By Anote Ajeluorou
In spite of seemingly becoming more modern as some African societies tend or pretend to be, the more barbaric certain practices also tend to recur. Killing for ritual, for instance, is one barbaric practice claims to modernity is yet to stamp out. Sadly, it keeps recurring in cities with supposedly civilized folks. The media is awash with reports of burst dens of ritual killers.
The sheer horrors of such ritual killing and the grim reality of their wider socio-political implication for society form the subject matter of a new play, The Traffickers written by Owerri-based Dr. Sam Madugba. It was the 2014 Convention play of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Imo State chapter held recently.
Performed by Akaraka Theatre Group, Owerri, and directed by Frank Awujo, The Traffickers gives a grim insight into the macabre practice where human lives are counted next to nothing in the morbid quest for some well placed individuals to gain wealth and power, with the end result that has significance for the entire society and those who purport to run its affairs.
This is the crust of the matter. A community is in the grip of fear, with five women already murdered, their private parts cut off and still counting. The police appear not only helpless, but grossly compromised, with one of them Inspector Gwando (Iwuchukwu Daniel) in active connivance with the powers-that-be to cover up their misdeeds. As it turns out, Alhaji Oriogwu (Austine Awujo), a political heavyweight and respected member of society, with many national awards and honours, is one of the brains behind the ritual killings. He has further political ambition, and needs these victims to gain ascendancy, as he admits.
But how do you ever suspect a man of such high standing in society as being responsible for the dastardly act plaguing it? All the female victims bear the same mark. Their private parts are usually cut off. They are the sacred items needed to unlock the doors to wealth and power.
However, in the home of Nwankwo (Emeka Njoku), one year remembrance of his late wife is being planned, but with little resources; his friend, Ugwumba (Eric Secondson) is part of the planning, and donates to the purpose. Nwankwo’s, Nwakeago (Emenaha Hope), who is supposed to assist Mgbakwo (Patience Nkemjika), the late woman’s friend, to organise materials for the anniversary, is kidnapped on her way to the market by a man contracted by Alhaji Oriogwu to supply human items for his diabolic plot he believes makes him climb the ladder of success both as a businessman and a politician.
This admission by Alhaji Oriogwu seems frightening to ordinary watchers of events in the polity. If most or some highly placed individuals in society go through this evil route to gain fame and respect in the eyes of society, then there’s need for concern. In retrospect, with Otokoto saga of some years back in Owerri, a situation that is daily replicated in many parts of the country (a dump for mutilated human parts surfaced recently in Ogun and Oyo states), one is tempted to give Madugba’s The Traffickers a little more fictive attention, as it just might explain a malaise plaguing Nigeria’s society.
As the killing and the anxiety it causes reach a crescendo in the community, the police manage to come to grips with the situation and get the suspects arrested, thus serving first justice to the innocent victims of power lust and greed. Then the process of soul-cleansing ensues, as the reality of murders dawn on the entire community and its hapless victims. Will the law courts finally serve justice to victims and their families? What sort of society and individuals emerge from this dark period of a society preying on itself?
These are some of the underlying issues raised in Madugba’s The Traffickers, a play that reaches to the core of society to mine one of its dirt. However, Akaraka Group’s performance though commendable, leaves out performance gaps. Although the Theatre Arts Hall of Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education is ill-suited for stage production (with its poor acoustics), some of the cast couldn’t project their voices. Some of the students at the back, having asked for audibility without the actors improving on it, left the hall.
Alhaji Oriogwu (Austine Awujo), who passed the audibility test, was virtually shouting his lines, with his grating, gravely voice. The opening was also in virtual slow motion; the actors had no sense of timing, and it became a drag on the entire performance. Inspector Ihuoma (Imprey Amarachi) infused some liveliness in the play with his serio-comic performance at Alhaji Ariogwu’s office.
Overall, The Traffickers’ performance was passable, just as the message got across as to the evil resident in some men’s hearts, men who see their fellow humans as ladder to climb to their haven of greed.