Jerry Alagbaoso: Dramatist in search of a new socio-political hygiene – Part 3
The name, ‘Ego-na-atakasi’ simply means ‘money exites.’ This is the name of the chief character of Oh! My Rolls Royce and My Fairly Old Wife. He is really excited by the money he owns that each time he is announced as a ‘millionaire’ Chief Ego-na-atakasi shouts, “point of correction,” insisting that he is “a billionaire, not a millionaire that I was many years ago” (Collected Plays II p. 25). When one of his praise-singers claim that “you are the richest man in the universe,” he is so happy that he returns, “that is not contestable, my boy” (p. 25).
The men and women who attend his ceremony adulterate church songs such that where God’s name had been used in the songs, ‘Ego-na-atakasi’ replaces it. At this occasion, Chief Ego-na-atakasi attacks the poor among his guests while denigrating the traditional rulers as well. He is unhappy that bottles of champagne are standing before the traditional leaders and orders for the bottles to be taken to the inner bar and “replace them with beer, malt and other soft drinks” (p. 27).
He asks rhetorically before giving the order: “Does any of you know the prices of bottles of champagne which you are drinking like water?” Apart from allowing songs meant for praising God to be used for him, Ego-na-atakasi talks down on the things of God or Godly figures: “Who is this beautiful reverend sister?… Look you are too beautiful to be a reverend sister, better think of removing this habit so as to travel overseas and get married there; I will sponsor you” (p. 29). When the Reverend Sister responds that he can never stop God’s choice, work and will with his “unexplainable wealth” (p. 30), Chief Ego-na-atakasi retorts saying, “My wealth is explainable and with it I feed a lot of mouths including the clergy and the religious” (p. 31). Chief believes in the magic of money for him to say, “Afterall, if I had wanted to be a Knight of Saint of anybody or any person, I would have influenced or monetized it” (p. 33). He says this in the church service conducted by Rev. Dr. Ozor and his assistants.
The satire is quite clear here when the Reverend shows clearly that he is keen to lay hands on Chief Ego-na-atakasi’s money. At this service, Chief and his wife command everybody’s awe as the Chief dances majestically while the wife sprays money around. The youths are not left out. Like they do with politicians, they plead with Mrs. Ego-na-atakasi: “Mama ego, echefukwana umu gi” (Mother of money, do not forget your children).
It is no religious service as such as the Reverend Dr. Ozor do nothing but ask his congregation from time to time to ‘praise the Lord!”
At the reception at the house of the Ugos, an incident takes place with which some of the characters are satirized. The guests are suddenly attacked by armed masked men.
There is pandemonium and everybody scrambles in different directions, including Rev. Dr. Ozor and his assistants, the security men guarding Mrs. Ego-na-atakasi, choir members who abandon their song books and uniforms, a church warden, some traditional rulers, while Mrs. Ugo could only weep. A man named Man I says in a loud voice: “Reverends, you should have remained behind with your abiding faith in the Lord Our Saviour who made heaven and earth” (p. 49). More stunning is Chief Ego-na-atakasi asking after the safety of his Rolls Royce before inquiring after his wife: “Wait a minute! What of my two Rolls Royce? I hope they did not take any of the Rolls Royce away?” (p. 51). When he is told that the masked men drove both cars away with his wife, Chief continues to lament over his “new Rolls Royce” and his “expensive Rolls Royce” (p. 52).
A woman bothered by Chief’s show of more interest in his cars retorts: “Just imagine, we are praying for your wife’s safety and you are talking of Rolls Royce!” Ego-na-atakasi urges the woman to “shut up,” after all “I can marry a new wife, a brand new wife without money and you are crying of a fairly old wife or a ‘tokunbo’ wife.” (p. 52).
Still uncaring about the whereabouts of his wife and a missing church warden, Chief asks: “Where is my digital and golden phone?” (p. 53). He goes on to satirize the Reverends for dropping their “Bible and crosses” and running for their “dear lives” (p. 53). He mocks the Reverends further: “There is something that makes you reverends respect and like me and come to me. Is it not my help, benevolence and cash to you all?” (p. 57). However, Chief’s expensive remarks and mockery are returned by Woman 2: “Chief, I thought money has become your God? Why not dismember their jaws and twist them to angle forty-five degrees with your billions as you boasted? Or are your billions failing you?” (p. 59).
