By Anote Ajeluorou
She isn’t one of the known, seasoned playwrights. But Ifechi Jane Odoe has something urgent to tell Nigerians about the country’s inability to attain true nationhood, its rickety superstructure, the slippery value system, the culture of political impunity and corruption. More importantly, Odoe is seeking urgent ways out of Nigeria’s chronic miasma so it could attain its true potential, especially with a vibrant population that can easily be put to work to realise dreamed of greatness. She encapsulated these thoughts in a conversation she held with art writers in Lagos last week
Nigeria’s inability to attain true nationhood has often been blamed on lack of patriotism on the part of its citizenry. With a political elite manifestly corrupt and always seeking ways to subvert the system for personal gains, and a followership that is often gullible, docile and also corrupt or inclined to cheering on corrupt leaders, Nigeria’s road to true nationhood seems a hard one. What is to be done to steer the ship of state to safety?
These issues form the thrust of Odoe’s first play Edge of the Brink, a title that is suggestive of imminent danger, a foretold coming to an end of all things, a collapse waiting to happen. Odoe’s wish is “That we learn social lessons from Edge of the Brink as a people, as black people, for it to help us reason as a people, that we can do things better. It’s a call to duty, to patriotism and nationhood; that we need a little push to get us to our destination. When you see Nigerians abroad, they are very confident, energetic, forward-looking people. Why should we be different back home? Indeed, we can start doing better things after reading the book”.
Tracing the life of four young men from the rural areas to urban cities, how they suffered in their early years through school and then moving on to the big stage and misusing the opportunities power thrust at them and wasting the commonwealth on self-aggrandisement, Odoe’s proposition is somewhat short of a bloody revolution. And seeing that the country of the play’s setting may not be so different from Nigeria, she says, “I’m not proposing that kind of bloody revolution for Nigeria. Nature has a way of forcing things to happen one way or the other. Nevertheless, we are now getting to a point where such proposition can happen because we’re building up to a situation of social tension. We may get to where society will not be able to hold any more. We may only be postponing the evil day. In any case, revolution can also be ideological and not necessarily a bloody one”.
Odoe’s passion for Nigeria’s social re-engineering is infectious. It is this passion that informed her writing the book as a commentary for change. Nigeria’s one week revolution in January, ‘Occupy Nigeria’ may still be fresh in her mind. But Odoe is also thinking of ‘value revolution’ that should sweep through the country, starting from the ‘self’ and then onto the family unit, two important organs of social cohesion. She cautions, “We need to look at ourselves and decide what we really need to do. We need to say, ‘enough is enough to all the nonsense! Edge of the Brink is a summary of what we need in Nigeria. It takes the grace of God to live in Nigeria in terms of water supply, electricity, education.
“Every Nigerian you see is much stressed compared to nationals of other countries. We’re just existing, we’re just surviving as a people; it should not be so. The question for most people is, ‘how do I live to the next day?”
Odoe, also a mother, is not at ease with the way children have latched onto the various social media (facebook, twitter, badoo, linkedin, etc) to define their lifestyles as against what obtained while she was growing up. She says books, reading and the art of cookery defined her growing up era, things parent emphasised and inculcated in their children, wholesome pastime now lost to this generation of social media compulsively sold to its vicious aspects, with the gruesome murder of Cynthia Osokogwu still fresh in the memory of many Nigerians.
“We have to look at our value system as a society,” she urges. “The family plays a very huge role in bringing children up. Parents have to hold their children well as values from home affect their lifestyles. Edge of the Brink is a reflection of what we are so as to be able to change our ways. And, I’m using drama as a kind of melodrama for me to bring out what we are and to say, ‘is this really us?’. I want it performed so we can see its effect on people.”
Also a poet, Odoe is willing to work with producers to put Edge of the Brink on stage for its full dramatic realisation. For now Edge of the Brink can only be obtained on amazon.com or as e-book, and she says her publisher, Authorhouse is willing to partner any local publisher to get hard copies of the book for Nigerians.
On the challenges of writing the play, Odoe, formerly a journalist with The Guardian, says it took her a year before she published the book because she wanted Edge of the Brink to come out fine. She also states that Edge of the Brink is a snippet of what is to come from her as a writer.