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For the love of money 

The Lottery Ticket, a play written by Ahmed Yerima (published 2002) is showing at Terra Kulture this Sunday (24 February). Written in pidgin and set in a buka, it is a satirical look at human nature and the passionate pursuit of instant riches.

The story is told with eight characters who represent people in the lower class in a Nigerian community of the late 1990s.

Mama Lizi, the illiterate middle-aged woman who runs a canteen; operator of 18-year-old Lizi, her daughter; Danger, a street urchin and Lizi’s lover; and Landlord, a retired civil servant in in 60s. The cast is completed by the sickly septuagenarian Baba Tailor and two sneaky law enforcers who do all but uphold  the law: Yellow Fever, a traffic warden, and Sajent, a policeman.

They are all in possession of lottery tickets promoted by a company and each of the character hopes against hope that they would win the jackpot — a million Naira (N100,000 in the original script), a lot of money to anyone who earns a peasant wage monthly.   

As they struggle to make ends meet in a society overrun by corrupt politicians, the characters see the prize money as their way out of penury. But they each believe that, given their individual circumstance, they and not the others deserve to win the jackpot. It would change their lifestyle in no little way.  

But just what do they need the big money for? Nothing grand, all things considered: Landlord has his eyes on Lizi and is hoping to commit the big win to paying her dowry, set her up in a shop and buy her a Tokunbo sewing machine and let his future mother-in-Law continue to live in his house rent-free.

On her part, Mama Lizi would relocate to a suburb, acquire a bigger buka space where she believes she’ll rake in more profits from her toil. Baba Tailor, the unexpected lucky winner, has racked up bills at the hospital for his worsening health.  

This play portrays a Nigeria of the 1990s that is still recognisable 20 odd years later, simply because not much has changed. There are more lotteries now than there has ever been; the economy is still very much in terrible shape and the politicians are still very much corrupt.

I asked director Ikenna Jude Okpala why chose to stage this particular play at this time. “I feel the tension caused by the politics is too much, so I thought to lighten the mood somewhat,” he told me. “I believe people need to laugh and this play is comedy.”

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