In Nigeria, Pentecostalism is a big as it has ever been. The preachers who are at the forefront of the mission have become so huge, casting such massive influence on the culture. It is a surprise they do not all have biopics fixing their stories in perspective.
There is the Charles Novia helmed, The Covenant Church released circa 2006, that attempted to trace the origins of the biggest Daddy G.O. of them all, Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. But despite initial excitement, the project did not quite catch on beyond certain circles.
Director and cinematographer, Stanlee Ohikhuare (Behind the Wheels) stages an intervention with Idahosa Trails, a not quite conventional biopic about the life and legacy of Pa Benson Idahosa, the charismatic preacher and founder of the Benin based, Church of God Mission International.
Idahosa may give the film its title, but the unconventional nature of the storytelling ensures that even in his own film, the man who is regarded as the father of Pentecostalism in Nigeria isn’t quite the star.
A young Idahosa is portrayed in some flashback scenes, receiving his calling and bringing back a child from the dead. But the bulk of the adult Idahosa’s – he was fondly called Papa- appearance in Idahosa Trails is an extended dream sequence where the late preacher, played by Charles Okafor is under a tree praying and eliciting pure reverence from his increasing congregation. Other appearances come in snatches.
Idahosa Trails is still about Papa, but as seen through the eyes of Thomas Book (David Schifter,) a troubled freelance journalist who arrives Benin City on an assignment, but finds himself increasingly drawn to the man of God, following the curious case of a fellow who came out of an eight year coma and gave credit of his healing to Idahosa.
It is the oldest trick in Hollywood, telling black stories through the gaze of non-threatening Caucasian protagonists and it is surprising why Ohikhuare would choose to go with this narrative for his infinitely Nigerian film.
In any case, Thomas Books’ career isn’t going so hot and while the film teases out a personal tragedy to explain his moodiness, it should also be said that he isn’t a particularly adept journalist. Since learning about the miracle, Books has been consumed with meeting the man of God. A single Google search or inquiry from a next door neighbor and he would have found out that Idahosa has been dead for almost twenty years now. Instead, Books goes through the incredibly long process of meeting up with a young pastor and Idahosa mentee, Osas (Kunle Idowu, unnecessarily overwrought) who acts as both stringer and tour guide.
The bulk of the film is composed of the two men, bonding, arguing and learning to trust the other. This is intercut with flashback scenes tracing the origins of Idahosa’s call to service. Then to interviews of real-life persons affected by Idahosa’s ministry. Idahosa’s wife, heiress and expander of the ministry, Archbishop Margaret shows up at some point.
Idahosa Trails is a big bore. Nothing much happens and the pacing moves at a snail’s pace. The premise is fair enough but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Liz Benson and Patrick Doyle are cast as parents of baby Idahosa but their roles seem to have slashed beyond recognition, leaving a single early scene that does nothing for the film.
Osas Ajibade is introduced at some point, perhaps to spice up proceedings while serving as the love interest to Mr. Books who has the personality of wet bread. But this gambit backfires immediately. She is given nothing to do, doesn’t even bother to phone in a performance and genuinely doesn’t appear interested in the material. Can’t blame her though.
Kunle Idowu is the only person mustering any excitement, but he goes about it all wrong, playing a hit-and-miss slight variation on his star-making Frank Donga character.
The primary disappointment with Idahosa Trails may be that it ultimately fails to inspire any sort of emotion whatsoever, beyond basic blandness. Not awe, not reverence, not even fondness. Anyone who is aware of the fiery brand of Pentecostalism that Archbishop Idahosa pioneered must recognize and be disappointed in the conclusion that this film doesn’t even begin to do him justice.