little and Mary. I’m beginning to believe that Gabriel Afolayan is incapable of being a horrible character by nature. In one scene, he and other members of the Red Boys stood in front of a bonfire. “It’s not about the dog that’s in the fight, it’s about the fight that’s in the dog,” he says in his monologue, which is both eccentric and amusing.
“Lugard” excels at highlighting the pettiness of cult members, such as when Tolu frames Lugard just to return to Mary (Kehinde Bankole). Nigerian students are all too familiar with cult group pettiness, such as being cautioned or threatened with death for wearing the colour of their fraternity.
“Lugard” is a promising film with an interesting premise that never lived up to its potential; it suffered from thin and inadequate characterisation as well as directorial inexperience.
By remaining faithful to its basic topic and message, “Lugard” offers an enticing glimpse into the dark side of students’ lives and secret cults in higher education.
From us at NOLLYWOOD LIFE, it’s 6/10 for Lugard.