Nigeria, A Construction Site: Tor Iorapuu’s Dramatic Portrayal of the Nation in April 1421
Fadam Lucky JULFA
Department of Theatre and Film Arts
University of Jos
Jos, Plateau State
This paper seeks to x-ray the metaphorical presentation of Tor Iorapuu’s April 1421 as a true representation of Nigeria’s untiring strife for democratic survival. Although other critics may tend to deviate or view the play in another dramatic light, this analysis intends to engage the play in its pre-textual, textual, sub-textual and meta-textual context. It is not an assurance too that the playwright and other scholars may find this paper as not deviating from the cardinal preoccupation on which the play evolved, the paper still, shares the same subject-matter since we will both be seen to concur that “the play April 1421 reveals many issues plaguing Nigeria’s steady development. One among the issues is the extraordinary struggle in Nigeria’s historical march for democracy.” This paper concludes that as a country, Nigeria must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. Non-violence brings power to the people and is available to everyone; especially those who lack the muscles, the guns and the money to engage in any form of violent strife for democracy.
History recorded that in 1898, Miss Flora Shaw (later Mrs. Flora Lugard) made the pronouncement on Nigeria as, ‘Niger area.’ 1914 witnessed the amalgamation of Nigeria by Sir Lord Lugard, who became the Governor-General. The year, 1960, undoubtedly marks Nigeria’s independence and a new page to the strive for a true and viable democracy. Still, April 1421 may not be a date so plain to retract in Nigeria’s democratic history, Tor Iorapuu recounts still, a hallmark in Nigeria’s political history, as replicated in the Nigeria’s elections of April 14th and 21st of 2007.
Nigeria, an acclaimed ‘giant of Africa’ is yet slapped in the face when in the wake of the National Conference, and while the nation was swimming in the shallows of the Centenary celebration – (precisely on the 15th of March, 2014), nineteen (19) prospective young men and women were stampeded to death for being termed job seekers seeking to be availed the opportunity for national service and responsible citizenship. This is only but one of the now rampant forgotten national sacrifices. This great country and the ‘green land,’ as fondly called, have come a long way through thick and tough national journey, yet, currently face another unfolding phase of its democratic survival.
In the view of former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who in an address on the Centenary celebration of the unification of the north and south, he considers this so called unification as an unfortunate challenging national complexity. The AFP published it that, “he laid the blame for the country’s woes on the original 1914 Agreement and that of the military regime before the return of civilian rule in 1999.” Undoubtedly not enough, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, a former president of the defunct Nigeria Advance Party (NAP), was reported to have faulted the Centenary Anniversary of Nigeria’s amalgamation by the presidency in 2014, describing it as a celebration of slavery and bad history. In his words, Instead of clinking glasses of champagne celebrating and venerating a bad history of enslavement, this generation should use the occasion of its centenary to finally destroy its last inglorious relics and simultaneously birth a modern and progressive nation (Olatunji 26).
Life is worth nothing if there is nothing in life that is worth dying for. It is worth nothing to stand for nothing in the quest for the survival of Nigeria’s democracy. It is consequent then that an individual is only but a product of his or her environment. This postulation, according to Karl Marx, in the pursuit of justice in an ideal society, portrays man as changeable and causative to change. This change is dependent on the individual’s state of being which aggravates other members of his immediate environment into action. The coming together of a population (either by agreement or unfortunate conditioning), and sharing certain things in common make a community, which in turn conglomerates into a nation.
The making of Nigeria and the current threat to the socio-political state of the nation may have been faltered by historical and colonial eventualities, it still does not deprive it of a thriving continental greatness; the hopes (at least of its nationalists dreams and vision). Suffice one to know that it would have been another tale if only as a nation, the citizens resolve to pursue positive ideals towards the utilization of the so-called adage of ‘Nigeria’s unity in diversity’. The making of Nigeria’s democracy may be viewed and interpreted differently by different ideologists from different view-points; it will never be out of place to view Nigeria still under construction as portrayed by Tor Iorapuu through his play, April 1421. This paper focuses on the challenges and complexities hitherto experienced in the journey through Nigeria’s democracy. The power of resilience and the political will of the majority may have begun to worn out thereby facing a derail from the track of true democracy, the phenomenon still avail the few democrats and activists who continually fight with their zeal, arts, resources and life for the upholding of true and workable democracy in Nigeria.
