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Book review : Interrogating moral high ground

Title:  Collected Plays II

Author: Jerry Alagbaos

Publisher: Kraft Books

Year: 2016

Pages: 189

Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro

A morality play draws a line between virtues and vices. By subjecting our hubris to scrutiny, the playwright leads his audience to emotional purgation. The playwright, thus, sees himself as that social redeemer who dramatises the haughty foible in us as a way of interrogating our claims to moral high ground.

Alagbaoso’s Collected Plays II is a collection of four plays: Oh! My Rolls and My Fairly Old Wife, The First Lady, His Excellency and the Sirens, and Honourable Chairman. The major characters in these plays exhibit egotism –of course, pride goes before a fall. One thing that braggadocio does once the curtains are pulled apart here is to make us see the degree of vanity that dwells among social and political upstarts in Nigeria.

To capture the arrogant mien of this class, the playwright swells the diction of his play with the idiom of inanity. The flagrant abuse of power and wealth is a major streak among the protagonists, whether they are politicians or money bags, who want their subordinates to kowtow to their curious majesty.

Among others, the first play, Oh! My Rolls Royce and My Fairly Old Wife, is an exposé on the contemporary church, where fake life is the order of the day among the clergy and the congregation. Here, the moneybag churchgoer has nothing to do with rectitude. He has the priest at his beck and call, and, in a world, where money rules, Chief Ego-na-atakasi comes across as a swashbuckler, even when the entire Christendom is shouting hosanna.

Ego-na-atakasi means money intoxicates. For this character, no amount of codeine any street urchin takes can approximate the airs of this spook. The first scene is at St Monica’s Church, shepherded by Reverend Ozor. The choir is singing a medley of soul lifting songs during an interdenominational service. Chief Ego-na-atakasi is making a phone call in the church. The choir even sings his praises, and he talks down on anybody who raises an eyebrow.

His arrogance is characterised by such lousy talk: “… I am a billionaire, not a millionaire that I was many years ago… I am more than the Central Bank, for your information …. In fact, I have billions in different denominations (p.25). His insolence is also exhibited to visiting traditional rulers, whom he describes as “poor and so-called traditional rulers”. But a highly compromised Reverend Ozor sticks to his man for lucre. Base motive is key.

Not even the kidnapping of his wife, whom he calls “my fairly old lady”, and the jacking of his precious Rolls Royce could make him mellow. The kidnappers deride him as a “financial parrot”.

The second play, First Lady, is a political satire. Here, Alagbaoso revisits the worm of corruption eating the fabric of our social life, where politics has been reduced to winner-takes-all as a result of wrong perceptions by both the electorate and the elected. The penchant for second-term in office, even on the face of non-performance, is also brought to the fore.

The campaign strategy of the Ben Ama, the Chairman-elect, is unorthodox; yet it works as he wins the election. Madam Jolly Good Fellow, who is to become the “First Lady” of the local government, typifies that wife who is adept in dubious acts in order to arrive at the ultimate political goal. The moment the husband becomes the local government chairman, he renegades on his open-door policy, only taking care of the number one.

Like in The First Lady, the playwright lampoons the political class in the third play, His Excellency and the Siren. Electioneering is ongoing, and His Excellency is seeking re-election. The play makes us aware of the intrigues employed by politicians during electioneering. The rigging that characterises the subsequent election is a validation that our electoral process is sham.  The angry reaction of a mob goes to show the loss of fate in dubious politicians.

In the Honourable Chairman, the last play in the book, Alagbaoso disparages the crave for honourary degrees among Nigerians. The play explores a fraudulent angle to it whereby Dr. Armstrong Best, a Nigerian lecturer, who has lost his job in America, returns home to exploit a local government chairman by awarding him a fake honourary doctorate degree purportedly from the Elizabethan Institution of London in Ala-saa-mbraa State. What a name!

The Chairman himself typifies the illiterate, self-serving politician in our midst, whose nativity gives him away when sobriety matters. His type abounds in Collected Play II, and they are a sad commentary on our socio-political life. Alagbaoso has taken the bull by the horn. An impressive read you must have on your shelf.



Jettisoning old customs


Title: A Rose in Bloom

Author: Ejine Okoroafor-Ezediaro

Publisher: Trafford, CanadaYear: 2016

Pages: 405

Reviewer:  akinsola omidire


To be an osu means being segregated southeast of Nigeria from the freeborns, resulting in a bridge in social relations among close friends, especially as it relates to marriages. Flip through the pages of Ejine Okoroafor-Ezediaro’s A Rose in Bloom, and it becomes compelling to jettison the anomaly, for human beings are all equal before God.

