One of Nigeria’s finest poets, Dike Chukwumerije held his first stage show in Lagos, titled Made in Nigeria. Made in Nigeria, told the history of Nigeria from the amalgamation in 1914 to present times in 120 minutes. Dike made use of oral literature, music, dance and costumes to tell the story of Nigeria.
Made in Nigeria as told by Dike Chukwumerije opened at about 6:30pm- 30 minutes from the scheduled time with music from a female singer Kuchi. Kuchi sang and told stories of being abandoned by a lover and urged the crowd to sing along as she strummed her guitar.
As Kuchi left the stage, the lights in the hall went off and a single beam settled on Dike Chukwumerije, who said “Imagine that your great grandfather walked into the room, and you asked him what year he was born,” Dike then transformed into the great grandfather, a cloth wrapped around his body from shoulder, and sat on a recliner. He told the story in a shaky voice, and mannerisms of our ancestors. And so Dike took the audience through 102 years of Nigerian history. The story began at the time of the great grandfather’s birth in 1914, when his ancestors were taken away to fight a war in faraway’s white man’s land.
The story continued, to the introduction of Christianity and introduction of missionary schools which the narrator was encouraged to attend by his mother because according to her “our Chi failed us.” Then there was the struggle and demand for independence by the early nationalists where Dike quoted some of the famous pre-independence quotes.
We have passed the age of petition, we have passed the age of resolution, we have passed the age of diplomacy, this is the age of action, plain, blunt and positive, action, Abdallah Igbirra writing from Kogi 1949
All Nigerians should be equal before the law and justice should be done without fear or favour, discrimination should not be practised in account of race, or tribe, or creed or station in life. All Nigerians should be free to enjoy citizenship rights and privileges anywhere in Nigeria without fear or molestation, Nnamdi Azikiwe speaking in 1959.
It is a difficult task to conduct the government of a country, especially now, but if all of us will show determination, having the fear of God in our hearts working in love with respect for law and order and with truth and honesty, I am sure that God will grant us success. Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, speaking from Tafawa Balewa square, 1960. Independence day
The old national anthem was played.
Our storyteller transformed into a young clerk. Dike, now dressed in 1960s khaki shorts, tucked in matching shirts with socks drawn up to the knees, narrated the story of a young clerk who lived in Lagos, and boarded a train to go visit his friend in Zaria. At Zaria, he fell in love with his friend’s niece. The narration was done in beautiful verses, as Dike convinced the young lady to marry him. When he moved back to Lagos, the lovers exchanged letters, reminiscing the time when the post office still functioned in Nigeria and men wooed women with beautifully crafted words.
Then 1966, Dike called the names of the 5 top Igbo officers Major Nzeogwu, Anuoforo, Onwuatuegwu, Nwobosi, Ifeajuna, who led the first coup, that triggered the hot mess Nigeria became between 1966 to 1999. He asked them, “how long are we to pay for your sins? How long?” As he narrated, actors showed the murder of Igbo people in northern Nigeria. The cries of pain in Igbo, perhaps for the civil war, then he ended the dirge with “yagazie” an Igbo word for “let it be.” The Igbos surrendered at the end of the war and were forcefully dragged back into union with Nigeria. Let it be.
The narration moved on to the institution of tribalism, and corruption in the country.
The hit songs of the days came on, If you marry Taxi driver, by Bobby Benson was one of them, the audience sang along as they remembered the old songs. This too happened when old adverts for now extinct brands from the 80s/90s were played- members of the audience recited the lines as they played.
Dike also re-enacted the coups and counter coups that took place from the 70s to 90s, the bloodshed all over the country as one military government toppled the other. He ended that phase of narration with “may we never return to that season of bloodshed” to which the audience answered amen. The 70s were also a time for ideology in West Africa, he said, the fight against apartheid in South Africa and the call for the release of Nelson Mandela. It was also the period American hip-hop music was adopted in Nigeria and the time Nigerian universities and education sector retrogressed. Students embarked on strike after strike, students protest, and the brutality by the military. The actors led by Dike on stage were now dressed in hip hop gears, carried placards and protesting with gyrate music in the background. Dike led them saying “Comrades, comrades, I want to talk. I want to elucidate…! I want to pontificaaate…!” “Aluta Continua”!
The 90s ended with Nigeria’s return to democracy, normalization of corruption, tribalism, and religious violence which resulted in the tragedy in Jos, Burni Yadi, Agatu, Nyanya, Chibok, Ndiagu Attakwu, and many other towns around Nigeria.
With 20 poems, Dike took his audience through 102 years of Nigeria’s history. The last poem for the night, Keep Marching On, was dedicated to one of Nigeria’s first nationalist, Herbert Macaulay.
It was not all seriousness, Dike managed to spice up the tragic story of Nigeria with some humour, and sarcasm.
Some very obvious events and persons were left out of Dike’s history class. The civil war, although he talked about the sufferings of the Igbos but the civil war is like a black stain on a white cloth in Nigeria’s history, it cannot be brushed into other topics, and there was no mention of Ojukwu. Another missing part was that in all the songs played to highlight different times in Nigeria’s history, none of them was Felas’. Can one talk about Nigerian music in the past without mentioning Fela? I like to think this was deliberate but the question is why?
In a country like Nigeria, where the subject of history has been given a back seat and even withdrawn from the curriculum too many times, the importance of Dike’s Made in Nigeria history class, laced with humour, sarcasm and a history told from our own point of view, cannot be over-emphasized. Well done Dike!