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Ukala’s Iredi War excites Okowa, Ovia, Kachukwu, others at Asaba

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Obi of Owa in-council listening to a towncrier making announcement

Obi of Owa in-council listening to a towncrier making announcement

Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta State Government’s bigwigs, Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachukwu, and Chairman of Zenith Bank, Mr. Jim Ovia, were treated to the excitement that only theatre performance could generate. The play in focus was Prof. Sam Ukala’s award-winning Iredi War (performed by Delta State Council for Arts and Culture) on August 25 in commemoration of Delta@25 anniversary celebration. What was more, the historical unraveling before the select audience is a familiar subject to the trio of Okowa, Kachukwu and Ovia, as it happened in their own Owa during colonial rule.

Although the Obi of Owa in the play was defeated in battle by the British, he still won the moral victory over a reprobate British system, a system that accorded little respect for, and makes no attempt to understand, other people’s culture. Also in attendance at the show were the current Obi of Owa, His Majesty Emmanuel Oyeike Efeizomor II, and other traditional rulers, who saw the re-enactment of the adversity a great African ancestor suffered in an unjust war he was compelled to fight with the devious British.

However, on display was a case of tiers of governments in the country doing everything to convince doubters that culture occupies, even if inconsequential, spot in governance activities. But that is all it was – a mere show and usually on occasion, when egos of government officials needed to be massaged. Indeed, such show of solidarity with the culture sector is usually short-lived.

For such tokenism of support, however, playwright and teacher at Delta State University, Abraka, Ukala, was effusive in his gratitude to the Ifeanyi Okowa-led Delta State Government for providing the resources and venue for the performance of Iredi War. However, the professor of drama failed to utilise the moment to educate his patron, Okowa, on what the culture sector in Delta State, and indeed, the entire country, needs if his plays and those of his colleagues across the country were to enjoy regular outing and not wait for 25-year or golden jubilee celebration circle.

Although Ukala preached the gospel of good and humane leadership to the governor and his cabinet, the sort of leadership that engenders unity and togetherness in a multi-ethnic state like Delta, he failed to commit the governor on the need to build platforms for the arts across the state. Unity Hall at Government House, Asaba, is hardly a proper platform to stage a play. Although it served the purpose for the night, the state lacks facilities that could engender further artistic expression among its talented citizens.

After 25 years since the creation of Delta State, its capital, Asaba, does not have at least a 500-seater purpose-built theatre or performance hall so the plays of Ukala and other playwrights could be staged regularly. Therefore, whatever physical development being achieved in the state lacks recreational, humanistic elements. There is no museum for showcasing rare artefacts of the various ethnic nationalities in the state and no hall to exhibit the celebrated works of Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Pa Demas Nwoko, Dr. Nelson Edewor, Prof. Osa Egonwa and other visual artists of the state’s extraction. Warri, the state’s oil and commercial city, does not have any platform for artistic and cultural expressions either.

South Africa-inspired Shoprite malls – one in Warri and a new one springing up in Asaba and other parts of the country that bear the imprint of state governments’ sponsorship – are veritable venues to host theatre and exhibition halls. At the moment, cinema is the only lucky occupant in some of these edifices. Adding a theatre hall to the Shoprite mall package would, no doubt, be doing great service to the performance art.

And so Ukala lost the moment to the euphoria of the performance of Iredi War. He did not corner his patron to commit more to the sector, whose dramatic offering tickled him and his cabinet immeasurably, as they clapped and empathised with the personages in the unfolding action before them, of the sealed fate of the colonial-era Obi of Owa, who fell out with the British and suffered dire consequences.

AND Owa fell to the superior firepower of the British army with its local collaborators. And the Obi, his chiefs and other subjects are taken into exile to complete similar fates that befell Oba Ovoranmwen of Benin and King Jaja of Opobo, who suffered exiles in the hands of the British colonial machine. Although some of the scenes moved quickly, especially the military ones, actions in the Obi’s palace were somewhat slow, except when the chiefs are bickering heatedly. Unlike the current Obi of Owa who has a horn-blower in his retinue, and is periodically blown to praise his principal’s every gesture, no such royal pomp accompanies the Obi in Iredi War. And so every entry and exit of the Obi is devoid of the royal fanfare a horn-blower usually brings to bear. Future directors would do well to incorporate the horn more regularly.

Also, the warriors’ dance that ought to thicken the communal preparation for war with the British is lacking. Only two of Owa generals burst in and out of the stage to report progress to the royal council. Although Ukala explained that the play was abridged to run for less than two hours, such vital part of the play should not be cut off. The motif of the play is conflict of interest that leads to war and the actual war; showing the ebullience of Owa warriors would serve to enrich the dramatic moment that should enhance and heighten the performance.

Also, Unoma Akiti, who played Chichester and Nwaneri Chinedu as Crewe Read present such sharp contrasts it is a wonder why the director, Mr. Osemenem Linus, couldn’t get someone to do a better job than that shambolic performance from Chinedu. He didn’t try to veil his bland Nigerian accent. But not so his lady colleague, Akiti, who carried Chichester’s role superbly, as though she was proper British. That was acting; she was every inch British and it lifted the performance from the drabness Chinedu inflicted on the audience. Even Onos Emeotu (Rudkin) did a better job of playing British in his small role.

The challenge, therefore, is for Okowa to lift his art patron’s role, if ever his could be called a patron of the arts yet, and see to the needs of the entire arts and culture sector. He should sponsor Iredi War so it could be taken to every Owa and Anioma community. That way, the young and old alike would see the play and be better informed and enriched by its crucial role of education and enlightenment, which informed Ukala’s creation of this dramatised piece of history.


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