Roots and Routes: A Documentary Premiere and Exhibition Launching

Japa, a term used loosely in present day Nigeria (2023) to connote migration, has existed from time immemorial. There is, however, a silent misconception that migration occurs only between continents.

Researchers at the Institute of African and Diaspora Studies (IADS), University of Lagos (UNILAG) in collaboration with their counterparts from other Departments in UNILAG conducted a study to scrutinise: the japa syndrome (migration) within Africa; how second (2nd) generation migrants adapt to their new locations; how it seemed that borders no longer mattered and how much the roots of these individuals mattered after they have journeyed through different routes to their current realities.

Responses to these scrutinies were made into comprehensive and enlightening documentaries. The first in the series of documentaries titled: “When Borders Don’t Matter”, was first screened at the Arthur Mbanefo Digital Research Centre (AMDRC), UNILAG on Thursday, December 1, 2022, while the second part titled: “Roots and Routes” premiered at the Faculty of Arts Board Room, UNILAG on Tuesday, October 3, 2023.

In the first episode, the researchers investigated the reasons behind common migrations between countries such as Togo, Benin Republic, Nigeria, and Ghana.

The second episode focused on second (2nd) generation migrants: their lived experiences in Lagos State, Nigeria, the reality and complexity of their identities, their link to their home countries and the challenges they face in their residential/adopted countries.

Examining the Roots

Roots and Routes intimated viewers with the mindset of some of the 2nd generation Beninese and Togolese migrants. It was observed that some have strong convictions that they are Nigerians either on the basis of being born in Nigeria; interracial marriage between their parents or with their spouses; or simply based on the number of years they have spent in the country.

The interaction of the researchers with the respondents highlighted challenges some 2nd generation migrants encounter with progressing academically when the issue of providing documents proving their state of origin arises. A specific respondent attested to knowing a few migrants who have disposed of their birth name and surname of Beninese or Togolese origin and adopted Nigerian names to be able to obtain Nigerian certificates of state of origin.

While this poses a worrisome obliteration to an individual’s genealogy (roots) and identity, it was interesting to note that all the interviewees, when asked which nationality they would rather claim, chose their original nationality in favour of the Nigerian nationality.

About a year ago when first generation migrants were interviewed in the “When Borders Don’t Matter” documentary to get insights into the psychology behind their migration, it was discovered that many ascribed their migration to search for greener pastures. However, the researchers uncovered that beyond economical reasons, there are other factors that influence immigration such as interests in multilingualism, among others.

Part of their study examined how the illegality in the immigration process make it easy for these migrants to take whatever funds they made in Nigeria back to their home country.

The challenges migrants face, even as they cart away a large chunk of the country’s resources, was further brought to bear in the Roots and Routes documentary, where some 2nd generation Beninese and Togolese migrants decried the unfair treatments they receive at the border having to part with the bulk of the money and resources they have on their person.

In the Roots and Routes documentary, all the Beninese respondents described the unpleasant challenges they face with law enforcement personnel in their everyday life, while some of the Togolese mentioned they have only heard of such but never personally had the experience. Some Beninese respondents expressed their dislike for the stereotypes Yorùbá indigenes of Nigeria attach to them such as saying they are dirty and other insinuations attached to calling them “Ègùn”.

The narrator of the documentary closed the film with a call for creation and implementation of thoughtful migration policies on the documentation of migrants; cultural exchange through festivals; and a commitment to fostering a sense of belonging, to effectively embrace and integrate migrants into a city such as Lagos.

It was posited that implementation of these recommendations would help Nigeria harness the potential of the diverse demographic of migrants for mutual benefits and continued development.

The Director, African Cluster Centre of Excellence (ACC), a Centre within the Institute of African and Diaspora Studies (IADS), UNILAG, Professor ‘Muyiwa Falaiye, earlier in his welcome address informed the gathering of the quality and quantity of feedback the Centre has received from its documentaries. He averred that the feedbacks have emboldened the Centre to make more documentaries and improve the quality of its research and storytelling through documentaries.

Professor Falaiye expressed gratitude to Universität Bayreuth, Germany, for funding the Centre under its Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence and commended the researchers who worked assiduously to tell the story of Africa to the world. He asserted that the stories they tell play crucial role in helping people understand the dilemma of migrants, which in turn makes it easier for humans to co-exist in peace and harmony.

He disclosed also that the Institute had received funding to produce digitised versions of folktales to preserve the Nigerian heritage for the future generations. According to him, once the digitised folklores are ready for release, appropriate announcements would be made.

The Principal Investigator, Prof. Taibat Lawanson appreciated the physical and virtual audience, and provided details of the project’s aims and objectives. Her associate investigator, Dr. Abisoye Eleshin, gave the audience an insight to the team’s findings before the documentary was screened for the first time, preparing viewers for the intricate realities of second generation migrants.

Roots and Routes premiering at the UNILAG Faculty of Arts Board Room

Exploring the Routes

Immediately after the premiere of the Roots and Routes documentary, a multimedia exhibition opened at the IADS Gallery, J.P. Clark Building. The exhibition aims to further immerse visitors in the experiences of migrants moving from Cotonou, Benin to Lagos, Nigeria.

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Professor Folasade T. Ogunsola, OONFAS, cut the tape to launch the exhibition. She and other guests were taken on a tour of the exhibition by the Creative Director of the documentary filming, Mr. Deji Akinpelu.

The exhibition, rich in audio and visual content, highlights the predominance of Nigerian music in Cotonou; the permeation of Pentecostalism such as the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC), from Lagos to Cotonou, a community known to traditionally practice voodoo religion; the integration of young Nigerians into the informal business sector of Benin among others.

The exhibition also gives a visual representation of checkpoints, characterised by barricades made of tires, jerrycans and wooden planks, encountered between Lagos, Nigeria and Cotonou, Benin. According to Mr. Akinpelu, in reality, there are about 85 of such checkpoints between Cotonou and Lagos. Progressing on the tour of the exhibition after crossing the “border”, visitors can then see visual representations of what obtains at the other side of the border in Lagos, including the integration of foods peculiar to Cotonou in Lagos such as Èwà àgòyìn.

The Roots and Routes Multimedia Exhibition will remain open till Tuesday, October 10, 2023. Scholars, history/humanities enthusiasts and all interested individuals are invited to visit the IADS Gallery at the J.P. Clark Building to partake in the enlightening experience. The J.P. Clark Building is located between the Faculty of Arts building and the Senate House of the University of Lagos (UNILAG).

More pictorial highlights of the documentary screening:

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