Where to start with The Tribunal; the bad writing or bad lawyering? I guess one is a function of the other in what is definitely the worst Kunle Afolayan film I’ve seen. The Tribunal has left me fearing the stock I bought in Afolayan, after 2015’s October 1 is maturing into fools’ gold. The films since his well-done period cum noir piece have dithered between decent and disappointing but now, we are well and truly down in the dumps.
As a premise, The Tribunal presents uncharted territory. It is about a washed-up ambulance-chasing type lawyer, Jimi Disu (Funsho Adeolu or Naija’s Kofi Adjorlolo), who represents an albino man, Ifeanyi Imoh (Damilola Ogunsi), suing the bank he used to work with because feels his dismissal from it was fuelled by his boss’ disdain for his skin colour. The film could have stumbled its way into a decent film if it didn’t look and feel like it was written and filmed in 24 hours. Albino’s playing major roles in film are rare. This is probably the first albino in such a role I have encountered so it’s a shame there was zero depth to this character, or indeed the film as a whole.
The annoying thing is Afolyan hints at the possible layers that could have been explored here. He just did not seem bothered enough to sink his teeth into the ideas. As the lethargic tribunal hearings unravel, the script hints at an ingrained paranoia only albinos may be able to identify with. Was Imoh fired because of his skin colour or was he bad at his job? Is this trial between albinos and Nigerian society? These are some of the question hanging (or should be) over proceedings and begging to be dissected. The verdict of this case should not really matter, to be honest. But alas, Afolayan has zero interest in exploring ideas, or anything else for that matter.
Again, when it comes to Jimi, Afolayan is blowing the dust off the surface what could be a compelling character if he had spent more time than it takes me to spell “Jimi” in crafting this character. Jimi is an unkempt drunk carrying the baggage of professional disgrace and personal tragedy. He works from his car and is content with his hand to mouth professional life, which has him charging bail for petty criminals. He stumbles onto Imoh’s case when Tanimowo (Ade Laoye), a young perky law school graduate rings out nostalgic adulation for what Jimi once was and convinces him to stand beside a plaintiff for the first time in years. As fate would have it, his former law firm is serving as counsel to Imoh’s former boss, played by a steely Omotola Jalade Ekeinde.
Jimi is a crappy a lawyer, as crappy a lawyer as you would expect from a man enslaved to the bottle. Then again, I have heard some horror stories about terrible real-life lawyers so there may be more truth to Jimi’s character than the Nigerian bar would like to admit. There are zero scenes involving any prep work with Imoh. How could there be given Jimi spends his nights are drinking spots. The closest thing we see to any research is Tanimowo on her MacBook executing google searches. And yes, this excuse for legal research work bears some fruit in a big way and ushers us towards the painfully asinine resolution. The only thing that hurt more was the use of a certain Mike Tyson quote.
Some albinos find themselves in precarious positions on this continent. It really is a matter of life and death in the worst situations or just dealing with discrimination and demeaning stares in the best cases. On one level, it noble of Afolayan to think of highlighting the prejudice albinos face. But there is so little empathy in this film, it’s safe to say a number of albinos will be left unimpressed by the story. The most bizarre scene in The Tribunal has a defence lawyer sound out an offensive rhyme in a bid to rile up Imoh in that cliched way. “Oyibo Pepper” is what he blurted out. This beat was so unintentionally comic and it had me wondering just how offensive this term is in Nigeria for Afolayan to be so callous with it.
Afolayan stunk up the bed here, without a doubt. Even the noteworthy cinematography that normally graces his films, calling out to audiences, is absent here. He oversees a generally drab ordeal, even by the lowest of televisual standards. There is a minute sense of setting and deficit in the flair that should elevate legal dramas. The performances are without form, befitting the one-note characters being portrayed and when it was all said and done, I am a film away from relegating Afolayan into the Nollywood exploitation box. But if Afolayan is the filmmaker I pray to God he is, the only way for him, after this, is up.