Shanty Town, the New Netflix Original Series entertaining Nigerians, deliberately showcases parts of our culture – Afrobeats, pidgin, Yoruba, Igbo…but it is the Ibibio language spoken between Ini Edo’s character, Inem, and Nse Ikpe-Etim’s character, Ene, for about 30% of the series’ dialogue, that is impossible to ignore.
The Ibibio people account for about 8 million out of Nigeria’s 225 million people – that’s just under 4% of the country’s population. Putting this number alongside the most-populated ethnic groups such as the Hausa (66 million people), the Igbo (40 million people) and the Yoruba (47 million people), you will see why the spoken Ibibio language in Shanty Town represents a major cultural moment for their people.
On the biggest viewing platform in the world today, with their most famous daughter, it’s hard to watch Shanty Town and not pause to Google what language Ini Edo and Nse Ikpe-Etim are speaking on the show or even Google their characters’ names to find out what they mean. As a proud Ibomite, Ini Edo is on a mission to position the richness of her culture on a global scale; that’s why as one of the producers of Shanty Town, she created strong Ibibio female characters to represent them and more importantly, to make young Ibomite women who watch the series know that they can achieve success like Ini.
Shanty Town is an ensemble series, assembling the biggest of Nollywood’s stars in Ini Edo, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Shaffy Bello, Chidi Mokeme, Nancy Isime, Uche Jombo and Nse Ikpe-Etim. It helps that Ini and Nse play characters who are not the stereotypical damsels in distress or helpless playthings for male characters. Ini plays Inem, whose real name is Amanda and happens to be a surviving twin and undercover policewoman. She is able to infiltrate the Shanty Town – a community in Lagos controlled by a pimp and gangster called Scar played by Chidi Mokeme – because her identical twin sister once lived in the Shanty Town but succumbed to cancer unbeknownst to the community dwellers.
Nse Ikpe-Etim plays Ene, the pimp’s deputy. Even though she ranks higher than Inem in the community as the former is a pimp deputy and the latter is a prostitute, the Ibibio language frequently erases this hierarchy between them and the viewer can sometimes forget whom is senior to whom.
Ini Edo’s character, Inem, frequently challenges Scar and Ene without caring about the consequences. Imagine the impact that will have on a female Ibomite who watches the series! She’ll feel she can take charge in a male-dominated society and achieve her objectives and goals. Not to talk of when she finds out that in real-life Ini Edo was one of the producers! The sky will be her limit!
At the end of the series, justice prevailed within the Shanty Town as information Inem got led to the death of Scar and the arrest of his boss Chief DaCosta Fernandez played by Richard Mofe-Damijo.
In a state of over just over 5 million people with more men than women, Akwa Ibom can add Shanty Town to its growing list of achievements.