Osusu… Lessons in unity, statecraft
Peace and unity are some of the indispensable ingredients a nation needs for healthy growth and development. So that when the Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture Troupe recently presented Osusu, a play with multiple themes, to highlight these important elements in the polity, live theatre audience were reminded of their civic duties to the state and fellow citizens.
The play opens with Oba Akinbo (Abiodun Ayoyinka) explaining to his chiefs and his subjects the need to move Ilu Olokiki, their immediate community, forward. While some of the chiefs and subjects agree with him and pledge to work to turn things around for good in Ilu Olokiki, a few disgruntled chiefs, led by Chief Okokorin (Giwa Olakunle), choose to work against the tide. Their grievance is that the big dream does not take care of their personal needs. Rather, it tends to block all avenues for them to shortchange the community. There is a mantra of integrity that kicks against corruption and prodigality.
Okokorin and other chiefs constitute a group to thwart the system. They hire thugs to destroy infrastructure in the community, create panic among the people, aside using religious and sectional issues to discredit Oba Akinbo. In spite of the challenges, Akinbo never looses focus. Instead, he is resolved in making the people get the dividends of good governance.
However, the tide later turns against the opposing group, perhaps, following the cause of Herman Melville, the American Renaissance poet and novelist, who said: “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibres connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibres, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
Okokorin and his group soon meet their downfall when the people begin to realise their negative roles that impede the community from moving forward. Their actions boomerang, but rather than the Oba Akinbo banishing them from the community, he uses the riddle of the bunch of broom (osusu owo) to drive home the lessons of peace, unity and communal efforts in nation building.
A dance drama, Osusu is performed as part of activities to celebrate Lagos@50 and to call on the people to cooperate with government to move the state forward.
Using Lagos as miniature Nigeria with different tribes and challenges that include security, panic in some states of the federation, high level of corruption and those who don’t believe in the Nigerian dream, the play shows that there must always be diversity of opinions in a polity and a call on leaders to use the right tact to bring all opposing groups, irrespective of their grievances, together for the good of the state. It also highlights the power of the leaders to unify all dissident groups in their domain.
While suing for peace and unity, the play emphasises reconciliation, paying no attention to punishment of citizens that sabotage the system. This makes the play appear as if it approves the wanton destruction of properties, arson and other forms of uncivil acts, as legitimate forms of expression or means to achieving group objectives.
Furthermore, in attempt to make the play reflect the beliefs and practices of the major tribes that make up the nation, the director, Olaitan Otulana, elongated the performance, in fact, close to two hours of performance. He didn’t need the multitude of masquerades and dancers to showcase all the tribes.
Rather, the tribe should have been reflected in the choice of elders and chiefs in Oba Akinbo’s council. Perhaps, maybe to avoid provincial interpretation, four groups from the north, south, west and east would have just been appropriate to give the play a better spread. After all, the Eyo, Sangbeto and Igunnko masquerades brought on stage were from one region of the country – the west.
Laced with dances and music from traditional to the contemporary, the play also brings to the fore the need to consult widely before taking decisions and for the various groups and tribes to uphold their traditional institutions, as they stand not only as emblem of identity, but a unifying force when splinter groups emerge.
The actors managed the space well, interpreted the story properly, even though National Theatre, Lagos, were the performance took place still did not live up to expectations in term of providing steady power. It marred the sound system and audibility.