Wole Balogun, Ado-Ekiti
Recently at the Theatre Complex of Federal University Oye Ekiti (FUOYE), students of the Theatre and Media Arts Department performed a play; “Once Upon a Tower” to mark the second combined convocation ceremony.
The play, written by Rasaki Ojo Bakare, Professor of Dance and Performance Aesthetics, former CEO/artistic director, Abuja Carnival and FUOYE’s Dean, School of Post Graduate Studies, is a scathing satire of the rot in the education system occasioned by various external and internal corrupt practices.
It was principally directed by Bakare and co-directed by Mr Tayo Isijola and Isaac Gondo, both being lecturers of the department majoring in directing.
Of the internal rot is a retrogressive system deployed to destroy intellectual integrity and advancement in scholarship. This rot is being perpetuated by Professor Kurumbete ljakadi, Provost of the College of Medicine, Mariapinto University. Kurumbete remains the only authority in Gynecology in the country called Nigeriana.
It isn’t as if there are no other academics in the field who have no potential of rising to Kurumbete’s height but he prefers to monopolise the terrain by ensuring that such intellectuals are “academically disempowered” for him to remain the only authority. In the process, he allows the system to suffer, scheming perpetually to destroy promising scholars who deserve encouragement, proper guidance and support.
The Professor’s self-centered and destructive disposition is challenged by a junior but brilliant, brave and uncompromising colleague in the same field, Dr Akitikori Ona, who usually calls Kurumbete bluff and says the truth at any given opportunity.
Kurumbete is uncomfortable with Akitikori’s academic prowess and intellectual integrity needed for the system to grow and bring up promising students such as Omowaye Pedro, a brilliant student in the department. Seeing Akitikori as a threat to his continued hold on the system, Kurumbete plans against him.
He makes Akitikori’s Head of Department, Dr Ugolo, who is his yes-men, to hatch a set up on rape against unsuspecting Akirikori. The heinous plan is executed by a loose female student, who has earlier failed to lure Akitikori into sex for mark. Akitikori is dismissed, paving the way for Kurumbete’s continued monopoly bleeding the system and destroying future of young, brilliant academic and promising students like Pedro.
Akitikori is replaced with another of Kurumbete’s yes-men, Dr Yemi, an intellectual cretin, unintelligent fellow and poorly baked Gynecologist. The system bleeds further and produces another half-baked Gynecologist in Pedro who later kills his love, Khadijat by applying a wrong dose for her in an attempt to abort a foetus to secure their future.
Story of the play shifts to external rot affecting internal system of Maria Pinto University with Khadijat and Pedro’s love affair. Khadijat is the only child of Alhaji Abdukadir Ike Anobi, a Senator in the land but a corrupt one serving as Chairman, Nigeriana’s Senate Committee on Education.
Khadijat’s father, like Kurumbete, champions the corrupt cartel of the external forces having its toll on the internal system in Maria Pinto University. He diverts all monetary allocations for providing adequate learning facilities in the higher institutions into his personal accounts and uses a greedy fool like Chief Ogbuefi Alexandra as front for security and political reasons/protection.
Khadijat’s dad’s greed and craze for more material possession leads him to hatch a plan to get his beautiful daughter married to Ogbuefi so he can have more than 50 per cent of the proceeds of corruption he uses Ogbuefi to corner. Khadijat refuses, elopes with Pedro and is killed by Pedro’s quackery as a Gynecologist.
Pedro is jailed but while in the prison, plans revenge against those who make him an half-baked doctor and destroys his and Khadijat’s lives. He contacts his members in his secret cult society who help him to execute a jailbreak. They strike at the Vice-Chancellor’s office on a convocation ceremony day.
Pedro, through a flashback technique generously and effectively deployed by the playwright, narrates how Kurumbete’s greed, wickedness, egocentric nature and selfishness rob him of being well trained. He reveals how Khadijat’s father’s corrupt practices which leads to poor facilities on campus further worsened his poor training and subsequent application of wrong dose of medicine on Khadijat and concludes that Kurumbete, Dr Yemi and Khadijat’s father must die. He executes his judgement instantly and he is rearrested with his hit men.
Thus, Bakare tells the story of nemesis and retributive justice at play as aptly amplified by the chorus and actors of the play. The chorus performed in high spirit using satiric, inspirational and melodious songs to amplify several themes of love, greed, mischief and revenge in the play.
Noteworthy in this instance are songs such as “Asewo campus yankare”, “On pa e” and “Why ?Why? Why…? They were well rendered by the young ladies who jointly played chorus and successfully enhanced the engaging tempo of the performance.
Indeed, “Once Upon a Tower” is a radical theatre, which combines the performative trinity, (to borrow Bakare’s words in his inaugural lecture) of music, dance and drama to successfully critique the rot in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions and speak to relevant stakeholders challenging them to rise against the ills being perpetuated so that the system can be healed for a better Nigeria.
Bakare told Daily Sun that the play was written 20 years ago and inspired by the rot he witnessed in the system while he was a lecturer at a first generation university. He clarified, however, that characters in “Once Upon a Tower” are mere creative creations and any resemblance of them in real life is mere coincidence.