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Lagos Oba criticizes “Gangs of Lagos” movie

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By Abraham Adekunle

Traditional ruler calls it sacrilegious to cultural heritage rights.

Oba Rilwan Akiolu of Lagos has described the movie, “Gangs of Lagos,” as defamatory and sacrilegious for depicting the “Eyo” as criminal gangs that commit grotesque murders and instill terror on innocent citizens. The Eyo Festival, otherwise known as the Adimu Orisha Play, is a Yoruba festival unique to Lagos, Nigeria. It is presented in modern times by the people of Lagos as a tourist event traditionally performed on Lagos Island due to its history.

“Eyo” refers to the costumed dancers, which are the masquerades that come out during the festival. They are dressed in white overall regalia that covers them from head to toe, with a hat and a big long stick in hand. Long ago, the festival was held to escort the soul of a departed king. On Eyo Day, the main highway in the heart of the city is closed and the procession takes place from Idumota to the Iga Idunganran palace. The first of such processions in Lagos took place on February 20, 1854 to commemorate the life of Oba Akintoye. Essentially, it was a homage to death.

Film has inflicted reputational damage on the Eyo, says the ruler.

Nowadays, it can be celebrated for the death of a notable person, or to celebrate a special occasion such as the visit of a president or head of state. So, it is not surprising that the traditional ruler deems it necessary to speak up for both him and his people. Since the release of the movie, it has been a subject of controversies among the indigenous people of Lagos State with the Isale Eko Descendants Union (IDU) claiming that the film depicted Isale Eko as a den of criminals and Eyo masquerade as a gang of murderers.

Oba Akiolu raised concerns about the film in a three-page letter he addressed to the management of Amazon Prime Nigeria and Greoh Ltd. on June 28, listing four conditions that the producers and promoters should meet within 14 days. He requested Amazon Web Service, Greoh Studios and the film producers “to immediately remove, cease and desist from using the image getup and manifestation of the Eyo in the Gangs of Lagos.” According to him, the film has inflicted huge reputational damage on the Eyo brand.

A suit seeking N10 billion damages instituted.

Akiolu, in his letter, copied Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, claiming that the illegal representation of the masquerade by the movie had caused huge damage to the festival and brand. He also claimed that on the international stage, potential tourists and visitors to Lagos were likely to query the authenticity of the festival as a true cultural heritage event deserving of respect and reverence. Meanwhile, the descendants of Isale Eko had equally instituted a suit seeking N10 billion damages against Amazon and other producers over what they described as huge reputational damage the Gangs of Lagos inflicted on the Eyo brand.

Furthermore, the traditional king claimed that the film producers had used the complete getup, indistinguishable image and traditionally designed and ordained appearance of the Eyo which forms part of the cultural heritage of the indigenous people of Lagos for commercial gain and exploitation. He said that the producers of the movie did so without permission or due reference to the office of the Oba of Lagos. “I am the custodian and final authority of the Adimu Orisha and its manifestation the Eyo,” he said. He also stated that the traditional rites are the tangible and intangible property of the indigenes of Lagos as well as their bundle of rights of their intellectual property in our cultural heritage.

Violations of several national and international laws.

As part of his claims, the Oba alleged that the film grossly violated the rights of the indigenous people of Lagos contrary to the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007. He noted that the declaration protects “our indigenous right to practice and revitalize our cultural traditions and customs.” This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of our cultures, including artifacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature. Thus, he demanded that the continued use and depiction of the Eyo in the film and its obvious violation of indigenous intellectual property rights as well as defaming sacred rites should stop immediately.

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