The play “New Nigerians” is a timely, cynical satire about the state of Nigerian politics. In the uncanny way that art sometimes mirrors life, the current political situation in Nigeria is very much analogous to some of the issues dealt with in this play.
The main protagonist, Greatness Ogholi, is the presidential candidate of the People’s Revolutionary Party. We first meet him giving a rather bombastic quasi-Fanonian speech about the ills that plague the nation and how only he, “the man of integrity” can bring change. We soon learn that “Greatness” is not great and he is far from being “a man of integrity”. His running mate, Chinasa, regularly smokes Indian hemp and Greatness himself is partial to a few tokes of a spliff or two. Furthermore, he has declared himself presidential candidate without clearing it with his party HQ.
Greatness is the sort of messianic left-wing figure that substitutes himself for the struggles of the working and oppressed classes, especially in societies like Nigeria where the institutions that mediate between the state and “civil society” are weak. Such personages take on an outsized social role and perceive everything they do as the struggle.
The action mainly takes place at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja, a monument to the folly and extravagance of the Nigerian ruling class.
The reality of electoral politics demands that alliances be forged, compromises made and deals stuck to win elections. Greatness attempts to forge alliances first with a representative of the ruling classes Danladi and later with a trade union bureaucrat, Edobor, who is quite open about his historical mission: to mediate between the forces of labour and capital. However, like all trade union bureaucrats, Edobor inevitably betrays labour whilst allowing capital to get away with murder.
Danladi and Edobor both drive hard bargains for their support. In an attempt to strike a deal with Danladi, Greatness is prepared to betray the interests of his running mate, Chinasa. The whole façade of being “a man of integrity” begins to crumble.
The play takes flight during the confrontation between Greatness and Edobor, one of the best dramatic summaries I have seen or read of the arguments for reform versus revolution. The hand of corruption follows Greatness everywhere he seeks alliances: with the notorious Dr. Awobokiri of the lecturer’s union, the man who now demands cash instead of sex from female students for his university course handouts. There are a few poignant moments in the play especially in the scenes between Greatness and his wife Grace that deal with the contribution of activism to the breakdown of bourgeois family life.
Despite the serious issues tackled in this play, it is extremely humorous, with gags flying around thick and furious. An example: “you cannot build an ideological base without first building stomach infrastructure. A hungry revolutionary is a capitalist in waiting”.
At the very end of the play, the playwright reveals what he considers to be the way forward for the liberation of Nigeria and the African world. Rather than the messianic personages of the like of Greatness Ogholi spouting revolutionary rhetoric, but ready to betray the interests of their followers at every turn, the future is “young Africans from all corners, organizing themselves, sharing ideas on how to implement lasting change. With a little more dialectic it will become the new Pan-Africanism”.
In short, the future is working class self-organisation from below, something that this paper never ceases to advocate.
If you wish to spend a few hours being educated and entertained, there is no better way doing that than going to watch or read this play. Highly recommended.
For an interview with the playwright see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIpSKRp4dfQ
To obtain a copy of the play see: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/new-nigerians-9781786821379