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Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy writes that Abdul O. Umar and Sam Iyanda’s Stray Bullet depicts how Nigerians resort to prayers, instead of actions, for solutions to their sufferings
My people self dey fear too much
We fear for the things we no see
We fear for the air around us
We fear to fight for freedom
We fear to fight for liberty
We fear to fight for justice
We fear to fight for happiness
We always get reason to fear–
We no wan’ die
We no wan’ wound
We no wan’ quench
We no wan’ go
I get one child
Mama dey for house
Papa dey for house
I wan’ build house
I don build house
I no wan’ quench
I wan’ enjoy
I no wan’ go
So policeman go slap your face
You no go talk!
Army man go whip your nyash
You go dey look like donkey…
—Fela Anikulapo Kuti (Abamieda)
Call Fela Anikulapo Kuti anything you wish, one can rarely deny the fact that the afro beat musical maestro is a genius in his perception and analysis of humans, especially Nigerians! To say that Abamieda is a prophet would not even be heresy, he deserves more than such elevation. Look at the way he is able to capture the Nigerian mentality in his song–a mentality we have maintained till date. And you know we have a way of cosmeticizing these things that they begin to look attractive! We tell ourselves that we are resilient, can survive under any weather or condition, used or programmed to suffering, can endure and survive stress etc. Call it whatever you like, we are but glorified zombies, what in Nigerian parlance is known as MUMU!
Today, we are not here to discuss Abamieda and his music, we are here to discuss Abdul Umar and Sam Iyanda’s short play, Stray Bullet.
Stray Bullet captures the state of disillusionment in Nigeria where everything has become topsy turvy. It begins with a snake-like queue at the fuel station. The incessant scarcity of fuel (even though crude oil is mined in Nigeria) led to the long queue at the fuel station with everyone pushing and struggling to outsmart each other in order to get fuel. A discussion is incited as to the reason for the scarcity and the general agreement is that it is as a result of bad leadership and corrupt practices. The next scene is Ameh arriving home without fuel because, like many others, the fuel got exhausted before it gets to his turn. Ameh arrives home a frustrated man but has bigger problems waiting for him at home. His son is absconding from home to escape the poverty and his home is soon to be demolished because the government needs to use the space to initiate a green project! Yet, Ameh had served the country faithfully for years as a policeman only to be denied pension and gratuity after retirement.
The playwrights (using the play) have been able to identify Nigeria’s anathemas, it is corruption and bad leadership. They were also able to capture the Nigerian mentality of weakness and fear in the face of oppression and suppression. Nigerians give in too easily rather than put up a fight. Let us take an excerpt from the play’s first scene at the fuel station:
Man 1: Oh God! How are we going to end up?
Man 10: We will end up pushing ourselves to death.
Woman 1: God forbid! Don’t talk about death here. I have children at home to take care of. I am not ready to die yet.
Man 5: Are we still living? We are dead people already. Come to think of it. Every day we come to this station to line up. We are begging to buy what belongs to us. Are we not pretending to be alive?
Woman 1: I am alive. Very much alive.
Man 1: Where is this country leading us to? We have enough of what we are looking for.
Man 3: Yes, we are rich in adversity. We are dying and smiling. (pp 2-3)
We are not just dying and smiling, we are dying in silence and that is what makes it worse! Everyone is afraid of facing death and they use children, family, loved ones and other material things as excuses to continue living a sordid and bleak existence. We never understand that if our tomorrow must be good, sacrifices have to be made today. No one should remain docile in the face of oppression, you must put up a fight else posterity will never forgive you.
Abdul and Iyanda’s play is a realistic depiction of the Nigerian scenario but I think they missed a great opportunity of producing a great Marxist play. They showed the oppression quite alright, were able to identify the society’s anathemas but where is the dialectical struggle between the oppressed and oppressors, where is the violence, where is the conscientization of the oppressed, where is the unity and commitment of the oppressed and genders, and where are the characters leading a protest to demand a just and responsible government? I do understand that not every play must be of the epic theatre orientation but I am also aware that it is the duty of the stage to educate and point man towards the right direction. The direction which Abdul and Iyanda point to is misleading and unhealthy for society. What do I mean by this?
Rather than let their characters revolt or protest, say no to oppression, they choose instead to let the characters resort to prayers! I would not say that prayers are bad but prayers unaccompanied with action achieve nothing. No one looks on or pray while his house is on fire!
I expect the characters to rise up and say enough is enough! I expect to see the interplay of the dialectical struggle between the class of the oppressed and that of the oppressor but maybe that is because I am much of a Marxist myself. Yet do I still maintain that using prayers as a last option is but an encouragement of the Nigerian nature of imbecility and docility. Even the I am that I am used Moses to lead a protest against the Egyptians.
When Ameh arrives home to find his son deserting home for greener pastures and the government preparing to demolish his home, this is what he does:
I call on you today.
You are the Lord of all.
Come and help this nation
Come to our aid oh Lord!
We need you now than ever.
Without you Lord, Nigeria heads for the rock.
Lead us onto glory again.
Rule our hearts and give us love….
(The prayer continues as light gradually fade on the characters final blackout [sic]).
THE END (pp. 37-8)
If Ameh had kicked off the move to the village, as his friend Onuche had decided, it would have perhaps looked reasonable. But to kneel down and pray while the government prepares to bring down his home rendering him homeless while his pension and gratuity remains unpaid is unacceptable to me for I consider it the height of imbecility and docility. My verdict on the play is that it is a good play with a terrible end.
Another round of editing would be a face lift for the play as there exists several grammatical inconsistencies and confusion of homophones.
The play is an example of our aberrant culture of docility and imbecility in the face of oppression. Yet, I say that we should never be afraid to fight back or say enough is enough when pushed to the wall.
© Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy 2017