Monday, 13 January 2014

Kakadu the Musical… In search of a nation in limbo

By Anote Ajeluorou

 When the cast and crew of Kakadu the Musical took its bow on Sunday night after a superb performance at Agip Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Lagos, audience in the packed hall had occasion to feel a sense of nostalgia about a once glorious past lost in the hands of inept politicians. Perhaps the only thing that further accentuated the sadness of the audience was the timeless misbehaviour of the political class; it first led to the eclipse of that unforgettable era of social and cultural awakening shortly after independence. What is worse, they are yet to learn any useful lessons ever since. 53 years after, the politicians are still hell bent on sinking the sheep of state with their corruptive tendencies, a practice that has been raised to an art form in recent years.
  Indeed, if there’s anyone that needs to see Kakadu the Musical for the mental purgation it offers, it is precisely Nigeria’s politicians, that group of denizen that has behaved worse than his forebears at independence for plunging the young nation into a fratricidal war that has made Nigeria’s journey to nationhood ever difficult and unfocused since then. It’s also for this reason that Kakadu the Musical must be taken to Abuja and all the state capitals as a recommended political re-engineering textbook, which the country’s rulers must see and study for sensible political and leadership education. They need to see what Nigeria lost, what they put the country and its hapless citizens through and then device new means to rescue the country from their own excesses and lack of foresight. These are what Kakadu, a cultural showpiece (often taken for granted by the political class for lack of understanding of what culture is capable of delivering) can offer – real time re-education for redemption!
  As lights open, the audience is thrown back to the 1960s, shortly after independence and the newspapers are replete with reports of corruption in high places. But this after a burst of Kakadu’s theme music and energetically choreographed dances, and a typical Lagos bursting street scene in a typical early morning ritual – the akara seller, the newspaper vendor, the traffic warden all at work, the newly arrived to ‘Lagos in a time of infinite possibilities’, as the musical’s apt sub-theme reminds all, in search of the golden fleece!
  Then the story of four friends – the engineer, Emeka (Chidi Okeke), the journalist, Kola (Pius Amolo, aka Bongolipso), the newly arrived, Osahon (Onyeka Okuafiaka) and the dandy, rich playboy, Dapo (Tom Godwin). Like all young men, the talk is on how to access the women and enjoy the pleasures Lagos has to offer. Kola offers to show Osahon around the only thriving nightclub in town, Kakadu; it’s the place of choice even though Emeka and Dapo are reluctant, but for different reasons.
  There were also the women to appropriately compliment the men, women so in vogue and abreast of their time they matched the men for whatever they had to offer in the intoxicating nightlife of Kakadu. So, from the mermaid, irresistible Amonia (Zara Udofia) to love-struck Bisi (Damilare Kuku), impressionable Enoh (Kemi-Lala Akindolu) and coyly Hassana (Prisca Enyi); they were the women that made Kakadu the honeypot of pleasure that men flocked for fun.
  At Kakadu nightclub, it’s welcome to the heady, intoxicating 1960s, with its dose of optimism, of a country heading into the future with sure, firm feet. Run by Lugard Da Rocha or Lord Lugard for short (Benneth Ogbeiwi), Kakadu is where you needed to be if you lived in Lagos of the 1960s, with its sassy, enchanting air made even magical by Lord Lugard. He is the ultimate impresario, helped by the Flamingoes Dance Band that pelted the clients with all the vogue music of the era from ‘Another Saturday Night’ to ‘My Boy Lollipop’, ‘Let’s Do the Twist’, ‘Limbo Rock’, ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ and ‘Love Rock’, music from across the seas. Then there was the hot music from the local scene, as Nigerians musicians began to master their craft and grew their repertoire to an impressionable level – from ‘Omopupa’ to ‘Sawale’, ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Omolanke, ‘Love me Adure’ to ‘Guitar Boy’; it was music that the current hip hop scene has continued to feed fat on, as foundation and inspiration.
  Here, the Uche Nwokedi-led The Playhouse Initiative’s Kakadu the Musical, as is fashionable with all musicals, makes a bold blend of music and narrative in a seamless manner. This is the allure of musicals, that perfect harmony of music and story told to elicit clarity of an era and the characters that shaped it.

