The short film ‘Bayi’ by Diane Russet, Big Brother Naija’s 2019 housemate, paints a bleak picture of teenage brides in certain parts of Northern Nigeria. It is an accurate depiction of the life of most underaged girls who marry too early.
‘Bayi’ is a Hausa word that literally means ‘slaves’. Who are the slaves in this absorbing film? All the female characters are. Slavery is portrayed through their submissiveness or blind obedience, inaction and indifference and backed by a religious text that is often misinterpreted to support child marriage. The women are not just enslaved by their submissiveness, they are enslaved by a culture that objectifies women. Oppressed by a culture that visualizes them as sex objects and discard them whenever they’ve outlived their usefulness.
‘Bayi’ tells the story of an orphaned girl, Fatima, played by Diane Russet, who is tossed to the street after the tragic death of her family. She takes to begging to survive, and on one occasion, she begs a girl and her mother for food. She and the girl are fated to meet again.
Fatima is adopted by Atikah and taken to Kano. Unsure of how her husband, Mallam Nuhu, would react to her decision to take Fatima in, Atikah becomes edgy, but her nervousness gives way to relief when Nuhu assures her of his support since they are childless. Fatima settles into her new home and her adoptive mother dotes on her.
In a moment of emotional outpouring, Fatima narrates her ordeal to Atikah, who listens compassionately as tears well up in her eyes. She narrates how her village in Jos was raided and reduced to rubble by terrorists. Her family is killed and she is held captive for days until she escapes.
Jos, Plateau state, has been a flashpoint for sectarian violence for years. A situation that should’ve been nipped in the bud a long time ago still exists. The tit-for-tat attacks by the Muslim and Christian communities on each other have continued unabated. Fatima was a victim of one of such attacks and there are many more like her in today’s world. It got me thinking, what projects or amenities has the government put in place for Internally Displaced Persons during a religious crisis or terrorist attack? It’s always some shabby infrastructure, little wonder why most of the survivors flee the IDP camps. The Government need can do better.
Fatimah’s tale of woes strikes a chord with Atikah and moves her to tears. Visibly shaken and distraught, Fatima sobs while Atikah comforts her.
When Alhaji Danladi visits Nuru and he is told about Fatima’s situation, he proposes to marry her to relieve the Nuhus of the financial burden of taking care of her: a proposal that Nuhu initially rejects but later accepts.
Arranged marriage is prevalent in Muslim communities in the North and it has been so since time immemorial. ‘Bayi’ brings to the front burner the prickly issue of arranged marriages involving underage girls. For religious reasons, the government has been reluctant to tackle the issue head-on. I can recall a bill proposing the age of consent for marriage to be 18 years and above was voted down because Muslim senators from the North claimed it would discriminate against Muslims.
Atikah tells Fatima that she is to be married off to Alhaji Danladi and she protests the decision and breaks down in tears. The scene made me realize how powerless women are in some parts of the North. This powerlessness stems from culture and religion. In Islam, a wife’s submissiveness is bountifully rewarded in heaven. This explains why Atikah can’t stand up to her husband’s decision even though she feels it is wrong.
Fatima’s marriage to Alhaji bears so much pain, abuse and emotional torture. Right from losing her virginity to birthing a stillborn and then complications which result in Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF); she is stigmatized by Alhaji and her co-wives. She becomes a shadow of her former self. She loses her enthusiasm for life, and she sits all day and cries her eyes out.
When Alhaji notices that Fatima can’t control her bladder movement, he finds her disgusting and marries a new wife, Barika. Fatima recognizes Barika as the girl who once gave her food in Nasarawa state when she was homeless. After Barika has a share of Alhaji’s torture, the girls abscond and are rescued and treated by Dr Yasmine and Dr Nabila.
‘Bayi’ is not just a movie to entertain the senses, but an exposè of the woes in northern Nigeria. It is a call to action to stop underage marriages and a call on the government and NGOs to invest more on the girl child. There are a few NGOs dedicated to helping girls with Vesicovaginal Fistula. One of them is the Kano Fistula Foundation. It is supported by the Fistula Foundation California and the United Nations Population Fund ( UNPF). We need more of this especially in northern Nigeria.
Kudos to the actors and actresses for their stellar performance. Alhaji Danladi, played by Nathaniel King, is so real I’m tempted to think he is a paedophile in real life. He is a fantastic actor. Diane Russet also deserves some accolades: she nailed her role. Atikah, played by Tope Olowoniya was exceptionally good. She did justice to her role. Barika, played by Maryam Kayode, is one child actress I’d love to see more in movies. All the characters gave in their best.
‘Bayi’ although a short film is powerful in its delivery to mean much more than its visuals. It is a worthwhile production.