It was a day full of reminiscences and power-packed emotions as soloist and monodrama exponent, Greg Mbajiorgu, took time off the annual conference of the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artist (SONTA) in University of Calabar to re-visit the premises of the State Secretariat of The National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) where he conceived, wrote and premiered his enigmatic solo artist play The Prime Minister’s Son 21 years ago.
Greg Mbajiorgu was accompanied on the historic re-visit by foremost theatre scholar, Professor Kalu Uka, who incidentally was part of the premiere of the play in 1991 as artistic /technical adviser alongside the late pioneer Nigerian playwright, James Ene Henshaw. Also on the visiting entourage were Sola Balogun,arts editor of The Sun Newspapers, Obi Okoli, popular Nollywood actor and Denja Abdullahi, poet, playwright and National Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Author(ANA).
The visiting team found themselves in the warm embrace of the management staff of the NYSC Cross River State secretariat and serving corp members, led by the State Director Engr. Ibangha. Greg Mbajiorgu, now a senior lecturer in the department of Theatre and Film Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, set the tone for the visit when he reminiscenced on how the then State Director of the scheme in 1991,one Mr Ajayi, encouraged him to follow his passion and approved his desire to adopt the one man theatre show as his primary assignment and community development activity. According to Greg Mbajiorgu, in spite of opposition from certain quarters, the then NYSC State Director, gave him an office space and an accommodation within the secretariat complex as a corp resident dramatist, from where he unleashed his talent as a solo drama artist culminating in the conception, writing and performance of the mono actor drama The Prime Minister’s Son; which was taken round schools and communities in Cross River State. Speaking to a roomful of entranced corp members of the drama and dance community development group and management staff of the NYSC State Secretariat, Greg ,in an emotional laden voice, declared that the NYSC scheme defined his career and served as launch pad for his later endeavour as a theatre enterprenuer. According to him ,he had it so good as a travelling solo theatre artist as a Corp member that while his colleagues visited banks to make cash withdrawals, he regularly went there to make deposits and later bought a car from proceeds of his performances and was financially disposed to buy a cow for his colleagues to party with. At the end of his inspiring speech to the corp members and an appreciative NYSC staff, Greg was on the verge of tears and Prof Kalu Uka, had to step in to convert as he said “Greg’s tears to joy” with a powerfully rendered praise song and an inspiring speech that bordered on showing gratitude and aiming for excellence. Engr Ibangha, the NYSC State Director responded to the speeches by thanking Greg Mbajiorgu for appreciating the contributions of the scheme to his successful career as an artist while noting that stories such as that of his highlight the relevance of the scheme to youth development. He called on the Corp members present to take a cue from the import of the visit to discover their talents and pursue their dreams.
The visit ended with the presentation of copies of the 20th anniversary edition of the monodrama The Prime Minister’s Son by Greg Mbajiorgu to the State NYSC and the performance of a drama sketch entitled “Conundrum” by the State’s NYSC drama troupe within the same quadrangle where The Prime Minister’s Son was premiered 21 years back.
The Calabar visit thus marked the beginning of a series of events already scheduled to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the play The Prime Minister’s Son across Nigeria. The anniversary activities are conceived to highlight the past contributions of soloists such as the late Funso Alabi and others to the theatrical form which is in need of re-invention in Nigeria. The next stop will be in Abuja on the 27th of September 2012 at the Korean Cultural Centre where a play reading, performance and a critical session have been scheduled for The Prime Minister’s Son under the auspices of the Arojah Royal Theatre.
By Denja Abdullahi