BEYOND the jazziness and highlife and social camarradiere engendered by Kakadau the Musical is the salient historical narrative it offers. In a country where policy summersault is the norm rather than the exception, which turns logic on its head, history as subject is no longer taught in Nigerian schools. The result is that young ones are short-changed; they do not know the historical evolution of their country that is barely half a century old. But producers of Kakadu the Musical and other producers of cultural performances in the country are not so unpatriotic as to deny the country’s future an awareness about its past no matter its ugliness.
  And so on a typical Kakadu nightlife when Lord Lugard and his band are serenading its top-notch clientele in celebrating the country’s independence, the military strikes and topples the civilian administration of Tafawa Balewa. This action has grave consequences for Kakadu denizens. Emeka the engineer and Lord Lugard are from the east, a section of the country that the consequences of the coupe forces to secede. Emeka and Bisi are fiercely in love, but the ensuing uncertainty of the crisis must separate them for as long as it takes to resolve it. Igbo people no longer feel safe in Lagos and so must leave; Bisi is heartbroken. So, too, must Enoh. Only Lord Lugard stays and asserts vacuously, “Eko mi ni!” – “I’m a Lagosian!” and that he had nowhere to run.
  The scene of separation for these young people who have lived together for so long and bonded so well is rendered so movingly, especially so for Bisi, whose vision of a life together with Emeka crumbles before her eyes. Even so tragic and moving is the fierceness of the hostility, its brutality on Igbo people, as to engender mutual feelings of distrust amongst a people who once lived happily together. After the war, the survivors return, including and Emeka and his father. His mother dies during the war. But their friends in Lagos, so far removed from the madding crowd of the war that had just ravaged the east and its people, see the war in terms of a mere skirmish, a term Emeka takes exception to on account of the bloodiness of the war and what was lost in human lives.
  Perhaps, more pitiable is Lord Lugard, also an easterner, who sent his family to the east but remained in Lagos to savage his club. Kola could not believe Lord Lugard’s claim of being more Lagosian than all the others that ran to the east in the heat of the war. He could not even go looking for his family after the war; he had to send someone instead. Lord Lugard is a broken man though; he does not know the whereabouts of his family, with his brother lost in the war.
  After the war, the displaced try to mend the broken pieces of their lives. But Ndigbos are not helped much by the 20 Pounds the Federal Government offers them as part of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction after the war. Lord Lugard’s attempt to revive Kakadu cub fails; he tries a new beat that confuses his clients. Emeka and Bisi’s attempts to start their love lives from where they left off is not helped by the feeling of mistrust the war engenders, but Bisi’s father is eventually persuaded to let her daughter go. But by now, the war has done irreparable damage, as the social fabric of society has been rent apart to unleash such terrors as armed robbery and other crimes.
  Emeka and Bisi’s wedding reception at Kakadu is violently disrupted by a robbery attack; this finally snuffs life out of the once thriving club and the buoyant nightlife it offered. Street parties or owambe effectively takes over, as places of social gathering in Lagos!

ON a certain level, Kakadu the Musical offers the Nwokedis a fantastic chance to put the Igbo story, as lived during the war on stage, and as truthfully as best they could. It’s the forgotten story of a country in a hurry to move forward even if in haphazard manner. From master storyteller Chinua Achebe to Amadi Elechi to Chimamanda Adichie and others, the Biafran story has been told to a half listening Nigerian audience so far removed from the ravages of the war at the time. Its echo is so faint now many wonder if it actually existed or a mere propaganda that sustained the war while it lasted. But Emeka stuns his friend Kola when he reveals after the war that as engineer, he helped build refineries that fuelled Biafran cars after the blockage, and also helped to convert trucks to armoured tanks.
  The questions Nigerians haven’t asked are, What happened to those refineries? Indeed, what happened to the technology that a war-torn people developed in a desperate bid for survival? Why didn’t the country immediately appropriate such technology for its development quest? What then did the Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction mantra of Yakubu Gowon’s government mean if the human ingenuity Biafra exhibited was thrown away and not appropriated in a time of peace and oil boom of the 1970s, when Gowon could so brazenly proclaim that Nigeria’s problem was how to spend its money and not how to make it? So many questions Nigerians haven’t asked perhaps because there’s too much oil money to steal at will, a culture that has bred national indolence!
  But Kakadu the Musical, a cultural production, sheds light on an inglorious aspect of Nigeria’s past and as it is sung, ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ and it’s not clear where to begin or how to begin. This is the irrepressible story the Nwokedis have told Nigerians through Kakadu the Musical, a story Lagos State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, also helped facilitate in his own way. Perhaps, other state governors can take a cue from him and begin to treat cultural products with the seriousness they deserve, as repositories of our common communal lore!

