TEARS FOR THE DEPARTED

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Two years after the Sossoliso plane crash of December 10, 2005, a
drama group named Loyola Union was formed to enable talented students
use the instrumentality of performing arts to address social issues.
Agwu Enekwachi reports

It was a day of charged drama, music, poetry and Dance at the Memorial
Hall of Loyola Jesuit College. For nine years, Loyola Union, the
college’s performing Arts Society has acted some of the best works of
Nigeria’s prominent playwrights, relevant to contemporary
socio-political and cultural issues. The 2016 edition of the annual
performance is a cocktail of sort, with “Grip Am,” a play written by
Ola Rotimi as the central piece. The ambience of the packed hall was
of high expectation as everyone waited for the parting of the stage
curtains…

This year the college celebrated its 20th anniversary. This year is
the 11th year since the fatal air crash, and the 9th anniversary of
Loyola Union. Established in 1996 by Society of Jesus (also known as
Jesuits) an order of the Catholic Church, Loyola Jesuit College (LJC),
Abuja, has earned a far reaching reputation as one of Nigeria’s best
schools, or arguably the best secondary school in Nigeria.

The Jesuits have been known for centuries across the world for running
excellent schools which earned them the sobriquet-the school masters
of Europe at a period in that part of the world. At its first Senior
School Certificate Examinations, LJC came tops in Nigeria and would
maintain that record, consecutively for the next four years
(2002-2006), making the then new school the first in Nigeria to
achieve such feat in the history of West African Examinations Council
in Nigeria. The college has gone ahead to record remarkable
achievements in competitive examinations in Nigeria and abroad. Even
in its achievements, the college remained modest and relatively
unknown to many.

Then the event of December 10, 2005 hit the school hard. I still
remember the palpable thick worry, grief and confusion that descended
on the college’s compound on that day as the news of the ill-fated
Sosoliso Plane Crash filtered in. As a faculty member, we had gathered
in front of the Administrative building arms folded and unable to
express the heaviness of our hearts. Sixty young and bright Nigerian
students of Loyola Jesuit College, on their way home for holidays were
among those who died in the crash alongside other Nigerians.

As the reality of that tragedy sank in, tears flowed for days without
end. Then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, visited in the company
of the Federal Government delegation. Messages of hope came from
corporate organisations and Nigerians of all walks of life as well as
from far flung parts of the world condoling with the parents, the
college, its staff and students. It would be a long healing process
dotted with counselling, great acts of human courage and gifts of hope
and immortality. From bereaved families, concerned students, Parents
Teachers Association, and other remarkably generous individuals and
corporate organisations, and more that happened to keep the memories
of the departed young ones.

In the southern city of Port Harcourt where the fatal crash occurred,
Jesuit Memorial College (JMC), a new school in its fourth year stands
as a memorial. The then governor of Rivers State had pledged to assist
the Jesuits with land and resources to make JMC a reality. The
national PTA of Loyola Jesuit College started a programme to further
immortalise the 60 angels by building blocks of flats for the staff of
the college. In its Annual General Meeting held in October, the first
set of beneficiaries received the keys to their new homes.

Inaugurated
after the tragedy, the Concerned Students Association has interrogated
various issues on their numerous visits to top government officials
and policy-makers with whom they signed service delivery pacts.
Essays were written by them on various policies that would engender
better future for Nigerian young people. One of such letters was on
the need for efficient rail system so that it could serve as
alternative to air transport. A more moving act of courage was the
decision of some the bereaved parents to keep paying the fees of their
gone children to students in need. The more than 1500 capacity Sixty
Angels Memorial Hall and the Loyola Union were also attempts to
immortalise the Loyola 60.

The curtains parted and the stage lights came on, revealing the
students’ orchestra which for the next 30 minutes regales guests in
their mastery of music equipment. From violin, guitar, saxophone,
trumpets, they serenaded the audience made up of parents, teachers,
invited guests and visitors, with a mish-mash of Nigerian oldies
(Highlife). Starting with Onyeka Onweka’s “You and I”, the orchestra
seamlessly movedto Sir Victor Uwaifo’s “Joromi”, E.C. Arinze’s “N’ike
N’ike” and Victor Olaiya’s “Baby Jowo”. The performance by the
orchestra gave way for spoken words by Onose, Bukolami and Edidiong of
Loyola Union, which they dedicate to the celebration of their fallen
colleagues instead of mourning them. The Loyola Union dancers
performed the energetic and exciting Atilogwu and Fulani traditional
dances to welcome the cast of “Grip Am”.

“Grip Am”, the centre piece performance is based on the trials of Ise
(played by Oguh John) and his ever troublesome spouse, Aso (Tamuno
Nemi). Following divine intervention, God sends an Angel who promises
to grant both Ise’s and Aso’s pressing wishes, but things take a
surprising turn. While Ise asserts that supernatural powers be
conferred on him to protect his orange tree, the item he is most
desirous of, Aso is quick to request for the death of Ise. With this
background, Ise is able to not only cheat his landlord, but death
itself. This brings to mind, the many challenges of life and the
struggles to overcome them.

Beyond the flavour of humour, “Grip Am” teaches the virtue of
contentment in what we have over what we are yet to have. It is a
lesson on self-reliance as the playwright uses the character of Ise to
portray self-sufficiency. The play according to the director, Arome
James “… is a lesson on the need to maintain a corrupt free society”.
Also speaking on the message from “Grip Am” the LJC President, Rev.
Father Emmanuel Ugwueje described “Grip Am” as “ …an order for all to
eschew behaviours that lead to the abuse of power such as petulance,
corruption which most often end in sorrow, destruction and death.”

“Grip Am” is the 9th Loyola Union drama performance and is followed in
descending order by Rogbodiyan in 2015, written by Ojo Bakare and
directed by James Arome; Dance on His Grave, 2014, written by Barclays
Ayakoroma and directed by Onoja Arome; In 2013 it was Shekere–Parable
of the Beads-with message for Nigerians to come together an build a
vibrant and enduring polity; In 2012, Isreal Wekpe directed Ovonranwen
Nogbaisi-a lesson on determination of the human spirit, in the play
written by Ola Rotimi. The selected plays continue down to the Loyola
Union inaugural drama and first performance titled If: A tragedy of
the Ruled, written by Ola Rotimi, and directed by Isreal Wekpe. This
play, like many that would follow it, chronicled the virtues of heroes
and the ills of systems. In the drama, Onyema’s tragic death is a
commentary on the need to always be proactive and make our systems
work.

The students’ actors of Loyola Union have while answering the call to
keep the memory of the Loyola 60 Angels alive, nurtured their talents.
From the ashes of the tragedy of 11 years ago, arose acts of uncommon
courage and generosity, but like Fr. Ugorji the college’s one-time
chaplain has noted, “Nothing good comes from tragedy. No one wishes
for tragedies…we can even imagine and desire that tragedies are
preventable events in history simply because nothing good comes from
it. Therefore, every new life, the sense of revival, the reality of
new beginnings that we experience after tragedy are always a gift from
God who is faithfulness and love.”
––Enekwachi, a sculptor and art teacher, is a former HOD of Art
Department, Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja.