Adeola Osunkojo is a leading Nigerian filmmaker with credit to produce a number of films and drama series including The Life of a Nigerian Couple. At the recently concluded IREP Festival in Lagos, Osunkojo screened 76, the story behind the 1976 military coup in which former Head of State, Gen Murtala Muhammed was killed.  She spoke to about her motivation and lessons that she learnt from the experience.

Let’s start by talking about the motivation for this documentary, ‘76

‘76 came out of the rushes of the movie ‘76, directed by Izu Ojukwu, I worked as an Assistant Director on the set, and he asked me to put the Behind the scenes on the set of the movie that covered the 5-7years it took to make the film 76 together. So, I gave him the first cut – he also asked me to interview people who had real life experiences of the movie, because the movie 76 is the story of wives of the alleged coup plotters, the trouble that they went through when their husbands were arrested or being prosecuted and then killed. So when I had that chance, I interviewed some women and did a cut for him, when he saw the first draft of the documentary which is supposed to be a BTS he said “take out the BTS and focus on the story, there is a story here for people to see” and he said he wanted something whereby people can have a background information so that when 76 is screened outside the country, people can have a background understanding. So, the documentary is a combination of real-life footages and clips from 76 film as directed by Izu Ojukwu.

What’s your take-away, your experience in all of these?

Very eye opening, when you live in Lagos all your life, you have no idea there is a world out there and when you live in a world that is probably protected by your parents and you have your loved ones, you don’t know that there are people who go through this. It was an eye-opening experience during which I realised that I have many uncles who were soldiers or who had fought in Biafra war. So, I realised that even though we always say soldiers is dem there and we here, I’m also part of their family and so the burden was strong for me to tell their own story too.

So, would you say you now appreciate soldiers better, better than you used to, is that what you are trying to say?

I have absolute love and respect not just for the soldiers but for their wives, because when their husbands go out to go and fight different wars, they don’t know what will happen. They are not sure of chances that the man will come back and when that man dies in war, they will not have the kind of life they’ve had when he was alive.  How do they take care of their children, does society even care for them? So for me I have a lot of love and respect for the soldiers and also their wives because behind those soldiers are even much stronger people who hold their hands through the process or who wait for them to come back, who even fought for the family aspect of their lives. Many of the women whose husbands were condemned for the 1976 coup were left with young children even when they had no means of livelihood. They were sent out of military barracks and left to fend for themselves, they became alienated by friends and even family, so it is a difficult life that I think our society must appreciate.

So, this film evokes a lot of emotions, in the process of your research were there moment that you came to and you became emotional yourself?

It got to a time I called Izu and I said I couldn’t do this anymore, the documentary forced me go back as far back as the Biafra war and then watching towards the point where these people were killed. That was when I took out some of those violent scenes in it because it was too painful to watch, it was very uncomfortable for me and I called Izu, he said:  “Deola I have left 76,” because personally for him too, the course of research, seeing all those footages was a real gruesome experience. So, when it was happening to me he said don’t take me back there. He however assured that I was going to be okay. And I had the support of loved ones, my family, my friends, and the more I kept digging, the more I kept seeing the parallel between their lives and mine.

What do you think this film will achieve, what do you desire?

I want a change of policy for soldiers, I feel like they are the least paid people and I feel like their pension is not enough, I have people who take pension, I don’t feel the pension of the soldiers is enough, I feel like the compensation package or the remuneration package of the soldier is not strong enough and it’s not fair. When you give a man, when you underpay a man (sometimes they are not even paid on time), probably they are not even paid at all, look at the barracks, a lot of   barracks do not even look habitable. When you don’t pay a man well and you ask him to lay down his life down for his country and then you give him a gun, what do you think is going to happen? So, before we start condemning the armed forces and other government security agencies, we should look at what we are doing as a country, are we helping them? Look at what senators earn. When a soldier decides to go and die for his country and he knows that his family will be well taken care of and that everything is going to be okay he would be totally committed.

In terms of national cohesion and integration, are there other things you hope this film can achieve, because we see lines of ethnicity, of religion and all of that from the film. We see former President Obasanjo talking about the fact that all the soldiers involved in 1976 coup were Christians and that the coup was staged on a Friday during which Late Gen Murtala Mohammed a Muslim was killed could have made the country explode. Do you think that the film will at least make Nigerians see the need for unity?

I think it’s very important, I feel like tribalism is a tool used by bad people and politicians to divide us and so each point in time they keep bringing up things that will make us different and at the end of the day we never get it. There is no gain in tribalism. And that documentary exemplifies….at the end of the day when we begin to put the tribalism in front, people get killed and sometimes people who deserves to die might die but innocent people are the most who suffer for it. We will never gain anything because bigotry tribalism and religion are only used as tools negatively so it should not even be on our agenda especially the young people. 76 is shown at iRep where a ton of young people come to, and I hope that they see how much tribalism can cause to a family and a nation and they run away from it at every turn in their lives.