Theatre In Pursuit Of Peace
Professor Rasaki Ojo Bakare
(Professor of Theatre Aesthetics and Choreography)
Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Federal University, Oye Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria
This paper poses a fundamental question, which pertains to the fundamental subject of conflict as well as the solace found in the theatre, as a corrective social apparatus, a change agent, and a creative mediator in the pursuit of peace, especially in an unsecured environment like the Nigeria of today. A question of this nature would continue to be relevant and attract academic interests. This is because of the push-and-pull relationship between the current emotive ethno-religious reactionary uproar in the country and the apparent attendant artistic placations, atonements, amendments, recreations, reparations, propitiation, mediation and appeasements currently instituted by the different indoor and outdoor modes of the creative arts like the various national and state carnivals, dance and choreographic forms and other artistic performances.
Contextual Definition of Key Terms
In order to properly address the subject matter, it is important to implicitly define and discuss the relevant terms used in context. The key terms to be defined include “theatre and peace.” Theatre has been described as “one of the oldest and most popular forms of entertainment, in which actors perform live for an audience on a stage or in another space designated for the performance. The space set aside for performances, either permanently or temporarily, is also known as a theatre” (Barringer, 2007). The English dictionary defines the word ‘peace’ as the “state existing during the absence of war.” It is as a result of the growing global occurrences of diverse types of conflicts, and the dire need for their resolution that the culture of peace initiative was introduced by the United Nations. The UN defines the culture of peace as, “a set of values, attitudes, modes of behaviour and ways of life that reject violence and prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes, to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation among individuals, groups and nations” (United Nations, 1999). However, beyond the narrow definitions offered above, it is important to analytically review these two key concepts further.
The Ritual Atonement Generally, theatre is creative, proactive, meditative and constructive. Therefore, it assumes the offensive as a sharp contrast against conflict, which the society considers destructive, chaotic and counter-productive. Whenever and wherever there is conflict in any society, there is the need to propitiate, neutralize, repair, recreate, retreat or unwind. This justifies the inevitability of theatre at any level of the society. Therefore, this presentation could not have been more appropriate at any other time in our national life than now.
Man’s General Conception of Peace
Man has occupied society from time immemorial and, therefore, he is a social being, dependent on other societal variables for survival. Consequently, he is bound by the society to exhibit an expected pattern of behaviour to enable positive co-habitation with the other members of the society, as well as to ensure societal continuity. This is man’s most primary approach to conceptualizing peace. Basically, there are fundamental principles or orders regulating man’s existence within the confines of his universe, which, if contravened, have severely negative consequences meted out to man in his mind, body and soul, in addition to lacking symmetry with the immediate society. At this point, the reversal of the fundamental principle or universal order generates intrapersonal and interpersonal conflicts, which require man to channel amendment or atonement to the three main orientations of his existence: mind, body and soul, to reverse the inflicted conflicts.
The mind or conscience relates to man’s intellectual regard or awareness of the self. This is his self-reflective power. Therefore, when he negates the fundamental laws of existence, his mind (call it brain or conscience if you like) pricks him and he immediately feels inwardly nervous and outwardly restless. There is a solution; atonement has to be performed to remedy man’s mental situation. The atonement is performed because it is theatrical and the effects, dramatic. The body is man’s physical structure, which houses the mind and soul when man is still in tangible existence. The body has direct manifestation of man’s shoulder-to-shoulder relationship with his immediate human environment; the society. A negation of the laws of nature is immediately consequential as the erring member of the society is seen as a sinner and an offender in religious and legal parlance respectively. As a result of this, various templates of atonements are performed to ensure reconciliation with man’s fellow men. The soul or spirit is the power within man to relate to the force or power of being entirely outside man’s body and brain; the Divine. As demonstrated earlier when divine guide-lines are negated, a sacrifice has to be performed to pave way for man’s soul to commune once again with the divine.
Peace: A Definition Stretched
The term, “peace,” has assumed a wide range of interpretations. We outline here six broad categories of peace-thinking that have emerged historically within Western peace research – especially over the past fifty years (since the end of World War II). These six categories roughly correspond to the evolution of peace thinking in Western peace research. This does not mean that all scholars once thought one way and now think another, nor that the majority of peace researchers now adopt the sixth type of peace thinking, the holistic inner-outer peace paradigm. Rather, it argues that overall, there has been a trend in peace research away from the traditional idea that peace is simply the absence of war towards a more holistic view. There are six perspectives on peace in terms of the levels of analysis and theoretical focus that each includes.
