By Olamide Babatunde
Beyond the alarming news discovered round the clock, unperturbed by the ongoing economic recession, unhinged by the difficulties of transiting within and around the Lagos metropolis, the hub of writers, poets, literary aficionados, family and friends came to witness the prowess of the University of Ife alumni, Maxim Uzor Uzoatu. They had come to honour his invite to the launch of his titles, Doctor of Football and A Play of Ghosts.
The venue, Culture Café, availed the hub an opportunity to mingle, schmooze, banter and exchange pleasantries. Like a stage where actors are united, the space wasn’t too large not to notice a friend or make one. But it was not just the social meeting; the business of the day was to make a public presentation of Uzoatu’s books.
Those who got an invite to come see a play would easily forgive the playwright, because they added up to highlight of the day’s activities which took off from inviting special guests. Sitting at the table was Dr Ralph Jibunoh, Chairman of the occasion; Odia Ofeimun, Guest speaker; Frank Halim, Declan Okpalaeko, a two-time CNN awardee; Kayode Samuel, Akin Adeoya and Kayode Samuel, Manager, Culture Café.
In an address, the chairman noted that he expected to see a play, nonetheless, he was excited at the sight of seeing old friends especially in the art world. “I have carried Maxim with me a long time since when I invited him to the beach and he wrote a beautiful piece about the experience that has been with me. One thing I can take away from this is that I have always been comfortable in a gathering like this. So whether it is a play or launch I am happy to be here.”
Uzoatu explained the efforts it took him to rework DOF since its debut in 1979. “Over the years, the play was being performed. I only had to add the names of current players like Messi and Ronaldo with emerging realities like Octopus Paul and the Vuvuzela. I put in the normal efforts every creative writer generates in writing their works. I had to make sure it works on stage. The basic idea of a man dubiously looking for money but ending up discovering something more precious than money was compelling to me early in life when I wrote the play.”
An equally big task he found to do was to turn attention again on the difference between the haves and the have-nots in the Nigerian society –this gap continues to expand with no end in sight, so Uzoatu seeks to bring about a change with A Play of Ghosts suggesting that the struggle should be taken from the stage to the wider community of men and women in real life to “lift the consciousness of the downtrodden toward societal redemption,” he said.
A review for both titles was read by Michael Jimoh. In Doctor of Football, the conflict is straightforward, says Jimoh. It is the determination to win a match and the unity that traps everyone in the end. This, he says, “reflects the mood of Nigerians in post-match situations involving the national team: previously non-speaking neighbours suddenly make up, usually over some round of drinks at home, in bars or just about anywhere –win or lose”. In the case of A play of Ghosts, there is no match whatsoever. What is underscored is the widening gap between the rich and poor at best spotlighted in acts and scenes as brief as possible.
When the gear moved to the lecture of the day, Odia took over the space on a light note at first, then more sternly as he argued out how best theatre should be and is not being used as a tool for social change. He pointed out every factor that makes it difficult for theatre to stay in Nigeria and how the few available do not entice the populace who ought to be entertained by it. More light was thrown on the importance of using theatre as a tool for social change in accounts of his travel experiences in other countries.
In his speech, he lashed the government and business men for failing to realise the potentials inherent in the art while he commended the efforts of individuals who have persisted in sustaining efforts to keep the industry alive. He informed that Nollywood has succeeded in telling Nigerians that drama did not fail.
“Through the forms they use, they got us interested in our society, but we also realise that we haven’t got it right yet when it is painful to go to Terraculture to see a great performance on stage with only a few friends or when we think of the trouble it takes to get to the National theatre that makes it difficult for those who should enjoy it,” said Ofeimun.
He explained that Nigeria is a unique society, therefore, stories should be told properly. “When I set out to write of Nigeria entitled Nigeria the Beautiful, I used real characters. In it, you will see Ahmadu Bello defining himself not being defined. Africans do not know where they are coming from, that’s why we need drama to show us how things work out. I can say Nigerians have a better story of South Africa than South Africa.
“What using dance drama means is to use art to catch the interest of the average Nigeria on the streets. When you add dance to drama it makes a lot of sense to those who should enjoy the story. Drama should give us a sense of our history, how we interact so that we can have a myth of what how they colonised us, taking from what we have learnt from the tools used to colonize us so that we can resist when they come back because they never quite left. He concluded on a note of appeal to business men to pitch in and make good of the opportunity that can be tapped in theatre saying It is too expensive to do dance drama alone,” said the renowned poet.