Ghana must go finds comic gold in the ugly past
In political and diplomatic terms, the events of 1983 aren’t our country’s finest hour. In an ill-advised and disastrous foreign policy, the Shehu Shagari led government oversaw the mass deportation of at least 1 million Ghanaian citizens living and working in Nigeria. Their crime? Possessing jobs and means of livelihood at a time Nigeria was going through an economic downturn.
As the Ghanaians were unceremoniously bundled out of the major cities, they barely had time to put their things together with dignity, hence the acceptance of the most expedient option available at the time; the deep bowelled, multi-coloured silk bags that came to be known as Ghana must go.
Xenophobic incidences such as this have not stopped the rest of the world from colliding into a global village and the search for quality education and better life opportunities becomes the ultimate leveller in life.
And so it is that two young lovers; one a silver spooned lass, Ama, from Ghana (Yvonne Okoro) and the other, Chuks (played by Blossom Chukwujekwu,) an industrious chap from a salt of the earth Nigerian family meet and fall in love in faraway London, choice destination of millions of Africans undergoing post graduate studies. They return to Ama’s home in Ghana to commence wedding proceedings but get more than they bargain for in the form of Ama’s family, most especially her father, a retired army General nursing deep rooted hostile feelings for the entire country of Nigeria and her citizens.
Signs that the General (Kofi Adjorlolo) may be absent a few marbles, are evident in his first scene where his larger than life presence shows up after some heavy handed bit of foreshadowing by his son Kwabs played with expected insufficiency by IK Ogbonna.
Adjorlolo’s character, especially in these early scenes is modelled after Robert De Niro’s grouchy old drip in the Meet the Parents movies. The screenplay is by Tunde Babalola and as usual he hides his influences in broad daylight, easily discernible by anyone who cares enough to search. This General may be retired but he still wears his military uniform because of the supposed power it confers, barks orders at his minions, whips his family into shape, welcomes his daughter in ways that would make even Oedipus blush and has his trigger finger ready to terminate any minor inconvenience.
When the inconvenience comes in the form of his beloved daughter’s suitor, daddy dearest unleashes his basest instincts. The film starts out slow and continues so for the first half. Adjorlolo is easily the early MVP. He is over the top, yes, as every onscreen comic depiction of an African father must be, but he is having a swell time chewing the scenery and his energy is catching. There is little else to stop him. Ogbonna is out of his league and Okoro and Chukwujekwu are too cookie cutter in their roles to present more of a challenge.
A desperate, forlorn Chuks in a moment of weakness, calls on his family back home in rural Nigeria to offer him moral support in a foreign land. Because the family comprises patriarch Mazi Okoro (Nkem Owoh, in irrepressible form) and his two disagreeable wives, (Ada Ameh and Helen Paul,) they get on the next flight to Accra to be with their own. Because that is what families do.
Only no one mentioned to the Ghanaians that this particular family is an express bulldozer charging to cause mayhem. As if by mutual agreement brokered by the filmmakers, Adjorlolo hands over his MVP status to comic icon, Nkem Owoh who proceeds to annihilate everybody else unfortunate to share the screen with him.
It is hard to see where Babalola’s screenplay ends and Owoh’s natural freestyle comic antics come in but Mr Owoh has the time of his life playing a send up of every other role he has played in his comic heyday.
A wild, boisterous and occasionally ribald comedy, Ghana must go as directed by Frank Rajah-Arase (in one of his better outings) encourages its star studded cast to really go for it in terms of physical stunts. Totally self-deprecating, no one involved is allowed to take themselves too seriously. There are gross out jokes, fart jokes, poop jokes, tribal jokes, everything is game.
The plot does not make much sense at some spots but the ridiculousness is saved by extremely funny situational gags that will leave audiences clutching their sides with laughter. Ghana must go succeeds in becoming the rare comedy that is actually funny, making comic gold out of ugly history and leaving room to wonder sometimes just how far the cast is willing to go to elicit a laugh or two.
The sheer size of the ensemble and somewhat undercooked script results in the underutilisation of some characters. Helen Paul and Ada Ameh suffer the most from the decision of the filmmakers to situate the film around both patriarchs, as their screen times are short changed.
When Ghana must go reaches for an emotional core, as it tries to with some exposition on Adjorlolo’s character, the limitations of both writer and director are brought to the fore as the film does not quite rise to the occasion. The ending is also massively contrived and a bit overstretched.
Drawbacks aside, Ghana must go is made with an appreciable level of competence and if carefully marked, should be a cross cultural hit from Lagos to Legon. It may well be the feel good film of the year.