CORRUPTION Edu-Tunji Ojo:Who will dance naked?

Sam Omatseye

Before the play itself, the audience witnessed a bit of touching theatre. Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, volunteered to give a helping hand to Joke Silva, who sought help to walk up the steep flight of stairs to the stage at the Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos. A hand-to-hand mercy, a theatre of empathy. A woman of many histrionic triumphs, Silva produced the play, The King Must Dance Naked, authored by Fred Agbeyegbe, 88. The drama ran through the yuletide season. It’s about false identities, outrageous claims and redemption.
The play bristles with contemporary resonance: our election angst, corruption, lies, heroics. Betta Edu, Emefiele, Sadiya, the last presidential imbroglio, all tumble through this play first staged in 1983. The theme, about a king who is probably a queen, has to unveil the royal sex under the shadow of a depleting harem. So, the society suffers famine and plagues because of the lie on the throne.

At bottom is a power play, the question of legitimacy and their aftermath. Who should be king? Just like the 2023 polls. Who should be the president? Is it the woman who sounds like a woman but is a man, or is it the man sighing like a woman? The king is actually a queen masquerading as a man. Imposture and false right stalks the throne, as in Aso Villa. In the end, just like our polls, the truth emerges. The real heir is the one who is vilified, seen as no good by some cabals. The new king overtakes the queen. Just like Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, justice is not jaundiced.

But a scene about a sacrifice to the gods reminds one of Emefiele, Edu and Sadiya, et al. The society sacrifices a big goat, a fowl and a sumptuous spread of food to the gods. But a madman cons his reluctant wife to join in looting the sacrifice. The couple will achieve two things. They will preserve the society in the illusion that the gods actually ate their sacrifice and worry that they didn’t give enough. So they keep giving. Two, the couple will continue to fatten on the superstition of their society. The lazy prospers on the people’s sacrificial misery. It is the paradise of greed. Achebe pictures such a scene in Arrow of God when the chief priest appropriates the fowl of sacrifice for family. It demystifies the sacred grove. Rite becomes right.

Just like Emefiele, who piled up 593 accounts and $6.2 million carted away under camera lens. Meanwhile, people die, masses hunger, foods rot, hospitals count the dead. There is room for pity. The mother of twins faces the prospect of the killing of the female one, so as to keep the male. It is a testament to the patriarchal tyranny of our society, and that enables the corruption of men. Also, the former king owns the twins and the mother is a former slave who climbs into royalty.

Feminine defiance bustles here, first in the woman who fights for her daughter. Two, the woman who appropriates the throne meant only for men. The three women in the ongoing corruption scandal today – Betta, Shehu, Sadiya – are asserting, in a reversal of roles, a place often reserved for men: Looting the treasury. This is not the feminism dreamed by Elizabeth Stanton and others who gave us the creed.

There is, however, a moral ambiguity to the tale. And that touches Betta Edu. Edu is not your airhead political hustler. She is less than 40, but she is not only a medical doctor but bags a PHD in public health. She is a potential high flyer, brilliant, young, dynamic. Again, from records, she is not the first offender in funneling official money to private accounts. So, why is she taking a fall? Could it be a case of entrapment? Was it that she lacked social tact? Why did the permanent secretary or any of the ministry mainstays not caution her? Why did the bird carry the secret of the bedchamber to the market square? Blessed are those whose sins are covered. Maybe they did not like her and wanted her to plunge into the scandal? For such a thing to happen and this quickly, it implies Edu offended someone. Was she rash, contemptuous, irascible as a boss? Is it the story of a tragic flaw? “All evil is in man, yet it can’t be fixed by man. It can only be forgiven,” wrote Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk in her novel, The Books of Jacob.

But she was supposed to know. Ignorance is no excuse. I pity her because she and Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo acquitted themselves with verve and innovation. Some even called Tunji-Ojo minister of the year. But competence is not more important than values. Corruption is like a rotten bone that ruptures veins and blood flow. America’s defence secretary, Lloyed Austin, is being called to resign for not informing the president that he was undergoing prostate cancer surgery. No one is emoting pity for a sick man but they are stressing law and decency.

Louis Saint-Just, the French revolutionary known as the archangel of terror, said the job of justice is “not to find the culprit guilty, but to find him weak.” To find the culprit guilty is to inflict punishment for punishment’s sake. To find him weak is to explore avenues for moral rebirth, like in the early concept of correctional facilities. In Nigeria, though, it is the society that is weak because we suffer a collective guilt. Not many calling for Edu’s head do it out of moral superiority but out of sanctimony and envy. If we were she, they would say, I would be cleverer and make all that money without being caught. Hence Saint-Just asserted that the republic of forgiveness only leads to the republic of the guillotine. We appoint public officers to serve, not to purify their souls. They must serve with conscience. Competence without conscience is cynical. So, there is no way either Edu or Tunji-Ojo will not soil the system by remaining in office. The Tinubu administration is probably going through a gradual weeding out of tares from wheat. As Paul wrote, “the removing of those things that can be shaken, so that those that cannot be shaken can stand.”

Edu was given a task like Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan, to dole out good to the poor. But she might have fallen guilty to the line in the play: “For no one can be good for so long if goodness is not in demand.” Hence President Tinubu is overhauling the social empowerment programme to bring compassion back to charity. For there is no justice without compassion. Plenty does not guarantee a filled belly. As Brecht wrote, “stomachs rumble even on an emperor’s birthday.” Shakespeare wrote, “that distribution undo excess and each man have enough.”

Agbeyegbe’s play directed by Toju Ejoh was a great show in dance, song and movement, sometimes an invocation of the chorus of Greek plays by Euripides, Aristophanes, Aeschylus, Sophocles. It makes us ponder our society as we thrill to the splendour on stage. And the grandeur and flourish of Itsekiri culture was on display. Kunle Ajibade called it “Itsekiri day.”

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