Through Generations of Democratic Experimentation, Nigeria still under Construction
Although Nigeria’s democracy has over the years been marred by corruption which in itself is necessitated by capitalism, Karl Marx whose social ideology Tor Iorapuu upholds in his socio-democratic activism through theatre, the Marxist social ideology where his life-long advocacy has been the propagation of a socialists’ community and so believes that although democracy is the road to socialism, it should be fought for with all might against the technocrats. In his words to encourage such a democratic revolution against the capitalists who dominantly own and control every sphere of society, Karl Marx stated that “the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” These chains do not apply to Nigeria as to remind the nation of its once dark ages of colonial entanglement, yet it is to consider it worst in its self-determination for the current socio-political stagnation. If Marx advocates for a social revolution and Nigerian playwrights subscribe to such advocacy, the question is: revolution against what?
The state of the nation Nigeria has passed through numerous political faces; democratic movements whose claims would always be to the attainment of a democratically viable and a unified and orderly society. This claims instead have always bounced back in shamble only to stare us with regrets in the face of our seeming resolve to adamantly resolve to fail to progress in these repetitive dreams, aspirations and yearnings of our nationalists. There is a recurrent record of the generational attempts, claim and counter claims on the quest to effectively change the course of the nation’s democratic journey. The reasons are no longer far-fetched from the nation’s average population whose fancy is not to fight to submerge corrupt tendencies anymore, but to scheme to succeed through it. This phenomenon has become a decay which has consequently cripples every will of the wheels of our democracy. This being the benchmark of massive corruption gives rise to societal atrocities either in a guise to perpetrate corruption or to subvert it. This decay still affects with a lot of pressure, the Nigerian state negatively and is still posing greater threats to the yearnings and visions of the nation. The non-attainment of this pattern of living have in the recent time led chaos – political clashes, communal restiveness, religious bigotry and extremism; negative national vices that have so far dampened the prospect and future of this great Nigerian state. The results which Stanley Igwe highlights that this “massive corruption in African officialdom continues to cause degenerative underdevelopment on the continent” (13). This is undoubtedly an unfortunate experience for the common man who depends largely on the social tenets to survive.
Through generations of democratic experiences, and since independence, the nation has had its fair share of numerous leadership experiments. These are all relics of a nation’s strife for workable democracy. It is a strife that affects every facet of the nation; political scientists, historians, religious clerics, philosophers and dramatists have, and still poise with determination to proffer solution to the lingering democratic tenets of the nation. For writers in this national question for a better democratic society, Femi Osofisan sums the writers’ burning thrust to writing on the nation’s democracy as saying, To use the weapon we had, our pen, our zeal and our eloquence to awaken in our people the song of liberation. With our writing, we would wash away the stigma of inferiority, rouse our dormant energies, unmasks the pests and traitors among us, and preach the positive sermons. Our works would be a weapon in the struggle to bring our country to the foremost ranks of modern nations. Our songs would call for radical political alternatives (page?).
This postulation is undoubtedly not far the literary motives connecting Osofisan and some other contemporary playwrights. Hence, Tor Iorapuu’s timely, yet pragmatic approach to literary ideology in April 1421.
Synopsis of the Play, April 1421
The Preface to the play as presented by the playwright himself states:
The play April 1421 reveals many issues plaguing Nigeria’s steady development. One among the issues is the extraordinary struggle in Nigeria’s historical march of democracy… And so, April 1421 is a narrative that uses the metaphor of the construction site as a paradigm to articulating people’s collective struggle. The narrative attempts to creatively tell the people’s story not chronologically though, nevertheless in a manner that the events are imagined and connected. Many images are presented at the construction site; stories of struggle during and post independent era, union activism, bad governance, ills of capitalism, all forms of injustices are played here. The elections of ‘April 1421’ are part of the many stories. Though the people are painfully overwhelmed with ‘theatricks’ and ‘politricks’ of democratizing the construction site by anointing a Foreman, the workers vow to remain resolute in their determination to ensure the site is truly democratized.