Alapata Apata… A satirical take on the abuse of power

By Anote Ajeluorou

Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka has long been in forefront of those who decry the abuse to which power is put in most part of Africa and the developing world. He is known to have engaged the powers-that-be on its legitimate use, especially when it runs counter to its benefit to the larger society. Having fallen victim of such power abuse in the early days of Nigeria’s independence by being imprisoned, perhaps no one else knows better the sting of power when wrongly applied.
  Some 50 odd years on, there is no abating the invidious manner to which power continues to be put in the hands of those who have subverted every democratic means to acquire it. And as ever a writer of first class mien, Soyinka has once again drawn attention to the illegitimate service to which power is constantly put in the pursuit of personal ends while thwarting the aspirations of the majority it ought to serve.
  Indeed, Alapata Apata (which the master himself calls ‘a play for Yorubafonia: Class of Xenophiles) is the foremost playwright’s metaphor in the appropriation for self that which it does not qualify to have. By so doing, what appears innocuous, wrongful application of stress patterns on two words – Alapata Apata - changes both their meaning and range in a manner that reinforces the oddity of a society that is far gone in excesses of the absurd.
  And so Alaba the first class butcher goes into retirement after a meritorious service that puts the name of his country first. But he does not forget how in a bid to straighten the school atlas it broke the globe, which makes him to drop out because his father refused to pay for it. For Alaba the world since has not lost its crookedness what with an atlas that remains bent forever, a world that would not be straight no matter what anyone does. It’s such a world that spews forth such characters like Daanielebo and the General to torment the souls of others with their greed and selfishness that seek to corner everything good thing for themselves.
  Daanielebo was a former protégé of the General, twin evil geniuses who are now at each other’s throat as they seek to outsmart each other and corner the commonwealth (in this case, the minerals in Alaba’s rock) for their personal use. These are two men with whom Alaba has the misfortune to stand up against in their ribald quest to seize control of the rock on which is suspected to have huge deposits of precious metals. But Alaba the keeper of the rock of his inheritance is a man of deeper nobility, a former Ifa acolyte, who was dismissed for not discerning enough to be taught the rudiments of a powerful oracle like Ifa less he misapplied the knowledge.
  Nevertheless, Alaba’s few months of apprenticeship would seem to have equipped him with enough powers to confront the duo of Daanielebo and the General or perhaps his simple innocence in being the rightful owner of the much sought-after rock gives him enough power to repel their aggressive advances on his simple habitation. Either way, Alaba comes top against the two power-lust personalities of his time, whose avarice can consume an elephant in a single sitting.
  In any case, Alaba’s retirement from butchering work is symbolic and even symptomatic of the absurdity of those in power who have a penchant for celebrating certain days and months they have stayed in office. Alaba is celebrating his first 30 days in retirement not unlike what most elected state functionaries do in Nigeria’s democratic set up. He has in tow a schoolteacher as his adviser, who schemes up things for him, as Alaba concretises his retirement by sitting atop his inherited rock ‘doing nothing’, just as government officials apparently do nothing but find occasion to celebrate their days, months and years in office, as avenues of frittering away state’s resources.

  Teacher: Transparency is the key, I told you. That is what prevents temptation and backsliding. When you sit up there, where everybody can see you cannot perform, knowing that everybody’s eyes are on you, you have no choice. We can all bear witness to you working assiduously industriously, methodically and conscientiously at doing…? (Raises his hand. What follows is like practised routine, with him conducting)
  Alaba: Nothing.
  Teacher: Thinking…
  Alaba: Nothing.
  Teacher: Producing…
  Alaba: Nothing.
  Teacher: Transforming…
  Alaba: Nothing…
  Teacher: Innovating…
  Alaba: Nothing.
  Teacher: Proving yourself capable, summarily of…
  Alaba: Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
  Teacher: But always full of sound and fury, signifying…
  Alaba: Nothing. Oh, Teacher, you are a tower of strength.
  Teacher: I know you give me credit but, lest I be accused of abusing copyright, of plagiarism- the greatest crime our profession can be guilty of – that last one was from the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. But he was of a different tack altogether. For truly teaching by example, one stands on the shoulders of the Great Teachers, those who have taught us that it is possible to spend four years, eight years, even decades in office, with resources envied by the world from the North Pole to the South, with all the manpower available for cooption and yet end up doing…
  Alaba: Nothing.
  Teacher: Excellent!...
  Alaba: I feel inspired my mentor. Energised. Ready to take that 100p-day target head-on.
  Teacher: And then a year, then five…

