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Nigeria’s story very painful, difficult to tell – Austen-Peters, director, ‘Motherland the Musical’

By Anote Ajeluorou

Photo: Representing feeble old generation middle class Nigerians, Chinedu (Francis Onwochei) and Hassana (Tosin Adeyemi) absorbing the backlash of young people (Julius Obende -right) in Motherland the Musical at Terra Theatre Arena, Lagos

TOLD in the most biting sarcasm as ultimate metaphoric jab against Nigeria’s feeble middle class that sat idly by while Nigeria bleed as she was being raped raw by the combined forces of politicians and the military in her 62 years of existence, Motherland the Musical must rank as the stage performative chronicler of a dysfunctional state anywhere. But what’s heartwarming is that the most important but neglected and abused population segment – the youths – have now stepped up to take matters or their destinies into their own hands. They will no longer be regarded as children or aimless youths who must only be seen in gatherings but never heard. No! They have signalled their intention to be at the negotiation table of the political discourse, ready to make their input and help determine the affairs of state. The old people – their fathers and mothers – they believe, have betrayed them in the political missteps they have taken so far, and they will have none of it any more or even allow space to further mess them up.

Riding on the back of October 2020 #EndSARS saga and the rising political consciousness among Nigerian youths and how they are currently helping to reshape Nigeria’s political discourse ahead of 2023 general elections, Bolanle Austen-Peters has wrought a major performance act again with Motherland the Musical from the stable of Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions (BAP). And so last night at Terra Theatre Arena at Terra Kulture, Tiamiyu Savage Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, a packed theatre audience saw a reenactment of the Nigerian story, but one told unusually from a youth perspective to capture the current dominant narrative: of a nation’s youths that have woken up from slumber and are determined to show their failed parents a clear path to nationhood and political salvation that they made the country to miss.

And the youths are taking no prisoners in their quest for a just society where things work for themselves and everyone else. Why, it’s the Soro-soke, GenZ generation! They show respect only to deserving parents and elders and not those who have sold their birthrights for a mess of political porridge. For them, respect for elders is earned through evident performance and not appropriated for some God-given right or privilege that translates to serial abuse, as Nigeria’s case has obviously been in 62 years. This is what they show an elderly couple – Hassana (Tosin Adeyemi), and Chinedu (Francis Onwochei), who feel they are exhibiting extreme youthful exuberance in campaigning for their equally youthful candidate of YCM party, Prince Shalom Muhammed, a flamboyant young man who embodies everything the youth have missed in the old men and women aspiring to perpetuate the hegemony that has kept them down. They are ready to challenge the old and change their negative narrative of selfishly lording it over them and ruining everything in their path. Muhammed is their man, no matter what anyone says, aided on by a free-wheeling social media space that they occupy and use for their campaign advantage.

Representing feeble old generation middle class Nigerians, Chinedu (Francis Onwochei) and Hassana (Tosin Adeyemi) absorbing the backlash of young people (Julius Obende -right) in Motherland the Musical at Terra Theatre Arena, Lagos

The hard-to-sell question for the old political dogs for next year’s general elections is: how do you convince these politically hyper-conscious young ones who feel serially used, abused and betrayed that they should not yield space for young and better ones to lead the political charge towards the future? This is a question Mr. Bola Tinubu and Mr. Atiku Abubakar must answer urgently. Chinedu and Hassana, who defied their parents to marry outside the tribal norm at the cusp of Nigeria’s independence, represent for the young people the pitiable middle class that allowed the country to slid into anomie and did nothing to halt it. Nigeria’s middle class is put in the crucible, found wanting, and appropriately excoriated.

So how do Nigeria’s elders who seem to have fallen far short of the glory their children once held them redeem themselves before these feisty youths who are impatient for a new Nigeria to emerge? That’s the central question of Motherland the Musical. How is this knotty riddle resolved in the musical theatre that is flamboyant in music, deftly realised choreographic dances, masterly instrumentation and fine dramatic action that relies on rippling sarcasm and fine turn of dialogue that captures all the nuances that are aptly Nigerian? This is what is at the heart of this must-see musical theatre. Only a visit to Terra Theatre Arena can sufficiently answer that question to one’s heart’s content.

And as one of the young (Onyeka Fiaka) people cryptically observes after listening to the old couple’s woe tale, “Nigeria is a soap opera, e funny pass all the comedians put together!

It also summed up the director’s frame of mind regarding the vastness of the project’s scope, to audaciously tell the story of Nigeria, an octopal undertaking, no doubt a story as vast as the over 200 million Nigerians with their own idea what the Nigerian story should be. But here, it’s the story of the resilience of Nigerian youths that’s obviously told in alignment with the current temper of their political consciousness that may define what the future holds.

According to the director Austen-Peters, “The story of Nigeria is very painful and difficult one, a very chequered story. You won’t believe it: (Minister of Information and Tourism), Mr. Lai Mohammed actually challenged me to do the Nigerian story. Well, this is my idea of the Nigerian story. A very painful story.”

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Austen-Peters gave credit to all her performers, which include Julius Obende whose biting sarcasm undergirds the mood of most Nigerians on how sour the journey has been; Onyeka Fiaka, Uzor Osimkpa, Onyinye Odokoro and Yewande Osamein, for making the show happen. Performance of Motherland the Musical continues today, Saturday, December 24 through January 2, 2023 at 3:00pm and 7:00pm each day at Terra Theatre Arena, Tiamiyu Savage, Victoria Island, Lagos.

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