By Anote Ajeluorou
THE coincidence appeared deliberate. The thematic focus of the play, Daniel, hit the heart of Nigeria’s political malaise. The root cause of the country’s political trajectory has long been traced to poor moral disposition of the men and women at the corridors of power, whether directly as heads of government or as the numerous advisers that explicate or complicate governance.
So, last week’s anniversary of Nigeria’s Democracy Day became appropriate time for Snapshots Productions, the creative and performance arm of Pastor Poju Oyemade-led Covenant Christian Centre, Lagos to stage Daniel, a play written by Phillip Begho. It’s a historical-political play on the ancient Babylonian empire.
The story of Daniel as recorded in the Bible of the same title is first class story of political intrigues that can take place in any king’s court. But more importantly, it’s the story of morality in government, and how a few good men or a single upright man, who chooses to stand apart from the moral decadence around him, can make a difference.
It’s precisely for this reason that Snapshots Production, led by former Artist Manager to ace gospel singer, Sammie Okposo, Mr. Duka Kachi, decided to stage Daniel at MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos on Democracy Day, May 29, some10 years after he first saw the production. Kachi saw in the play a compelling story against the corruptive tendency that is rife in governance circles in modern day Nigeria.
To cap up the remarkable performance, admission to the two performances was free, which Kachi said was a way of disseminating the gospel by inculcating the values of strict morality on young people, as it would stand them in good stead in their lifelong careers in the years ahead. The two sessions had the Agip Recital Hall overflowing with audience.
For Kachi, the choice of Democracy Day to stage the play was deliberate as Nigerians needed to be given a moral compass in the exemplary character of Daniel, a man who stood apart from the corruption of his day and who held on to his faith in Almighty God (in spite of threats to his life) as the one deserving to be truly honoured above any human king on earth.
Kachi stated after the performance, “Interestingly, the story of Daniel is that of a man who brought excellence to government. He worked with autocratic kings, who were despots and he still distinguished himself among his peers. Daniel was led by the spirit of excellence; he gave impeccable, first class, excellent service in spite of the prevailing political environment. Daniel is the kind of man we need in Nigeria right now, men and women who can give excellence, impeccable service in spite of everything else.
“Daniel served and survived four mean, evil, wicked emperors, but he stood his ground amongst them all and they held him in high esteem. Even Daniel’s colleagues and adversaries testified to his incorruptible nature. The important thing about Daniel is that these four wicked emperors saw something indispensable, something so valuable in him to their being successful rulers of Babylon and they wanted him in their courts. The great King Darius even begged Daniel to change his mind; that he should not proclaim God as being mightier than him so he could spare Daniel his life in spite of a decree he had signed into law”.
DANIEL’s performance came after an opening glee of classical musical performance first at the foyer of the hall, then inside the hall by sensational Ige and her cello partner. They gave the audience a taste of magical classical music that kept the audience clapping endlessly. For a free show, such thrilling performance from Ige and her male companion on the cello was a sheer delight and the audience thoroughly enjoyed it.
Clad in a red gown and a red scarf like some ancient, Middle East folk artist, Ige’s renditions, coupled with her strong vocal power, was engaging and compelling. She weaved her way in and out in varying pitches to a crescendo, with her companion’s cello also weaving along; it made classical music so enthralling just as it acquired a new, uplifting meaning. Their performance was with such supreme verve it got the audience applauding for a long while.
FIRST, Daniel (Tosin Smart) found himself among lions in the Babylonian men he worked with at the king’s court. There was the King Darius’ wife, Queen Hajitha (Uchechukwuka C. Elumelu), whom the king referred to as serpent on account of her devilish plan to have him assassinated; Satala (Samuel Adejuyitan), the wiry politician and administrator and Nimri (Femi Abatan), the brainless war general all envious of the Hebrew slave, Daniel for the huge favour the king bestows on him.
With Daniel newly made the king’s chief minister, the three others feel short-changed by a common foreigner. They begin to plot his downfall. With Satala’s political sagacity, he convinces Hajitha (who unsuccessfully tries to have Daniel sleep with her) and Nimri so the king would promulgate a decree to the effect that no other god should be worshipped in 30 days in all of Babylon except King Darius (Opeyemi Adaegbo). They know Daniel’s devotion to the Hebrew God and that he could not bow to any other god except Jehovah.
Satala manages to convince Darius to set himself up as god to be worshipped for 30 days. The king ascents to the decree without knowing that its true intent was to rid the palace of Daniel. Not long after Daniel returns from a trip to oversee distant lands of the kingdom, he falls into the trap set for him and is brought to judgment.
His condemnation is a source of grief to the king, who wishes above all else that Daniel would be proven wrong on the charges brought against him by the trio. King Darius even begs Daniel to recount his faith in his God, but Daniel would not. He would not bow to other gods, not least to a man who has set himself up as an object of worship.
Daniel is delivered to the lions’ den. King Darius is greatly agitated and laments his courtiers’ treachery and evil plot against Daniel. Daniel as chief minister is a huge asset to his kingdom and he knew how profound his loss would be.
King Darius couldn’t find sleep in his agitation. But that is when he gets a hint of the coup plot being brewed in his own court, with the intent to unseat him. He sees Satala wooing his wife, Hajitha and of their evil plot to kill him. But it has all been Queen Hajitha’s plot; she merely recruits Satala to execute it. Satala would set up Nimri to kill the king and have him also executed for killing the king, dispose of Satala and become the undisputed monarch of Babylon!
Begho’s execution of the resolution of Daniel’s plot is finely done and Kachi’s directorial touch sublime. The performers, too, mostly semi-professionals, did a great job of interpreting the plot and in putting life to the performance. Except Satala, whose vocal projection was faint, it was an all-round superb performance. Elumelu (Queen Hajitha) displayed dexterity in characterization; so also Adeagbo (King Darius), who gave flawless performance.
Begho’s interpretation of Daniel isn’t just a re-enactment of the Bible story. It tells of the profundity of living a Godly life; how God turned Daniel’s adversity into victory for him by turning the evil plots of his enemies against them.
But even more profound a lesson to glean from Daniel is the dilemma rulers, kings and presidents face in choosing the right ministers, advisers and other courtiers to assist them in governance. While Daniel is an exemplary man, the others in King Darius’ court, including his own wife, are busy plotting to subvert his leadership for the love of power and pecuniary measures.
But even more telling is Daniel’s life of devotion to his Godly ideals from which he draws his exceptional lifestyle that sets him apart from the other corrupt officials. His life of Godly service makes him favourite of four kings of Babylon.
Produced entirely on the expenses of Covenant Christian Centre, with the intent to take Daniel around some campuses to show it to young Nigerians, it’s the sort of production that corporations should scramble to sponsor, as it speaks truth to power in an uncommon way.
What further distinguishes Daniel, as drama is its non-preachy, performance style. Although a Christian play, it does not rely on any dose, heavy or light, of preaching. Even when it doesn’t ring bells of repentance, the silent, exemplary life of Daniel is its central message unto repentance. Yet in its neutrality is the compelling story of personal regeneration, whether in a Christian setting or even a secular one, where morality or uprightness in character is needed for excellent service to humanity.
Daniel is a must-watch stage performance, especially now that Nigeria is searching for similar antidote for its hydra-headed political dilemma!