The playwright, Greg Mbajiorgu, Senior lecturer in Department of Theatre and Film Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka wrote Wake up as a guest dramatist to African Technology Policy Studies (ATPS), Nairobi. He was commissioned to produce this climate change adaptation advocacy drama for the International Conference on Africa’s Response to Global Challenge through Science Technology and Innovation.
Prof. Ukwu i. ukwu and Playwrigth, Greg Mbajiogu
Wake up which thematizes the nexus of climate change, global economic crises, and poverty was presented as command performance at Nicon Luxery Hotel, Abuja, in 2009.
The play,Wake up is an ebullient dance in the jungle universe of creative writing. It is a bold volume which immediately establishes the author as a unique artist among contemporary African playwrights.
This drama is a literary response to the multi dimensional problems of global warming, deforestation, environmental degradation, drought, corruption and bad governance. It is a Cri de Coeur of a playwright who has witnessed ecological imperialism in Africa by Anglo-Saxon conglomerates and atavistic spasm of bloodletting by these transnational powers of the indigenous population as well as martyrdom of some environmental and human rights activists.
In Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa, the British imperial Government instituted colonial policies of land alienation, political rule and re source control. Ngugi Wa Thiong’s A Grain of Wheat portrays this ecological imperialism and employs the instrumentality of environmental ruination to oppose virulent British Colonial occupation and its ideology of economic exploitation. The dispossession of the Gikuyu of their ancestral land in the colonial era is juxtaposed with the environmental preservation in the pre-colonial period.
In this effort, Mbajiogu does not only use drama to tell the story of climate change, but also employs it as a tool for the dissemination of his core message on the subject of climate change adaptation. The stage opens with the irruptive entry of the dramatics personae yawning and stretching and complaining of hunger. The ensuing dialogue introduces destitution as a fundamental problem in Africa. The third chorus expresses this aptly:
The three thousand naira he gave us last week has finished last night; we rehearsed with an empty stomach; Now,you want me to start work without breakfast (bitterly) Is this possible?
All the scaffolding of the environment are constructs tied to economy and power. The political elite control the means of production and resources of the state. Cupidity and avarice are instruments employed by the political elite to achieve immense financial aggrandizement. Conversely this process affects the economic lives of the workers who are left to luxuriate in abject poverty and destitution. The solidarity song of “We no go work oo” is reminiscent of the perennial problem of work to rule action in third-world nations among the working class. The dirge by the chorus foreshadows an evil omen. Through syntactic parallelism, the 1st chorus evokes a world hinged on a systematic dilapidation:
We are ruining our world
Making it a better place for no one
Making it a better place for no one
This character also raises rhetorical questions to portray the fundamental problem of environmental ruination:
Why are we stripping from nature
The fundamental resources that sustain life?
Why have we chosen to dismantle the engine of this planet?
According to Mbajiogu, ‘This rapid dismantling of our environment has engendered the extinction of species, loss of biodiversity, decline of marine stock, shortage of food, and ecosystem imbalance.’
The analogy between squeezing the “last drop of milk from the same udder that nourishes the infant” and man engaged in the process of forest logging or deforestation shows man as “the greatest enemy of himself.” The 2nd chorus expresses this reverse process as “poverty of the flesh” degenerating “to poverty of mind and spirit.”
The problem of military dictatorship and its concomitant consequences of debauchery, excessive profligacy, injustice, corruption and paucity of the intellect are expressed by the 3rd chorus. Lexical expressions such as “dispatch riders” “blaring of sirens,” “Pot bellied generals” reflect their grotesque attitude, despotic nature, Philistine life-style, or the inveterate and invidious aspects of military institutions. On the other hand, “floods” “tsunamis,” “drought” “tornadoes” “hurricanes” “cyclones” and “earthquakes” show man’s interference with the cosmic forces and their obvious consequences.
Futurity is gleaned through the consciousness of the dramatis personae. The 4th chorus captures this in negative images:
Images of denatured beaches and strangulated wetlands, Memories of devastated swamps and filthy dry streams, shadows of a long queue of mothers and offspring trailing their way to dripping water pumps.
Images of death, violence, putrefaction and pollution are used to describe the literal physical reality. It is the playwright’s indictment of society and the elite who exploit man and nature for their selfish desires:
I see the gun-men
Murdering a hero for daring to stop their
Spillage of oil and flaring of gas. I see the
Raiders raping our streams
Polluting our rivers and killing our plants…
The themes dealt with here are universal and addresses fundamental questions that concern all men. The rhetorical question, like the one below, which the playwright threw at me during our brief intellectual encounter in his book-stuffed office was, ‘Why are we not bothered about the life forms we destroy as a result of blockage of original channelization and sand-filling of wet lands, for instance?’ If only we can consider the many species of life form wiped away in order to create the high-brow lekki peninsulas of our world, we would probably not embark on such selfish ventures.