By Anote Ajeluorou
Acquiring and retaining power is sometimes a cartelised equation where certain people with common interest pool resources together to achieve their goal. And so in parts of the world associations like the Freemasons and the likes operate. But in Africa, reputedly the dark continent, such power cartel seems entrenched and operates with sinister outcomes. It is such that power is not only measured in financial strength of individuals in such associations, but in their involvement in occult participation and other forms of evil operations that come with disastrous consequences both for the individual and society at large.
This is what forms the crux of one of Ben Tomoloju’s plays, Mujemuje (literally meaning ‘catch and eat’) performed last December at University of Lagos as part of his 60th birthday celebration. A brick factory located in Akpaitako town threatens the very existence of the town. Chief Alowole Ayeruagba has major stakes in the factory and has two hirelings, Osi, a native of Akpaitako and Equator, as armed killers who do his dirty jobs. In the expansionist drive of the factory, Akpaitako town has to be relocated; this pitches the town against the factory owners, as they confront the bulldozers sent to flatten the town.
But Osi is at cross-roads; it was the factory’s coming to town that aborted his educational ambition when his school had to make way for the factory and his parents couldn’t afford to send to a school far away. Now, he is working for the same man, who again is determined to sack his town for his factory’s expansion. It’s clear Osi has taken enough beating from one man; he is willing to abandon his duty post to the evil that Ayeruagba represents. He convinces his fellow henchman, Equator to see reason with him and turn a new leaf, but they had to be discreet about it less their evil boss turns on them.
Ayeruagba was a poor railway security official who could barely make ends meet. Even at that, he was ready to add Abebe as wife to the one he already had and one child, Tolani in spite of Abebe’s pregnancy for another man at the time, a man who left for studies abroad and so abandoned Abebe to care for the pregnancy. This was the time Ayeruagba accidentally runs into his old school mate, Babajo, a man who has moved up the ladder of life; he has his hands in all juicy pies in the economy. For old school mates’ sakes, Babajo is willing to help his friend, Ayeruagba. They promise to meet at a rendezvous in the dead of night. Ayeruagba doesn’t know it is to be his initiation into the Supreme Council of Patrons, a deadly occult group. So begins the evil fellowship that would consume Ayeruagba.
For starters, Ayeruagba has to forfeit use of his manhood, as sacrifice for the financial wealth the cult would grant him. It’s an irreversible decision, and he has no say in the matter. Accepting to attend the meeting which intent he knew nothing about is enough consent to abide by whatever rules obtain.
As the ragging battle for the soul of Akpaitako town escalates between the brick factory and the inhabitants, things come to a head among members of the Supreme Council of Patrons. They begin to trade accusations among themselves; it becomes clear how they illegally claim sections of the economy with their supernatural powers; how they eliminate their opponents and create mayhem just to protect their vested interests.
As is usual in such cases, it’s time for Ayeruagba to make his own sacrifice to the deity of their evil association by donating his most valued blood relation. In fact, the deity knows its prize already; it picks Ayeruagba’s only child and newly graduated Tolani, a first class! Ayeruagba is stunned and protests wildly, but to no avail. The deity has made its choice of victim for all the wealth Ayeruagba has gained from associating with it. It’s double loss to Ayeruagba; it is the same occult deity that rendered him impotent on becoming a member years back. Now, the same deity is bent on consuming his only daughter since Wese, the child Abebe bore in his home isn’t exactly his. It’s at this moment of crisis that Wese’s father turns up to claim his son. But Wese chases him away for abandoning the woman (his mother) he impregnated…
Ayeruagba is at his wits’ end as his world spirals downhill, with protests ragging and threatening his factory and the life of his only child and daughter hanging in the balance. On the night the deity is to take Tolani, Ayeruagba decides to keep vigil and arms himself with a cutlass. But just before a member of his evil group comes in, he falls asleep. Tolani is taken away to sate the appetite of a bloodthirsty deity. When Ayeruagba discovers the calamity, he commits suicide. But meanwhile, Equator and Osi had joined forces with the protesters of Akpaitako to stop the demolition of the town. In their watch they stumble on the Supreme Council of Patron’s meeting and chase them away. They also stumble on Tolani about to be killed, and rescue her.
Tomoloju’s play is apt in this political season. Politicians and businessmen and women of all shades who court extra, supernatural powers to advance their ambitions imperil not only themselves but the entire society. In their quest to own the whole world and lord it over their fellows, they enter into all sorts of shady associations that eventually require human blood sacrifice. Ayeruagba’s example is instructive. He loses his manhood just to gain wealth. With two wives and abundant wealth, what is a man without his manhood? What is money without the human essence? The only daughter he manages to beget becomes the choice blood vine for the god he chooses to serve in exchange for his soul and wealth. His cry of protest against the deity’s decision to take his daughter is pitiable and laughable, as it often happens to such sub-humans who fall for such pettiness to gain power and wealth.
Will man ever learn not to ensnare himself for the ephemeral acquisitions as power and wealth that ultimately haunt him all his life? It’s at the heart of the matter, and Tomoloju has given a slice of what it takes when man chases power and wealth at all costs.
Students of Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos, performed the Mujemuje.