Film review: Gangs of Lagos defines democracy as a righteous smokescreen with a sinful backdrop.

8 minutes, 36 seconds Read



Gangs of Lagos movie poster.

By Tolu Fagbure

Jade Osiberu’s Gangs of Lagos is an extremely ambitious visual piece that takes a bold step deeper into the places where some people might not want the public to go but which the audience vicariously visits through the film scenes. My discourse today will not dwell heavily on the “what should have been done” part but on what the film tries to do. Now, whether it failed or succeeded is open to continuous discussion.

The Amazon Prime Video Original film opens fast and quickly moves to the subject of focus: some amount of goodness in the villains, which is brought to the fore clearly in Nino’s character (Tayo Faniran) when he tells Alaye Bam Bam that he wants to get off the streets and clean up, and his eventual murder.

Gangs of Lagos tactically discusses how the good in society is suppressed by the aristocratic class by setting the people against themselves; though I missed this, I believe that the film graphically illustrates that no one is capable of subduing you if you do not allow him. Hence, the position of the film is perhaps a clear back-up to the late M.K.O. Abiola’s charge during the Hope ’93 election saga that “No one can give you power; it is yours, take it!

The deep shot compositions and creative scene craft in production design, cinematography, stunts, music, costume, makeup, and other filmic components cannot be overemphasized in the film, so I shall not dwell on these technicalities like I did earlier. What this review will do, however, is examine more of the dramatic elements and the socio-cultural controversy that has trailed the release of this film.

First off, I am beginning to wonder why the new Nollywood people are beginning to be enamored with crime and gangster life stories, putting in mind that this is perhaps the second gang crime story from Jade Osiberu after Brotherhood, so I am tempted to ask: is this a follow-up to the success of Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys I and II?

For Nollywood, producers seem to like to quickly follow a format once it’s a commercial success formula. You might recall that romantic comedies were the previous money spinners in the new Nollywood box office, so could this be a signal to the end of an era of box office genre dominance, or is this just a temporary diversion? Whatever it is, this experiment has proven to be hugely successful in both content and context.

Be that as it may, this flick is a good film that tries to drag you along emotionally while delivering high entertainment. The use of the expression “drag you along” was deliberate because despite the fact that a lot of effort was put into the acting by individual actors and as a collective group, the entire project falls flat in some notable places because of the funny inflection of the “ajebutter” actors who are then actually trying to run the perfect level of language inflection and street lingo necessary to deliver the type of dialogue in the film, most of the actors’ lines sounded too uptight, thus watering down key emotions in quite a number of the scenes.

One cannot help but give kudos to the acting in this film because the film, which consisted mostly of non-celebrity actors, select musicians, and newcomers to the industry, delivered believable acting and in-depth interpretation. Despite Tobi Bakare running the show as Akanni Obalola, one particular delivery that stood out for me was that of Olarotimi Fakunle in the character Kazeem. The most fascinating talking point on this is that one person plays both the slightly young Kazeem as well as the older one, and there was a clear-cut interpretation, which of course betrays an actor who is always well prepared by the director.

Maybe Tobi Bakare didn’t shine as much as he should have because this film seemed a bit too close to the Brotherhood film release, and I kept wondering if he was playing his character in Brotherhood or Gangs of Lagos. This review will be unjust without adequate mention of the kid actors who played the child versions of the three key conflict characters, Ify, Ebun, and Obalola. There was quite enthusiastic acting from the child actors in the film.

Let me now talk about the controversy that Gangs of Lagos has generated: that the Eyo masquerade has been portrayed in a bad light, and that the Isale Eko people have been defamed. I say let us not be fooled by the smokescreen of it all. Who are the people doing this talking, first off? The aristocratic and leadership class, so one needs to beware of the likely “eleniyans” (gang chiefs known as Owner of Men) probably fueling the negative review, which may be aimed at total recall of the film simply due to the fact that the film exposed too much and might be the beginning of the emancipation of people from dogmatic followership on a course and cause they do not understand without the fear of death in its pursuit, which earns the street foot soldiers the sobriquet “eruuku” meaning slaves of death. This term, loosely translated, means one who goes about ready to die, ready to answer whenever death calls.