Peace as Absence of War
The first perspective, peace as the absence of war, is applied to violent conflict between and within states – war and civil war. This view of peace is still widely held among general populations and politicians. In certain situations, it can be argued, this is still a legitimate objective, at least until the dolling stops and it is possible to ask for more out of life than avoiding death in war. Furthermore, all six definitions of peace discussed here require absence of war as a necessary precondition for peace.
Peace as Balance of Forces in the International System
Quincy Wright (1941) modified this absence of war idea to suggest that peace was a dynamic balance involving political, social, cultural and technological factors, and that war occurred when this balance broke down. His model assumed that any significant change in one of the factors involved in the peace balance would require corresponding changes in other factors to restore the balance.
Peace as Negative Peace (No War) and Positive Peace (No structural violence)
Galtung (1969) further modified Wright’s view using the categories “negative peace” and “positive peace” that Wright had first put forward some 28 years earlier. Galtung developed a third position and argued that negative peace was the absence of war and that positive peace was the absence of “structural violence,” a concept defined in terms of the numbers of avoidable deaths caused simply by the way social, economic and other structures were organized. Thus, if people starve to death when there is food to feed them somewhere in the world, or die from sickness when there is medicine to cure them, then structural violence exists since alternative structures could, in theory, prevent such deaths.
During the 1970s and 80s, a fourth perspective was ushered in by feminist peace researchers, who extended both negative peace and positive peace to include violence and structural violence down to the individual level. The new definition of peace then included not only the abolition of macro level organized violence, such as war, but also doing away with micro level unorganized violence, such as rape in war or in the home. This feminist peace model came to include all types of violence, broadly defined, against people, from the individual to the global level, arguing that this is a necessary condition for a peaceful planet.
The 1990’s has seen the emergence of two types of holistic peace thinking (Dreher, 1991; Macy, 1991; Smoker, 1991). Here, as with the feminist model, peace between people applies across all levels of analysis – from the family and individual level to the global level.
Holistic Inner and Outer Peace
This sixth view of peace sees inner, esoteric (spiritual) aspects of peace as essential. Spiritually based peace theory stresses the centrality of inner peace, believing that all aspects of outer peace, from the individual to the environmental levels, must be based on inner peace. This new paradigm in peace research resonates with much thinking in world spiritual and religious traditions. Peace has truly become indivisible.
God, Man, Peace and Theatre:An Ontological View
The religious accounts of the origin of man make it clear that prior to creation, there was conflict; there was crisis because according to the Bible, the world was “without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Gen. 1: 2). Crisis brings darkness and things are indeed without form. That is the nature of conflict. From this biblical account, one would deduce that God employed the theatre in bringing the first example of peace to be experienced in the history of creation. He first created the theatrical set, the stage. He created the stage light when he said: “Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen. 1: 3).
God partitioned the stage and even added colour because he stimulated the scene with green grasses, flowers and vegetation. The contemporary theatre must have imbibed from God one germane tradition; actors never hit the stage for performance until the stage is set completely. It is important to note that God values aesthetics because aesthetics heralds peace. He was the first to engage in squinting which has now become a professional technique in art. After laying the inspired strokes, the artist sits back to see (or squint) what he has done so far to know if the message has been driven home. The bible recalls: “… and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1: 25). Before the stage was set, there was chaos, but God brought about peace through the art of theatre. This fact could be verified through the following observable evidences:
i. The scenic view of the stage has therapeutic advantages which conceptualizes peace in semantic terms. The lush vegetations and fresh horizontal breeze in the serene landscape are attributes of peace.
ii. The basic theatrical elements (stage, scenic background, props, costumes, light, dialogue, colour, direction and the actors) were essential in changing the initial “void-and-without-form state of the earth” to the paradise of peace handed to Adam and Eve.
iii. There was art after the void and nothingness that initially characterized the earth, because God simply said: “Let us make…” and the Bible used the word, “God created” as often as possible. This is because art is all about creating, making, repairing, restoring and retreating.
