When Duniya, the prisoner defiantly said to the prison warden, “There will be no peace for those who stand silent in the face of oppression”, I felt that in a deep secret part of my soul. 

Of course, we know to speak up; I am Nigerian and we know better than “to carry last”. You better “shine your eye” and never be a mumu (fool). After all, we are a speaking-up generation, the “Soro Soke” generation that courageously stood up to demand reforms in, what we all agree is a failed policing system and the loss of confidence in the local security structures we rely on for our safety. 

I’m talking about the debut performance of the play “Then They Came” at the Centre for Women Development Abuja, Nigeria last Saturday. Written by Paul Ugbede, and directed by Kenneth Uphopho; a beautiful collaboration of the ECOWAS, Raconteur Productions and the European Union delegation to Nigeria to mark Human Rights Day.

The play was remarkable and took us on a 75 minutes eventful journey through the sore Nigerian criminal justice system. After hearing so many crazy stories about injustice in that sector of society, watching it play out on stage brought goosebumps to our skin, tears to our eyes, righteous anger to our hearts, and ironically laughter to our mouths. The cast sold their characters so well that halfway through I wondered if I could ever bring myself to say “hi” to Segun Dada after his impeccable portrayal of the main villain “Commander”. We had the honour of watching Gloria Anozie Young, Ijeoma Aniebo, Simileloluwa Hassan,  Olusola Roberts Iwaotan, Philip Francis, Okechi Enyi. The names Duniya, Jomo, Baba Furo and commander became fond at the end of the play.

Remember how I said earlier on that I felt Duniya’s statement in a deep “secret” part of my soul, I guess that secret is that I, like a lot of Nigerians have become the victims of our learned helplessness. We have agreed that it’s okay to express some temporal outrage over injustice but not okay to shout till you are noticed, not okay to speak up until we get the results desired, we have agreed that speaking up too much might be an indicator of interest to be part of a problem that might not involve me if I can just keep quiet and mind my business.

We seem to forget that my silence is my stamp of approval for the continuity and adoption of the injustice I choose to be blind to. Silence isn’t inactivity, it speaks, it screams, it nods in approval to the status quo. Lady justice is blind, but so is injustice and evil. For it may favour the cause of a few foolish and silent ones today, but it will swing back and hit all insight in only a matter of time. 

The play captured so many themes but here are some of the prominent ones. We saw the humanity of the imprisoned, unnecessary and prolonged and delayed justice, the falsehood and oppression that has been grafted into our law enforcement and the waste of talent and life that exist in our prisons. 

 

The panels of enquiry and fact-finding missions etc do not cure the pain of the problems and prevention is far much better. All the parties involved in this broken system: from the passive citizens to the corrupt law officials, to the government and victims all feel justified in the roles we play. Poor mental health management and lastly, the protection of our interests and values over the general welfare of society.

Finally, “then they came” is a thought-provoking performance whose call to action is justified in the context of these evils of injustice which we have allowed to thrive.

 

I end with this quote from the final letter by the Niger Delta martyr Ken Saro Wiwa, “I predict that the scene here will be played and replayed by generations yet unborn. Some have already cast themselves in the role of villains; others are tragic victims, while the rest still have a chance to redeem themselves. The choice is for each individual.”

Kudos!!!!

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