Friday, 24 July 2015

Periscoping A Senseless War In Madmen And Specialists

By Anote Ajeluorou

How does a writer deal with the psychological trauma that war imposes on a hapless people? How does a writer respond to two young army colonels – Emeka Ojukwu and Yakubu Gowon, who, not being able to manage their personal egos, resort to war to test out their wills and therefore subject their people to the horrors of war? What does an author make of the carnage of human lives sent too early to their graves? What happens to the countless dead? To what degenerate levels can man sink when faced with the tragic consequences of war? These must have been some of the thoughts that went through Wole Soyinka’s mind when he wrote the cynical play Madmen and Specialists.
  These issues were also played out before a packed audience when it was performed last Sunday at Terra Kulture by PAWS Production and directed by Kenneth Uphopho. There is a repeat performance of the play today at 3pm and 6pm.
  It is the Nigerian Civil war of 1967-1970 and just about the time the playwright Soyinka was also imprisoned for 22 months while the war ragged and the innocent and hapless Biafrans (Igbo) were being pummelled by the federal forces. While Soyinka emerged from prison with The Man Died, his prison memoir, he couldn’t turn away from the grim realities of a senseless war on account of which he went to prison in the first instance. The result of his views on the war is what Madmen and Specialists is about.
  Bero (Patrick Diabua) is a doctor of sorts who goes to war and is soon converted into intelligence unit. His father, too, joins the war and, stunned by the orgy of violence and countless dead, devices an ingenuous way of dealing with the situation. Rather than allow the dead to go to waste, he begins to preach the philosophy of cannibalism, turning the dead into meat and actually savouring the human flesh. After all, when other animals are killed they are eaten. Why not humans who are killed by the willful acts of man? Bero, too, becomes a convert to his father’s morbid taste.
  Meanwhile, Siberu is Bero’s sister who is made to keep the home front while the men are gone to war. She keeps her brother’s medical paraphernalia of herbal materials going and piles up some more while he is away. She has the assistance of two elderly women, who also versed the art of herbs. In fact, they serve as counterpoise to the war’s ravage and wreck, as earth mothers whose role it is to preserve the fragile earth on which destruction is being visited by the war. They are the ones who, while Bero and his father are away at war, help Siberu to maintain sanity and focus and the probable loss of the two men in her life to wat.
  Meanwhile, Bero had detailed a group of beggars, who carry various war scars, to keep watch over Siberu and her activities and the earth women. The beggars are also Bero’s father’s eyes and ears. Bero and his father, who he secrets away at his laboratory after suffering the psychological blow of war, are locked in the ideological contest of ‘AS’, as the symbol of all knowledge and the morality otherwise of the method chosen to execute their scheme. In exasperation, Bero kills his father to end what has obviously become a mad proposition.
  On account of the complexity of the play that deploys the typical Soyinkaen language that goes round and round in confusing circles, the producers had to intervene in a question and answer session to further throw light on the play. This produced its own hilarious moments both for the packed audience and the cast. Also heartwarming was that the performance of Madmen and Specialists during the long break the hall filled to capacity with guests; it somewhat gives a lie to a poor appreciation of live performances charged against Nigerians. The producers would pleasurably delighted should they record such massive audience attendance in the two shows billed for today to bring Soyinka’s Madmen and Specialists’ performance to an end.