Theatre and Peace: A Panoramic Historical Narrative
The Theatrical context of the traditional African rituals which qualifies them as performances comes to the fore when such rituals are extricated from their efficacious context. All forms of artistic practices that avail in Africa are approached from the form and content perspectives. Africans did not use their art for only aesthetic reasons, but it centred on their entire life. It is a combination of form and content. This is why African art is often regarded as “art for life” unlike European art which is regarded as “art for art’s sake.” In the traditional society, if the natural order of things is ruptured, then it is believed that the gods are angry and therefore libation must be poured to placate the gods.
Rituals either elaborate or simple are attributed to the theatrical. For the elaborate ritual performances, there is always a stage, usually at the palace, sacred grove, grotto or shrine of the particular god to be appeased, with the chief priest as the lead performer. There is always a crowd who serve as the audience. Usually, there is peace after such rituals are performed. The artists and artistes do not, of course, see themselves as artists or artistes but as intermediaries between the mortal men and the divine deities. These are special theatrical elements necessary before a ritual can take place. Ayisi accurately opined:
Rituals are therefore the only means the profane world is brought into contact with the sacred. They serve as institutional intermediaries or sanctifying agents. There are various kinds of rituals which may be simple or complex. Simple rituals may take the form of pouring the first few drops of one’s drink on the ground and calling the name of one’s dead father or other relatives to come and partake before drinking. By this ritual the social link between the person and the dead relative is acknowledged. The pouring of the drink is known as libation and may be elaborate on some occasions (1972: 90).
In the Traditional African Society, the gods are accorded great respect, for instance, if the rains are late during the planting season, a number of factors could be responsible for that. The oracle is consequently consulted and there must be a ritual. The entire concept of ritual in the African Society is reference to the art; plastic and performance. Olorunyomi (2003: 133) noted the importance of understanding “the abiding principle which informs the adaptive and transformational character” of even formal ritual as recreational myth.” Citing Margaret Drewal, he states further:
…improvisation can transform ritual through psychic transformations or, of esoteric verses turned into narratives, spontaneous interpretations, recontextualization, drumming, dancing, chanting, parody, ruses, reconstruction of conventions and individual interventions into the ritual event (2003:133).
Ancient Greco-Roman Theatre and the Concept of Peace
Like the traditional African Societies, the ancient Greco-Roman “theatrical” rituals were used as harbingers of peace. Dionysian Mysteries (ancient rituals), secret rites and ceremonies were connected with various religious worships of ancient Greece. Although the theatre in ancient Rome had its origin in musical and dancing performances and in chariot racing, boxing, and gladiatorial contests, when the Romans conquered the Greeks, the Romans themselves were overcome by the artistic achievements of the Greeks which they emulated.
Consequently, these ancient rituals became extended to the Roman space. These rites and ceremonies were known to the people, and practiced by men and women who had been duly initiated; no other persons were allowed to participate. Although the origin and purpose of the mysteries are still unknown, there is a theory that the mysteries concealed deep truths and remnants of a primitive revelation too profound for the popular mind. Though the theory is no longer held plausible, but undoubtedly the sacred rituals brought to the initiates, secret religious doctrines, which in many instances were concerned with peaceful relationships with the gods, society, environment and fellow men as well as peaceful continuance of life beyond the grave. The mysteries consisted of purifications, sacrificial offerings, processions, songs, dances, and dramatic performances, were meant to reconcile man with man and man with the gods, especially in times of public crisis. Often the birth, suffering, death, and resurrection of a god were enacted in dramatic form.
The aim of the mystery plays seems to have been twofold, namely, to give comfort and moral instruction for life on earth, and to inspire hope for life after death, both of which are tantamount to mental and physical or corporate and personal peace.
Like the theatre of ancient times, the theatre of medieval Europe was aimed at reconciling man with his conscience, his soul, his fellow man and the social order. This was first done by reconciling man with the Biblical God through the performances of biblical stories. Medieval theatre had its origins in short plays performed in Latin by priests in churches. Some scholars argue that the church introduced dramatic ceremonies to counter pagan rites that remained popular throughout Europe. However, dramatized episodes from the Bible also made biblical stories more immediate and understandable for the public. Gradually, performances moved out of churches and into marketplaces. Lay performers replaced priests, and scripts became more complex, mixing serious religious subjects with boisterous and farcical material, but all was in the pursuit of reconciliation and achievement of peace.
