‘Motherland the Musical’: Is anyone ready to die, take a bullet for Nigeria?, Julius Obende asks

by anote
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‘Play should travel round the country for Nigerians to see its important messages,’ says Odokoro

By Anote Ajeluorou

IS anyone ready to die? Is anyone ready to take a bullet for Nigeria? That’s the thing. That’s the stage we are in this country right now. Everybody is afraid to die; that’s the thing. But for a revolution to happen, it’s going to be blood, sweat and all. It’s going to be bloody. Blood will need to be spilled. Even at #EndSARS, blood was spilled; that was what triggered #EndSARS protests. It also ended in blood!”

Feisty. Unforgiving. That’s the temperament of the youth character that actor and director Julius Obende is playing in Motherland the Musical, directed by Bolanle Austen-Peters. The musical theatre opened on Friday night, December 23, 2022 and continues its 10-day run till January 2, 2023 when the curtain will finally fall on a play that is overtly youth-centric and progressively nationalistic in thematic conception. This particular youth does not see anything good in the old generation that allowed Nigeria to slide to the bottom of the barrel and almost beyond recognition and redemption. His anger is beyond assuaging by old people who he believes have run the country aground and plunged the youth into unimaginable suffering, with ‘japaing’ to other countries as the only chance at a decent life. Yet the old ones still want to continue ruling and ruining the country, a thought that gales him and his fellow youth.

The youth’s anger being expressed by Obende bubbles over from the play onto real life when he spoke from the production camp to our correspondent. Anything short of a revolution, he said, is not enough to change the stifling status quo, so young people, as the musical proposes, could take over the mantle of leadership. The elders, they contend, have failed to make progress, and have no business asking anyone for votes. Although he conceded that the old ones have been speaking up against the misrule that has characterised the country’s leadership, a new way, he argued, has to be found that is different from what has so far obtained to one that takes the country to a desired destination.

Onyinye Odokoro (left) and Julius Obende

“At the point Nigeria is right now, we the youth don’t even want to hear anything from the old people, nothing,” he insisted, because young people believe it has been excuses all the way why things have not quite worked. “However, they weren’t all that docile; they were speaking out, but they were being kept shut, just the way we are being shut up now. There were the likes of Fela, Tai Solarin, Gani Fawhehinmi; they were a thorn in the flesh of the powers-that-be back in their time. But they were shut down, too. It wasn’t that they totally kept quiet, which was what the old people in the musical – Chinedu (Francis Onwochei) and Hassana (Tosin Adeyemi) – are trying to tell us. So, we the youth need to understand that. We should try to hear from them and learn from their own stories, so we don’t make the same mistakes that they made, because this thing now is beyond just speaking out.”

With #EndSARS 2020 protests as springboard for Motherland the Musical, Obende said, “We wanted to tell a story that people can quickly connect with, and it’s a story about Nigerian youths, and #EndSARS played a huge part, military incursion and all that. #EndSARS contributed about 30% or so to the play structure.”

Obende and Onyinye Odokoro both spoke from BAP Productions camp and relayed the feeling in camp, how the show is reshaping the Nigerian narrative, both personal and national, and the way Lagos audience has embraced the production and taken it as its own. For Obende and Odokoro, it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions working in Motherland the Musical, a production that allowing them to realise their performance craft.

“Basically, different things have come out since we started, things to really think about,” Obende continued. “As each day goes by, these things keep unravelling; we keep seeing different things and pictures that we didn’t realise were there in Motherland the Musical before. Even yesterday when I was doing my usual monologue, I had to like, genuinely cry, really cry. My part took me back to when my own father died, how he used to sit me and my brother down; we were two boys among five children. So he normally sat us down to tell us how he strived, how he struggled, and would then charge us to always remember who we are and to always stand up for what is right and make sure we become successful in life.

“Yesterday, my father’s words just resonated with me when I was saying the monologue about how my father (in the play) died fighting for his gratuity as a pensioner. The thing just connected like, wow. Different emotions are just playing out every day. As we say the same lines all over and over every day, the play is becoming our reality. Coincidentally, my father was a pensioner who suffered all the usual pains and suffering of Nigerian pensioners! And what was more, I wasn’t given the role because my dad was a pensioner. It just happened.”

Obende described the audience as fantastic, as they have connected with the performance superbly, noting, “As for the audience, we have been taking them on different rollercoaster levels of emotions. It was like hitting hard at what has been their own (Nigerian) reality, too. Yesterday’s (Monday, December 26, 2022) audience at 7:00pm, for instance, they audience was already saying our lines before we said them. They were already saying what we were going to say once we just show a picture on the multi-media screen! It was amazing. Surprisingly, these are people who hadn’t seen the show before.”

For Odokoro whose pidgin parts are filled with anger and raw emotions at the badly rundown country her generation is made to inherit and endure, Motherland the Musical is the must-see performance. Given enough sponsorship, she believes the performance should hit the road on tour across the length and breadth of Nigeria, so everyone, including university students and primary school pupils, could see it for the very Nigeria-conscious, progressive messages it is sending out.

Face-off between the old and the young on a country’s uncertain future

“My role is that of the average Nigerian who, of course, is angry,” Odokoro said, “she’s really angry about the situation in the country. She’s (my persona) been touched personally. You know how Nigerians often say to you, ‘let Nigeria not happen to you!’ But sadly Nigeria happened to this lady’s sister who was needlessly and accidentally killed as a result of the poor healthcare situation in the country when she went to deliver her baby, and she lost her sister. And that’s what she’s very angry and passionate about. So she wants a change; that’s who she is. She just wants a better country, so that things like that will not happen again.

“There’s a lot of energy in camp, because as you know, it’s a life performance. Yea, there’s a lot of very high verve and energy, and very positive energy as well. It’s a really good play and timely; there’s no better time than now to perform Motherland the Musical. I think we are all proud to be a part of it, to contribute with our own gift, with our own art. The energy is really good.”

As for the audience, Odokoro said they are overwhelmed how they have received Motherland the Musical, saying, “I think it’s been interesting. The thing about live performance is that you get instant feedback from your live audience. It’s been interesting to see the different kinds of audience. Some people laugh in some places, some don’t laugh; some people clap, some don’t clap. Generally, it’s been lovely; they are loving the show. They’ve been appreciative and they are getting the message, and important that the message is not lost on them. And I think that they’ve been great however different but great altogether. I think everybody needs to see the show. Those who haven’t seen it yet should grab the chance to do so. It’s sad that the show is only in Lagos. Honestly, I think the play should travel round the country for Nigerians to see it. It should travel to universities, to primary schools even. Everybody should see it, should listen to it.”

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