The Playwright at Work
Theatre has over the years taken numerous dimensions and faces; not only for its aesthetics, but for creatively tilting the arts towards addressing unfolding social complexities and possibly, finding workable platforms for the plays to equally address the contemporary challenges. Although Iorapuu’s public engagement as a teacher of drama may have influenced his ideology towards theatre applications, he has over the years engaged with his publics (through theatre), to mobilize community programs which often transcends even to his other play scripts. Had I Known is an earlier published play that evolved through this form of the popular public engagement (only this time, it is a post primary schools’ project which seek to engage teenagers on sex education).
Despite the shift from the conventional theatre practice with the domestic theatre structures, to the theatre sophistications, theatre practitioners have not resented still in their efforts to persistently utilize the art to effect positive change on the society. Like Brecht, Iorapuu’s works have added weight to the literary dramaturgy of a rather more flexible and workable ideology for contemporary and modern Nigerian playwriting. April 1421 is clearly an expression of the ideology of using theatre still as a pragmatic and workable tool for community activism, mobilization, conscientization and social transformation; hence, the play at work.
April 1421: A Socio-Political Reality about Nigeria’s Political Culture
The democratization of Nigeria’s political culture have always recorded one hitch or the other; a phenomenon that characterizes with impunity the nature of the individual/regional interests to the detriment of national interest. The country’s independence witnessed in the first republic a half-baked democratic preparedness which consequently failed to serve the required national cake to all and sundry. Nigeria from independence to date has continued to improve on its record of fraudulent political gimmickry and devastating electioneering platforms. To prove that this is simply an unravelling of Nigeria’s political culture, the military have in the course of this record of a dubious democratic history played their part to interfere with the flow of the then nascent democracy, thereby according to claims, perpetrated the advent of massive corruption through embezzlement and the abuse of human rights. The second and third republics have been nothing but a build-up on the unfortunate political culture.
The setting of the play projects ‘a construction site’ with an overcrowded scenario constituted by a vocationally diverse jobless majority who clamour to be part of the work process (5). Like the setting of the play, it should not be seen to be a coincidence that the play typifies the Nigeria capitalists’ resolve to own every work project and in turn subdue the common population to laborious servitude. Nigeria is seen to be a developing nation whose developmental strides have clearly been defined by structural erections of mansions for the political class, and good road networks for the privileged car owners. An idea carved and paved by a corrupt few who are resolved at instituting a structure that will keep them in positions of influence over the less privileged majority who equally struggle at all times to pull down the so-called strong hold social injustice. Nigeria has over the years provided for professionals in different spheres of life to the numerous developed countries. Nigeria is certainly one of the world’s most populated nations in the world. One may tend to subscribe to the claim that the idea behind the relocation of the Federal Capital was to dispossess the commoners of their properties to give way to the rich class. The play is set in the times of the electioneering of April 14th and 21st of 2007. Like a building under construction, Nigeria recorded yet another mile stone in the democratic march towards nation building. This symbolic setting places significantly, the reality of Nigeria in its quest to build a virile and democratic state, yet, it is constantly faced with the threat of a class struggle which as well continually thwart that effort and by the record of April 1421, is bent at making the situation worst. The elections of Anambra, Edo, Plateau and Kano States have in 2014 (years after the play), proven that the situation can only get worst. Political States hold tight at all cost to maintain power and establish further autonomy against other political parties; a phenomenon that have continued to legitimize rigging and harness democratic backwardness. Hence, Nigeria’s democratic structure still under construction.
