AV Club: How ‘Citation’ interrogates Nigeria’s failing establishments

Nelson CJ reviews Citation and explores its representation of Nigeria's attitudes towards sexual gender based violence

Trigger warning*

Following the story of a young student who has accused her course supervisor of attempted rape, Citation is a timely piece of social commentary that challenges the status quo of victim-shaming when it comes to reported cases of sexual violence, and looks to inspire the country toward fairly functioning justice systems. Analysing the Nigerian context from which the film in born, Nelson C.J. reviews Citation and explores its representation of Nigeria’s failing establishments.

On October 7, 2019, Emmy-nominated journalist and filmmaker Kiki Mordi, released a 13-minute-documentary for BBC Africa Eye, exposing the long-standing and mostly unchallenged sex for grade tradition present in Nigerian and Ghanaian universities. After release, social media platforms had nothing else on their conversation belts for days. Nigeria stopped for a second; to ponder about its place in allowing this menace to have happened for so long without question. The Sex For Grades documentary completely flipped our notions of sexual assault and reiterated an often overlooked truth about the integral place of power in conversations around soliciting sex in return for better grades. While many might have considered that harmful tradition a discomfort one of the many hitches in our academic set up, it was not until the release of this documentary that we began to see the extent of the damage it actually causes on students who are caught in its twisted process.

It’s safe to say then, that the seismic influence of that documentary is what birthed or at least inspired, the new Kunle Afolayan feature, Citation. Starring first time actors Temi Otedola, and Ibukun Awosika, these two women debuted alongside several seasoned professionals from various primary cinematic disciplines, Joke Silva, Ini Edo, Jimmy Jean Louis, Yomi Fash Lanso, Gabriel Afolayan, Bukunmi Oluwashina. Gabriel Afolayan who plays the protagonists’ partner, displays a particularly noteworthy performance, seen flexing out a bit more, and embodying his role as a charismatic medical student in a Nigerian university. 


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Citation is like much of Kunle Afolyan’s work, in the way he takes a chance at artistic inventiveness. Here, he casts Temi Otedola, an aspiring actor in her debut performance, in the film’s leading role – a bold move that pays off – and maximizes locations often overlooked by other mainstream Nollywood movies, so that the halls and grounds of Obafemi Awolowo University. Other locations used in the film, such as Senegal and Cape Verde, play an active role and become necessary characters who also influence how the film is remembered.

But some notable changes appear in Citaion, which follows the story of Moremi (Temi Otedola), a young, smart and determined postgraduate student who tries to prove, to her university’s tribunal, that indeed, her course supervisor and lecturer Proessor Lucien N’Dyare (Jimmy Jean Louis) tried to rape her. In this film, Kunle Afolayan, is careful. Not particularly as detailed or meticulous with the storytelling as he often is, but careful. This carefulness is easy to tell from the gentle yet quietly sinister pace by which Citation is told. 

The story unfolds the way slightly inexperienced hands might try at removing the bandage from a wound. And as the wound of this story comes slowly undone and its layers are fully realised, one is brought to the sense that Afolayan is not entirely preoccupied with not making a mistake, as he is careful about telling a good, tactful story.

Spanning 2hours and 31 minutes, the film begins by asking us to trust the systems of accountability available to us. This of course is a hard concept to follow seeing how deeply dysfunctional those systems have repeatedly proven to be in real life. At the beginning of the film, we see a university student being offered sex by her lecturer in exchange for an up in her grades, an up which as far as we can glimpse from the plot, she duly deserved. Bolstered by evidence which she had collected by recording the call and a boyfriend willing to ambush the lecturer himself, the plot takes a complicated twist that results in the death of the lecturer and the expulsion of the students involved, including the female student who was offered such a proposition in the first place.

This opening scene, while furthering the campaign for the belief in systems, failed to acknowledge the real reason why they weren’t the first point of call. 

This expectation to rely on systems is a running theme throughout the movie; a theme that correctly highlights the importance of strong accountability systems, like the express objectivity exhibited by the panel overseeing Moremi’s case, despite Moremi’s fears of their bias towards Professor Lucien. Regardless, the film fails to interrogate how those systems have failed people in the past. Any strong accountability system needs a history of it working enough for people to trust it, otherwise, the ready alternative of that, people taking matters into our own hands and designing their own type of justice, becomes widely accepted as the only logical course of action.

