New Nigerians is a rather timely, cynical satire about the state of Nigerian politics. The main protagonist, Greatness Ogholi, is the presidential candidate of the People’s Revolutionary Party. We first meet him giving a rather bombastic quasi-Fanonian speech about the ills that plague the nation and how only he, “the man of integrity”, can bring change. We soon learn that “Greatness” is not great and he is far from being “a man of integrity”.
Greatness is the sort of messianic left wing figure who substitutes himself for the struggles of the working and oppressed classes, especially in societies like Nigeria where the institutions that mediate between the state and “civil society” are weak. Such personages take on an outsized social role and perceive everything they do as the struggle.
The action mainly takes place at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja, capital of Nigeria, a monument to the folly of the Nigerian ruling class. The reality of electoral politics demands that alliances be forged, compromises made and deals stuck to win elections. Greatness attempts to make alliances first with a representative of the ruling classes Danladi and later with a trade union bureaucrat, Edobor, who is quite open about his historical mission: to mediate between the forces of labour and capital. However, like all trade union bureaucrats, Edobor inevitably betrays labour while allowing capital to get away with murder.
Danladi and Edobor both drive hard bargains for their support. In an attempt to strike a deal with Danladi, Greatness is prepared to betray the interests of his running mate, Chinasa. The whole façade of being “a man of integrity” begins to crumble.
The play takes flight during the confrontation between Greatness and Edobor, one of the best dramatic summaries I have seen of the arguments for reform versus revolution. The hand of corruption follows Greatness everywhere he seeks alliances: with the notorious Dr Awobokiri of the lecturers’ union, the man who now demands cash instead of sex from female students for his university course handouts. There are a few poignant moments in the play, especially in the scenes between Greatness and his wife Grace, that deal with the contribution of activism to the breakdown of bourgeois family life.
Despite the serious issues tackled in this play, it is extremely humorous, with the gags flying around thick and furious. An example: “You cannot build an ideological base without first building stomach infrastructure. A hungry revolutionary is a capitalist in waiting.”
At the very end of the play, the playwright reveals what he considers to be the way forward for the liberation of Nigeria and the African world. Rather than the messianic personages of Greatness Ogholi spouting revolutionary rhetoric but ready to betray the interests of their followers at every turn, the future is “young Africans from all corners, organising themselves, sharing ideas on how to implement lasting change. With a little more dialectic it will become the new Pan-Africanism”.
In short, the future is self-organisation from below, something that this magazine never ceases to advocate.
If you wish to spend a few hours in the evening being educated and entertained, there is no better way of doing that than going to watch this play. Highly recommended.