In The First Lady, a man, Mr Ben Ama who is not known to have come from a rosy background wins a local government election as the chairman with the assistance of an electorate which invested all their hopes in his performance. Says one of the Cabinet chiefs: “Can you imagine this Ben Ama, a rat, a riff-raff of yesterday, whose father, a carpenter, died of laziness and hunger, keeping us outside his office for hours under the sun” (p.98).
Although Ben had won through rigging, the people are happy that he was now at the helm of the local government. This is one of the ‘hygiene’ issues which has been fostered on Nigeria’s socio-political life: candidate imposition on the masses. With Ama’s ‘victory’ come responsibilities in both real governance and individual expectations. His wife, “the first lady,” had proved a good mixer in her husband’s victory, having by so doing secured the love and support of the people.
Not even the supportive traditional ruler, Eze Nwokike who had calmed down Ama’s opponents over the corrupt amassing of votes, thus making way for his legal accession to power, is rewarded or even recognized. Whereas Ben had promised upon coming to the helm that he would “carry everybody along” (p. 87), what he does later is a different experience. He and his wife, Madam Jolly Good Fellow, had promised “open door policy” (p. 88) and other goodies but Ama now reminds his family, “it is not every content or substance of a manifesto that is usually accommodated or executed” (p. 89).
Revealing what would soon happen, Ama further states: “Open door policy or not, our people are supposed to give me time to settle down before bombarding my office.” He girds his loins “for verbal exchanges, disappointments, hot arguments and name calling whenever we resume.” In other words, the newly elected is just a Chairman-elect.
Madam Jolly Good Fellow is already boasting before her family that “levels have changed” and asks rhetorically, “Can you imagine me Madam Jolly mixing freely again with all these dirty political nonentities, rascals, rabble-rousers, buffoons and opportunists?” Part of the hygiene factor in the country’s politics is the lack of integrity and credibility which we touched upon a little earlier. In addition there is hardly an ideology, and even where one exists, it is repudiated once a party or an individual gets into power. Listen to Mr. Ben Ama: “Those people have forgotten that the words of a borrower are usually sober, milder and humbler during loan negotiations, than during debt repayment time. By the same token, many politicians can say or do so many things to grab votes and power but thereafter, what happens? Some of them usually renege on their promises and manifestoes. If so, will ours be an exception? (p. 90)”
With all these musings and justifications, there is a need for another election to the Uzor Local Government Area chairmanship seat. A friend of Ama’s informs him that “the governor has just announced the dissolution date for all local government councils in this state… This month’s state allocation of fund is your last” (p. 96). Confusion assails Ama, the new local government chairman. Regret sets in and he remarks: “Oh! My God! If we had heard this information earlier we would not have been arrogant and rude to our political benefactors, associates, supporters and well-wishers, especially to our traditional ruler whom I had promised to be loyal to” (pp. 96-97). With this development, Mr Ama returns to the electorate for their votes but it is now more uphill a task than ever before. When Ama and Madam Jolly call the people to a mini rally, it is clear to them that the boulder has left the cliff and that old tricks would no longer work in the new political circumstance.
One may be wondering why the playwright is enthused by politics and political matters. Alagbaoso, a former Customs official, has been to the country’s House of Representatives twice. He deserves our encouragement as a writer as he reminds us of Dr. Wale Okediran’s effort in letting us into the goings-on in the House with his book of fiction, Tenants of the House (2009). Alagbaoso’s play, His Excellency and the Siren, is an election scenario in Amaokorie community. Two political parties – Don’t Depend on Peoples Party (DDPP) and Any Power in Party (APIP) are to contest against each other, their candidates being Chief Nelson Wokenife (Omere-Uwa) and Chief Promise Ekwena respectively. From the names of the parties, it is clear they amount to the same thing: unresponsiveness, non-reliability, nonaccountableness and irresponsibility. In all of Alagbaoso’s plays set on Nigeria’s political terrain, hope is thin and so the playwright is often cynical and skeptical.
The current/incumbent man at the helm is Chief Wokonife whose four years’ tenure would soon come to an end. Chief Ekwena is challenging him. From the very beginning, it is evident that the candidate of DDPP is quite popular with the people. A song on p114 shows that he is well loved by the community members for which they “must follow” him “wherever the pendulum of leadership goes” (p114). What Chief Promise seems to have brought to the political table is the fact that Amaokorie is his maternal home. However, teachers are hard-hit by Wokenife’s failure to have paid their three-months’ salaries.
