Deploying drama to tackle recession, other critical issues
It is not always that we find a work of literary art being used to dispassionately dissect contemporary economic and social issues the way Dr. Abraham Nwankwo has done, using his book, Through the Storm (Evans Publishers, Ibadan).
An accomplished economist, Nwankwo found a way to use this well-crafted drama, that was first published in 2011 (well before the phenomenon called recession became pronounced in Nigeria in its present excruciating form) to discuss the current crisis in the country’s economy as well as other nagging social issues.
The compact and gripping story that is told in Seven Acts, in 94 pages of excellent dialogue, opens with an apt explanation of recession, which is causing consternation across the country: “…So if the economy is in recession, it could lead to distress in the banking sector, because companies that have borrowed are more likely to default. Inflow of new deposits will slow down and the banks will find it more difficult to meet up with cash withdrawals …” and ends with the sorry story of what can happen in a country where there is no functional health insurance scheme – a woman in the hospital that cannot go home after delivering her baby because her husband is in Police detention, waiting for money to be paid to secure his bail so that he can come out of detention to look for money to pay so that the hospital can discharge his wife.
The main character in the play is Jacob Ako, a poorly paid lecturer who needs a better paying job to be able to take care of his family. He contacts his old school mate, Chief Marinzo Uko, the owner of a group of companies that is into foreign exchange business and importation of spare parts. The business is in distress and in debts of N100million and needs Jacob’s management know-how to turn it around.
When Jacob arrives Lagos to resume, he finds out the hard way, that restructuring an ailing organization has its risks and that corruption always fights back. Sama, the face of corruption in Chief Marinzo’s company, plans to kill him by bombing his hotel room for using the restructuring exercise he embarks upon to block the avenues through which he, Sama, had been defrauding the company.
Though innocent, Jacob is detained, for the bomb blast in the hotel and later for a debt the company owes. He is detained under horrible conditions and recounts in graphic details what happens in Police cells and detention facilities and confesses that: “These people… are heartless, soulless.”
Dr. Nwankwo, the Director General of Nigeria’s very successful Debt Management Office, DMO, has written other celebrated books and highly acclaimed articles on the management of the nation’s economy, especially on how to tackle the consequences of overdependence on crude oil export revenue, which is the cause of the present recession being faced by the country.
That he highlighted the issue of recession in the opening lines of Through The Storm can be considered visionary, given that the book was first published long before the wind of recession started buffeting the country‘s economy. That he used Chief Marinzo, whose company is into foreign exchange business and importation as a major actor in the play is also a way of communicating the fact that the country must de-emphasis importation and focus on production, especially agro-based production and export of goods manufactured in the country so as to earn foreign exchange.
Also very crucial is the point made through the engagement of Jacob by Marinzo to restructure his company using a ‘sophisticated management’ system. It is a message that when a company or country‘s economy has grown to become big or ‘complex’ or when there is economic crisis, there must be resort to economic experts who can apply what Marinzo called “modern management system that can neatly tie up and exploit our potentials,” and who can plug loopholes created by fraudsters and corrupt officials as Jacob did in Marinzo’s company.
The reaction of Jacob’s wife, Adarly, when told by her husband that he had accepted Marinzo’s job and was going to restructure the company is also instructive:. She expresses fear that such jobs are dangerous or risky because workers almost always see it as avenue to retrench them and therefore often fight back.
The current process of restructuring Nigeria’s economy away from consumption and import dependence to production and export, and the attempts being made to plug the holes drilled by corruption cannot be without stiff resistance. Corruption would surely fight back as Sama did and there would be high hurdles erected by a system that has become used to the ease of importation and consumption of all manner of (luxury) goods, including those that can be sourced locally. Jacob, however, overcame the challenges he came across through courage and perseverance.
That is one of the major messages being passed on by this loaded book. The managers of the economy must not be intimidated but must, courageously forge ahead with the restructuring and diversification agenda as well as the fight against corruption.
A critical issue that is not expressly canvassed in the book is question of securing long-term loans at concessionary rates to fund infrastructural development, which would catalyse the diversification agenda and lead to prosperity. The book ought to have highlighted this necessity and warned against its politicisation.
Through the Storm, which is well spiced with rich proverbs and other riveting techniques of playwriting, also communicates the fact that alongside the restructuring of the economy, there must be the reformation of the education sector, the health care system and the justice system among others, as well as an intensification of the fight against crime.