Grimot Nane, PhD

The Corleonisation of Nigeria

Grimot Nane

No film and novel has influenced the psyche of the Nigerian male as much as Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Many of the leaders of the various fields of activity today dreamt of and mimicked the characters from The Godfather (especially Don Vito and Michael Corleone) for many years and it remains the default preference of action of millions.

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Even strong women in positions of power are affectionately referred to as the Don Corleone of “this or that organisation” by males. How did a ‘fictional’ novel about sheer crime, violence and death come to produce the role models by which Nigeria is endued?

The introduction of VHS and Betamax in the early 1980s in Nigeria is one reason. There were few films on the first generation of home videos back then and The Godfather, Saturday Night Fever and James Bond movies proved to be by far the most popular. With most Nigerian male cinema audiences fed on a staple of Chinese Kung Fu, Indian Bad Guy and American Blaxploitation movies throughout the 1970s, a film without a good fight, violence or a ‘hard-core deal’ was considered ‘boring.’ Nigerian guys even wanted to do legitimate business the hard core way in a facsimile manner to film formulae. Such approaches were even employed wholesale by youths in the 1983 general elections.

While Kung Fu and Indian movies provided mostly abstract entertainment, Blaxploitation movies had actors whom Nigerian males could identify with. Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, Fred Williamson and Richard Roundtree starring in films like Shaft, Three the Hard Way, Superfly, Across 110th Street became instant and enduring role models with Nigerian male audiences. It was amazing to see urban male graduates and undergraduates wearing an Afro and dressed-up in US East Coast winter clothing in hot tropical Nigeria! However, it was the ‘hard guy’ in Blaxploitation image that interested the Nigerian male the most. Unsurprisingly, being a hard guy in Nigeria has been fashionable ever since then.

However, the Blaxploitation hard guy invariable died cheaply or went to jail within a white justice system. This hard guy could fight well, was insular, debonair, care free, adventurous, ruthless, street smart, brutal but also was fun to be with, attractive to women (who often he treated badly) and did not do a 9-5 job to earn his income.

He was a crook who was unmarried at a time when marriage was the inflexible destiny the Nigerian male. He was also not college educated at a time when all Nigerians wanted a qualification from higher education. Identification with the Blaxploitation hard guy was strong, but the acceptance of his way of life not completely desirable.

Dramatically, in one film-novel people now saw ‘Mafia’ hard guys that did not run away from police and Blaxploitation hard guys but actually controlled them. The mafia hard guy did not have to be apparently hard or boastful, his reputation spoke for him. He was a Machiavellian operator not a hustler or small time crook. He owned regular businesses as a front, sent his kids to university (if they were willing), had influence in many spheres of life and have a strong cohesive family. In a nutshell, The Godfather story line made the workings of the mafia family look so glamourous and so easy. The Nigerian male fell for it.

It is fair to say films have had a very strong influence on the psyche, preferences, expectation and taste of Nigerians in numerous ways. The film Saturday Night Fever produced a strong commercially-profitable fad in shiny polyester and silk shirts; Fame and Soul Train (TV series) created dance crazes; The Professionals: CI5 (TV series) made risky street car racing and tire screeching fashionable; Pretty Woman helped glamourise the ‘club girl’ sex worker; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was another justification for the desire to be a hard guy etc. It is unfortunate that foreign film and TV has not helped to introduce positive role models, attitudes and aspirations in Nigerians, male or female, outside fashion, food and drink.

Nigeria has definitely been ‘Corleonised.’ The implications of this Corleonisation are immense but yet to be measured or thoroughly understood.

  • PERSPECTIVE is published every Monday. Dr. Nane is an errant scholar and economist. Follow him on Twitter: @Grimot

There are 9 comments

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  1. Godwin

    I enjoyed your article very much it is a fine one. I have a big problem with it though. You have taken the Godfather values aspired to by mostly middle class and upper class males which are the people you know and generalised them to the entirety Nigerian male population under the ago of 60. Are you aware the males you say are Corleonised are much less than 10% of all males Nigerian? Are you not overrating the influence of films on people’s values and lifestyles?