The plotting of the play, April 1421, typifies the making of Nigeria whose structure was so unique that it deviated from concretization of the usual national claim for unity in diversity. The segmented pattern of the unfolding of the story is presented in episodes. This is a Brechtian approach to dramatization which the playwright adopts to adequately capture the most desired scenario and to leave out that which needed to be de-emphasised or downplayed. This episodic encapsulation of the state of the nation’s disjointed democracy flashes the sampling of the numerous discrepancies therein in the nation’s political character. The play takes firstly, a dive into the political past, aiming to explain the present predicament so as to collectively take a stand on the direction of the country’s future. The story which commence at the construction site saw an undeserved interruption of a flow of music and fun-filled activity by an unexpected intruders. In Episode One, the playwright captions it as, “Understanding our past, Living our today, Creating our future” (5). It is easy to understand that Nigeria was still in the mood of celebrating the fresh feeling of self-rule when in 19… not long after independence when the military interrupted this new democracy with the claim to aright the polity from mismanaged administrative principles. Whatever it is that was the reason for the intervention by the military, it never made the polity any better, but instead, left it only worse than it met it. The menace that came with the military was a glaring character of unaccountable leadership stewardship. Consequently, it has seen a dabble play of regional and individual interest where the country’s interest was thrown to the bins as every privileged leader schemes for the share of that which is tagged as ‘ the national cake.’ There is a dance of celebration for unity in episode three which typifies Nigeria’s amalgamation towards independence (15). It was an aspiration and a vision shared by many until the interruption which sets a different, yet dangerous course for the nation. Episode Two is a heightened revelation of the moment of national consciousness as created by the previous event in the play. It is at this point that the people become aware of the reality of the journey for a true and genuine democratic structure. On this consciousness, the playwright himself referred to the words of Shirley Chrisholm, as saying that, “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining, you make progress by implementing ideas” (page?). This implementation of the ideas is simply complementing thoughts with action. Action against the detractors of workable democracy; the enemies of the common man and the state. This is seen in the play as there is a twist even against the authority of the construction site. The power now taken over by the people who have become knowledgeable of the strength and position to its ownership. The peoples’ course is further advocated to become prospectively successful by the unfolding of the military confusion in Episode Two: Happening Two – this reveals the resultant effect of a united population against social unjust structures. The unity of the people goes to speak volume of their resolve to fight for a popular democracy.
The military over time in Nigeria had to due to the public pressure, give way for the envisioned democratic continuum. The play concludes by proffering a rather revolutionary recommendation for the continuous rivalry against the nation’s political progress. The mass population at the construction site having realized the tricks of the ruling class to render their efforts fruitless, they seized the chance and chose for themselves who they dim fit for the task of leadership, proving to the foreman that they have the power to channel their votes and protect it to the polls in order to achieve their dreams for a workable and progressive construction site. This they achieve in the play by standing together with a unity of purpose against all political intrigues of the authority of the site.
Iorapuu in his justification for a revolutionary stand against political corruption in Nigeria, he advocates for a social consciousness that transcends the use of drama for a mere communication model, but rather, that which engages the population in the exploration of the dramatic functionality. Drama for Iorapuu, like Agoro, “is also an instrument of thought, a cognitive process” (Agoro 58). This is because depending on the approach to drama, such “drama forces any spectator to interpret what is presented before him” (Agoro 57).
Characterization in Iorapuu’s dramatic piece precisely presents the play April 1421 as Nigeria’s metaphor in the pursuit of its political aspiration. It will not be out of place to examine the cover page of the play-text as possessing the perfect ensemble of the nature of Nigeria, viz-a-viz the green and the white signifying green lands full of prospect and the yearning for peace through unity. Another striking feature on the cover page is the ‘confluence symbol’ which unites and reminds one of the unification of the southern and the northern Nigeria. Most striking still on the cover page is the imaging of the Nigeria’s population beneath the empty ballot boxes whose content may have been stolen or that the citizens are deprived of the chance to fill them with their ballot papers. Suffice one to know too that even when the people are availed the chance to vote, there are lots of factors that threatens the stability of electioneering process. One of these negating factors is undoubtedly the issue of under-age voting as can be seen to be pictured from the experiences from the 2007 April 14th and 21st elections.
As a truly purposeful art, the play’s cover page can in a long run summarize to whoever is the reader, a precise picture of all that is the subject-matter of the play. Nevertheless, the mass killing of young men who due to desperation for survival are used and killed during election is a routine besides the killing of political opponents in contest. Records of ballot box snatching and overturn of election ethics by the same security agents that are meant to instil it; these are only but an itch to the main hegemonic authoritative structure of massive thumb printing and block voting to the favour of any existing administration or political party. As particularly shown in this play, it goes a long way to show then that, Art can and should reflect with the dominant temper of the age, those vital, positive points which, even in the darkest times, are never totally absent. Equally, it is necessary that art should expose, reflect, and indeed magnify the decadent rotten underbelly of a society that has lost its direction (Soyinka 42).
