For three days from September 30 to October 2 to mark the 56th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence, late Senator Uche Chukwumerije’s son, Dikeogu held Abuja spell-bound with his production of dance, drama and pulsating poetry. For three days, Nigerians queued up to watch a recital of poetry and you would wonder how this came about for a tribe who essentially hates reading. Change has come indeed. I am not talking of the politics of change that the APC is flogging around but the quest of Nigeria to do things differently by thinking strongly about Made in Nigeria products.
I was so excited by the poetic renderings of Dikeogu that I attended two of the two-hour shows on October 1 and 2 because not only was the audience beautiful, the production was spell-binding with a classic orientation with which Dike ultimately brought the house down. African time was banned by the promoters and the shows started promptly at 6pm and ended by 8 pm. The audience was a sample of the Nigerian establishment. There were ministers and former ministers and there was also a blend of the diplomatic and business community as well as politicians, each of them angling for a photo opportunity with the young Chukwumerije when the last of his two hour shows ended with a loud ovation.
Made in Nigeria Poetry-For-Stage production is the seventh edition of the annual NIGHT OF THE SPOKEN WORD (NSW7) series which the young Chukwumerije has been involved with over the years. As I watched him unleash his “creative composition of 20 theatrical poems, thematically linked and seamlessly connected by narration, music, dance and drama telling in 120 minutes key aspects of Nigeria’s 120 year history”, I wondered what Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka, better known as Wole Soyinka the Nobel laureate and professor of Comparative Literature would make of Dike’s new found art form.
My first surprise on the second and third night which I attended was how the best overall student of University of Abuja on graduation as a lawyer and a member of the Nigerian bar which is followed with a masters in a top UK university would end up orbiting the literary stratosphere with a measure of excellence and master class. I also wondered how his late father would have felt if he was among the distinguished audience of senators, diplomats, top civil servants, corporate moguls, accomplished members of the Nigerian establishment and young people of upward mobility.
How they attracted this class of people was another matter altogether considering that they never gave the event a massive publicity but relied on the power of social media and networking as well as their father’s avalanche of contacts. The good news was that having gathered such a distinguished class of people, the production was well received and kept everyone wanting much more. When the show came to an end as they had strictly kept time, there was no room for an encore even with part of the audience asking for more.
The Night of Spoken Word 7 opened with poetic readings with Dike sitting in a yoga styled posture, giving a historic account of how the name of Nigeria came about. A certain Miss Flora Shaw who was a London Times Colonial correspondent and later became Mrs Lord Lugard crafted the names by combining the Niger River Area to make up Nigeria.
Some like Femi Fani-Kayode had argued that the name Nigeria had something to do with its Latin interpretation as “the area of darkness” which ought to have been changed as many African countries have done after getting their independence but it seems to have stock with us, but Dike was simply concerned with his performance poetry which he explains away as “a modern and energetic form of Poetry that combines the disciplines of traditional poetry with the power and charisma of dramatic performance”.
The music and dance content of the show ignored totally the modern musical forms, so instead of mirroring the power of hip hop and its accompanying wave of afro pop, it dwells on such outdated forms of Bobby Benson’s highlife hit, “Taxi Driver” and Victor Olaiya’s brass laden tunes of the fifties and sixties like “Omopupa” and even the twist dance genre. And Dike Chukwumerije was able to show his inclination to singing old school highlife by dramatizing the dance and drama to achieve his objective of rendering pulsating poetry, music, dance and drama rolled into one huge mix to hook the appreciative audience.
He manages also to capture his offerings with the appropriate fashion design. In the Lugard amalgamation parts of his script, he dressed up like the colonial master himself in shorts, white short sleeved shirt and the marching colonial hat, socks and boots while in rendering the old school songs, he wore baggy trousers of those days and mop-styled wig and danced like the freaked out young men of Beatlemania era. I won’t be surprised if an album of golden oldies by Dike Chukwumerije emerges soon in the market considering the ovation that went after each performance.
When the advance trailer for this event was sent to me a week or so before the event, I noted a section of the performance poetry included “I DID NOT KILL THE SARDUANA” and I quickly called Dike to please expunge it because of its obvious sensitivity. He blatantly refused, arguing that part of his job as a poet was to provoke.
I pleaded that he must change his mind because I did not want shadowy figures crawling around the venue to monitor the content of the show, knowing that the name Chukwumerije has its provocative tendencies. In the end he went along with his plan but surprisingly the line was nothing to worry about. As we have all seen in these days of the change mantra that we have come to live with, you never know what crops up that may send the wrong signal to be followed up by a well-orchestrated media trial which ends up blowing hot air and nothing else.
The other interesting aspect of this entertainment package was the zeal with the Chukwumerije clan work together. Dike may be the star of the nights of spoken word but the entire family, including mum, sister and the rest of the boys and grand children were there working harmoniously to ensure that the event was a success.
Chaka Chukwumerije, the chartered accountant and businessman was in charge of the business strategy, Mrs Chukwumerije was probably charged with ensuring that government big wigs were there to show their support, having herself worked in the presidency for years in the Olu Obasanjo administration just as Uche junior and the Taekwondo Olympic Bronze medallist Chika, were lurking around ensuring that the audience were happy. Dike’s two daughters were also playing cameo parts in the poetic undertaking while their one and only sister was busy with sundry activities that ensured total success.
Conspicuously absent was the Aviation expert Che based in Frankfurt with Lufthansa airline and last born Dr Chukwumerije based in the United Kingdom as a junior doctor with the National Health Service. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Odein Ajumogobia, former Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka, Senator Ben Obi, one time Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs Ebele Okeke, many diplomatic figures were in attendance. Ernest Ndukwe, former CEO of NCC was part of the very colourful audience.
According to Dike Chukwumerije, “Performance Poetry is not the simple recitation of poems but tends to be easier to grasp than written poetry, but retains the same capacity for penetrating insights, and the same dedication to the beautiful use of language”.
According to Dikeogu, performance poetry was created as a way of opening new vistas for growth in the entertainment industry and has been held twice a year following its debut in 2013. The seventh edition was indeed a great event that will not escape the mind of historians who will chronicle the development of this form of art that should be performed more often than the twice a year schedule.
It is actually important that this show should tour the entire country as I believe that Lagos at least should be the next destination. The only hindrance may be that Dikeogu is engaged with Mobil Nigeria and currently monitors events in the Senate for the oil conglomerate. But knowing what the creative world of art can do, I will not be surprised if international opportunities pulls him out of Nigeria for performances in America, Europe and far East where demand for this kind of entertainment means that Nigerians won’t be able to see more of his poetic undertakings.
I am sure that our President Muhammadu Buhari will not mind such international demand for Nigerian performance poetry in view of the enormous foreign exchange it will attract to our treasury considering his penchant for economic diversification away from the single product oil and gas.
-Amadi is a veteran journalist based in Abuja