“You measure a country by how it treats its weakest and the most vulnerable; Nigeria does not treat its most vulnerable well at all,” Chude Juideonwo says at a point in ‘Awaiting Trail,’ his over-an-hour-long documentary that renewed chilling accusations about the country’s justice system.
The documentary retells the overarching tales of how the triad of the Nigeria Police Force, the judicial system and prison services have caused pain, ruined families and wrecked the lives of innocent citizens. It reemphasises the depth of corruption that greediness and impunity have infused into the country’s home of fairness and justice. It retraces the atrocities of the now-defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and the ironic police brutality meted out on 2020 #EndSars protesters campaigning against the high-handedness of the security agency.
Released on his Youtube channel, ‘Awaiting Trail’ is Chude’s first foray into a feature-length film. But his expertise in spotlighting traumatic subjects bellies his scant experience in filmmaking.
His ‘WithChude’ interview series has become a catalogue of celebrities peeling away their glamorous layers and being vulnerable with their truths. The chat with Ada Umeh, the late Nollywood actress, where she revealed her battle with chronic depression following the loss of her daughter, remains a point of reference after her tragic demise. The interview stirred conversation around superstars’ often messy mental health and the limitations of money and fame.
‘Awaiting Trial’ opens with the heart-wrenching yet well-known story of Chijioke Iloanya, who was arrested by officers of the Ajali police in Anambra and transferred to the infamous Awkuzu SARS branch in the state in 2012. The Iloanya family reiterates their accusation that CSP James Nwafor, the erstwhile officer in charge of the SARS division, murdered their son.
“I killed your son, and there is nothing you can do about it,” the Chijioke’s father quotes Nwafor bragging about the incident.
The documentary effortlessly bleeds into the #EndSars protests of October 2020, a moment when Nigerian youths took to the streets across the country to kick out police brutality. It was widely believed that the fire of change had been kindled until it was brutally quenched.
Chude, a 37-year-old straddling the exit of youthfulness, employs active players in the protests to reenact the hope that was dashed. Folarin ‘Falz’ Falana, rapper and actor, alongside Adebowale ‘Mr Macaroni’ Adedayo, comedian and actor, and Rinu Oduala, an activist, give commentaries on the stagnation of situations.
The film then pans to the stories of other families also in weary search of justice and closure following the loss of their beloved to the corrupt machination of Nigeria’s criminal justice system.
Chude’s deft engagement skills encourage relatives of Okwuchukwu Onyemelue and Solomon Yellowe, both allegedly killed by SARS, to bear their ordeals while attempting to save their sons. With empathy and presence of mind, Chude lets the families reopen their old wounds of grief without forceful nudges.
His brilliance truly shines when an unnamed relative of Okwuchukwu narrates how a police officer demanded sexual intercourse in exchange for help in the search for the victim. The married woman says it is the first time she would divulge the tale.
The documentary segues into its final lap and delves into the lives of individuals arrested and incarcerated without due trials.
“Of the 8,000 inmates in Lagos, only 1,200 have been convicted,” a human activist says in the documentary.
Through the eyes of three ex-inmates, Chude paints the appalling condition of Nigerian correctional facilities and their tendency to worsen criminal proclivities instead of rehabilitation. The depressing tales echo the findings of Fisayo Soyombo’s 2019 investigative report into the cesspool of rot and corruption at the Ikoyi prison.
However, while it refocuses the Nigerian gaze on the barbarity of its justice system, the documentary seems like a rehash of old tales and could have used more fresh information. Chude tries to offset this with his futile search for the notorious Nwafor, despite claims that he still cruises lavishly around Anambra.
Regardless, ‘Awaiting Trail’ is a timely reminder of the pain that Nigerians should concentrate on when electing the country’s next set of leaders in the upcoming 2023 election. The documentary carefully analyses the savage treatment that Nigeria serves its most vulnerable and what that says about the country.
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