April 15, 2024
Review

Gomba’s ‘Grit’ on stage: A thought-provoking moment

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  • December 24, 2023
  • 4 min read
Gomba’s ‘Grit’ on stage: A thought-provoking moment

By Stephen Kekeghe

SUNDAY, December 17, 2023 was a bubbling Sunday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where people from different walks of life gathered to watch the stage performance of Dr. Obari Gomba’s award winning play, Grit. Published in Lagos by Hornbill House of the Arts in 2023, Gomba’s Grit emerged in a moment of intense political intrigues and conversations in Nigeria. Gomba, who had previously won different literary prizes including those of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and Pan African Writers’ Association (PAWA), won The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2023, sponsored by Nigeria LNG Limited, after he’d been shortlisted in four times in poetry and drama. So, the joy that comes with Gomba’s eventual winning is justifiably loud, and has culminated in different literary conversations, including the staging of Grit at Platinum Theatre at Azny Place at GRA, Port Harcourt. Waxed with rich theme and techniques, it is not surprising that the 85-paged play eventually won The Nigerian Prize for Literature, 2023.

The weeks before had been seriously engaging and strenuous. So, it was an opportunity to take my wife and I off the conventional domestic and administrative commitments in Warri, to relax with Grit at Azny Place. It was indeed a festival of theatre, poetry and music. The stage performance of Grit, which kicked off at 4pm, was heralded by different literary readings in the form of poetry and drama, mostly by Gomba’s students, from the University of Port Harcourt. All the performances that preluded the main enactment were breathtaking.

There was an impressive air of patriotism by writers in Rivers State. As the city of Elechi Amadi and Ken Saro Wiwa, there were constant echoes of homage to legendary writers during the various performances that preceded the enactment of Grit. I was particularly fascinated by the camaraderie demonstrated by the Rivers State Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) under the leadership of Chief Adi Wali. In warmth and pride, they stood with Gomba, one of their illustrious writers and current national Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Authors. It was a very fulfilling moment to the writers’ body.

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A heated scene in Grit

The event was excellently managed by Chinweike David Okwu. Beyond the entertaining effect, there is the deep place of sociopolitical message that the audience derived from watching Grit. It was a well-attended event as the theatrical hall in Azny Place was full to the brim. Among the audience were lecturers and students from the University of Port Harcourt, Gomba’s colleagues from different parts of the country. Winner of the Nigerian Prize for Literary Criticism, Dr. Eyo Etim, joined from Uyo while the National Auditor of the Association of Nigerian Authors and 2021 joint winner of the association’s Prize for Poetry, Dr. Stephen Kekeghe, joined from Warri with his wife, Abigail Kekeghe.

Directed by the very meek Monday Evboumwan, the performance of Gomba’s Grit was deeply exhilarating and thought-provoking— not because of the contemporariness and relevance of the issues promised in the play, but as a result of the perfect interpretation of the characters, events and situations by the cast. Every character fitted perfectly into its role to depict social and objective reality. The political intrigues, plots and conspiracies that constitute the centre-stage of the play are experiences that are daily encountered in Nigeria and elsewhere. So, the characters emboldened these realities and put life to them at Azny Place of performance festivities. It is very convincing that Gomba’s Grit, a blend of solemnity and comic, is a blessing to Nigerian and African literary landscapes.

The performance was lauded by the large audience, and some impressive commitments were made at the end of the performance. The Mayor of Housing and his BoT from Alesa Eleme donated 150 copies of Grit to students in Port Harcourt. He also donated money to each of the cast and crew after the performance. Dr. Emi Membere-Otaji also promised to distribute 100 copies of Grit to students in Port Harcourt. There are other expressions of such benevolence by literary enthusiasts and educators.

Overall, watching Grit at Anzy Place was an inspiring moment for me, and I imagine also for everyone who had the opportunity to be there.

* Dr. Kekeghe, poet, playwright and university teacher, writes from Warri

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