Hubert Ogunde: A Metaphor For Today's Nigeria

To many, the present situation of things led by the current pandemic seems like a stage play acting out in everyone’s eyes, or more like the events said to happen in the Bible when Jesus comes back for His second coming. At best, the current events seem like a bad dream set out on the stage of Terra Kulture. This is needless to say State actors playing out their part in their curious distribution of palliatives in the country.

Several years ago, it became increasingly difficult to criticise the government of the day, especially when Military regimes took over. One man who was not afraid to dare the gun was Hubert Ogunde. His stage plays were a reflection of the political situations at the time, particular of which was Otito Koro (Bitter Truth) and Yoruba Ronu (Yoruba Think!). In 1964, when he staged the play Yoruba Ronu, it got the then Premier of Western Region, Chief Ladoke Akintola infuriated as he practically banned the Drama Troupe of Ogunde for two years. He felt the play was a direct affront and criticism of his government, due to his political battles with Awolowo, which had brought political instability to the Western region. 

Today, Nigeria’s government is fond of playing the ostrich by clamping down on Journalist and critiques of the government. May 3rd marked World Press freedom day, where Nigeria ranked 115th on the world rankings, a slight upward movement of five places from 120th the previous year. Just like Akintola, the Federal government found it rather easy to arrest Omoyele Sowore, founder Sahara Reporters over a protest for good governance and keep him in detention even when he had perfected his bail conditions, before he was eventually released few days to Christmas due to outcry. Few days ago, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights had released a statement of a radio personality, Rotimi Jolayemi, also known as Oba Akewi who was detained for criticising Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. This is also not to forget Ebonyi state governor, who got two Journalists banned from the state for criticising the government in their various reports. Today, journalists who criticise the government on issues of corruption and nepotism of the government are victimised by the, the Department of State Security. It appears that while Ogunde tried to warn Akintola of his betrayal of the Yoruba nation, today’s government even appears worse when reacting to criticisms of the masses in terms of infrastructural development and fairness.

Also, the Nigerian state has not been helped by the current pandemic, COVID-19 which brought economy to a standstill. Individuals, corporate bodies decided to play their part by distributing monies, food to the very vulnerable and to the government. But unfortunately, a state like Lagos which was on total lockdown did not receive any palliative from the Federal Government, as records showed a large portion of the north received the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme from the government. There was insinuation in some quarters of diversion of palliatives and muddled up figures of victims of the virus. This brought outcry from the general public for fairness and some even accused the government of stage managing the pandemic in the country like ‘unprofessional actors’ to obtain money from banks and corporate organisations, this also brought disbelief to very many who claimed the pandemic as a hoax or even related to the 5G conspiracy theories. This was also not helped by the government’s inconsistent statement about the Chinese doctors who came to Nigeria to provide help to our local doctors. 

While it is important to note that hateful statement could lead to a backlash from the general public, this should not take anything away from the constructive criticisms of individuals and media houses which should be done without fear or favour from any quarter, as this is what defines democracy in a nation.  Else, it is safe to say that like Ogunde’s prediction in Yoruba Ronu, destruction awaits those who put people in pain, just like what happened to the then government of the day which failed to take heed from. Nigerians also need sincerity of the government in the fight against coronavirus to ease and remove doubt on mismanagement of funds meant for palliatives and health sector in the fight against the virus. With the Freedom of Information Act, Journalists’ should be granted access to how funds meant for the fight against COVID-19 are spent without being threatened or jailed by the government.
Opeagbe Opeyemi, contact me on 

opeagbeopeyemi10@gmail.com

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