Performing Owambe: Lagos as Simulacrum

James Yeku
6 min readFeb 17, 2020

In Mike Ezuruonye’s Lagos Real Fake Life, we encounter postcolonial urban Lagos as simulacrum, presented with an oxymoronic pastiche of the real and the fake simultaneously enacted as the defining attributes of everyday life in Nigeria’s megacity. As simulacrum, the reality of Lagos is replaced by a false representation organized around images, narratives and codes that signify the city as a performative realm of bogus identities.

Lagos resembles a city of inchoate dreams, excess and ostentation, one in which “Instagram boys” tangle with slay queens for prominence on the dance floor of Eko’s unending parties; Lagos is the come-alive city of repute, of Africa where the original fakeries of social media constitute a radical contingency for all reality. Lagos Real Fake Life offers an account of the realism of the synthetic, generating an image of Lagos that is both real and unreal, with uncertain futures sought on the grounds of shifting signifiers. In this Lagos, “people borrow cars and borrow clothes all for Instagram,” and Lekki is coterminous with a ghetto in the mainland.

At the heart of the intersection of the fake and the real is the performance of class and ostentation, one graphically presented by Lagos’s Owambe culture which is the recent genre fixation of the many neo-Nollywood films on Netflix. Enter The Bling Lagosians, directed by Bolanle Austen-Peters.

In this installment of Lagos as simulacrum, Mopelola, the matriarch of the Holloway royal family is insistent on having a lavish birthday party, not minding the huge business debt that threatens the survival of her family’s financial empire and legacy. Her superficiality is matched by the frivolities of her husband, Akin Holloway whose secret affair and materialistic lifestyles fate the family’s business to doom.

One of their two daughters is a marriage counsellor whose marriage is undermined by her sexual infidelity and fakeness, while the second daughter Tokunbo Holloway, a Nollywood scriptwriter, appears to be the only honest person in the family, although she has dreams of winning an Oscar. While unpacking the narrative complexities of all of these, The Bling Lagosians gives a sense of ostentation as a quality of the rich that enhances their performance of elitism and class. The film, like The Wedding Party and Chief

James Yeku

James Yeku is an Assistant Professor of African Digital Humanities at the University of Kansas. He writes on digital cultures and African popular media.