  2. Grimot Nane

    Thank you for your compliment, comments and questions. I have used “the Nigerian male” in a illustrative sense not an all-inclusive one. In the opening paragraph of the article I subtly indicate “leaders” (and leadership types of Nigerian males) are the target population of those influenced by The Godfather. This would suggest men from the urban privileged classes.

    However, this is only true when it comes to attempting to ‘live the Godfather story’ because the urban privileged male has access to at least some of facilities that are required to do this; I guess this is the under 10% you have referred to. The underprivileged Nigerian male even in the rural areas hopes to have access to those same facilities someday so he too can ‘live it’. (Nigeria’s poor tend to spend their money on and it TVs, DVD players and microwave cookers). “Living the Godfather”, in this case, is about hardness and Machiavellian approaches to doing things complete with means of control and conquest and not crime per se.

    Overrating or exaggerating the influence movies on society is always possible for good reason and can create much controversy mostly with vested interests pushing the arguments. This is not the case with the Nigerian male and The Godfather. Up to the 1990s the average Nigerian felt left behind in comparison to his Western counterparts and sought to catch-up by being “current”, “social” or “open-eyed” by way of voraciously consuming and imitating Western values and tastes. Those who could not do this were dismissed or despised as “bush” or “local”. Nigeria, post-Independence has been evidently a “ripe catch-up society” that has indiscriminately consumed and adopted Western ways particularly those that are American.

    Furthermore, the only texts more widely read, remembered and interpreted than the Godfather by the Nigerian male are the Bible and the Qur’an. Yet, as there are innumerable cases of such males who desperately ‘want to be’ Vito Corleone, Michael Corleone, Sonny Corleone, Virgil Sollozzo or Tom Hagen I have never met one who wants to be Moses, Joseph, Abraham, John the Baptist, Daniel, David or Isaiah. Both David and Moses in real terms were Machiavellian and patriarchs too but their stories are not as permissive, glamourous, accessible, imitable or persuasive the characters in The Godfather. Nigeria is a society that is broadly permissive, welcomes access to it rather indiscriminately, extols and imitates glamour as long as there is persuasion to go along with it. This is the basis on which the certainty of the influence of the Godfather on Nigerian society along with keen observation rests.

    The Godfather was a persuasion the Nigerian male could not refuse.

  3. Jo

    I enjoyed your picece but I am sorry it has a major flaw. It excludes anything about about the influence of The Godfather on Nigerian females without explanation or rationale. Also there were female charcters in The Godfather. Thanks

    • Grimot Nane

      Jo, the flaw you talk about is not mine. Mario Puzo wrote the novel and co-wrote the film scripts which I analyse fairly. The Godfather is about “patriarchy” presented in the form of a mafia “family”. The men in the story are portrayed as competitive, ruthless, combative, fearsome, violent, calculating Machiavellians in the story. Puzo has a different portrayal for women.

      Carmela Corleone, Don Vito’s wife, is what mafia investigators call a “Four Cs” wife (now dated), “children, cooking, cleaning and church.” Sonia Corleone, Sonny’s wife and Apollonia Corleone, Michael’s first wife (assassinated) are also Four Cs wives. They know best not to ask about their ‘husband’s business.’ Lucy Mancini, the mistress of Sonny. It later transpires that Fredo Corleone was also sleeping with Lucy and is father of Vincent Corleone not Sonny, a dark secret. Mary Corleone is head of her father’s charitable fund and has an incestuous relationship (by Nigerian standards) with her first cousin Vincent. She is killed by an assassin instead of Michael. None of these women are powerful in the story.

      Connie Corleone is the only female Machiavellian and criminal type in the story. A spoilt brat married to wife-beating Carlo Rizzo, she is used as the ploy to ensnare and massacre Sonny, her older brother. Michael has him killed in revenge. She then gets married to a few glamour boys and detests Michael for killing her husband. She finally comes home claiming she forgives and realises that Michael was simply “being strong for the family.” Connie supports the violence of Vincent against Joey Saza, orders a hit on Saza, tells Michael that he never ordered the hit on Fredo (a lie) and assassinates a rival of Michael, Don Altobello, with poisoned cake. She has no power of her own though.

