‘…We continue because we believe Nigeria has destiny to fulfill’
By Ozoro Opute
TRAINED as a lawyer but enamoured of the arts, Mr. Dike Chukwumerije has since carved a name for himself in the performance or spoken word poetry genre. And he has been wooing audiences with his electrifying performances across the country. What might have started as a tentative venture has now turned full-blown show, and he not only tours cities across Nigeria, but preaches a certain unflagging patriotic gospel meant to mend the horrible cracks left behind in the wake of political rascality by those who have held the country in the thralldom of unbridled greed and self-aggrandisement executed on the altar of tribe and religion.
One simple, introspecting line from Chukwumerije’s poetry roughly translates: ‘when people die on a road badly paved or left unpaved by a croocked politician/contractor (who has squandered the people’s money on self), does it discriminate in killing one tribe and leaving another?’ And he recognises also, like his fellow creative and novelist Mr. Abubakar Ibrahim, that there are only two tribes in Nigeria: the tribe of the rich, manipulative politicians and the tribe of the poor. Any other construction in-between is a figment of the imagination created by the tribe of the rich to confuse the tribe of the poor and make them fight each other, so the rich remain in their exalted perch while the poor remain downtroden in their poverty insomnia.
Chukwumerije calls his performance tour ‘Made-In-Nigeria: The Story of a Nation’ show. His performance at The Ahzny Place, GRA Port Harcourt on Saturday, May 28, 2022 was his 17th in cities across the country. Today, Sunday, June 19, 2022 at Custodial Hotel in Gombe, Gombe State, Chukwumerije will reenact his stage magic in continuation of his 18th tour he aptly tags ‘Simply Poetry’, emblazoned on t-shirts he and his crew wear, to thrill audiences in that city.
What started as solo acts has morphed into a band, with Chukwumerije leading a pack of young, energetic performers to give audiences more than just poetry. There’s now music, dance, stunts, chants, drama, and everything a show should have to give audiences something to cherish and remember long after the tour would have gone elsewhere. In essence, it’s Chukwumerije’s patriotic call that Nigeria needs to be remade away from its current chaotic, disjointed pieces into a whole for a true nation to emerge. Clearly, the country’s fractious condition has become unrecognisable even to young-going-to-middle age folks like himself who had a whiff of what a country should be while growing up in the 1980s but which is sadly now falling apart.
Ordinary Nigerians who attend his shows, according to Chukwumerije, should stop seeing themselves as the enemy of each other irrespective of their disparate ethnic nationalities, whether Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Ikwerre, Urhobo, Igala, etc, because they have more in common than they think. The problem, he argues, are those in the commanding heights of leadership who have failed to do what their offices demand of them, but choose instead to enlist the poor to fight their proxy wars, so they could remain in their greedy perch at the expense of the poor who continue to suffer the consequences of their failures.
As a child of history, Chukwumerije has constructed his show around Nigeria’s historical free fall. He starts his show with the music, dance and fashion of the 1970s and 1980s, the afro hairdos, high heels for men and women alike, flared, bell-like bottom trousers for the men, and the coyness usually associated with womenfolk back then. It’s a glittering nightclub with disco lights twirling and men and women are digging it out on the dance floor with Rex Jim Lawson, Celestine Ukwu, ET Mensa and the leading musical lights of the era providing nostalgic music that transported the audience back in time for those old enough. It was indeed a funky show, and Chukwumerije lived his part so superbly.
In the big backdrop are iconic graffiti of Fela, Kingsway, SAP – Structural Adjustment Programme, MAMSER – Mass Mobilisation for Self-Reliance, Zero Justice and Economic Recovery, WAI – War Against Indisipline and such stuffs as throwback to a bygone era, but one whose imprints still remain with us, since the more Nigeria seemed to have changed the more it has regressed in socio-political and cultural attainments.
When the narrator-character (Chukwumerije) steps out with his sweetheart to tell his father’s stories of the 1970s era, he was in a dandy outfit that blew the audience. “My mother was a chikito (term for ‘babe’ those days),” he said, noting that “the 1970s was the most pan-African decade; a decade we (Nigeria) nationalised British Petroleum. We were aware of power and how to use it.”
BUT it was not all rosy though, because when he brings his sweetheart home after his service year, a young lady from another problematic ‘tribe’ of the country, his and her parents would hear none of it. But they were headily in love and shoved such filial objections aside to set up home for themselves without the usual blessings of parents from both sides. There’s a sense of a wishful, short-lived rebellion that young Nigerians didn’t take too seriously back then to erase the strictures of dividing lines that have remained to the doom of a once promising country.
Then the 1980s exploded into the uncertainty that has characterised life for young people till date. Universities began to experience strikes; its ugliness has remained to haunt the country. Although the students took up ‘arms’ to protest the emasculation of their future, it amounted to very little, as their fathers were busy digging trenches that would sink the country in their individual and collective greed. Of course, when the military struck to overthrow civilian rule, it didn’t quite come as a surprise, even if the consequences of such military adventurism into politics has continued to have reverberating consequences, as it further deepened the fault lines already established.
In Chukwumerije’s show is a chronicling of Nigerian history from independence, the hope that was initially borne and the gradual evaporation of that hope in the clumsy hands of the minders of that hope to the current atrophy.
The lost serenity and peace of Jos, Plateau, Chibok girls and their stolen future “and all that was good in us before it all went awry” form part of Chukwumerije’s patriotic performance that bemoans truncated national promise that robs the youth of a country its future.
According to the performance poet, “We’re coming with the gentle message that you (audience, Nigerians) are not my problem. It’s the politicians that are the problem of Nigeria, government that will not act in our public interest. When we need to vote in people with public interest, they bring in ethnic wahala. So we all share the same experience. In spite of the rhetoric, we are all the same.
“Ours is a human story and we try to send these stories across. In America where our young people now flock to, they have racial and other problems, but they have good roads, good hospitals, good schools. Others have good things, but they fight. What do we have?
“So we do this show in hope that we can, for a while, calm everybody down, as an act of faith. You don’t understand little acts of faith (like this). We believe in random acts of faith. We continue because we believe Nigeria has destiny to fulfill.”
Chukwumerije’s last act was a performance of ‘Keep on Marching’ charge Nigeria’s father of Independence, Herbert Macualay gave his son to carry on Nigeria’s historical march to the promise land on his deathbed. But whether the sons of Nigeria’s independence are marching on well towards the promise land is a matter fit for conjecture!