Charles Okpaleke acquires rights to make a biopic about Shina Rambo, the notorious 90’s criminal

Nigerian true crime stories can be a treasure mine for Nollywood

Whether you happen to lead a life of crime or not, most people agree that stories surrounding criminal masterminds are pretty damn interesting. Lots of money, fancy cars, copious amounts of drugs, wayward explosions and libidinous encounters are all things that society finds itself attracted to, for better or worse. These are the usual trademarks of the more felonious amongst us, and given these collusion of interests, various entertainment providers often market stories about criminal enterprises, with several hit songs and blockbusters that glamorise violence, drugs, and crimes emerging in pop culture across the globe, throughout time.

Olu Maintain’s “Yahooze” is easily one of the most recognisable Nigerian songs from the last few decades, its infamous status owed, in no small part to his almost celebratory narration of the flamboyant lifestyle of internet fraudsters. Although he, and others after him, will deny that glorification was their intention, “Yahooze” remains a potent hitmaking template from which several other artists, such as Naira Marley and Bella Shmurda, have continued to use to dominate the music scene till date. These days, the current trend in Nollywood seems to tilt more towards romantic stories than crime stories, but the ’90s and early 2000s were famous for turning the spectacle of armed robbery into motion pictures. We had movies like 1996 cult classic, Most Wanted (which saw actors like Regina Askia, Ayo Adesanya, Ibinabo Fibersima, and Genevieve Nnaji play out a Nigerian rendition of Set it Off), Derico (a biopic of the notorious armed robbers in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria who freely unleashed terror on both the civilians and security operatives during his days), Issakaba, Owo Blow, and many more.

Despite the minimal resources available to Nigerian filmmakers at the time, they were able to depict the violence and gore that criminals leave in their wake. The whimsical FX edits of bloodshed didn’t make the movies less compelling, or even less scary. Following the drama was usually enough to get our hearts racing or even give us nightmares. Today, Nollywood has grown to become the second-largest film industry in the world, employing more than a million people and generating nearly $2bn a year from cinema tickets and DVD sales, TV rights, royalties and fees. This allows for more resources to bring elaborate scripts to life and depict graphic screens of violence just like Hollywood movies do.

The improvement and upgrades in equipment and quality of film production have increased the appeal for action-packed Nollywood movies and we’ve seen some elaborate attempts like the dystopian action film, Ratnik, released last year. The blend of sci-fi robots and machines with mystical African spiritual powers delivered maximum entertainment. And although it could be argued that most movies are crime movies (if only because most dramas need crime, or conflict, or at least transgression in order for it to spark into life), the best crime movies are known for making spectacles out of the destructive deeds of criminals. The more casual shootings and explosions involved in an overwrought bank heist, the better. It’s why Kemi Adetiba’s 2018 crime thriller, King of Boys grossed N245 million at the box office – the film depicted the violent power struggle of political criminals. However, there’s an undeniable feeling of extra adrenaline and fascination that comes from knowing the reckless violence and crimes we’re watching actually happened, in real life.

Nollywood director, Charles Okpaleke (Living in Bondage: Breaking Free; Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story) has set out to capitalise on the appeal of a true-crime narrative, recently announcing his acquisition of the intellectual property rights to make a biopic about Shina Rambo, the notorious ’90s criminal who terrorised most people who lived in the South West of Nigeria, even extending his terror to Benin Republic and other regions outside Nigeria. He was known to wear charms that made him invincible and carry weapons with which he ruthlessly murdered people who challenged him. His terrorising acts became the stuff of legend as media reported that he went to police stations in broad daylight, armed to the teeth, to kill every police officer on duty. He was also reported to have robbed a car dealership and driven 40 exotic cars in a convoy, from Lagos to Cotonou, unstopped. Whilst heinous acts of lawlessness, these Shina Rambo tales are all cinema gold that could make for a really entertaining watch.

At the moment, we haven’t been privy to any details about the casting and crew for the promised Shina Rambo biopic or even when it’s expected to be released, but Charles Okpaleke’s Instagram post confirms that it will be action-packed and we will accept nothing less. He has already shown that he’s adept at making action dramas with his previous movies, Rattlesnake and the femme-fatale horror, Nneka the Pretty Serpent.


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A post shared by Charles Okpaleke (@charlesofplay)

It’s fair to say that we’re living in a more liberal and tolerant culture, particularly the revolution of social morals tied to the youth movement. However, we expect that some Nigerians will still object to movies that glamourise criminals and their lifestyle of senseless violence, so it will fall on the director to narrate the crimes in such a way that caution against criminality is conveyed right alongside the wanton acts of one of Nigeria’s most prolific thieves.

Of course, arguments against portraying criminals as heroes hold credence, for example in ensuring that viewers aren’t encouraged to become real-life villains and take lifestyle inspiration from criminals, but watching crime movies can also be therapeutic for viewers who find satisfaction in playing the part of an amateur detective while following the story. Psychologists also believe that women in particular love true crime movies because they offer tips about how to increase your chances of survival if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, as the victims of Ted Bundy –who was recently played by Zack Efron in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Netflix’s biopic about the serial killer – did. It would be a shame if Nigeria didn’t take advantage of our own criminal legends to make true crime movie plots. It might be too ambitious to expect the Shina Rambo biopic to make the same $9.8 million Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile did at the box office, but if it makes even half of that, everyone in Nigeria’s movie industry will eat.

Shina Rambo will be an excellent crime movie. The story of those Lagos robbers who had a gateway speedboat, the story of the criminal activities of the One Million Boyz, the stories yet to be unearthed about Lagos’ hyperactive crime scene, these action-packed realities tailor-made for a Nollywood blockbuster, we’re happy to see them finally

Featured Image Credits: Instagram/charlesofplay

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You are meeting Debola at a strange time in his life. He wandered into a dream and lost his way back. Tweet at him @debola_abimbolu

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