Mbadugha’s Fictive Narrative Raises Concern About Women’s Issues

By Anote Ajeluorou

IT is not just because she is also a woman. It isn’t also because she is a medical doctor, an ophthalmologist. It is simply because the conditions of women Dr. Mbadugha address in her first collection of short stories are rampant, entrenched in society and continue to cause headache to many women. It is also because much as these issues or practices harm women, positive attitude towards eradicating them seems elusive and women continue to suffer conditions not of their own making. These are the concerns she exposes in Beyond the Trial.
  Widowhood, teenage pregnancy and wife-beating are some of the issues still militating against the ability of some women to develop to their full capacities and contribute meaningfully to society. Many women continue to reel under the yoke of painful widowhood rites combined with lack of written wills made by husbands to provide for their loved ones. This renders many wives penniless in the hands of greedy in-laws. And then how do young girls escape the trap of teenage pregnancy so they could aspire to their highest levels of personal achievements?
  These issues came to the fore recently at the presentation of Mbadugha’s debut collection at Institute of Medical Research, Yaba, Lagos. Mbadugha is insistent that society continues to ignore the cries of women who suffer the failure of their men to provide for the future through making a will that curtails the incursion of extended family members to deny them their entitlement when the man is no longer there to provide and defend his family. She called on men to stop the age-old practice of swooping on the wealth of the deceased and denying bereaved women of their husband’s property, which hinders the wellbeing of such women as well as the education of their children.
  In a form of advocacy, Mbadugha has taken to writing about these nagging issues to further raise awareness about them in society. The issues are as psychological as they are medical and Mbadugha said society’s health is at stake when a section of it is continuously put under stress that has implication for the entire society.
  “I wrote Beyond the Trial with young adults and parents in mind. It’s about how relationships, friendships can affect young people negatively, especially when they cannot confide in the adults in their lives. It’s a book of inspiration for young ones to be able to open up to their parents on things bordering them. It’s hopeful and reflective about our situations. It’s also for parents to be close to their children and how through such closeness they can help young people steer the right path”.
  She also composed a theme song for the book which she sang with gusto at the event to the admiration of guests. She sang it to the accompaniment of music from a keyboard and saxophone.
  Chairman of the event and former Lagos State Commissioner for Health Dr. Leke Pitan commended the medical practitioner for finding time to write. According to him, “We have seen another facet of Mbadugha. You’re a multifaceted, talented, disciplinary person. Given our profession, that is a rarity. We doctors just face it. The training requires that you don’t veer off from medicine. Many don’t believe medicine should be mixed with mundane things as the arts. They feel something must give.
  “I’m highly impressed. But not surprised. Mentally, Mbadugha is way beyond average. You are a pride to the medical profession. There’s a lot to learn from you and your book. I hope many more of us can borrow a leaf from her and show the many facets of us in the medical profession. We look forward to a CD from you”.
  Other medical professionals in attendance also praised Mbadugha for her efforts in writing a book well outside the medical profession that deals with real time societal issues that plague many, young and old. Those present included Profs. Onakoya, Adefule, Ositelu Akinsola, Ibidapo, Dr. Ogechi Nwokedi, who read an excerpt from the book, author’s husband, Prof. Joseph Mbadugha, gospel singer Olufunmi Olajoyegbe and her husband, John Osakwe, Dr. Hope Iloka.

Rousing Ijegba forest beings for Soyinka at 81

By Anote Ajeluorou

For the second year Ijegba forest beings were stirred awake in moonlight-like performance enactment to salute the solitary human occupant Wole Soyina who recently turned 81 in Abeokuta. Although there were no women clad in white who held aloft oil lamps like last year to lend eerie feel to the forest and light the way for the invaders of this forest, the slight rain early in the evening rendered the narrow bush path slippery and cagey. It ensured that the audience-invaders of the 80-capacity Ijegba Forest Amphi-Theatre who had come to see the performance of Kongi’s Harvest shared with Soyinka what it felt to live well apart from others in constricted city spaces.
  Indeed, remarks by Soyinka’s son Makin, who also spots a mane almost comparable to his father’s, and echoing his inimitable father, said only a madman like Alhaji Teju Kareem would conceive the idea of carving out a theatre out of the forest and that only another madman would think of staging Kongi’s Harvest in theatre carved out of a forest and a valley. And it didn’t come as a surprise, especially in an environment in which ideas seem in abundance but short on execution on account of a myriad of real or imagined challenges that plague many in Nigeria’s social space.
  But Kareem has carved an enduring theatre melded into a sloping, undulating forest landscape that challenges the imagination, or in fact, on which imagination soars, as the actors did, especially the Organising Secretary (Akrah Joy), who, as the sustaining soul of Kongi’s power mongering, bestrode the entire stage rampant with fascinating ease and delivery until her guile is thwarted at the moment of triumph for her boss Kongi and things go awry. She has to take to her heels to avoid the rage stirred by the attempted assassination of Kongi.
  And just like A Dance of the Forests staged last year when Soyinka turned landmark 80, Kongi’s Harvest couldn’t have found a better stage magic than the one Zmirage Multimedia Ltd conjured for it at Ijegba Forest Theatre. Although while the costumes for A Dance of the Forests lent themselves better and melded with the stage carved out of the Ijegba forest on account of the other-worldly beings that peopled the play, the same forest setting actually lent Kongi’s Harvest the primal ambience of power manipulation, power theft and power usurpation and its dark, ritual transfer from the true owners to pretenders to the throne through devious subterfuge.
  That was the magic of Kongi’s Harvest on the night of Soyinka’s 81st birthday celebration expressed in Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSICE) by the duo Kareem and Prof. Segun Ojewuyi, former students of Soyinka who have turned the symbolism of the global icon into a yearly cultural fiesta and tourism item that draws people from far and near to Abeokuta in celebration.
  Set in the era when power usurpation was rampant in parts of Africa, including Nigeria, Kongi’s Harvest

