By Yinka Olatunbosun
First published in 1972, The Incorruptible Judge, one of the most read plays by literature students in Nigerian schools, is returning to stage this week. The play, written by D. Olu Olagoke, paints a picture of an ideal judge and celebrates integrity. The play is indeed timely in the wake of corruption in the Nigerian system including the judiciary.
One Six Production, a theatre company that promotes theatre culture and literacy in Nigeria is set to bring the play to life at Terra Kulture in Lagos. This initiative is founded on the awareness that through highly creative and artistic presentations, theatre can be a tool for campaign, enlightenment, community development, national orientation and social change. With the mission of performing for change, One-Six aspires to inculcate moral values into the minds of the younger generation.
In a chat with THISDAY last week, the Founder as well as the Executive and Artistic Director for the production, Toyin Oshinaike spoke on the production and the significance of selecting the play amongst the rest.
“No doubt, there’s too much corruption in Nigeria,” he said. “The performing art or the live theatre industry has not done much work in that direction such as having fantastic new writers writing not just writing something like a church play but really writing to show depth. Even Nollywood is not doing much in that direction. Once in a while they show governors who steal money but because the story is weak, the impact is not felt. In fact some governors would watch those movies and laugh and would not be touched.
“I happen to be working with children recently and we were not even talking politics but you know children ask questions. They asked about the pension scam case because they saw adults arguing about it. That tells me that these children are watching and are hearing. Some of them manage to read the newspapers. Some of them see how hurt the adults are about these issues. They don’t know that the system is not working. They don’t know that if you steal Nigeria money that much you may not get caught. It is a danger for them to know this. An adage says when things get bad and good men look on, things will get worse. There must be some intervention from theatre and this is what came to my mind. I think the children’s day celebration will be a platform for them to express themselves and say, ‘Daddy, Mummy, stop stealing government’s money’.”
The play which runs from May 27 to May 29 is designed to typify the journey of moral consciousness from adolescence to a future of good governance and incorruptible leadership. Oshinaike, who has a record of professional acting within and beyond the Nigerian shores said that he had been an advocate for social change all his life. This is reflected in some of the roles and the plays he had participated in. For instance, he played Mbogeni in Athol Fugard’s WOZA ALBERT, a South African agitation play in a tour of Southwest Nigeria directed by Niji Akanni in 2005. He had also done a Nigerian adaptation of the South African play rendered in Pidgin English.
Speaking more on his concern for the Nigerian polity, the veteran actor observed that the youths should be engaged in issues that affect their future.
“I’ve spent most of my time rebelling against the ills of the country. So I asked myself, what do we do? What can we start to do from now on? So I said if the children have the innate tendency to be incorruptible then let’s see what we can add to them. I keep telling everyone who cares to listen that if I enter government, I won’t loot the treasury. I’ve said this at many fora that in fact I can kill myself if I become corrupt.”
Oshinaike said the play is not created for profit-making but to ensure that children embrace the theatre culture that had been eroded by screen popularity and the values celebrated in the play.
“We are not concerned about the financial gain but we are more concerned with what we aim to impart,” he added. “I borrow some encouragement from Fredrick Douglass who said it is easier to build strong children than to mend broken adults. So, we take these young ones from the point of incorruptibility to a higher level.
“The children are ready for change because they are against these things in their minds but they don’t have the platform and voice. The performance of The Incorruptible Judge will last for three days, from the Children’s Day to the Democracy day. I dare parents, guardians, teachers, principals , schools not to support children in this quest. I dare them because they are writing their own literary legacies without knowing it.”
The three-day run at Terra Kulture is the first but will be followed by performances at the mainland. The play would be embellished with songs and other attractions to sustain the interest of the children. There will also be a variety of shows which will include poetry that would be performed within the play and other performances that would key into the theme of the day.
The actor, who started professional acting on the Nigerian stage in 1991 blamed the decline of the theatre culture on the Nigerian media. He said although funding can help in developing the theatre, it is the culture that sustains the practice. Rather than tearing up performances in sharp criticisms, Oshinaike urged journalists who write about the art to see themselves as part of the preservation framework that the theatre needs.
Oshinaike who played the comical role of Alaka in Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not To Blame during a Nigerian National Troupe’s Tour of US, directed by Niyi Coker in 2005 is an awardee of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) for outstanding contribution to the development of theatre arts in Nigeria.