Seriously, proponents of this practice are inhuman. They are enemies of cordial existence of our future. Traditionalist are concerned with the quest for an interpretation of the past as a vehicle for an explanation of the future and, thus, be likened to a smog covered old man who is labouring relentlessly to forge a true habit of the past just as he deploys narratives and analyses of past events and occurrences to define the future.

But suffice it to say that the world is evolving, coupled with the advent of Christianity, so old and superstitious beliefs must pass away. The author makes us aware that her book is unique with her unique style. The twenty-one chapter work of fiction is a contemporary African tale. The plot tees off with the final year of Nkiru Ubaka in the university, born of middle class parents, who had a presumed good life who like a rose in full blown attracted many suitors and a struggle ensued.

Two guys, Obinna an Osu caste and Jude, a freeborn, were basically the suitors of which they are both graduates. Obinna, an engineer, who Ngozi is in love with never knew he was an Osu until he asks for Nkiru’s hand in marriage. As it is the tradition in Igboland for enquires to be made about in-law’s background preparatory to the Iku-Oka ceremony, it is discovered that he is from the osu lineage. It brings the Iku Oka momentarily to a halt as the bride’s parents object to the union.

Jude, a lawyer, on the other hand, is a freeborn, whose parents are family friends of the “Rose”, Nkiru , whose parents prefer instead of an osu. Even her siblings have a soft spot for Jude but she is hellbent on getting married to Obinna irrespective of the stigma. Her belief was that osu caste should be jettisioned this modern times. At he end of the day, he lost out.

Traditionalist also featured prominently in the plot, because they hold tenaciously to the caste system, that nothing should change it, even with the advent of religion or civilisation as the case may be, because they are living witnesses to the repercussions of those who have ignored their warning. This plays out when Chief Ubaka urges his family members to appease the god of osu so that his daughter can marry Obinna. Nnanyi, the head of the family is not a partaker, and does not attend the Iku Oka.

For instance: “I remember folklores from my grangmother detailing horrendous tales involving individuals that had dared to desecrate the laws of the land. These include osu that had weded freeborn in defiance to the gods and deities, thus incurring serious repercusions. Some were left childless, or became bereaved of loved ones under very mysterious circumstances” (p. 319).

Religion also plays a vital role in Nkiru’s wedding to Obinna. Nkiru’s dad, Chief Ubaka, is an elder in the Catholic church, who is actively involved in the activities in the church, but also has soft spot for traditional beliefs and customs. Reverend Father Joseph, the parish priest of the church where Chief Ubaka worships, happens to be the one contacted by the lovebirds for counsel, and convinces Nkiru’s dad that he should let old things pass away, that, as Christians, he should think outside the box and discard the osu stigma.

Hear Father Joseph: “My dear children, I understand your predicament. We’ve dealt with a number of similar cases in our diocese. We regularly preach against despicable practices in our regular sermons, but, unfortunately, it’s like water off a duck back. We are currently trying to work in agreement with village elders in a bid to completely eradicate this osu caste. It’s an ancient tradition that continues to retard our growth as a people as well as a very distressing prospect for individuals directly affected. Our people claim to have given up the worship of idols yet hold on grimly to ancient beliefs and superstitions. This is a standard case of old habits dying hard but it is adversely affecting many lives” (p. 334).

As the plot winds to an end, the two families, Ubaka and Ejike, finally negotiates a suitable date for the Iku-Oka or Knocking ceremony when they can finally meet to finalise the wedding plans of their respective offspring.

Nkiru and Obinna are engaged, but the icing on the cake is that Obinna is posted to Lomaco’s United States of America’s branch after completing his youth service programme. They finally have both traditional and church weddings before leaving for America. They are both relieved, because they have thought of eloping initially when Nkiru’s parents kicks against her marrying an osu. The nuances of the news aren’t just lost on them, because they clearly deserve a fresh start, and this is their lucky break. They, ultimately, put recent trials and tribulations behind them to make a fresh start in the land where dreams are supposed to come true.

Save for some typographical errors, the general reader will find it a pleasurable read. This book will be useful to students, especially from the southeast of Nigeria where the caste system has been a menace among the youth, just as it ruffles the weathers of politics, religion and tradition from an African context.


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