EARLIER, Samson Apata opened the evening soon after the rain petered out with his Yoruba ewi poetry chant that stirred the audience. Then came Efe Paul Azino, whose deft spoken word poetry delivery left many breathless in its precise articulation of the Soyinka mystique. Titled ‘Storyteller,’ the piece encapsulates the Soyinka essence as a storyteller both in the literary and literal senses of his engagement as a writer blazoning words across the horizon and his pursuit of justice and sane society.
  Co-Executive Producer of Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSICE) 2015 and Head of Directing at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, U.S. Prof. Ojewuyi bemoaned the crass idiocy masquerading as leadership that strut Nigeria’s landscape and how refreshing it is that a personality like Soyinka is at the forefront of putting things right with the noble ideals he represents and expouses.
  According to him, “We live in a country where we have a barrage of negative things obstructing our country. But we still have people who have vision and are ready to move the country forward. Soyinka isn’t just a Nobel laureate; he is the embodiment of our humanity”.

ALSO, Soyinka in his address to the 81 students that competed in the yearly essay contest titled ‘To the July 13 ‘Class of 81’, bid the children welcome to his home even in his absence. The poet and dramatist still harped on the missing Chibok schoolgirls and asked the young ones to stand up the barbarism the Boko Haram extremists stands for and reject it in its entirety.
  As he put it, “Whether we choose to admit it or not, we are assailed by one of the most ruthless enemies of humanity that the nation has ever known. It must be an extremely lucky individual among you from several parts of the North who has not lost a family member, a friend, a mentor, or even acquaintance to the forces of death and destruction known as Boko Haram.
  “Islam is a religion that is famous for its love of the Book, indeed, the early followers of that faith were known as ‘the people of the Book’. Famous Islamic scholars have stood guardian at the portals of institutions of learning such as the Library of Alexandria. From time immemorial, they pushed forward the frontiers of learning, authored timeless works that today fill the vaults of the famous libraries of Timbuktu which barbarians like Ansar Dine have sought to destroy. Islamic scholars are leading lights in that mission of expanding the mind, a mission that has resulted in your coming together from all corners of the nation, fostering the togetherness of youth across gender, faith, and accident of birth. These pioneers confronted and denounced diverse apostles of ignorance and divisiveness, upholding the exhortations of great Islamic teachers such as Abbas Mahmoud El Akkad who declared that “applying the mind is an Islamic duty”, and that using one’s mental faculty is an obligation for all Moslems”.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

(Interview by ANOTE AJELUOROU published in The Guardian on occasion of Fred Agbeyegbe’s 76th birthday in 2011)

  Within the Nigerian context, my fame, as it is, may have come from theatre because that is the place you easily get public applause. But I don’t think I have been any less a lawyer in the sense that I have practised law without any break in terms of number of years, I’ve been in more legal situations than I’ve been in theatrical projects. That might be difficult to believe. But, of course, one, I mean the theatre, is more attractive of popular acclaim than the other.  The other is done within the sacrosanct walls of a court.  I was brought up as a lawyer not to advertise, I think I’ve stepped within those bounds.  A good number of people perhaps don’t know that I read Law.  They are more likely to describe me first as a writer or a journalist, which I’m not, although I write, I think you need a number of attributes to be called a journalist.  In spite of my having had columns in the papers, I still don’t regard myself as a journalist.

  It can’t be called happenstance because of the length of my life; I’ve been involved in it.  But it has been the joy of my life; I’ve gone after it deliberately.  But one can trace its origin to youthful exuberance, especially in those days when upbringing dictates that you must show commitment, usefulness.
  Even as young persons, you must be a role model; and I think it’s the absence of consistent role modeling on the part of today’s leaders that has brought Nigeria to where it is today. When I was young, it was almost compulsory to show that you have God-given gifts, that you have talents and you’re prepared to use them for the benefit of society. We were made to write a play, which I did at the age of 14. A welfare lady, who was in charge of my area in Warri, my hometown, set us to it.  She was very creative, and she wanted us to be creative as well.  She encouraged us to do things; to be proactive and to be ready to be useful members of society, as it were. The belief was not anything less at the time that the youths of today are the leaders of tomorrow.  Today, they say it more flippantly than they said it then; but it means a lot and we imbibed it.  So, I wrote a play at 14; it wasn’t happenstance.  It was an annual activity for youth club.

