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A country’s absurd psyche exposed in Paul Ugbede’s Our Son the Minister


A scene from the play

“Because I have refused to accept a ministerial appointment, they say that I am mad… They took my rejection for insanity,” said Makoji (Patrick Diabuah), who has just been appointed a minister, but is in chains fashioned by his relatives for refusing to take up the appointment.

“Your case is peculiar,” one of the three emergency ‘medical’ personnel hired to ‘cure’ him candidly tells him. “Why did you reject a ministerial appointment? It is a madness of another degree.”

Indeed, it is this ‘madness of another degree’ that the playwright, Paul Ugbede, examines in his rib-cracking satirical play, Our Son the Minister. It was directed by Kenneth Uphopho and produced by Bikiya Graham-Douglas for Beeta Universal Arts Foundation (BUAF). It was performed at Terra Kulture Theatre Arena, Lagos.

So between his relatives, who manacle him for refusing to accept a political appointment because of the undue pressures they have already begun to mount on him to be crooked even before he resumes office and his service-driven vision, therein lies Nigeria’s impossible, irreconcilable irony. And so Nigeria is set on a self-destruct course when her citizens consistently stand logic on its and do the opposite in civilized conduct.

Government’s office is equated to personal estate for self-enrichment instead of using it to work for the majority of the people. Ironically, the people for whom those in government ought to work for actively promote subverting the rules against themselves. This is what happens when government refuses to make governance work for everyone. So rather than being independent and self-reliant, citizens are conditioned to see those in government as owners of the commonwealth, and they look up to them as embodying their collective aspirations in criminal conduct. They egg him or her on to cheat the system so they could get crumbs out of the pie.

This is the crux of Makoji’s dilemma, as he is soon to be sworn in as an appointee of government. His mother (Bola Stephen-Atitebi) is ecstatic and prepares a feast for her relatives, but his uncle Googa (Soibifaa Dokubo) has invited the entire village to be part of nephew’s inauguration. In fact, he has already begun to award contracts on his behalf, who is yet to take office properly. A distant relation (Chris Iheuwa) is tagging along to enjoy the goodies a ministerial position confers. An old school classmate, Maji (Ikponmwosa Gold), has appointed himself Special Adviser on Finance, Politics and Logistics and he has already incurred a tidy debt on Makoji’s behalf just to make the inauguration grand. He has hired 5000 worth of crowd to show just how important the occasion is. His aunt (Inna Erizia) is busy chasing away evil spirits that Makoji’s uncle and his relation represent.

But Makoji, a struggling medical doctor, is appalled by the show of excessive flamboyance by his friend and relatives and the needless burden of expectation they have already hipped on him. He wants to go into office to serve the people genuinely, but with the needles pressures already mounted on him, he therefore decides to reject the appointment to retain his sanity.

Rather than douse the tension, his decision worsens matters for him. In one voice, everyone agrees that he has gone mad indeed, otherwise why would any sane man reject a ministerial appointment and all the juicy things that come with it? Thus begins Makoji’s ordeal in the hands of his own relatives and friend. He is promptly tied up and strapped to a chair, as they set about getting him help. First is the quack health professional (Oladapo Gbadamosi), who acts crazy, whom Emaji contacts, who turns out researching Makoji for his strange disease of a bad decision rather than cure him.

His uncle Doga storms in with a proper juju man (Paul Morgan Alumona), an American returnee, who uses his laptop to connect to the gods for divination and flashes a gun at some point. Not working, his aunt also storms in with a prophetess (Oluwabunmi Sogade) from her church, whose erotic antics stuns rather than heals. Even the policemen brought in cannot hide their disbelief that any sane person can reject such a handsome offer.

In this explosively hilarious satirical drama, Our Son the Minister, Ugbede plumbs the depth of Nigeria’s absurdities and how development will continue to elude the country unless Nigerians reverse their current value proposition that encourages sleaze. For saving himself the moral burden of aiding and abetting corruption, Makoji is put in chains by his own mother, aunt, uncle, distant relation and friend. It is the height of degeneration and Ugbede captures it so tellingly as perhaps no other dramatist could have done.

Ugbede’s Our Son the Minister is a play whose message resonates sharply with Nigeria’s current political reality and the absurdities it throws up. While it cracked up the audience’s ribs with its sheer hilarity, it also evokes a tinge of regret that Nigeria is still regressing to such abysmal depths of abnormality rather than rising above it to nobler virtues, where citizens demand accountability from leaders instead of pushing otherwise morally upright individuals into acts of flagrant corruption.

BUAF’s performance of the play is Graham-Douglas’ fulfillment of her promise to the budding playwright, when it won the maiden edition of BUAF’s playwriting contest last year. The play was also published early in the year. BUAF will soon take the play on campus tour to five universities where students will perform it in a competitive contest and win prizes. With its strong anti-corruption message laced with alluring hilarity, Graham-Douglas will be catching the students young in the life-saving crusade against corruption.

After the performance, the producer, Graham-Douglas expressed hope that corporate Nigeria would rally her towards the university tour initiative so as to deepen the message of the play among Nigerian students, the most vulnerable group to acts of corruption, who daily see it brazenly being perpetuated in the larger society.

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