  Teacher dreams up a scheme to upgrade Alaba’s butcher’s signpost to his status as a retired butcher and asks his pupil Picasso to embellish it. But herein lies trouble. A pupil of no Yoruba descent, he does not know where to put the required ascent to give it the proper meaning; what he ends up with the assistance of Alaba is Esu’s handiwork in confusion. Alaba relies on his abeti agba (dog-eared) cap for inspiration in guesswork manner – head you win tail or you lose!
  Of course, it ends up wrongly and Alaba unwittingly awards himself a chieftaincy title that invokes the anger of royalty to summon a court sitting on his rocky perch. He is fined heavily for his impertinence, and it would seem Alaba’s breaking of the school atlas to make a crooked world straight would forever remain crooked, also with everything else. But Alaba soon finds reprieve for his uncommon bravery in repelling both Daanielebo and the General, sole tormentors of ordinary folks for which he gets a royal pardon and a reinstatement of a title he mistakenly awards himself in wrongly applying the ascents.

SOYINKA’s new play Alapata Apata is an exhilarating political satire that employs the everyday occurrences of Nigeria’s political absurdity for effect. Alaba the butcher represents the people who, unlike Alaba, have not mustered enough guts to confront their tormentors-general to a standstill the way Alaba does to the two old foes. Alapata Apata is a dense play with multiple layers that equally yields multiple meanings.
  Alaba’s rock, the subject of many inquiries from those who want to make it big in dubious ways, is fittingly Nigeria, with its many endowments in natural resources, a country also equally endowed with equal number of looters all scheming to outdo the others in their bid to corruptly enrich themselves at the expense of the people like Alaba. But Alaba has the resoluteness lacking in the Nigerian polity.
  But also, Alapata Apata is Soyinka’s mild rebuke for those who would not make efforts to pronounce unfamiliar names or words properly. He sees it often enough in his globe-trotting, especially in play productions that are essentially African that induces a certain laziness in the actors to fake bewilderness at the unfamiliar.

Achebe’s Arrow of God: A 7-City Transnational Events for golden jubilee

By Anote Ajeluorou

WHILE the debate may still be ongoing in some quarters on whether late Prof. Chinua Achebe is the father of African literature or not, what is unmistakable is the iconic nature of his works in defining and giving shape to modern Africa literature and politics. This becomes even more evident in the worldwide line-up of events to mark 50 years of the publication of Achebe’s third novel, Arrow of God in 1964, with Nigeria also blazing the trail with transnational events in seven major cities.
  With an international colloquium titled ‘Literature, Leadership and National Unity’, a constituted local organising committee comprising of former Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) President, former member, House of Representatives and chairman, LOC, Dr. Wale Okediran, Mrs. Chinyere Obi-Obasi, Isaac Ogezi, Ikeogu Oke, ANA Vice President, Denja Abdullahi and Akintayo Abodunrin, the stage is set for a bouquet of events that would kick off in April 2014.
  In a statement, the committee said, “In 2014, it would be the golden anniversary of the publication of the novel Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe. Arrow of God is a 1964 novel by Chinua Achebe, his third novel after Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease. These three books are sometimes called The African Trilogy, as they share similar settings and themes. The novel centres around Ezeulu, the chief priest of several villages in South Eastern Nigeria, who confronts adversaries to his office, colonial powers and Christian missionaries in the 1920s.
  “Set in Eastern Nigeria in the early 20th, Arrow of God is a political and cultural novel that captures the clash of two cultures and their inability to contend peaceably with their differences. Achebe portrays the disrupting effect that externally imposed power system (the British) has on an internally imposed power system (African tradition and customs). He portrays the true colour of colonialism as it walked over existing traditions, destroyed age-long customs and shattered norms and lores to institute its authority.
  “This book succinctly examines conflicts within the Igbo society, which the external forces capitalized on to invade the traditional society. It also explored the resultant disaster for the Igbo society, which disintegrates and fizzles into nothingness as the missionaries took over with their arm of Christianity. This reorientation will lead not only to the assimilation of Western values and beliefs, but also to the eventual loss of the Igbo cultural identity and by extension, the political identity of Nigeria at large.
  “However, the main thrust of the book, which many readers and critics have adjudged the most intricate and most accomplished of Achebe’s novels, is its exploration of the question of power and leadership as exercised by the elites of a community, reflected in the character of Ezeulu and his equally powerful antagonists in the book. The choice the community is left with at the end of the book which arose out of the power play between Ezeulu and his adversaries is very instructive to Nigeria of today and Africa with regard to presence or lack of development as a result of inappropriate exercise of power and leadership. The book is also relevant in the contemporary Nigerian discourse on leadership, democracy and national unity.
  “It will therefore be very auspicious to use the opportunity of the 50th Anniversary of the publication of the book to re-examine the concepts of power, leadership, responsibility and good governance in Nigeria and Africa as derivable from the vagaries of Ezeulu and his confederating communities in Arrow of God.
  “Amidst the seemingly obdurate challenges of globalisation, this conference presents an appropriate opportunity to use the story in Arrow of God for an inward search and necessary projections on the past, present and the future of our shared community experiences, especially in the areas of leadership, democracy and nation building.  
  “The conference, also in line with the spirit of the proposed national conference in the country, will also negotiate the ever-deepening social divides and increased alienation among sub-sections of the Nigerian society by unraveling the democratic fabric on which future stability and legitimacy depends. It will pursue the argument that citizens in shared communities must forge the path, and exemplify strong, vibrant partnership to meet up with the demands of national unity and globalization.
  “Recasting the experience Achebe presented in Arrow of God could help forge a new path for formalizing and expanding our existing democratic and leadership apparatus and creating new ones throughout the country. It will also re-invigorate our cultural activities, including cultural events, sports, learning opportunities and shared celebrations, as well as social activism in response to political disillusionment and dictatorship in the nation’s body polity”.

