Friday, 9th June 2023

Chukwuma Anyanwu and the dramatic reflections of the Nigerian experience

By Aghogho Lucky Imiti
23 June 2019   |   4:18 am
Drama as a genre of literature has been one of the potent medium of projecting values and ideas. There is no gainsaying that some of the most influential...

Drama as a genre of literature has been one of the potent medium of projecting values and ideas. There is no gainsaying that some of the most influential works of literature around the world have been dramas. Reference could be made here to the Classical Greek tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides and later the emergence of the most celebrated dramatist, William Shakespeare of England, whose works have always been a reference point in all epoch. Others who have made impact with this genre are Molière of France, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe of Germany, Henrik Ibsen of Norway, and August Strindberg of Sweden. In Africa, the works of Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka (African’s WS), Efua Sutherland, Athol Fugard, Zulu Sofola, Femi Osofisan are also a pointer.

Drama performs the function of entertaining/delighting and educating/instructing. In actual fact, there has been the argument as to the first primary function of drama: to instruct or to entertain? While this piece is not an argument for or against the above assertion, one can convincingly say that drama performs both functions simultaneously. Drama has always entertained the high and the low in the society all through the period drama has existed. Knowledge is garnered through dramas either in live performance (theatre) or quiet isolated reading. In short, all dramas are written to be performed. This is one of its unique features.

Drama reflects past and present events. In this regard, drama is described as ‘holding a mirror to the society”. It tells us a lot about human nature, the ways humans lived and live in the world through the dramatization of their life experiences either positively or negatively. Thus, it exposes how a people have gone through the trials and tribulations of their lives individually and collectively. Robert Cohen (1991) succinctly says that the theatre brings the problem of the individual to the society as well as that of the society to the individual. This can also be said of drama. In its reflective nature, drama gives one the knowledge about how societies lived during different historical times. This could be said of the historical genres. All through the ages of drama, playwrights have written great historical plays. Williams Shakespeare wrote a handful of history plays that cover the twelfth to the 16th centuries.

These plays include King John, Richard II, Henry IV Parts I and II, Henry V, Henry VI Parts I, II and III, Richard III and Henry VIII. These plays are dramatic reflections of five generations of’ Medieval power struggles. For the most part they depict the Hundred Years War with France, from Henry V to Joan of Arc, and the Wars of the Roses, between York and Lancaster.

Africans, after acquiring western education also keyed into this dramatic tradition, deploying their works in the struggle against colonialism and its obnoxious manifestation, while also keeping records for generations to come. An East African example of such works is Ebrahim N. Hussein’s Kinjeketile. Written after the Maji Maji uprising of July 1905-1907, which started in Kilwa in present day Tanzania. Also the play by Ngugi wa Thiongo and M. G, Mugo’s The Trial of Dedan Kimathi celebrates the Kenyan struggles for survival in East Africa. In South Africa, Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Bansi is Dead, protested against the plight of the black workers, even though they were the majority. In West Africa Ola Rotimi’s Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, whose historical setting is the Benin Kingdom in the late 19th century and Sam Ukala’s Iredi War, whose setting is the Agbor kingdom, in present day Delta State, deplore the invasion and subsequent overthrow of both kingdoms by the Whiteman. Drama is the mirror of the society. It reflects societal problems and gets the solutions to that same problem from the society. The dramatist only “throws open the case, exposes the evil, and commends the good”. The motive of the dramatist, according to Anyanwu (2018) is to teach through entertainment. He stresses further that the dramatist is “the conscience, the judge, without the right to convict.”

This piece is, therefore, intended to explore the dramas of Chukwuma Anyanwu and see how well they have reflected the Nigerian society and their relevance. Anyanwu hails from Umuohiagu, Ngor-Okpala Local Government Area of Imo State in Eastern part of Nigeria. Born in the 1960s, he started his educational career in the 1970s when he attended the famous Umuohiagu Central School, Umuohiagu and proceeded to the prestigious Emmanuel College, Owerri, all in Imo State. Not done with his academic dream, he advanced further to obtain a degree in Theatre Arts/Communication and Language Arts from Nigeria’s foremost university, the University of Ibadan (UI), where he equally took a Master’s degree. Not done with his academic pursuit, he proceeded to the Delta State University, Abraka, where he got his Ph.D. He is currently a senior lecturer in the Department of Theatre Arts, Delta State University, Abraka, although he started his lecturing job in the same school in the Department of Mass Communication where he lectured Media Arts and Film Studies.