Read between the following lines:
Medieval theatre used two types of stages: fixed and movable. The fixed stage was a platform set up in a public square for the days or weeks of the performance. Audiences stood around the platform. One of the best-known fixed stages was constructed in 1547 for a passion play performed in Valenciennes, in northern France. One part of the stage contained so-called mansions or huts that depicted such locales as Paradise, Jerusalem, a palace, the sea, or the entrance to hell. The other part of the stage served as the open playing space. Heaven and hell were usually at each end of the stage, with earthly scenes of toil and humour occurring between them. The fixed stage made it possible to present numerous scenes along with special effects without interrupting the performance. Actors simply went from hut to hut to indicate a change in locale. Costumes distinguished the spiritual and earthly realms. God, angels, and saints wore borrowed church garments; earthly characters wore garments appropriate to their status in life; and devils were fancifully conceived with tails, horns, beaks, claws, and wings (Microsoft Encarta, 2009).
Time and space will not permit us to go deeper into history, but the examples mentioned above illustrate how theatre has been used to engender peace at every epoch in human history.
Theatre, Peace and the Contemporary Africa
The contemporary Africa is conflicts ridden and just like the earlier members of the theatrical tribe, the current generation of African Theatre Practitioners have been deploying theatre as potent tool for the communication and entrenchment of peace. Many scholars are of the view that conflicts in Africa all follow a similar pattern and can be traced to issues of identity. Therefore, it has become clear that identity plays a great role in effecting conflict resolution (UNESCO, 2005). When it comes to the issue of conflicts in Africa, cultural diversity and the expression of different identities must be addressed as important factors that must not be ignored in peacemaking and nation building. Indeed, authors like Tan celebrate the diversity of identities as an asset in the re-engineering of the civic order (Tan 2006). Ethnicity is not in itself a venal or negative force.
In Moral Ethnicity and Political Tribalism, John Lonsdale (1994) highlighted the differences between ‘moral ethnicity’ and ‘political tribalism,’ drawing attention on the benign and negative forces of ethnic identities, respectively. Also, in the same vein, social movements have been identified as potential counter-hegemonic forces to the centralizing and domineering forces of the secular nation-state (Eyo 1999). Therefore, when considered from different perspectives, ethnic movements have oftentimes localised struggles for citizenship in ways that have created moral communities, mobilised resources and broadened the space for cultural citizenship.
African states have been described as hosting regimes that function primarily to extort and exploit the resources of the countries, thus consequently causing conflicts that outwardly portray religion but with political undertones. An example is the current Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. The Niger Delta crisis is one example of economically inspired violence. In this particular case, the ecological terrain of the indigenes residing in this zone have been devastated due to the drilling by many multinational companies with little or no compensation whatsoever from either the state or these companies. As a result of the destruction of their ecosystem, the people are unable to sustain themselves since their only means of livelihood, fishing, is more or less destroyed. It is no wonder that these states are constantly viewed by more developed societies as weak, dysfunctional and predatory. According to Broch-Due (2005: 2), “as resources dwindle and relations of wealth are reconfigured in the wake of violence, identities and ideas of belonging become the focal arenas of conflict and negotiation.” It is in this context of state failure that poverty has been identified as a cause of identity-based conflict. According to the cliché, which attributes anger to hunger, impoverished people can easily translate their grievances into violence and destruction. They can also be easily influenced or manipulated.
