Sunday, 19 February 2017
Review New Nigerians
by Oladipe Agboluaje
An ebullient if uneven satire has landed in Hackney in the shape of New Nigerians, a dissection of political jockeying for power and deal making in Africa's most populous and oil-rich country.
We enter this world through presidential hopeful Greatness Ogholi (Patrice Naiambana) practising his speech as the sole socialist candidate and reaching beyond the stage, speaking directly to the audience to bolster his electoral support and dream of a united Nigeria standing behind him.
The practicalities are handled by a savvy pot-smoking female colleague Chinasa (Gbemisola Ikumelo) with her own virtual Twitter and familial power base, holding her own in her inimitable way despite the male-dominated set up.
Meanwhile Ogholi finds himself thrashing out a pact with rival party businessman politician Danladi Musa, once a mortal enemy, and union leader Comrade Edobor (both played by Tunde Euba) to gain power. But he always has nationalisation, free healthcare and free education cemented in as cornerstones of his political agenda.
Briskly directed by Rosamunde Hutt, this is a garrulous, atmospheric play and production, almost bursting at the seams, resource-rich with issues, events, ideas and setbacks besetting an emerging economy.
Ironically Nigeria's name was coined by a female journalist, a distant cousin of playwright Bernard Shaw. For behind the gaudy facade and broad humour, Oladipe Agboluaje has written a quasi-Shavian play of ideas, ideals versus expediency.
Ogholi's ideals become a drill in political rhetoric, "It is time we see our elite for what they are: a parody of our Western counterparts, rentiers and middlemen who sell off all our resources ..." But at the same time, the parody works as a two-way mirror, with echos within the play of a leadership deal allegedly struck over restaurant napkins for 'an electable candidate' in the much smaller country which was once Nigeria's colonial master.
Using our old ally Google, we also find the play is bang up-to-the-date about Nigeria: minimum wage, the foreign currency squeeze after the fall in petroleum prices. As well as on-going issues and trends such as the health travails of the President, Boko Haram, the threat of breakaway states, the division between Islam, Christianity and the atheism of the old radical left, the position of girls and women, the rise of hashtag online politics overtaking even the offline intersection of football and politics.
We do have our own particular issue over Chinasa's supposed enjoyment of a sexual practice converted into a gag but this may be part of a drug haze male delusion. Structurally also the play sometimes seems to lose its way in its effort to cover a lot of ground and run Ogholi's marital problems as a parallel plot, but it is redeemed by the brio of the characters and the vitality of the subject matter.
If the meaning of the term 'new world order' has always been nebulous, surely many imagined after the collapse of the Soviet bloc that the nation state and supra-national organisations would fill the vacuum.
Instead, many would say, the current state of flux is more in tune with Margaret Thatcher's comment, in hindsight double-edged, in the 1980s equivalent of a twitter feed, magazine Woman's Own: 'There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first'.
New Nigerians stays energetically in the African context as a reflection on the state of the world. It's certainly raw and not without its flaws but it's an amber/green light for its vigorous embrace of matters which affect us all.