As these teachers make a case out of the salary indebtedness by the Wokenife administration, they are reminded that “you will lose your teaching job if you are not careful” (p117). Chief Promise Ekwena works on the lacuna between teachers and on the use of siren by the incumbent, “after all, a hungry or an angry man in society does not hear the government sirens” (p117). The playwright gives the responsibility of venting on the reckless use of sirens by government to a woman. She addresses Chief Wokenife (Omere-uwa), His Excellency in this manner: “The way those in your convoy usually overspeed as they drive, calls for caution…. Those in your convey – including your Excellency, Sir, appear not to hear the real blast or sound of the siren and the frightening speed of your convoy. (p118)”
Chief Promise Ekwena counters with his own promise: “… when I get into the government, I shall continue to hear the siren, especially the societal sirens just the way I hear them today in spite of the fact that I do not have them yet” (p119). There is evidence from this proposal that rather than abolish the use of sirens by government officials, Chief Promise would perpetuate its use. However, he makes the point that government officials hardly hear what the sirens tell them about the fate of the people. This is an accurate assessment of the relationship between government functionaries and the people who put them on their exalted seats.
At Chief Promise’s fund-raising ceremony held in a hotel, some of the events at the place show that nothing will change. The Chairman of the occasion is Chief Uche-bu-akpa (the mind is a bag); the MC is High Profile while Chief Promise’s campaign coordinator is Dr Collins Ochiabuto (laughter is not friendship). Although Dr. Ochiabuto claims that their party, APIP has “something to offer” he reminds those who support his party as engaging “in a sort of investment” whereby when Chief Promise wins, “he will not lose sight of rewards via contracts, appointments and employment” (p. 123). Chief Promise Ekwena, while encouraging his well-wishers to donate to his cause, states: “Just donate generously to my cause, you will not regret it” (p. 124). In the end, in spite of the obstacles on his way, Chief Promise Ekwena ‘defeats’ the incumbent, using fake voters’ cards with the connivance of D.E.C., the electoral committee. There is a near catastrophic situation when Omere-Uwa’s supporters contest the result with chants and loud protestations. The matter soon goes to court with the lawyers on both sides having a field day.
The court session is a marathon one with arguments for, and against. The judge is about concluding his impressions when a policeman informs the court that a “mob is coming with war songs and instruments to attack or sack the court” (p. 137). In addition, the mob comes with sufficient anger bearing with them “the dead body of a child who was knocked down by His Excellency’s convoy.” Asked how the whole incident happened, Hon Bob Ikpeobasi tries to defend the incumbent’s convoy: “The little child did not hear the siren of the convoy and he was about crossing the road, with a plastic bucket in search of water when he was knocked down by one of the official cars on our way to court” (p. 137). The incident is metaphorical and emphatically ironical.
The child is said not to have heard the government siren when, perhaps he had gone for water in order for his food to be prepared. In other words, he may have been hungry and probably could not hear the sound of the siren. It is the fault of His Excellency that he could not provide potable water as the man at the helm for four years. Ironically, Chief Wokenife seeks another term when he could not give the people water. Thus the siren, the government symbol of power, is a killer rather than a nurturer. Subsequently, the crushing of the child becomes the tough luck ‘charm’ of the DDPP and symbolizes the demise of democracy as the mob soon turns unruly. His Excellency’s effort to assuage the angry crowd with a speech could not take off; instead the mother of the child knocked down evokes emotional outbursts that completely drown any attempt to plead for understanding.
Honourable Chairman, the last play in Collected Plays II, is directed at another social stain in Nigeria, that of the mockery and diminishing of the academy. Through fraudulence and indecent arrangement, Dr Armstrong Best arranges for fake honorary doctorates for some Nigerians, ostensibly from the U.S. state of Ala-saa-mbara. Both the American State and the institution awarding the ‘doctorate’, Elizabeth Institution of London in Ala-saa-mbara State, do not exist. Although Dr Armstrong Best had succeeded in conferring this ‘degree’ on some unsuspecting local government politicians, the current episode is the award of this obnoxious honour on his cousin, Hon. Chief Miracle Best, the Honourable Chairman of Wazobia Local Government Area.