TENTATIVELY, dates for the celebrations of Arrow of God follow thus: Lagos – Monday, April 21, 2014; a symposium and stage play, Ezeulu written by Isaac Ogezi; Ibadan – Wednesday, April 23, 2014; a symposium and stage play, Harvest of Ants by Kalu Uka; Abuja – Saturday, April 26, 2014; Children’s Carnival and stage play by secondary school students; Sokoto – Monday, April 28, 2014; a symposium and Martinee of the stage adaptation; Awka – Wednesday, April 30, 2014; a symposium and stage play, When the Arrow Rebounds by Emeka Nwabueze; Ogidi – Thursday, May 1, 2014; A Day with the Master; visits to Achebe’s birthplace, primary school and mausoleum by secondary school students. Activities for the celebration will be brought to a close at President Goodluck Jonathan’s hometown, Otuoke – Saturday, May 3, 2014; a symposium and Night of Tributes/Dinner.
  Another unique feature of this celebration of the literary competition that will be held among selected secondary school students across the country. Copies of Arrow of God will be given to these students to read for one month before the day of the literary competition. The competition will involve a quiz, reading comprehension and one-act dramatic enactment by participating schools of any part of the book that exemplifies the main conflicts of the narrative world of the book.
  The proposed date for the colloquium is April 23 to May 3 2014. Collaborations will be done with the Association of Nigerian Authors at the National Level and through its local branches where the events are billed to hold as well as tertiary institutions such as University of Lagos, University of Ibadan, University of Abuja, Usman Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka as well as the Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State.
  Executive Director of TheNews magazine, Mr. Kunle Ajibade, had said Achebe had confessed in the second edition of Arrow of God, “It is one of his books he’d be caught reading again and that it was why he reversed it to correct some structural errors he noticed. If it’s (Arrow of God) turning 50, we must do everything in our capacity to amplify it. We’ll not just be celebrating excellence but celebrating ourselves. If we (Nigerians) don’t celebrate way others will and it will diminish us. We should up the standard we set in celebrating Things Fall Apart in 2008”.
  On her part, university don and novelist, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo, said, “We’re celebrating a book regarded as the most intellectually and aesthetically satisfying. In spite of the popularity of Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God is more important as a text in the study of leadership and power and its use or abuse. I believe so much in it. Achebe is an icon; we’re lucky to have him; he remained a patriot all through his lifetime in spite of his challenges. He contributed so much to global leadership at Brown University, Rhodes, U.S. celebrating Arrow of God will give us so much pleasure. His legacy will not die; his works will continue to live after him”.