Seldom does a play with a topical social theme scale the artistic hurdle as impressively as Batonga did recently at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island Lagos. The play, a collaborative effort between Seeing Through the Arts (STAR), a theatre production outfit, and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP), is a realistic depiction of the ills of child trafficking writes
Driven by the passion to promote social responsibility in a multi-ethnic society which he hopes would result in positive social change and nip child trafficking in the bud, the director, Gbenga Yusuf and his team found a compelling inspiration to stage Batonga. The storyline of Batonga shows explicitly an alternative way out of the menace while relaying a message of hope to victims and their families.
“We were unable to find a better way to support the work of NAPTIP financially, so by giving a 10 percent of the proceeds of this project to NAPTIP Shelter rehabilitation and counseling department, we may be making a difference. Batonga is a stage production conceptualized and delivered to support the works of other organizations such as UNICEF, IFMA, Hope Worldwide, Olive Tree and all other non-governmental bodies both local and international by promoting a show that educates the public about the realities of child trafficking and salvage the future from the hands of the traffickers and their cronies. Our goal is to start with productions in Lagos, and then to tour Nigeria states. In this way, we carry our message to a broader audience,” Yusuf explained.
Batonga is a story of a 13-year-old Abike, who lives in a small village on the outskirts of Ibadan. Her widowed father, Olu, is struggling to feed his family of four. Rachel, the village’s “agent” who usually secures job for children tells Olu that she can find a job for Abike where she will be educated and a proportion of her wage will be sent home to help feed Olu’s family.
Innocent and unsuspecting Abike says an excited farewell to her family and travels to the metropolis of Lagos. The story follows Abike’s ordeal in Lagos where she met other children who are subject to the inhumane treatments from their cold and mean boss called ‘Auntie’. She was abused, beaten molested and raped repeatedly.
Meanwhile, growing concern and tension were mounting on Olu because he hasn’t heard or received any money from Abike since she left. Eventually, he set out with Rachel to find her. The story follows Abike’s ordeal as she flees from Auntie, Olu’s mad search for his daughter and apprehension on the part of Rachel who would dare no such thing later on in life.
Although its theme is one the audience is largely familiar with, Batonga’s plot still teems with suspense. It’s a slim volume of one and a half hour play that relays quickly, so you would emerge cleansed by the tears and luminosity of the story. The fifteen member cast production will kill your emotion and resuscitate it at the same time.
Statistics show that up to 1.2 millions of children are trafficked each year. Of this, 70 percent are female. And these figures only represent what is reported to the authorities. Poverty lies at the heart of the problem of child trafficking. Hunger is a hugely motivating force and drives children to work mostly prematurely, but when these jobs take advantage of a child’s meekness and constitute forced labour, it becomes a heinous crime.
Gbenga Yusuf, a director with the production company, is a choreographer, artistic director, dance instructor and a performer. He was Yinka Davies’ instructor in Sprit of David’s Celebrity Takes 2, a rested reality TV show. A versatile dancer, he has directed, instructed and choreographed dance productions such as Nightingale, Perfect Dance, Fear Abides with Me, most of which were conceived to help public schools, disadvantaged kids and poor communities. He has taught and still teaches youths to discover and nurture their gifts in the arts.
Batonga was written by Jo Demmer , an Australian playwright who has lived in Nigeria for four and a half years. Now living in Houston, USA, she is the founder of Meaningful Art Productions (MAP), an organization which writes and produces shows based around specific social issues. She is the writer of Second Chance, a story on child trafficking which is aimed at educating and raising funds for victims of the menace. She wrote Eye of the Tiger covering the problems of malaria with which she raised money for schools in Lagos and co-edited the book, Nigerian Gems, proceeds of which support Nigerian children’s education