In response to these myriads of conflicts and security challenges, many African Theatre Artists have been engaging theatre in pursuit of peace. Our first example here is Jessica Kaahwa, the Ugandan playwright, who presented the world premiere of ‘Putting Words between the Eyes,’ a 20-munite, one-act play that she created especially for World Theatre Day, celebrated in Paris at the headquarters of UNESCO, the UN cultural agency. Set in the fictional republic of Sarkina, which has just gone through a protracted violent conflict, the play looks at how people try to rebuild shattered lives. It also shows well-meaning ambassadors trying to overcome their despair in the face of failed peace resolutions, as both civilians and peacekeepers get caught in the “dilemma of hope and distrust,” according to Kaahwa. Perhaps intentionally, the play evoked the current conflicts in Libya and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East, with a sense of desolation and sound effects that included the screaming of warplanes and the firing of guns. “Theatre subtly permeates the human soul gripped by fear and suspicion, by altering the image of self and opening a world of alternatives for the individual and hence the community,” Kaahwa said in her keynote message. “Theatre can give meaning to daily realities while forestalling an uncertain future. It can engage in the politics of peoples’ situations in simple straightforward ways,” she added. In Uganda, Kaahwa has used drama to raise awareness of human rights as well as gender rights.
Another example is the Search For Common Ground (SFCG), a community theatre group, that uses participatory theatre for peace-building in Rwanda. It is designed to help citizens and government leaders take ownership over the process of collaboratively negotiating land disputes.
According to the group, theatre has long been used as a tool for dialogue. A participatory theatre can successfully be used to address conflict issues, including land disputes, by enacting dramatised stories gathered from the audience and by asking audience members to inhabit a character in the performance and play a role that may be counter to their own position. According to their research, Rwandans’ lack of knowledge concerning land rights and inheritance and their expectations of local authorities leave many of them feeling as if they have no recourse for grievances. Such discontent can lead to conflict or escalate existing tensions. The performances centred around encouraging dialogue between citizens and local officials to find solutions for community-specific land conflicts and for general issues affecting good governance in the area. The SFCG’s participatory theatre programmes were able to inform people and also inspire changes in behaviour and attitudes. Those interviewed as part of the follow-up process shared an increased understanding of the skills that could be gained from attending such performances. They recognized the conflicts portrayed as relevant to their own lives, realising that they themselves played a role in the conflict, seeing their particular rights and gaining an understanding of the appropriate role of local authorities in mitigating and mediating conflict. Beyond gaining knowledge and skills, the interviewees could cite specific examples of how they applied this new knowledge to their own lives. They reported changes in behaviour among leaders toward citizens, reciprocal changes in citizens’ attitudes toward local leaders, and resolution of personal conflicts. In addition, the trained actors were empowered as social communicators and expanded their skills to successfully manage conflict.
In this same Rwanda, we have another example in the “Rwandan Ballet Isonga,” where songs and dance were employed to mediate in the conflict between the major ethnic groups, the Hutus and Tutsis, in the Rwandan crisis. The Kenyan Amani people’s theatre and the Kimirithu theatre under Ngugi Wa ’Thiongo are other outstanding examples of the interventionist role of the theatre in conflict resolution. The theatre functions as a tool for conscientization. Through this, the people are made aware of their predicaments, and are able to identify and analyze them towards finding solutions. Such awareness, therefore, becomes a prelude for positive action.
The theatre, in resolving conflict, helps the people to hold effective discussions and work out strategies for dealing with the socio-economic and political conditions that affect them. It is a platform by the people, and for the people, which helps in stimulating a process of community or group problem solving and actions. The performances are used to stimulate the awareness among the contending forces to an understanding that lasting solutions to their problems can be achieved through constructive dialogue by the people themselves.
Theatre and Conflict Resolution in Nigeria
We shall fully domesticate the rest of this lecture by focusing on the quest for a culture of Peace in Nigeria and the place of theatre in that quest. The situation of Nigeria in terms of conflicts and conflict management efforts is unparalleled. There has been a high level of ethno-religious conflicts, among the highest in the world. This is not surprising when one considers the fact that there are about 400 ethnic groups that either belong to the Christian or Islamic religion. The casualty toll, which is the consequences of these conflicts are equally overwhelming. Since independence the numbers have grown beyond two million and still climbing. The recent incidents are the Boko Haram conflict where thousands are killed in suicide bombings. In agreement to this trend, the UNDP states that: “in situations like this, conflicts recur after a short period of peace. In other cases, some violence continues even when conflict has ostensibly ended. There is no before and after.
