AV Club: “Hakkunde” is a timely and sometimes engaging look at being an unemployed Nigerian youth

(“Hakkunde” is a 2017 Nigerian film. It recently started streaming on Netflix)

A common feeling amongst many young Nigerians is the fear of unemployment after completing a degree. The ideal thing is to find an engaging, well-paying job after the compulsory youth service year, but it doesn’t always go that way. Per the most recent report on unemployment by the National Bureau of Statistics, the number of unemployed youths in the country soared from 5.0million in the third quarter of 2015 to 13.2million in the third quarter of 2018, reflecting the difficult landscape the average Nigerian youth has to navigate in order to be gainfully employed or make an honest living.

Akande, the protagonist and pseudo-title character of Asurf Oluseyi’s debut feature film, “Hakkunde”, starts off as a perfect representation of what long term unemployment looks like. A graduate of animal husbandry, Akande has been looking for a job for five years, and his fruitless search strains his relationships with those close to him, and that in turn adds fuel to his desperation.

At the beginning of the film, Akande—impressively played by Kunle Idowu, popularly known as Frank Donga—holds up a placard at a bus stop, hoping to catch the eye of anyone with the capacity to help his situation. Instead, all he draws in is someone who’s looking to scam him of money he doesn’t have and a debt he couldn’t immediately pay. At the end of another trying day, he goes home to meet a sister—Toyin Abraham’s Yewande—who barely shows any empathy and deems his attention-seeking tactic as an embarrassment to her. His longtime girlfriend, who has been gainfully employed for a while, breaks up with him over lunch because he can’t afford to pay his bills.

These situations play into tropes associated with being unemployed in Nigeria: your external society doesn’t have much to offer; those close to you treat you like a failure and can’t offer solace from the cold world; and on top of that, there’s self-imposed pressure to be be useful to yourself and your loved ones. “Hakkunde” excellently depicts these negative effects with a real yet empathetic lens, even expanding the scope to accommodate the importance of community, using northern Nigeria as the point of contact.

In search of better luck, Akande travels to Kaduna with Ibrahim (Ibrahim Nuhu), a commercial bike rider who tells him of a government scheme offering loans to livestock farmers in his state. Few days later, they learn that the scheme has been cancelled, but Akande ends up staying longer than anticipated, building a life as a teacher and agricultural entrepreneur in a rural place. The defining factor in this upturn is the change of place; a place where people don’t want for much—the scene where drinking milk and maltina is classified as ultimate enjoyment is cute. Also, in this new environment, Akande forges warm relationships with Ibrahim’s family and Aisha (Rahama Sadau), a widow wrongfully accused of killing her two husbands with witchcraft.

Using his enthusiasm and cultural naivety to full effect, “Hakkunde” also does a great job of integrating Akande into a community with its own customs, but it occasionally stumbles when trying to understand and critique those norms. For example, Akande teasing Aisha about her dead husbands on their second time meeting is beyond ignorant, and his harsh condemnation of her codeine abuse lacks any empathy.

The same heavy-handed approach on seeps into the film’s overly sentimental ending. Looking to close on an uplifting note, “Hakkunde”‘s penultimate scene shows an accomplished and successful Akande addressing a room full of people. However, instead of his talk coming across as inspirational, Akande comes across as a hacky motivational speaker who’d rather speak in unoriginal aphorisms rather than through relatable life lessons.

Even though the ending isn’t particularly stellar, “Hakkunde” thrives on the right proportion of drama and comedy. There’s some really good bits of conversation and on-screen chemistry—Kunle Idowu and Toyin Abraham are delight in the love-hate sibling relationship—and the cinematography deserves all the accolades. The film was released in 2017, but it is still timely, enjoyable and sometimes engaging piece of work.

Featured Image Credits: YouTube/AsurfTV

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