Anyanwu is very versatile and creative. He writes in all the literary genres: prose, poetry and drama. His published novels include: Evil Hold (2010) and The Twins (2011) while his collection of poems, encapsulated in Heartbeat are Poems of Youthful Love and Innocence (2010). His published plays, which have been performed and are still being performed in the university theatres, in Nigeria and abroad, and which are the crux of this piece, include The Battle and Stunted Growth (2007), Boundless Love (2007), The Testimony (2009), Another Weekend Gone (2010), The Brother and A View from the Wings (2015). Others are: Three Draw Banker, a radio drama (2017) and Broken Images (2018).

One of Anyanwu’s first published plays is the Stunted Growth (2007), published in collaboration with Stephen Inegbe. Stunted Growth, which treats the theme of betrayal and greed is written in the satiric form and it lampoons the political class and its greedy economic exploitation and political manipulations. It also unfolds the folly of a society that promotes mediocrity for want of money. Subtly too, the play also treats the theme of hope. Hope for the Nigerian youth who is left jobless after successful graduation from the university, as the play ends with an offer of job for Onome.

The play opens with Titi reporting the outcome of an election to fill the post of secretary of the Dollars’ Club. De Madame, a stark illiterate, is declared the winner, being the highest bidder. This is confirmed by De Madame and Titi in the ensuing conversation:
De Madame: Without money
Titi: You ain’t got nothing…
De Madame: Money is the word! (Pause) How did it go, Titi?
Titi: You said it all, money is the word! You ain’t Madame Money Matters for nothing…

The emergence of De Madame comes as a surprise to her husband, Chief John James Duke (JJD), as he unequivocally states that his wife’s “secretaryship” of Dollars’ Club is an impossibility. Here is an excerpt:

JJD: … De Madame! They have done me out, but I am carrying myself like the true patriot I am. The club of a lion can never be a coward! How did the Dollars’ Election go?
De Madame: I have been given the womandate to serve as the secretary of…
JJD: Impossible
De Madame: What is impossible?

JJD: You as secretary? (Shakes his head) Congratulations, [anyway] my dear…
De Madame: Money is the word! Let’s go and celebrate my victory. (Stunted Growth pp 26-27)

Sam Peters crowns it all by saying: And are we not Joylanders? Where else but here can a prestigious Dollars’ Club have an illiterate as secretary. Have you asked why Chief Mr. (sic) Whodonit didn’t contest?…. (Stunted Growth p. 29).

This scenario replicates the Nigerian society, where the most competent and popular candidate never wins election, if he/she cannot back it up with “money power”! In actual fact, as far as Nigerian politics is concerned, you have the money, you get the position.

This vaulting greed for money also has its diverse consequences. To garner more wealth, De Madame deems it fit to invest the Club’s money with the Believers’ Investment House, a Ponzi scheme, ran by some pastors. Not satisfied after the investment yields “nearly a point five million”, she still goes ahead to reinvest both capital and interest. The consequence becomes more devastating than expected as everything went down the drain. This is succinctly described in the following scene:

CHIEF JJD’S HOUSE. A state of emergency. De madame has slumped on a sofa and is being revived by Madame Titi. Chief Dr. Loveall, apparently unconscious, is lying on the floor. Chief is pacing the floor worried.
JJD: Ruined! Utterly routed, ruined! No, it can’t be true. It definitely can’t be true!
Titi: But Chief Amos couldn’t have been wrong!
Loveall: (Recovering) My money, my money, is it true? (Titi runs to him and helps him to his feet). P. 49.

