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Ariba documents radio plays for change, posterity

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radioRadio plays with their short and apt messages are not new to listeners. Though these plays entertain, educate and inform listeners, only a few of them are published for the public; in fact, most of them cease to be after they have been aired.

For Gbenga Ariba, who has been writing radio plays for many years, radio plays should be properly documented, so that, they could be performed elsewhere, including on stage. Learning a bitter lesson when he lost some of his undocumented plays to fire, the playwright disclosed that the best way to document any play is to publish it.

According to him, after losing his plays in a fire accident, one of the senior officers in his office, Radio Nigeria, ordered that the library be decongested and he, also, lost a good number of his plays.

Ariba has, however, pre-empted any future mishap by publishing 10 of his plays, which he simply titled Radio Plays. Commenting on his plays, he said: “Most of my plays are basically about man. I write so that we can change ideas, improve ourselves and have a better society. Before the current change mantra, I have been writing about change. We do many things out of place and we cannot continue to use the cane on everybody; but by talking to people in a persuasive manner through radio plays, we can bring the change we need.

“One of such plays in the book is, Tapping Out Of Our Resources, which talks about land and how government is making efforts to protect people against Omo Oniles. The play is basically to change people’s idea about land.”

“There is another play in the book that talks about young people going into farming, because a lot of them feel with their degrees they should work in big cities and not in the farm. So, most of my plays are about how we can influence each other to live a better life and to develop our communities,” he said.

Speaking on the positive effects some of his plays have had on listeners, he said: “While I was at Radio Nigeria, I was involved in the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) campaign during the Buhari /Idiagbon regime. At that time, merely hearing WAI was enough for one to behave properly; queue up or do the right thing. It was a period we used radio to communicate to the people. The effect till today is that you see people queuing up at bus stops in Lagos or in banks and some other places.

“Though people have forgotten it and they urinate all over, but with WAI one cannot just stand anywhere to do so. There were no area boys; even when they attempted to do anything, once they see WAI Brigade, they would go underground. Everybody imbibed discipline. We used radio plays to communicate messages to the people. The situation was the same during the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). Radio was very prominent to it. The ‘Change Begins With You campaign is also something radio can explore to affect people because it has a wider audience.”

Ariba, who has 15 plays in this collection said, “I have written many and I have also lost many and that is one other reason I decided to publish. At the peak of my writing, I never saw any reason to keep my plays. I was just writing and there was a good library where we kept them; suddenly, someone said they should decongest everything. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear about it and that was how I lost a lot of plays. There was also another fire incident at Radio Nigeria and I lost about 80 scripts, including that of Citizen Moda.”

The book reviewer, Prof. Hygenius Ekwuazi, who titled his review, Seeing With The Ear, unmasked the link between reading and listening. He said: “We know what a play does; it takes a character and surrounds it with two elements, space and silence. It allows the character to fill the space with meaning and it does this by defining it with movement and gesture. It allows the character to fill the same space with silence, but this time, using speech and sound and when this fails, it chooses silence itself, which becomes the communicative tool.

“In a nutshell, a radio play by its nature can take a character and surround it with silence, which the character can go ahead and fill with meaning, but radio by its very nature does not have space, so, there is an irony. Audio medium makes pictures with words; the pictures that it makes are not limited by size, but can be limited only by human imagination. This ability of radio to make pictures makes it possible for it to take a character and surround it with space and gesture, and the result is a stupendously powerful theatre,” he noted.

Stressing that Ariba has graded the values of radio plays, Ekwuazi said: “We can comb through the collection for how the plays are directed. Equally revealing are how the plays are directed at the society and how they have been meant to disseminate ideas provide information, act as a multiplier of change, contribute to self knowledge, mobilise public and private to solving communal problems and help develop agreed objectives and political choices.

“The point I have been leading to is simply this, the values of broadcasting lie in how the use of radio apply to both the individual and the society; this value has been effectively factored into radio plays. We have plenty of radio plays, but a very few is published. Ariba’s collection has shown that radio plays can be performed live on stage,” he said.


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Gbenga Ariba

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