Saturday, 2nd December 2023

Deepening theatre’s role in tackling climate crisis

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
07 May 2023   |   4:07 am
Last year, Nigeria had a record breaking rainfall, which led to a devastating flooding in the country, leaving everywhere filled with water, roads impassable and people losing their homes.

As the United Kingdom celebrated coronation of King Charles III, a Yoruba group based in the UK, under the auspices of Tayese London, with a mission to promote arts and culture through education, events and documentaries, joined the world to usher in the new King of England and also wish him a happy and successful reign… yesterday.

Last year, Nigeria had a record breaking rainfall, which led to a devastating flooding in the country, leaving everywhere filled with water, roads impassable and people losing their homes.

From Federal Government’s data, the floods displaced over 1.4 million people, killed over 603 people, and injured more than 2,400 persons. About 82,035 houses were damaged, and 332,327 hectares of land also affected. The government had announced that 2022 flood in various parts of Nigeria led to an estimated economic loss of $ 9.12 billion.

Flood-related catastrophes have increased by 134 per cent since 2000, compared with the two previous decades, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). Flooding destroys biodiversity, lives, livelihoods, infrastructure and other assets. It can also compound health hazards, such as cholera, as sewers overflow and freshwater and polluted water mix.

Climate change is already impacting health in a myriad of ways, including leading to death and illness from increasingly frequent extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, storms and floods, the disruption of food systems, increases in zoonoses and food-, water- and vector-borne diseases, and mental health issues. The pace and scale of what has been done so far, and current plans, are insufficient to tackle the crisis.

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

Over 930 million people – around 12 per cent of the world’s population – spend at least 10 per cent of their household budget to pay for healthcare. With the poorest people largely uninsured, health shocks and stresses already currently push around 100 million people into poverty every year, with the impacts of climate change worsening this trend.

A 2021 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underscores, rising global temperatures are dramatically affecting the water cycle, making floods and droughts more extreme and frequent.

Another report, which was published on Monday, March 20, 2023, and titled, ‘Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report’, based on years of work by hundreds of scientists during IPCC’s sixth assessment cycle that began in 2015, noted that Climate Change is a threat to human and planetary well being.

The report said humans were responsible for all global heating over the past 200 years leading to a current temperature rise of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, which has led to more frequent and hazardous weather events that have caused increasing destruction to people and the planet.

With the rains gradually coming and Aiyetoro witnessing ocean surge in April, theatre artists have been told to become climate change soldiers.

The veteran journalist and culture advocate, Ben Tomoloju, told The Guardian: “My humble self, at least, have raised the alarm in a ventriloquistic manner as far back as 2005 during a mission to Aiyetoro. I saw the first two floors of the high rise palace of the King of the Holy Apostle Community submerged, the entire beach covered with sludge, community school cut off by flood and buildings shattered by billowing seasonal storm. I ensured it was reported and published in a national daily and the then Ondo State governor read it without taking any action. That’s just a case study.”

Tomoloju said: “I was born less than two kilometres from Aiyetoro community, that is, my mother’s hometown in Idi-Ogba. This is a horrendous experience that has to be arrested by all means possible. I just can’t bear the horrific situation my Ilaje folks are going through. This has been a life and death affair for a peace loving people in the Creeks.”

For the ex-Deputy Editor of The Guardian, “I think it was John Millington Synge, the Irish dramatist who depicted this kind of horror in his classic, Riders To The Sea, where an old lady lost her offsprings to virulent waves. It is a tragic experience predating what we are going through in Ilaje wetlands. I don’t know how the Irish eventually overcame theirs that we no longer hear of it even in this period of climate change. But no responsible individual, leader of thought – and whatever – can afford to ignore the horrendous assault of nature on the hapless people.”

He said: “Ilaje artistes and artists are sensitising the society at large on the environmental challenges of the community, most especially, the seemingly intractable ocean surge, which threatens to wipe out lives and, indeed, the human habitat. I am aware that the famous comedian, Seyi Law, also an Ilaje has on some occasions translated his acts into scathing street protests, even to points of creating caricatures and lampooning the powers that be over their insensitivity and what I describe as sadistic show of negligence concerning the Ilaje community’s environmental challenges. Aiyetoro is only a case study. The entire wetlands are facing the threat of total submergence by unrelenting ocean surge with all the horrors and fatalities.”

According to Jerry Adesewo, artistic director, Arojah Theatre Abuja, the world is investing in climate science, strengthening resilience and advancing environmental justice, however, new initiatives on theatre stage will improve understanding of changing cimate. He believes that theatre can set goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) in the country.