The characters at the construction did not choose to be at the site because it is a vocation of their dream, yet despite their state of joblessness, their live in them the resolve to be better citizens who are poised to survive the rough economic realities as triggered by the nation’s socio-economic structures. The play at its textual stage, parades a large range of over 38 characters who are dominantly typical of Nigeria’s street survival with only a few top-type characters like the Hon. Senator and the Generals who only appear at the end. Be it deliberate or coincidental, one may apply a critical view of the importance of the common man than the so-called rich class who hardly even vote, yet subdue the common population into voting for them. The play’s story is not of the positions of the rich, but of the struggles of the common citizen for a political space; a quest for the nation’s progress. Thus, despite acknowledging Iorapuu’s creative metaphor of Nigeria’s journey to democracy, the nation did not come to be the construction site that is seen to become merely as a result of the nationalists’ desperation for independence, but consequently, the phenomenal unification of the north and south; a historic foundation with a hard truth to chew left alone to digest. This historic claim may be seen to bear a mark through most African dramatic preoccupation because; For the dramatist, history not only provides stories, it also provides themes which are specific to the dramatist’s world view, such as the struggle for independence. History also provides a specific content, in terms of the playwright’s own society, which embodies those broad themes (Etherton 149).
The ‘Construction Site’ is a metaphor for Nigeria where diverse resources can be found, yet, the leaders and controllers of the said ‘site’ fail to appreciate these national endowment by at least doing things right. There is usually a broad daylight rigging of election where the play equally captures the scenario in.
Corporal: …I hear say Hon. Senator carry voting machine come site. Na there dem manufacture ballot papers (15-16).
April 14th and 21st of 2007 remain remarkable dates in Nigeria’s political history especially with the records of an election that is characterized by massive reports of democratic irregularities. It is no strange experience for Nigerian political character then that ballot snatching, political assassination, kidnapping, multiple and underage voting, thuggery, the manufacturing of illegal ballot papers, boxes and equally, make shift poling units are clearly the lump electoral irregularities characterizing Nigeria’s political system. These are all but political discrepancies designed to subvert the peoples’ will. Despite the clarity and evidences of these ill-fated acts usually aided and abated by the influential political class who still run the affairs of government without remorse and fear of prosecution. “Election rigging is probably the worst of the electoral frauds since it leads directly to the falsification of the will of the people and empowerment of the wrong leaders” (Claude 38). Against this background, the following dialogue presents a yearning for a workable approach towards solving the democratic challenges:
Yan Kwonkere: …Make we put fire for him body.
Mrs. Akpambo: Please don’t, I beg you in the name of God. Let us not behave like them. They do not respect life. They snatch away everything at gun point. As we have discovered, the construction site is a perfect image of our future. God has brought us together as unlikely components, individuals who want to live together but who are as different as concrete and insulation, as opposite as reinforcing rods and planks in one country (29).
One may listen to this call by Mrs. Akpambo as the voice of the Playwright whose ideology towards social change tilts undoubtedly towards an advocacy for a radical, yet non-violent means. Iorapuu’s resolve is to ring a wake up bell by calling on every well-meaning politically conscious Nigerian not to give in to the intrigues as to give up on the struggle. She is more of his voice through the play:
Mrs. Akpambo: We must keep the fire burning forever and ever. Please note that if you remain united, the enemy will be frustrated eventually…You can take over from me. You are already a member of the construction site. Please keep the energies together and make sure you recruit more members (38)
This form of political consciousness can, according to the playwright, lead to the desired result. It is a modality for replacing the guns with the guts to mobilize for a rather viable collective voice on the vote whose power can dethrone the corrupt leaders. In this regard, Claude Ejituwu concurs that, The people, aware, that each ballot paper represents an individual sovereignty and the totality of votes signifies the popular sovereignty, can vote the unpopular government out of office. So, the responsibility of directing the future of the state lies with the people (37).