This scene captures and reflects the Nigerian society of the late 1990s when ponzi schemes like Paragon Investment, Gold Package Pay, IIFA, (Investment Companies that double any amount invested within weeks of investment) were the order of the day. The end result was the exclamation of “is it true? Is that so? Are they really gone?” Despite the fact that Anyanwu sounds a warning about the dubious nature of these Ponzis, most Nigerians still fall victims to this same crop of money doubling businessmen who resurfaced in recent times in the guise of MMM. Although, tomorrow has been the “best historian for today’s events”, members of the society have equally not taken this into cognizance and have likewise failed to learn from history and thus, history has continued to repeat itself. This goes contrary to the vision of the dramatist who projects history through drama so that the wrongs of the past could be corrected and the rights upheld for the betterment of the society.

Similarly, Stunted Growth gives the assurance of hope for the Nigerian graduate, who has been dejected, rejected and frustrated as a result of joblessness. Wazobia, the all symbolic character in this piece, who is tossed out by his own uncle and wife, and later gets a mouth-watering job as a Chief Personnel Officer is an attestation. This rekindles the hope of the Nigerian graduate and the future of Nigeria. Stunted Growth is a single act play. Actions take place in four different locations, Chief JJD’s, Sam Peter’s, Chief Loveall’s houses and in the street but they all dove-tail and the play runs in one breath, non-stop.

In The Battle, the issue of trust and betrayal is highlighted. This issue of trust and betrayal is a common one in our society; friends betray friends, business associates betray themselves, family members are not exempted. Betrayal becomes so hurting when it is by a trusted ally or confidant. This leads to the tragic essence. For, it is no tragedy when a known enemy kills his/her rival, but it becomes tragic and tragedy when a friend assassinates his/her friend just to achieve a selfish purpose. It is this betrayal by a close associate that hurts the must. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the stab that killed Caesar was not of his enemies who want him dead at all cost, but the stab from Marcus Junius Brutus, his closest friend, which made him screamed “Et tu Brute” [Even you, Brutus?].

Simon who so much trusted Kendo, his friend, never envisaged that he (Kendo) could turn round to impregnate his (Simon’s) girlfriend, come back to him again to get some money to abort the pregnancy which led to the girlfriend’s death. In the words of Simon:

We left the normal stage long ago. The moment you took my fiancée to bed, you jettisoned our friendship. Even that, Kendo, may be pardonable. But that you borrowed my money, used it to commit abortion with my betrothed and consequently killed her, is another thing entirely… (The Battle pp.86-87).

This is a prevalent situation in our society and most common amongst the youth. Thus, the author did not leave any stone unturned in his bid to condemn it. Then the question is raised: if it were you, would you let your friend go, if he plays into your hands? Would you ever forgive him?

The answer to the above is the crux of the play, The Battle. And this is forgiveness! Jane, Simon’s later girlfriend, in her plea to Simon, quickly draws that cliché of “to err is human, to forgive divine”. This no doubt, is the author’s stand. According to his mouthpiece, Kendo, the repentant prodigal,

I know wounds heal, yet scars remain to remind us of them. I know it is difficult to grant forgiveness to another but try. By the love we have once shared, forgive, by the brotherliness we have once known, pardon. I will not ask you to forget. The human mind is quite incapable of that. That is why we have God; to do for man what man cannot do for himself. Forgive! (The Battle p. 109)

Most problems in our society today reoccur due to lack of forgiveness and vendetta. This is common amongst our political gladiators. The mirror has been tilted up by Anyanwu. It is then left for us to forgive and have peace or not to forgive and be troubled.

In Another Weekend, Gone!, Anyanwu chronicles Nigeria’s post-colonial leadership, dominated by military dictatorrship.

The play reflects the brutal muffling of the media and media professionals who dared to speak against government policies. Apart from the three arms of government, the media (print and electronic) are referred to as the fourth estate of realm. They are also known as the watch dog of the society. Thus, the media bring government problems and policies to the fore and that of the masses to government. When such government policies are in tandem with the masses, they are generally accepted and if otherwise, they are rejected out rightly. It therefore beholds the media, being the watch dog of the society and the voice of the voiceless, to project this outright rejection for the government to consider and have a rethink. This is obtainable in a democratic society, where there exist freedom of speech and expression.

• Imiti is a doctoral student in the Department of Theatre Arts, Delta State University, Abraka