This plethora of conflicts, most of which were engendered by the extremely pluralistic nature of Nigeria following Luggard’s amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates, have been captured in the artistic radar of the Nigerian theatre artiste with a view to using theatre both as a tranquilizer as well as a mechanism to communicate peace. Just like the already cited Ugandan, Rwandan and Kenyan examples where the Theatre-for-Development model has been explored to interrogate, negotiate and propagate peace, the same model has been variously and generously deployed in Nigeria as alternative paradigm for conflict resolution. The pioneer and leading efforts of the Professor Oga Abah led National Popular Theatre Alliance (NPTA) in this direction have been very visible.
In his new book, The Rhythms of Transformation: Theatre and Conflict Resolution in Northern Nigeria, Samuel Ayedime Kafewo writes on the effective resultant impact that can be achieved when theatre is utilized in projects dealing with conflict resolution and transformation, based on direct interaction with and intervention by the audience. Kafewo (2013) states that:
The project “Building Bridges” was conducted by the Nigerian Popular Theatre Alliance in Kaduna and Kano States. The project sought to find out the major causes of violent conflicts and how this may be eliminated. There was a research and intervention phase. Drama was the main vehicle of the intervention phase with the issue from the research feeding into public drama presentations and open community discussions using Boal’s techniques.
It is not only the practitioners of the Theatre-for-Development that have used theatre in contributing to the Nigerian peace process. The practitioners of the conventional theatre style have also been actively engaged in writing, directing and producing plays that seek to communicate and entrench a culture of peace in Nigeria. We have very visible examples in Ben Tomoloju’s Askari, Bakare Ojo Rasaki’s Drums of War and Ahmed Yerima’s Hard Ground.
Ben Tomoloju informs us that Askari looks into the harsh realities of social tension, conflict and the gory experiences of war in the last quarter of the 20th century. The story is woven around the life of a fictional feudal warlord, Askari, his territorial ambition and conflicting elements of the neighbouring communities. The macabre dimension of belligerence and destruction of human lives and properties in the ensuing war is a source of great concern and portent of a dismal future in new African nations. Remedies abound and the play highlights a few, especially the intervention of traditional and conventional institutions whose roles are vital in the peace-building process. A performance of Askari toured 20 states of the federation in 1997.
Bakare’s Drums of War had explored the same concept in 1992 as he was inspired by the just simmering Zango-Kataf crisis in Kaduna state, which he personally witnessed as he assumed duty in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He quickly created the play to analyse the psychology of war and violence while emphasizing fairness as an ingredient for peace and dialogue as the best option in conflict resolution. After the premiere performance in Lokoja in 1993, Drums of War has been staged in nearly every state in Nigeria with the height being series of command performances at Ile-Ife in Osun state at the climax of Ife-Modakeke war in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Ahmed Yerima’s Hard Ground in its own case addresses the Niger-Delta question. It discusses the multifaceted effects of oil exploration, environmental degradation and militant struggle; all with a view to engender peace in the region. This play, which has been performed severally, also won the NLNG Prize for Literature as well as the ANA Prize for Drama. The three works cited here are mere examples that time and space would allow us to mention. There is an endless list of Nigerian theatrical productions which have focused on the conscientization of the populace for the peace building process.
From the foregoing, it is evident that art is a creative, proactive, meditative and constructive apparatus, responsible for restoring societal peace when the latter becomes ruptured in the cruel grip of political, ethnic, religious or economic crisis, especially in an atmosphere like our present day Nigeria. Creative art takes on the offensive as a direct palliative or antidote to the aforementioned forms of conflicts with their attendant destructive, chaotic and counter-productive effects on the society.
The theatre exists for similar reasons everywhere in the world; to direct propitiation, reparation, libation, sacrifice and atonement to the divine for the profanity and sacrilege of the mortal beings to the divine as well as man’s inhumanity to man that has often characterized the universe especially in recent times. This, of course, is a pointer to the inevitability of the arts at any level of the society. As long as ailments persist, medication is inevitable. A complete society is such that boasts of a great deal of sanity and a little of madness for no society is truly complete without either of them, but the sane must out-balance the insane. A society of the sane alone has only a utopian existence, too ideal for mortal men. Therefore, when insanity strikes, as is bound to do from time to time; atonement ritual abounds in the solace that only the creative arts, chiefly among them, theatre, can give.
