By Anote Ajeluorou
In his continuing bold efforts to reposition the dimed glory of ancient Benin kingdom, filmmaker Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, visited his home city last week to garner support for the forthcoming release of his epic film, Invasion 1897, scheduled for October. It’s a film based on the historical invasion of Benin City in 1897 by the British forces that led to the worse stealing of ancient Benin bronze works and other artifacts scattered in museums and private collections abroad. It was also the invasion that led to the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of the area now known as Nigeria.
At the visit to the sprawling GRA home of Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, were some cast and crew of Invasion 1897, including the lead actor, who played Oba Ovonranmwen Nogbaisi, who was deposed and exiled to Calabar, Pastor Mike Omoregbe, the traitor chief, Nosa Ehimema (Ologbose), screenwriter, Osa Elis and others.
Imasuen, who would be making his second historic film on ancient Benin kingdom after Adesuwa, told the Esama that while starting out as a filmmaker, he’d told himself that he would make three films on the lives of three important personalities of the Binis – Oba Ovonramwen for ‘resisting the imperialist British’, the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa, the great Pentecostal preacher for ‘transforming the Benin generally regarded as a ‘city of blood’ to the city of God’ and one on Okada man (Igbinedion), a modern-day hero from Benin.
The filmmaker told the high chief that he’d concluded work on the Oba Ovonramwen film (Invasion 1897) in London, noting, “It’s a story that will reposition the Edo man globally and to tell the world that the Europeans were not fair in their dealings with the Benin people. The history of Benin is a vibrant one. The Igun people, the people that created the bronze works that the British carted away are still there, still creating those works. The exhibition of such works can still be done to lift the value of the guild. That is why we seek your endorsement for this film”.
On his part, Igbinedion thanked Imasuen and his team for the visit and said he had utmost respect for the filmmaker and what he has done in his chosen career. “I have the greatest respect for you. All over the world and in AfricaMagic, Igbo, Yoruba and now Hausa films have dominated. But we that own the culture lag behind because of lack of coordination, not that we don’t have people in Benin. We Binis must be able to harness our resources.
“We make history; Benin makes history, we don’t write history. Our history is from father to son. But I’m glad you people are documenting history. You people must be praised. To write history you must get historians to research the facts. In my own case (a film about him), I’d like you to say it as it is, and not sweeten it. We have history in Benin. In the 1930 and 40s, there were great men in Benin. Where are they today? There’s no one with as much history as we have”.
As a traditional chief of the Binis, Igbinedion expressed his commitment to deepening the cultural values of his people. To this end, he would fund a committee that would help resuscitate Edo arts and culture, as a driving vehicle for development and also change the mindset of the people towards cultural matters. He recalled how the Ooni of Ife, Oba Sijuade Okunade invited him three years ago to establish Ife Bronze Museum in London, and said it was a worthy venture.
But the Esama expressed his bitterness with his fellow Benin chiefs, who he accused of negating the drive for reparation of stolen Benin artifacts. He asked, “The bronze the whites left behind, where are they? When some of the chiefs are hungry, they sell the artifacts in their custody. I help to buy from some of them to preserve them. The entire state doesn’t have as much bronze as I have in my private museum. If I tell you how much I have spent on artifacts you will open your mouth in wonder. There’s nothing in the Benin Museum”.
Igbinedion commended Imasuen for his filmic efforts, and expressed his happiness for Imasuen making Oba Ovonramwen into a film and assured him of his assistance whenever it was needed. “The film is a wonderful thing. You need heavy publicity. You don’t need CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC to publicise it; it’s we Edo people that can join our mouths together to make it worldwide. I bought BENTV in London some years ago. So, I’m happy with you. Keep it up. Make hay while the sun shines; make the best use of opportunities presented to you. We need to pool our resources together; let’s do collective, conscientious activities, contributions to make it work”.
The Esama also gave indication how he would spend his 80th birthday, noted, “This year is very important to me. It’s my 80th. For one week, there will be free medical treatment for as many people as possible. I want the under-privileged to gain from what God has done for me. I saw so-called free medical treatment (eye treatment) being done under canopy somewhere and I was appalled. I want to make it big for the ordinary people”.
The famous industrialist, who was one of the first indigenous people to run a motor company and first bottling company, Canada Dry, is upbeat about his coming birthday and solicits for ideas on how best he could mark it so it could benefit as much people as it could.