Let’s talk about the Eyo involvement. I do not agree that the film desecrated the Eyo sanctity because it is clear to the audience in the film that it is not the actual Eyo cult members who have come to perpetuate evil but a group of people using it as a disguise. Personally, I actually feel that rather than diminish the stature of the Eyo, it rather underscores the importance and trust that the people of Lagos have for the Eyo so much that they feel safe with them, thus making it plausible disguise material for the gangsters.

Let me also add here that if we have enjoyed film scenes that show robbers in police and/or army uniforms without rancor, then the same principle applies here. Oh yes, there is the argument for cultural desecration here, and I say, but how?

It is my opinion that the complaint about Eyo’s involvement is a tad bit overblown and, I dare say, unnecessary. Perhaps the key concern in this matter is the voice over narration at the beginning of the film which states categorially that “the Eyo is the first gang in Lagos”; whatever gave rise to this statement, we might not be able to clearly say but the formation of a group with sub-groups such as the Eyo in my own opinion is a gang but I guess the sociological context of gang in Nigeria or as defined by the west has put the connotative meaning of the word in the negative so perhaps the word gang in the voice over should have been substituted just as it would have been possible to have the characters who disguised in Eyo costume to completely or almost completely shed the disguise to reveal themselves; may be this would have doused the tension being generated from a perceived misrepresentation of a cultural symbol institution.

Also, there is the argument that the film is a misrepresentation of the Lagos entity, and I dare to ask: isn’t it common knowledge that the streets of Lagos, especially Isale Eko, are fraught with rival gangs whose members still run different rackets and settle scores just as depicted in the film, or do we need to begin to trace the history of how places like Oluwole Street came up, especially with the “ori olori” (imperson If you have met and interacted with Isale Eko indigenes in recent times, you have probably heard them brag about how ferociously physical their wrath is, warning you against taking action against them.

Putting this side by side with the sectionalization of Lagos street areas and their administration, one cannot help but consider the complaint of defamation as a false cry because the evidence is everywhere, or can we honestly say that street fights never happen in Lagos, even to the degree as filmed for viewing in Gangs of Lagos?

After all said and done, it is my opinion that the noise around the film Gangs of Lagos has succeeded in turning attention away from the sublime theme of goodness being present even in the worst of places if only we would allow it or if only we would fight to install goodness even in the face of paying the ultimate sacrifice; even among thieves, there is honor.

A key plot flaw is Akanni’s mother (Iyabo Ojo) totally cutting off from her son at such a young age, which is a story flow that I totally disagree with. You see, I still have a mother, and I have seen mothers; I am certain that even the worst of mothers would not cut off from their child like that forever, so much so as to watch the child grow up into a gangster without any contact.

A scene where Obalola makes one call to his mother after many years and she ends the calls is not a very realistic plot line for me, plus my sentiments for African, especially Nigerian, motherhood emotions will not let me accept that Obalola’s mother will remain alive without any contact whatsoever; perhaps a death would have been better, which would have left room for Obalola to have no one to love and care for him at all because as long as one’s mother is still alive, she will still care no matter what you have done.

Enough said, Gangs of Lagos is an artistic telling of the behavioural paradox of the street: champions of fairness within a haven of crime and the solid pronunciation of the fact that the clean streets of the high class are scrubbed by the blood of those condemned to dwell in the backwater areas; this film, Gangs of Lagos, solidly drives home a personally created definition of democracy for me: a righteous smokescreen with a sinful backdrop—a secret the ruling class would rather not have in the open. I think the producers of this film, Jade Osiberu especially, will need protection of all kinds starting now!


Similar Posts


  1. avatar
    BlessedSoul says:

    It’s crazy amazing and well said your review in most paragraphs align with thoughts in my head. I believe a lot of our political class won’t want stories like this in the open largely because it talks to their characters. And I’m happy to see that we are now getting to the point where movies are been reviewed and critic. Perhaps, this will help our filmmakers sit up and tighten their game.

    Although, the sense you called a flaw in the movie is one I think is very possible, even though it’s very unusual and most unlikely but still possible. Well, in overall I think your reviews was beautiful sir and I hope the right people see this and put it to good use. Actually, I think we need people who are paid to critic in our movie industry. And like you said, the producer of the movie, Jade Osiberu might need to be more careful now as our politicians are not known to be too tolerant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *