By Anote Ajeluorou
World renowned novelist Chinua Achebe may have made famous the supremacy of mothers or women in Igbo cosmology in his famous novel Things Fall Apart. But in reality women playing mediatory role in African societies seems a fairly widely used weapon that comes readily when men’s madness has exhausted itself in senseless blood-letting. Playwright and poet Shehu Sani has not failed to employ this potent weapon to ensuring harmonious existence in his new play When Clerics Kill (Kraft Books Ltd, Ibadan; 2012).
Indeed, the religious ferment in parts of the country, especially in the North, with Jos, Plateau as poster picture, where Islam and Christianity have locked horns in the recent past, with a dose of tribal supremacy thrown in, has provided Sani with potent handle to address salient issues of hate and intolerance as encapsulated in the professions of some of the adherents of these two faiths. Also, the lack of political will by the political class to act decisively to avert the incessant blood-letting just for political capital is brought to the fore. The unsavoury activity of security operatives in further fuelling these crises does not escape Sani’s creative lens.
Sani’s When Clerics Kill provides a spectrum of views from different segments of society regarding their involvement in the needless religious and tribal crises that soon turn a killing field. Between the Christians and Moslems, there’s growing animosity on the basis of their teachings; this is not helped by the coming into town of fiery clerics from both religions. While Pastor Gatari Ishaya sees the Moslems as settlers in the land of his ancestors who want to forcefully convert them to their religion and should be curtailed, Sheikh Jabbar sees the Christians as infidels who indulge in sinful acts, people that must be converted for the purity of the land. They need a Jihad to rein in the wild excesses of their hosts and everybody else.
Supporters of both clerics like John and Sagir soon fall for the subversive preaching of these two dangerous clerics. And before long, matters come to a head and violence erupts to shatter the peace that had existed between them. Of course, the arguments are well-worn and Sani has merely provided a dramatic moment to thresh them out once again for those not yet conversant with them. Not least in the line of argument is how government capitalises on the gullibility of the poor to continue to inflict pain on them by not doing enough to provide jobs for the youth that become ready tools for them to use to perpetuate election fraud. Indeed, Sani puts the vulnerability of the entire poor masses in the hands of a mindless political, elite class in the sun to dry. Even their feeble effort to stem the tide of violence is laughable. While the orgy is going, the governor, whose state is on fire, is more concerned about the political implication arresting bigwigs – politicians and clergy - on both sides will have on his re-election bid, as he says: ‘Don’t forget and don’t ignore their political value. They helped us win elections and we have an opposition that is ready to cash in on any crisis. I can’t risk arresting any emir or chief for whatever reason. Just bear this in mind’.
This response from the governor to one of his aides is typical of the political manipulations or inaction of those in power to crisis situations. The usual thing is to throw more money into such crisis in the name of security. As one of the governor’s aides reminds him, monies meant for education and other infrastructural projects have been diverted to security with the result that more violence is being reaped, with the government looking on and wringing its hands helplessly.
However, women’s intuitive way of looking at a world perverted by men’s bigotry comes to the fore. Sani deftly employs John and Sagir’s wives as counterpoint to a world made mad by men’s inability to reason properly, especially men with a poor sense of pride and religious zealotry. The two women, one Christian and the other Moslem, after vainly attempting to dissuade their respective husbands from embarking on acts that would erode the peaceful co-existence of the community, team up to act. But John and Sagir are diehard followers of two crazy clerics set on collision course. When violence erupts, John and Sagir have broken heads to show for their foolishness.
In their final exasperation with the idiocy of their husbands, with the unwarranted violence threatening to disintegrate the community, Martha and Tani summon other elements in the community that abhor violence and take up placards against those inciting violence as last measure to restore peace in the community…
Sani’s When Clerics Kill presents a sobering, murky account of events that leads up to violence that has origin in religious and tribal bigotry, irresponsible government and security operatives that take laws into their hands. But Sani’s play falls short of a fully realised dramatic piece, with heightened suspense and all. What he succeeds in doing is merely provide a catalogue of arguments for both sides of the feuding parties. Indeed, his arguments are well-worn and no new, fresh insight is provided to give the reader or viewer something to think about except bringing in women as final peacemakers, when men’s back have been broken and put by fireside to heal.
Also, the play suffers from poor editing. Noticeable are poor sentence structures and grammatical errors that good editing ought to remove. Sometimes, even punctuations are poorly done, with comas being used instead of a full stop. Craft Books Ltd, with its Craftgriots poetry imprint, ought to do better than this in editing and proofreading since it is about the most patronised publishing outfit by creative writers in the country.