Thus, with the votes lie the peoples’ powers to turn and return credible and incredible leaders. To dramatize these realistic scenario of dawning reality on the unwanted politicians, Tor Iorapuu maintains that Participatory Democracy (PD), “helps citizens expand their notions of self and collective interests by expanding public awareness and engagement in policy debates and institutional change” (Memorial Lecture9). And when they wonder on the people’s actions, they shall find the answers they deserve;
Mama Friday: Your replacement. One of the democratically wounded. Well, this young man is the new Youth Leader. It was during your elections that we lost all the brilliant young people at the site. The police and the army shot them dead for protecting the mandate we thought was ours. But we know better now who our representatives are… (54-55).
It could either be true that Nigerians easily turn around from a political resolve, or that the playwright in the play chooses to present the characters as otherwise. In an early presentation of the playwright, there is an advocacy for a rather non-violent approach to change as against the violence unleashed on innocent citizens as aided by the political class who are desperate for power as seen through Mrs. Akpambo (29). It can be seen still that in a latter presentation, he urges the workers, through Madam Fire, to clamp on the Hon. Senator who dashes off for his dear life (56). There appears to be unpredictability in the character of Nigerians. This time, the people may agree to stand on an idea and the next time, it is the other way round. It is no wonder several and numerous attempts to mobilise and plunge the Nigerian society into some sort of political uprising and consequently revolution have always become a futile movement. This may not be far from the fact that Nigeria’s multi-cultural orientations (ethnic, economic and religious) have had a strong influence against our collective national stride and consequently, political development. The results of these actions and inactions have over the years been showcased among both the leaders and the led. It is no strange experience that some Nigerian leaders do not stick to a manifesto at all; that is, if there is any manifesto in the first place.
Iorapuu joins the trends of Soyinka and Brecht believing in the potentiality of the dramatic arts, to entertain as well as to effect change. Though in a different dimension and approach, he has proven that drama and theatre if well created and channelled for presentation “can agitate the mind, influence attitudinal change, making the world a better place not necessarily by violent revolution” (as postulated by Iji 167). One needs not to be a professional in theatre and drama to be able to see from the voices and images of reason as often created by literary dramatists. Although one cannot claim the knowledge of the motif of a play in totality, especially if it has to deal with topical socio-political themes. A reader or an audience as the play unfolds may be preoccupied with turbulent societal norms which tend to cloud his/her judgment of a dramatic content.
Obviously, the nation’s blessings have become its curses since our leaders have become bent on capsizing this ‘giant-ship’. Now that the people are constantly been treated as a wasted breed, Osofisan expresses for the common man through the character of Saluga saying, I was blind, just like my father. Grief blinded me. But my eyes are clear now… we fed you with the best of our seasons, praying for peace and abundance. But instead, you brought us the white who carried off our best men to the far plantations (Osofisan 107-108).
This could be a fit metaphor that explains the democratic consciousness about the true masters’ and the latest slaves’ attitudes towards the strife for liberation. On the side of the oppressed electorates also, it will never be out of thought for the people to collectively envision the course of the nation; an implication in the belief that the population and the richly endowed cultural peculiarity would be channelled to the political growth of the great black nation. Therefore, these unfortunate democratic experiences should still not be seen as a problem but a challenge where resolutions can better be found on a platform of a rather peaceful collective struggle. Until Nigerians come to the full knowledge that the long acclaimed dreams and visions of the past heroes and heroines are justly retracted, and be resolved to also to make straight the bending bricks, the nation will continue to shamble between the confusions on either the nation’s architects were wrong in laying the foundation for the country or that the builders are adamantly bent on thwarting the course of the nation building.
Except every stake comes to the full realization that violence cannot serve cement, nor ethnic and religious fanaticism and sentiments, and consequently corruption water the building sand and bricks. Nigeria’s vision is not near attained until at least a rather reasonably dominant representation share and believe in the vision. Otherwise, it would clearly justify the postulation that, “like Ithiopia, Nigeria cutting its own head.” Ultimately, this paper concludes by viewing Tor Iorapuu’s April 1421 as an activeresponse to acall to patriotic citizenship in the words of Kathlene Greenfields: Our pen should be used to increase the anxiety of all progressive regimes. At least, the pen should be used to murder their crimes against people and making them know that they are being seen. The pen may not always be mightier than the sword, but used in the service of truth, it can be a mighty force (as cited by Iorapuu in “Youth, Activism” page?).
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