JOINBODI REAWAKENS GUERILLA THEATRE IN LAGOS

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A scene from the show

Yinka Olatunbosun

Yaba, a popular Lagos bus stop was the destination for the cast and crew of Joinbodi, a play written and directed by one of Nigeria’s contemporary theatre exports to the world, Joshua Alabi. The play, written in guerilla theatre tradition, addresses some of the socio-political and economic issues in Nigeria especially in the aftermath of the last elections conducted in Nigeria. With roots in the ideology of Che Guevara, the revolutionary theatre practice in Nigeria can be traced to the likes of playwright-directors such Herbert Ogunde, Wole Soyinka, Bode Sowande and lately Segun Adefila.

Joinbodi is a product of the collective dissatisfaction of the Nigerian electorates who yearn for a change in policies and effective implementation of existing laws. Its pilot show was at Okota, Isolo, a community that was marked by electoral violence during the last elections. Reportedly, the play was well received by the audience in the community and the second show took place in Yaba.

Initially set up beside a military barracks behind the BRT lay over at Yaba bus stop, the simple set, made up of microphone stands, sewing machine, food and lottery stands as well as other city life pointers, was dismantled by some military men who insisted that the performance should not be staged beside the barracks. While the cast and crew were busy moving their props back into the vehicles, one of the soldiers threw and smashed the microphone stands and threatened to beat the performers and deflate their car tyres if they would not hasten their departure from the area.

Members of the community rallied around the Kininso Koncept theatre group to quickly secure another space along the bus stop right in front of a car dealer’s shop. In few minutes, the set was reassembled with the University of Lagos shuttle bus serving as a backdrop. Journalists were not spared by this military intrusion as they were rudely sent packing and a photojournalist was asked to delete some of the pictures taken during the attack on the rather peaceful drama troupe. Some journalists, who were worried about their personal safety, left the venue.

It came as no surprise that Joinbodi, even before its start, had sparked off such reactions. Historically, guerilla theatre is by nature made up of spontaneous, surprise performances in unlikely public spaces with heavy dosage of satire which is considered as a civic duty by practitioners and radical by observers.

It took another 30minutes to kick-off the play with social miscreants milling around, some attempting to stop the play and destroy the set even with the presence of two policemen. Eventually, the play started with the moving performance of the first stanza of the National Anthem with each actor holding a green and white umbrella that speak of the play’s strong nationalistic theme.

There was heavy traffic along the bus stop as passers-by tried to catch a glimpse of the play which began with every-day conversations of the Lagos street traders, joined by a LASTMA official and a policeman. Sponsored by Ford Foundation, Joinbodi beams its spotlights on godfatherism and the attitude of Lagos market men and women, who are easy preys for politicians prior to elections. The Governor-elect in the plays makes empty promises in his ‘change’ campaign on what he would do to improve the living conditions of his people including good roads, potable water, affordable health care system saying his is a government “for the people and by the people”. His hypocrisy later becomes evident when he fails to provide the quality of life that he has promised the people.

The playwright makes real-life references to some actual societal signposts that lend credence to the failure in infrastructure and health care such as the road between Atan and UNILAG gate, which had become a daily nightmare for students, staff and residents in that community. Joinbodi also exposes how health care institutions have explored persons in emergency health situations who have resorted to self-help in many occasions.

Joinbodi is, however, not a government bashing play as it also educates the citizenry on civic responsibilities that can contribute to public good such as avoidance of bribery, good sanitation habits and more. The use of music, props and costumes engaged the audience’s attention, some of whom spoke directly to the actors, requesting to buy food used as prop. In a chat before the show at the new Kininso Foundation office in Lagos, the director, Alabi explained the rationale for such theatre production.

“Theatre cannot stop a bullet but it can stop a shooting hand,” he said. “From a research made in US, it is said that children who encountered theatre are more likely to do better in life than those who didn’t. Nigeria needs a forceful reorientation. We have gone far into mediocrity and ignorance. Let us leave government and look at ourselves. We are so abnormal in so many ways and these abnormalities have become our normalities. We are trying to use our performances for awareness, sensitisation and solidarity. With Joinbodi, we are able to say a lot of things about social justice and other issues that concern us. The people will relate to you more when the things are close to them. We slip in the truth when they are most receptive.”

When asked about how the theatre group had attempted to engage the government, Alabi explained that some of their performances had been done in government’s houses while others had been set in public spaces.

“We have performed Sorry at Bariga. Some weeks ago, we went to Okota on a rainy day and spoke with okada riders, market women, security officers, lotto guys and it took a whole day to learn from them about what happened during the elections and we gathered all these materials to inform the performance. Our input is just about 10 percent.

It was community-based. We had an interactive session after the performance and they were very excited that their voices are being heard. A lot of people did videos of the performances. We were warned while gathering the information that we should be careful. But we still went on to do the show and it was successful.”

Yaba’s edition of Joinbodi will remain memorable for the audience many of whom quickly dispersed to their respective destinations after the show that almost never happened.