Citation is mostly told through the process of Moremi trying to convince the senate tribunal made up of top academic faculty members, of the truth of her story, and much of this process requires a constant sifting through memory. Sometimes it is reliable and crease-free, and other times it is muddled and wrapped in complications that threaten to implicate her. After growing close to Professor Lucien who tricks Moremi into teaching him how to drive a manual car, we see the charismatic professor lead our protagonist away from the people closest to her; sometimes with the attention he showers, other times with the pretence of relinquishing control to Moremi, and once with the trip to Senegal and Cape Verde that preceded a dark side of Professor Lucien which would only come fully revealed much later, after an Easter party at his house.

The choice to cast Temi Otedola in the lead role made for a brilliant if sceptical watch. With this being her first acting gig, it is fair to absolve her of some of the ways her delivery might falter or her Yoruba speaking might sound comical even when she is being serious. Yet what she lacks in fluent Yoruba, she makes up for in her deeply convincing emotions and hitch-free French, further enhancing the cosmopolitan makeup of her character. From her accommodating French communication with N’Dyare, to her whimsical adventurous nature, Moremi is painted with broad strokes of metropolitan naivety, innocent traits that her professor manipulates into his web of lies as unexplainable flaws in judgement.

In trying to prove her innocence to the panel, Moremi finds herself in that inescapable whorl of acute recollection. As it often happens when piecing back traumatic events, this process of retrieving bittersweet but necessary memories is non-linear. It is retold with a jaggedness that pushes at Moremi’s judgement as she tries to rediscover a version of people she thought she was aware of, but had unfortunately failed to see. 

Retrospect is Kunle Afolayan’s strong suit. And as with his other films, Citation is able to come together as a story, not by the characters merely remembering past events and building it out with the help of a stunning colour grading and reliable acting, but doing so with context, and retrieving events that were once thought to be inconsequential into moments where they become most significant. 

The cinematography in Citation is also stunning, and generous with its use of place and mood to stress the mounting dread that follows Moremi as she, guarded with nothing but her words and no immediate concrete evidence, wonders if the tribunal will believe her story or not. Unfortunately, the dialogue, however, falls short of this meticulous cinematic serving. Although actors Ini Edo, Joke Silva, Ibukun Awosika, all carry their roles with a pleasing dedication to excellence, the dialogue at several points make the story hard to follow and some parts of the acting hard to believe or swallow. The dialogues featuring academic discourse gave the film a profound and immersive flow, but still, this wasn’t enough. In fact, these lengthy displays of academic prowess seemed to almost try its best to upend the stellar efforts of the actors who had to use them.

In parts where dialogue was sparse, such as the Seun Kuti concert or leisurely scenic cuts during the trips to Senegal, the unnecessary extension of these scenes, served as a lag to the story. Occasionally, though, these distractions — because ultimately they did distract from the overall plot progression of the movie — felt like a welcome relief from the unflinching eyes of the panel, while allowing us to see Moremi, a character whom one grows to care for, being happy and young and momentarily unbothered by Professor Lucien’s despicable intentions that would come to cloud her coming days. While making strong assertions for itself as a socially conscious work with a global resonance, Citation could have done with a bit more nuance, a bit more shedding of old tropes about women vilifying other women for the attention of men, some exploration of how the case got to the Tribunal panel in the first place and how it was received when it was tendered. As in real life, that process is often an important marker in what type of cases people decide to report to guiding authorities.

At the heart of it though, Citation is as much about sexual exploitation in academic spaces by people vested with power, as it is about the systems that enable their exploitation to thrive and go unpunished, however, in preference of imagining the fair and functioning justice system Nigerians crave and deserve, Tunde Babalola’s script fails at dutifully interrogating the latter. It is also about what it means to simply be a young woman who wants to get her life back, finish her post-graduate studies and pursue her dreams, however slightly cushioned and naive they might appear.


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Featured Image Credits: Temi Otedola/Instagram