“Yoruba’s say ‘May God deliver us from evil. You thought that prayer was about sickness or death…that prayer was about me”
I was late to join the King of Boys train and it may have taken me another month to watch it if I hadn’t been asked to write a feminist take on it. Turned out to be the best writing assignment I’ve had til date (thanks Hetty!); and a friend of mine advised me to watch the first movie before bingeing on the limited edition series on Netflix.
I settled in and about 20 minutes into King of Boys (2018) watched Alhaja Eniola Salami lose her temper spectacularly. She had been approached by her long-time political ally to support him during the elections in exchange for a political appointment. He agreed at the time and she mobilized her finances and her supporters on the streets to vote for him.
Now that it was time for him to come through for her, he had reneged on his promise.
And his excuse was laughable.
Alhaja Salami was incandescent with rage and she let Aare Akinwande know it.
Until his ego kicked in and he stood up and chastised her, asking her to remember her place.
Eniola sat down quietly but it was the look on her face that I took note of. That was a look I had seen on women’s faces before – It’s the same look women wear after campaigning passionately for candidates who promise to remove taxes from period products, only to have them renege. It’s the same look women wear when the leaders they endorse, throw them under the bus. Hell, it was a look I have worn before when I realized I may see the passage of a heinous anti-LGBQTI+ bill before the Affirmative Action bill. It’s a look of fury at being deceived by a man you thought would keep his word; and a look of shame for having fallen for the lies.
But as she lowered her eyes and her voice, I started paying attention – this woman is called the King of Boys. THE KING. And no one can ascend to that throne and hold it for over thirty years without being shrewder than most. The question now was – what would she do?
I was fortunate to have a long weekend to binge watch King of Boys from its first movie to the limited edition series and I must admit, it blew my mind. The writing was superb, the costume was impeccable, the acting was excellent and the Yoruba proverbs were the icing on the cake.
It was fascinating to watch a woman as the King of the underworld – not a Queen, but a King. And she widely acknowledged as such. It was fascinating to watch her study her enemies, and wield her power with intelligence and viciousness.
And it was fascinating to watch Eniola manipulate some patriarchal norms to fit her agenda – and to watch her succumb to others.
For example, as a young woman, she realized that her curvaceous body and quick wit was appealing to rich men and she snagged herself the then crime boss – Alhaja Salami -as her lover. She knew she couldn’t fully inherit his seat as his mistress or his second wife, so she had his entire family murdered.
Eniola understood that to be the King of the boys at a table of men would require her to use a mix of extreme violence with occasional flashes of benevolence; which is why she faced few repercussions when she murdered the then head of the table in front of the other elders – and took his seat.
She realized her adopted daughter Kemi was as shrewd and ruthless as she was and took time to groom her in the business; she ensured her daughter had a world class education, knew all the people she (Eniola) knew, was her personal executive administrator and lawyer and understood how to straddle the lines between the legal and illegal.
However, Eniola was still a typical Yoruba mum; she didn’t tolerate nonsense but she coddled her son Kitan and spoiled him to the point that he was completely ineffective as a member of her legal and illegal businesses. She scolded him and berated him but in the same vein, wouldn’t allow Kemi to criticize him because “Kitan is to sensitive”.
Although everyone knew Kitan was the weakest Salami in the family (when she wanted to ‘talk business’ she would drive Kitan out of the room and discuss matters with Kemi; only calling him back when the details were finalized); he was still able to ask “Am I not your son?” to which Eniola responded by hugging him and trying to calm him down. She valued her daughter, trained her in the fine art of ruling the underworld…but still clung to the idea that her son would be the male figurehead at the helm of her family when she passed on.
It was fascinating watching Eniola simultaneously navigate defeating the political foes who tried to thwart her gubernatorial ambitions as well as watching the in-fighting over her throne in the crime world.
Jumoke Randall was warned to leave Eniola alone but the temptation to destroy one of the most dangerous women in Lagos was too great to resist. Jumoke tried to play into the fact that Eniola was widowed and had lost her children and as such “lacked structure” as compared to her husband (the sitting governor) who was married and had two children. The campaign team for Eniola tried to put out a story that she (Eniola) would settle down and she responded “settle down as what?” before asking “would we be asking this question of a male candidate?”
Aare thought he could murder her, and to his credit, he tried on several occasions, but each attempt failed. When Eniola asked him why he was so against her also succeeding at politics he responded “that he had killed people who had showed less ambition and that…one knows to stop a handshake before it reaches the elbow.”
That scene made me pause. For all their differences, I sensed Eniola genuinely respected him and was genuinely puzzled that he would fight so hard to prevent her from attaining her goal.
If I could reach into the movie I would tell her that powerful men always feel threatened by powerful women; and that they would do anything to hold onto their power. I would remind her that the men at the table that she rules are the same men in politics; the only difference is that the men she is King over know better than to cross her. And I would assure her that, Aare’s desperate hold on power has nothing to do with her per se; and everything to do with the fact that she is a woman and his mind will never grasp the fact that a woman is more intelligent, more vicious and more ambitious than he is.
“They say a child who does not recognise a deadly herb, will call it a vegetable”
One thing I noticed throughout the movie and the limited edition series was how Eniola would use proverbs to introduce herself to her audience. She called herself “Laburu” “the evil one” “God’s punishment” “pestilence” but her opponents didn’t take her seriously. Every single man in that series (with the exception of Inspector Nurudeen Gobir) took her for granted. None of them could fully grasp that she was as intelligent, as shrewd and as forward thinking as she had proved herself to be for over 30 years. In their eyes, it was a fluke that she was King. In their eyes, it was an accident or perhaps…they had granted her permission to rule over them for over three decades.
Out of the largess of their hearts.
This was plainly elucidated when Odudubariba would fearlessly sit on her throne, call her a bitch and threaten to have her “motherfucking ass” shot up full of bullets.
Everyone underestimated her.
But to African women, this diminishing and infantilisation is not something new to us. We have watched society denigrate intelligent women on one day then elevate less-intelligent men the next. We have watched our achievements diminished because we lack a husband or children or both. We have watched our careers reduced to “who did she sleep with?”
Which is why I loved the closing scene of the final episode of King of Boys; not only because the mass murder of her enemies was a fitting end to those lily-livered ingrates. But also because as a feminist, it made me ask myself “hmmm…is Kemi sending a subliminal message to all feminists right now? Is she saying there’s a time of reckoning afoot for the patriarchy and all its agents?”
I’ll never know for sure. One thing I do know is Eniola’s monologue in Episode 7 was epic and a timely reminder of who she was and who every woman IS:
“A woman with a million warriors in her. Invaluable. Indestructible. Indefatigable. The bringer of pain and pestilence……
I have no duplicate.
I walk majestically like a king. I come and go as I please, like a king, without thought to my enemies.
There is no one like me!
I am irreplaceable!
I am the trailblazer you all follow, and if the future holds misfortune, only I can warn you to keep back………
Yesterday I was, today I am, and I remain the one to fear.
The dreaded one.
I am Eniola Salami, universally acknowledged as the Monarch…
KING OF BOYS.”