There was a country doing its utmost to ward off the influence of those who came over the seas. This struggle was fought and sustained by major actors like Herbert Macaulay, Pa Anthony Enahoro, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello and a host of other nationalists. The dreams of these leaders were practical- The country, Nigeria, needs to be a sovereign state to achieve its potentials to the fullest. They were not wrong although the independence soon transmogrify into dependence.
The fact of Nigeria’s independence soon became famous and here is how it has always been passed across to the different generations:
“Nigeria gained independence from the United Kingdom on 1 October 1960. And an Executive Council, made up entirely of Nigerians, was led by a Prime Minister, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Its first government was a coalition of conservative parties, and it came into power on the back of increasingly enthusiastic demands for political independence from colonial powers that swept across much of the African continent during the middle of the 20th Century.
The British recognised that the independence drive had started to gain traction after World War Two, and they steered the country – then the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria – toward a self-governance model.”
Just like many of the Nigerian neighbours, the news of her independence was seen as a sign of progress. At that time, the wind of freedom has started blowing across the African society and everyone was elated that the giant of Africa has finally achieved its elephant status. As Albert Camus once said “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better”. The idea of a better Nigeria after freedom was too juicy to be faulted by the people. Whether the people were basking in a sophistry of mirage was left for the political actors to decide. The ‘Abiku’ country kept coming and going but the actors never left.
The actors, just like in every thespian acts, have rehearsed their roles and are expected to put forward an awe-inspiring movie. The fact that they have rehearsed never made the people livid but putting up an awful performance was enough to irate the people. As if that was not enough, they refused to leave the stage although Shakespeare once compared the world to a stage and argued that we all have our entry and exit. Those that left the stage were forcefully ejected by a supreme being. Some had a long sleep and never woke, some were tricked to eat an apple, some were taken out by their familiar foes, some died while dying and even one had a sweet tea and slept forever.
Asides those that are no longer around, the other actors have made the stage their homes and have since the beginning of the independence tale, switch roles. This role switching varies as some started as major characters and ended up being minor characters while others were minor characters and eventually became major characters. The 1983 man in uniform rather changed his attire and today, he arrays himself in ‘Agbada’. Even when the major characters die, they ‘pick their people’ to continue the tale. The audience would not complain because they have blindfolded them with what Karl Max called the opium of the masses. The drivers of the ‘opium’ are given front seats in the cinema and all they need are at their disposal when they ask for it.
But the real people, the masses, those who pay to see the movies, those who pay the actors, the Peters who are robbed to pay the Pauls are left behind. Oh! They are not really left behind; they are the Okoros in Sam Omatseye’s “My Name Is Okoro”, the Tajus who do not know how to respond to a question like ‘How old are you?’ and the 18,000 naira parents of three who fainted when they heard university students might start paying as high as three hundred thousand naira per session. They are like free slaves or how well would you describe a free man who does not have a voice.
The voice does not have to be too loud; it should however not reflect what transpired in the state of the ‘rigging spring’. The voice of the audience should not just be there to cheer the sit-tight thespians. The Nigerian theatre stifles life out of the spirited audience as a result of how ‘bitter’ the play being acted is to them. The independence of the audience is dependent on the actors because they dictate what they are to know and what they should not.
The audience education would have been the turning point but the ‘Pharaohic Samuel Does’ would not want them to get it. Real education liberates the minds as it makes one think critically but such is a wild goose chase in the Nigerian theatre. The kind of education that requires the audience to ask questions are shunned and civil disobedience results to their Sodom and Gomorrah. You dare to be different; you meet your waterloo.
Now at 58, the theatre now clamours for something different. The major actors have regrouped and they are now set for another turn of role switching. The ruse is now about something else. The actors in the Ekiti and Osun elections Paid Voters Cash (PVC) and the ‘Lords of the Rigs’ are rehearsing for better performances. The audience are still watching the plays closely and they now seem more interested in the movie. Well, the more the interest; the better for the theatre.
The Nigeria’s irony is quite direct. It is a rich and a poor country. Rich in terms of the numerous human and natural resources and poor because it is simply poor. The theatre determines how it is going to play out and everyone in it has a great role to play. The actors, the audience, the crew and those who detest the cinema all have roles to play to challenge the status quo.
Wishing the Nigerian Theatre A Reflective Birthday!