In Nigerian Prince, the debut film by, Faraday Okoro, Lagos living comes right down to a series of scams. There is almost nothing redeeming. The teenage protagonist of Nigerian Prince, Eze (Antonio J. Bell) finds out soon enough upon landing reluctantly in Lagos. His parents, both Nigerian immigrants to the United States of America are going through a rough patch and their situation has begun to take its toll. Following a bust in school, Eze’s mom dispatches him back home to get in touch with his roots. Eze arrives Lagos to the waiting arms of his aunt Grace (Tina Mba) a strict University professor. If only she had been successful at raising her own son.
But first, the con.
At the arrival wing of the international airport, an immigration official attempts to fleece him of some dollars. Some fast-footed intervention by an expatriate saves the day and an already testy Eze finds that navigating the streets of Lagos will take more than an all-American air of entitlement.
Nigerian Prince is the result of Faraday Okoro’s $1 million grant via the AT&T Presents: Untold Stories programme. For his winning entry, Okoro received mentorship from the Tribeca Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Institute as well as executive producer assists from Spike Lee and Biyi Bandele. Made for an international audience, Nigerian Prince which closed the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in Lagos this November, is a breezy, sometimes tough to take romp through crime ridden Lagos.
Back at aunt Grace’s, Eze has to deal with Nigerian urban mainstays like shortage of power and personal space but his biggest challenge will be fending off the snake like charms of his elder cousin Pius (Chinaza Uche). Pius is the typical internet scammer aka yahoo boy and he is quite proud of it. His choice of lifestyle has kept him estranged from his mother and rendered him anti-social- he’s scammed everyone he knows, some twice- but the lure of fast wealth remains overpowering for him. He is also in a testy relationship with the police boss who is squeezing in aggressively for a share of the profits.
Desperate to get back home, Eze against his aunt’s instructions, scores a deal with Pius that will get him on a flight back home. On a good day, he is really no match for Pius’ endless machinations. Getting in bed with a desperate Pius who is himself caught in an extremely tight corner may well be his undoing. Nigerian Prince is set up as a coming of age story this way.
Faraday Okoro may have that most Nigerian of names but Nigerian Prince isn’t necessarily richer because of his involvement. The film suffers from a thoroughly cynical gaze and goes on to tell a single story of corruption, crime and hopelessness. It begins with the lead, Pius’ far from convincing Nigerian accent (Think Will Smith in Concussion) and continues through the character’s selfish motivations, the ruthlessness of the other supporting characters and the vicious dog eat dog world that is set up. Lagos can be a nasty piece of work but Okoro’s script dials it up so high. When a feeble attempt is made to humanize Pius by having him ask question the whereabouts of an accomplice nabbed early in the film, it doesn’t quite ring true.
Still, Nigerian Prince is quite self-assured and Sheldon Chau’s cinematography bathes Victoria Island in a noir-ish glow lending a sense of urgency that the screenplay never quite manages until the final score. If anything, Okoro is faithful to his vision and enlists winning performances from his mostly Nigerian cast. Everyone- cast and crew- gives a good account of themselves at the end of the day. If only the material was more layered.