      Kay Adams is Michael’s second wife. She is a modern American woman type who continuously questions her husband’s business and hope he goes legit. She gets divorced and ostracised by Michael for deliberately aborting a son in protest of his continued mafia activities. She reconnects with Michael when he is honoured by the Catholic Church. Kay still loves Michael even though she has remarried. One may see Kay Adams as the Nigerian woman who is married or hopes to marry a 419er, coke pusher or human trafficker for the money but hopes he stops soon. Not me.

      Fredo’s wife is wayward and shameless. Ma Colombo is a poor widow who needs the Godfather’s help. Kelly is a prostitute whose child for Luca Brasi is thrown into a furnace under duress by Filomena, the midwife.

      Jo, which of the aforementioned female characters in the Godfather would you identify with or aspire to be?

      You can see why I have not referred to The Godfather’s influence on Nigerian women. However, it can be explored.

  4. Bala Aliyu

    In your Xclusive Magazine article on Oscar Pistorius’ dated 15/09/2014 you chastised Nigeria males for ignoring the racism of The Godfather by stating that they more interested in and embodied the romance of Machiavellian power the story portrayed. The Godfather is not a racist tale but one that contains a major racist scene. The racism was a fact evident at the time nothing more. The novel also precedes Women’s Lib so cannot be regarded as sexist. I admit that not till I read that article and this one of yours did I realise the influence of the Godfather on the Nigerian male. The corleonisation of Nigeria appears real enough but so many other societies have been corleonised too.

  5. Grimot Nane

    Bala, I appreciate your comments as always. One statement I take exception to is that The Godfather is not a racist novel / film and merely has a racist scene in it. This may be how it looks to the Nigerian or non-American Blacks. However, Don Zaluchi’s infamous statement that you refer to in my article on Pistorius about the heroin business in America was “In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people, the coloreds. They’re animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.”

    The Godfather was published as a novel in 1969 and made into a movie in 1972. This was a time when Black people in America were symbolically reclaiming their “soul” courtesy the Civil Rights movement; they identified as “soul people”, “soul brothers” and “soul sisters”; they played and listened to “soul music”, an extension of the “the Blues”; they ate “soul food”; they claimed to be “spiritual” with emphasis on their connection with the “soul”; “soulfulness” made them “Black and proud”.

    It stands to reason that there is no greater insult or derision of Black people at that time than to glamourise a conspiracy to make them “to lose their ‘souls’.” Black Americans were hurt by such a remark. It is no surprise that Blaxploitation movies coming out at that same time were about Black Tough Guys against the Mafia and the Mafia always lost. Cinematic revenge? Remember Shaft and others? There is proof of Don Zaluchi-style conspiracy against Black communities in America large enough to fill any library. Gary Webb’s movie, Kill the Messenger, is now in the cinemas; a classic case and latest instalment on drugs entering the Black community and destroying them due to the conspiracy of the American government.

    I am reminded by your comment of coaches, politicians, business persons or celebrities that call Blacks they work with “niggers” (on tape) then say they are not racists and such is accepted as the Gospel truth. Men who are guilty of rape, theft, arson or counterfeiting cannot make the same plea and get away with it. Mario Puzo and Francis ford Coppola knew exactly what they were doing at the time and it helped make their story. It said the mafia Dons were to be differentiated as “honourable men” and Black folk were so “subhuman” and “dishonourable”, and that putting drugs into their community (the consequences it created) was similar to slaughtering a cow in an abattoir for meat or whacking a snake for safety. Racism is often very expedient.

    Finally, I keenly encourage you to look up the following link about The Godfather and consider it – No one doubts The Godfather is one of the best films ever made and the novel can also claim such status in popular fiction but its racism is undeniable.

  6. Bala Aliyu

    Alright, do you think Mario Puzo and Francis Coppola are racist or in any way promoted racism in America through their Godfather story?

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