18th July, 2011
Title: Nigeria The Beautiful
Playwright: Odia Ofeimun
The drums began to beat a pacy rhythm adrenalin-raising rhythm. As the musicians disengaged the airwaves abruptly, a solemn rendition of the Nigerian anthem took up the cue. And then a graceful dance followed to give a foretaste of the story. Thus began the performance of Odia Ofeimunâ€™s lastest dance drama, Nigeria the Beautiful, at the MUSON, a highbrow event centre in Onikan, Lagos.
Nigeria the Beautiful in intent is a string of the various epochs that Nigeria has witnessed since the beginning of its often-fragile oness as a nation. The story begins from Fredrick Lord Lugard, the mastermind of the feeble marriage in 1914. As the play opens, the colonial supremo is intimated by his orderly of the visit from the members of the Egba United Government. A dialogue-apath, Lugard turns his guests away by refusing them audience. The stage at this point was set for the impending conflicts -tussle for power among the ethnic groupings. These crises bordered on who gets the lion share of when the ripening cobs of power finally turn brown.
Then the gladiators enter. Ofeimun gives a bit by bit account of the underhand politicking that eventually placed one region over another. The intensity of the bickering soon blighted the fortunes that were staring the young republic in the face. The lords; Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo, who stood as emblems of the regions soon got neck deep in the crave for power. Their adventure lasted until the whirlwind swept them away vide a military coup. One gun-hoot chasing the leader, followed for a considerable period before their â€˜graciousâ€™ return to the barracks in 1979.
Events followed on each otherâ€™s heels until the dawn of the second republic. In that sequence, the performers did a re-cast of the lack of will power or absence of savvy by President Shehu Shagari. Himself, a military creation, the character in the story showed that his leadership acumen was retarded. This was noticeable in his empty boasts before world leaders and the excess nibbling around the countryâ€™s treasury by big politicians in that government. To save the government from an apparent self implosion, the army surfaced again, chanting redemption songs.
One clique of power drunk officers chased the other out of the driverâ€™s seat in a circle until 1993. The actor dramatized the event that followed the annulment of the acclaimed June 12, 1993 presidential election. The haze that settled on the nation did not escape the poetâ€™s thought nor did the director leave out. The chronology progresses to 1999, when democracy returned to the country. Again one could see that even though, it had semblances of democracy, the essential components of that system of government were missing.
As the first era of that experiment collapsed, the major personae drafted his begotten god-son to take over from him. Umaru Musa Yarâ€™ Adua, it was not difficult to see through the performance was torn between governance and managing his own deteriorating health. He died in office later, midway into his tenure. Goodluck Jonathan his deputy from the much pillaged and scandalously milked Niger-Delta assumed office.
The artistic beauty of the play deserves applause. The deployment of the cast was, a large one at that to perform on such a limited space as that of the MUSON centre is worthy of praise. The dances, mainly a collection from Nigeriaâ€™s ethnic dances were exhilarating, colourful and entertaining. Like the model in the other drama, A Feast of Return, the spectacle in Nigeria the Beautiful was sparkling with relevant artistic images that helped to shade light on the story.
Perhaps, for the fact we will ditch the socio-political commentary on the drama. On the artistic level, the presentation of the characters even if in passing, it may be said conformed with the prerogative of a full establishment of his role in the story.
Even though the language is verse, there are apparent cases of deliberate reliance on more metaphors to relay the message. The dialogue (assigned speech) of the characters that played the parts of Obasanjo, Buhari, Babangida in the pre and post second republic may appear sublime, but the message therein is weighty. For instance, one says, â€œI am going back to my farm to read more about democracyâ€ while the other notes that the problem of election â€œis in my gap teethâ€