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Behind The Map … A call for good governance

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A scene from the play

The late Edward Paul Abbey, one of America’s best selling authors, will never be forgotten in a hurry, not with his insightful thoughts on local and international issues. One of his aphorisms, “a patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government,” has not only stimulated citizens in different countries to hold their leaders accountable for their actions, but also put them on check.

With no intention to create chaos, the author aims at awakening the consciousness of the ruled to their duties in a way that will not lead the state to chaos.

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The Crown Troupe of Africa partnered the Just Theatre House Productions to produce the stage play titled, Behind The Map, which brings Abbey’s thoughts to life.

Written by Ola Awakan, the play highlights the dangers of allowing blinkered elements to direct state affairs. It shows how such politicians, most times, leave the state worse than they met it.

Laying out Nigeria’s tripodal politics, the play reveals how ethnic chauvinists are not merely encouraging tribalism, nepotism, ethnic cleansing, hatred, separatism, and other vices that could heat the polity. The play also wants the viewers to see how ethnic nationalities control the apparatus of governance.

Set in Airegin, a multi-ethnic nation, the people fall into a deep slumber after hours of celebrating their National Day and simultaneously dream of their peaceful country being torn into pieces as a result of ethnic rancour and animosity.

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Using a play-within-a-play technique, the playwright reveals how Alhaji Danbaba (Yemi Adebiyi) takes offence when his longstanding friend, Chief Nnanna Chukwudi (Prince Agu Ogba), who has spent the greater part of his life, doing business, paying his taxes, and contributing to the development of Danbaba’s state, wants to contest for elective position in the state. Danbaba notes that Chukwudi and others from his ethnic group are only allowed to run their business enterprises in the state and not to contest for any elective positions in any of the region even if they were born there. The argument that starts as a friendly discussion soon becomes vicious with each threatening the other. It gets to a height that Chief Makanju (Awesome Duru) and Chief Opobiri (John Black) stakeholders in the politics of the region intervene, but the two refuse to blend.

To stop Chukwudi’s political ambition, Danbaba sponsors his son, Abubakar (Andrew Okwuobasi), to contest the same position with Chukwudi. The once jolly friends throw caution into the wind. They engage street urchins to disrupt the activities of the other and damning the consequences. The situation leads to crisis and all that the people of Airegin laboured for since Independence are destroyed and lives wasted.

Realising the wise counsel of Herbert George, “If we don’t end the war, war will end us,” they stop the fight. It is while searching for the loved ones that they wake up from their deep sleep. They discover that Airegin is their only heritage and begin to do things that will unite and move it forward. They begin to see each other as one and work in the axiom of the American civil rights activist, which says: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

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With the main and subthemes on unity in diversity, patriotism, and brotherliness, the play directed by Segun Adefila with Ifeanyi Eziukwu assisting, was presented to the public on October 1 at the Shodex Garden, Ikorodu Road, Lagos. The play brings some of the problems Nigeria is currently facing to the front burner.

Aside from highlighting the fact that war and armed struggles are not the best options to settle national and local conflicts, the play throws light on issues such as patriotism, citizenship, and state of origin, stressing that the people should see themselves as brothers no matter their ethnic or religious differences.

Showing tribalism as a killjoy, the play highlights how it makes friends sever relationships to avoid being tagged saboteurs by their ethnic group members. It also shows how it drags Airegin, the once progressive nation, to its precipice.

Using Airegin as a metaphor for Nigeria and countries in the continent, the play calls for leaders at all levels to avoid actions that could disrupt the tranquility of any state. It also urges citizens to be mindful of leaders that may want to use them to heat the polity and cause disharmony, stressing that most times such leaders go unhurt, while the people bear the pains.

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Raising topical issues that cut across Africa, the director effectively manages the stage, even with the large cast to bring out the messages.

The actors interpreted their role seamlessly, despite their number; they are able to maintain the entry and exit rule, thus, avoiding rowdiness.

Chukwudi, the hero, and Danbaba, the protagonist, live up to expectations. Like another cast, their body language and vocal expressions are natural, which makes the audience to relate with the messages. The light highlights the moods with special effects to identify day and night as well as times of bloodletting. This further brings out the beauty of the story, as the audience could be heard expressing delight and scream in fright to show apprehension of the messages.

Despite the well-crafted act, the playwright muddled the concept of state and region together, thus, leaving the impression that the play is based on a bi-ethnic group society, whereas in its true sense, it is based on a multiethnic society. It would have been better to say: “This cannot happen in Awa’s State in Okoko region of Ayangba Republic.”

This needs to be corrected to give the play the universal appeal it desires.

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