For him, theatre can galvanise clean energy future and advance environmental justice. He said theatre could be a powerful tool for raising awareness and promoting action on climate change in Nigeria.

He said in the fight against climate change, theatre remains one of the most veritable tools for creating awareness, especially in promoting attitudinal change.

“Theatre performances can be used to educate audiences on the causes and effects of climate change in Nigeria. Theatre can also be used to highlight the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities and how individuals can take action to reduce their carbon footprint,” he told The Guardian.

Adesewo added, “theatre could be used as a platform to advocate for policies and actions that mitigate the effects of climate change in Nigeria. This can include, advocating for renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and protection of natural resources.”

He continued: “Theatre could be used to engage communities in discussions and actions aimed at reducing their carbon footprint. Theatre performances can be followed by workshops or discussions on how communities can take action to reduce their carbon footprint and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

“Theatre can be used to promote behavioural change among individuals, encouraging them to adopt sustainable practices such as recycling, reducing energy consumption, and using public transportation.”

He is, however, surprised that on Nigerian stage, he hasn’t seen productions or theatrical projects deliberately designed to address the issue. “We are definitely not doing much, maybe because of funding fatigue because educational/advocacy theatre costs quite a lot, and we don’t have funding organisations working in that direction. However, it is also possible that one or two persons are doing something but not giving it the right projection,” he said.

Also speaking on the ways theatre could be used to tackle climate crisis, Chris Paul Otaigbe, Manager, NABN TV, opted for the deployment of ‘guerrilla style’.

He said there is need to organise community shows for the grassroots, the children at school, student campuses, among others.

“That way, you can effectively engage your targeted demographics. I don’t believe theatre practitioners are doing much in this direction. The reasons are not far fetched. There is simply no funding,” Otaigbe noted. “Also, the community of practitioners requires the requisite training to be able to connect to the subject.”

For Dr. Sola Adeyemi, Director of Drama, University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom, “culturally in Nigeria, we have always been conscious of climate change by structuring our lives around the seasons, and structuring our existence around managing the climate. We live by acknowledging and respecting nature. In every aspect of our lives, we live according to the dictates of nature and ensure that the way we live does not disrupt the cosmic balance. In essence, we manage nature to organise our lives because we are aware of the relationship between nature and climate. We carefully nurture nature to moderate the climate in all areas of our lives – farming, craft making, and other communal events.”

He said, “theatre practitioners in Nigeria have always regarded highly their roles in using theatre to manage climate change, and to promote ways to adapt to the change. There are plays that are written to deal with this, and to acknowledge the unique link between maintaining nature to balance climate and our existence and survival as humans, such as Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests and The Swamp Dwellers, Femi Osofisan’s Another Raft and Twingle Twangle, A Twynning Tayle, and Bode Sowande’s Mammy Water’s Wedding.”

He added, “so, the first factor in using theatre to further moderate climate change, apart from our everyday living, is in recognising the elements of theatre that influence our lives – language, stories and narratives, costumes, etc. – all of which are designed to identify the importance of maintaining balance in our existences and the cosmic/climate exigencies.”

Adeyemi noted that from Soyinka’s quintessential theatre expressions reckoned within the history of the discipline as models of socially conscious, activistic drama and theatre in the post-independence national repertory to the ethno-conservative construct of the Yoruba travelling theatre, led by legends such as, Hubert Ogunde, Duro Ladipo, Kola Ogunmola and Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala) and the post colonial dialectical offering of Femi Osofisan and Bode Sowande, Ahmed Yerima, Esiaba Irobi, Ifeoma Fafunwa, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, Nigeria theatre has placed itself in the hands of change agents to define the desired society.
“However, it appears modern socio-economic considerations are becoming an overarching factor these days, with scant response to how our acts and activities affect climate change. In this, I think we need to do more. Many of us are not even aware of the problem! We are concerned with indiscriminate consumption of energy and the destruction of the climate to fuel our addiction to materialistic living.

“I once staged Osofisan’s Twingle Twangle, A Twynning Tayle to draw attention to climate change. When I was growing up in a farming community, I noticed that planting periods changed each farming season, and cultivating of soil was managed to enable renewal of resources. This informed the writing of one of my plays, Halfway Meeting Over The Mountain Top (1998), which explored managing our satisfaction and indulgence as human beings with what nature can sustain. A few years later, I wrote the musical, Solution, on what we can do to reverse desert encroachment, which I understood to have been caused by mismanagement of the Sahel region and the indiscriminate use of our rivers in that region.”