As I conclude this lecture, the question that is left to seek answer to is this: in spite of the enormous creative energy that Nigerian theatre artistes have invested in the peace-building process through their works, why is the culture of violence and act of war still prevalent in the polity? Is it because theatre has lost its potency in this context or that art, like J. P. Clark Bekederemo frustratedly declared recently, does not change anything? Let us consider three reasons:
1) Theatre is still potent and art does change things, however, the environment and those who populate it must make themselves available and receptive to the message of the theatre maker. Otherwise, the biblical parable of the sower who sowed on infertile soil and among thorns becomes manifested here. Yes, and this is sad, to a great extent, the Nigerian theatre maker has been talking to a citizenry that is seemingly bent on self annihilation; a people pathologically engrossed in voluntary foolishness. In a nation where leaders do not read literature and deliberately insulate themseves from serious and thematically topical dramatic performances, in a nation where the relationship between the men of power and the perfoming artiste could be likened to the one between David and Saul – where the artiste is only summoned to come and fool around in faddish entertainment or wriggle her waist in primordial ectasy in order to heal the self-inflicted psychological injury of the political thin-god, in a nation where the followers only see alcoholism, womanising and unbridled emotional investment in the fortunes of foreign football teams (that do not even know such a people exist) as the only way to unwind and recreate, the theatre maker, no matter what his message is, labours in vain.
2) The second reason is the steady and gradual intellectual disempowerment of the Nigerian child through deliberate act of poor funding and wrong policies in the educational sector. It smacks of ignorance that those who today manage our educational sector gleefully announce that for Nigeria to develop, the study of science based courses is being encouraged while the study of arts courses is deliberately discouraged. A nation that discourages the study of literature; a nation that discourages the study of its own history and philosophies is a nation that has caged the mind of its populace. Literature, history and philosophy are liberators of the human mind. A nation that dicourages its citizens from studying those subjects cannot breed truly educated people. In that nation, violence and war will prevail and the theatre maker who preaches peace is merely engaged in sisyphus effort. Sound and well-rounded education is a pre-condition for a culture of peace. Our policy makers must know that the technologically advanced nations of the world did not discourage the study of arts subjects before attainning their technological feat.
3) The third reason is the fact that government has explored different options in its efforts to achieve true peace but has never deliberately explored theatre. The efforts catalogued earlier in this paper were personal and private efforts of the various committed theatre artistes mentioned.perhaps, government is still seeing theatre as an unserius vocation and so is yet to leverage on its power to conscientize and change behaviour. This is a mistake because Drama is the most economical mode of experience, which conveys an idea that can be accepted generally as true. Drama impact is also direct and more immediate than other forms of expression.
The Way Forward
It is no longer in doubt that theatre is a tool for conscientization and an alternative conflict resolution mechanism that employs the democratic method in conflict mediation and remediation. For us as a nation to benefit more from its potentials in this regard, therefore, I recommend the following:
1) Nigerians, especially the political class, should, as a matter of urgency take advantage of the arts as the only safe haven or refuge in a time of crisis like this. The different forms of insurgency that pervade the air apparently call for solace which only avails in the refuge of the theatre.
2) The Nigerian public should be more attuned to the arts and prepare to embrace the truth as presented by the arts. Political office holders at the different tiers of government should desist from the prevailing rent-a-crowd or tickle-my-ear styles of performance which provides them only what could suit them and not the reality. It is time governments at different levels engaged the creative arts, which avail here in Nigeria, like no other place in the world, and other public performances either in the form of indoor theatre or street theatre like the Abuja National Carnival, Calabar Carnival, Carniriv in Rivers State, Bayelsa Christmas Carnival, Lagos Carnival, Ekifest in Ekiti State, or Mare Festival in Ondo State, as machineries to construct the culture of peace.
3) These carnivals as well as other forms of performances like dance, drama, music or poetry, if encouraged, capture the mood of the country at a particular point in time. They, therefore, provide opportunities for reflection and atonement, thereby unwinding, recharging and renewing the crisis-ridden psyches of the people.
4) Nigerians, especially the political class, should, as a matter of urgency take advantage of the arts as the only safe haven or refuge in a time of crisis like this.
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****An International Theatre Day Lecture Delivered on 27th March, 2013, at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.