  The one I wrote at 14 was not published.  But it attracted its own level of interest, which it generated all over the place.  We were British subjects at the time and subject matter was to do, funnily enough, with what effectively was the burial ground of the English royal family – Westminister Abbey.  I got there eventually at my adult age; but at the time, I knew nothing about it other than what I saw on an almanac on the wall. Subsequent plays before The King Must Dance Naked were many: The Reincarnation Lovers, which was broadcast on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), The Will, Competition Forever – all came before it.  The King Must Dance Naked was my debutant play in Nigeria, and because of the time and what was happening in the theatre world, it gave it some impetus in that for some of those who were here before I got back from the U.K, theatre was dead.  There was this big edifice, the National Theatre, in which next to nothing was happening. I remember, in fact, Dr. Ola Balogun was incensed at the then director of the National Theatre for participating in the plays of Ajo Productions, Jide Ogungbade and my humble self at the time following the success of The King Must Dance Naked. 

  He actually wrote an article on it, his review of the play.  But he didn’t confine it to the play, saying the play was fantastic play, that it was good for English theatre and drama; but he went on a barrage against the National Theatre director – I can’t remember his name now – saying all he used the theatre for was for American films; that he didn’t give theatre practitioners opportunity to use the place to do the sort of thing that Ajo Productions and Fred Agbeyegbe had just done.  How dare he come to participate in the glory of something that was good for the theatre. It was really incredible. But that was the trend of the comment at the time, actually. That was why everybody believed that Ajo Productions, The King Must Dance Naked and Fred Agbeyegbe, the three of them, all came to enliven the National Theatre.  And thereafter, we never looked back until many years ago when the Federal Government tried to sell it off.

  It was sheer madness (laughs)… I remember Prof. Femi Osofisan came to one of our events in Abuja, when the head of Department of Theatre Arts, Ibadan, came to review my book, a play, Woe unto Death at the National University Commission Conference Centre, and we put up the play as well.  Coincidenally, Osofisan was in town; so he came to see the play.  It was the beginning of my escapade in trying to make Abuja not to be a weekend ghost town.  It was where they do their business, do their politics, but by Thursday everybody is rushing out. That is why I call it madness.
  But I said that wasn’t good enough.  This is meant to be the capital of Nigeria with all the diplomatic community, who find themselves left alone in someone else’s town or capital every weekend. And, since they seem to understand and enjoy theatre more than the average Nigerian, we thought that we could get something like that going, that it would interest them; that it would bring about some change and make Abuja more lively.

  Again, this was before 1986, when the legal profession was 100 years old in Nigeria. So the NBA commissioned me to write a play as part of the celebration or commemoration of 100 years of legal practice in Nigeria. And I came up with a play called BUDISO. BU stands for Buhari; DI stands for Idiagbon, and SO stands for Sowemimo. And again, coincidentally, when put literally together in Yoruba, ‘budiso’ means ‘grab your arse’ That’s why in the play, when you hear ‘Budiso’ people grab their arse. It depicts the unacceptability of the mangling of laws by the courts, albeit under the military regime. BUDISO is a farce but it reflects an era in the Nigeria bench/bar relationship.

  Well, that’s part of what’s going on in this country. I was an Itsekiri man before I became a Nigerian. In fact, I was naturally an Itsekiri man; I became a Nigerian by accident. And after seeing the way it has gone, I regretted being a Nigerian, detests being a Nigerian, because of what I have been put through. But that bit about being Itsekiri, I didn’t have a choice; that’s how the good lord made me and put me in Itsekiri land. So, my custom, my traditions, my comings and goings, the things that I knew as I grew up, the first language I spoke in my life is Itsekiri.
  Then you have this imposition. Here I am; the construction of the country I belong to says, in effect, there are four languages as lingua franca: English, but you can use Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba. None of those four languages is my language.
  Although it has been said, and I believe it is so, that my plays are universally applicable, either in their nuances or in the ways of life. I can only better relate to those things in life when I want to put them across to other people the best way I understand them. So, in the plays, the names are largely Itsekiri names; the costumes; the traditions are largely Itsekiri traditions.
  For instance, in a scene where a king dies and another is going to be put on the throne, I can’t put what they do in Sokoto or Owerri; it’s what they do in Warri, what they do in Itsekiri land. Where I come from featured.
  As I always say, if Moses wrote the bible in Warri, Itsekiri, Urhobo or Ijaw will be in it but he did not (laughs). The bible carries the language of the person who put it down.
  Everything after that is interpretation but those interpretation are linguistic interpretations. You could not interpret Galili by writing Liverpool there; so Galili is Galili and it remains so in the bible, Jordan is Jordan as it is written down even when you and I read it in the English language. So, that is what Itsekiri traditions, history and language are doing in my plays.