The 12th Jos Festival of Theatre (JFT) closed on 11 May with a performance of Zulu Sofola’s epic 1973 play, “Wedlock of the Gods”. The audience, numbering in the hundreds, greeted it with an applause and a standing ovation. Directed by Patrick-Jude Oteh — Founder/ Artistic Director of the Jos Repertory Theatre — the play wrapped up five days of immersive, thought-provoking performances and workshops.
“Well performed. It was superb, it was wonderful,” Naomi Akombo, a Postgraduate student of Mass Communication at the University of Jos, says of the play. “The actors were so natural. They flowed, they made it look so real and they interpreted their roles so well I was impressed.”
That appraisal is representative of the audiences’ impression of all the plays presented at the 2019 festival.
“This has been really nice — it’s great,” says Theology lecturer Ishaya Inuwa, who is attending the festival for the second year and with his family. “I find this a good place to relax, and honestly in my mind I am already thinking of speaking with the organisers to see how we can set up a theatre like this. It will be good for the people to experience this more often, to calm down their nerves and laugh.”
The festival opened on 7 May with Arthur Miller’s 1940s book “All My Sons”, based on actual events from the Second World War, followed the next day by the world premiere of Sefi Atta’s high decibel “Death Road”, a story about gender equality, girl education and islamic radicalism.
Day Three featured two plays: Ikechukwu Erojikwe and Ndubuisi Nnana’s “Twilight Mysteries”, a deeply philosophical play that taps into Igbo worldview and Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist play, “The Lesson”. And Jerry Alagbaso’s “Tony Wants To Marry” cracked up the room on Day Four.
“All the performances have been excellent and so has been the festival,” says Moses Dura, a civil servant and a member of the Board of the Alliance Francaise, the festival venue for four years in a row. “It will be a good thing to have something like this monthly.”
Beyond being impressed with the festival’s eclectic offerings, Sarah Inuwa says the plays go right into the heart of contemporary issues facing Nigeria and Nigerians: insecurity, especially.
And Jos has witnessed bouts of insecurity in recent years, which has dented the state’s often vaunted reputation as Nigeria’s “Home of peace and Tourism”. But seeing the festival’s impressive attendance, the last thing on anybody’s minds was the threat of violence.
If anything, the festival presented Jos in a different light from how it’s been projected in the news in recent years. “I had no idea at all that the city was this peaceful and beautiful,” says first-time visitor Blessing Chris Okeke, who travelled with the group from the University of Nsukka’s Development Performance Initiative. “Everything I know is what I have been hearing in the news — all negative. Now, I have seen the other side and I can’t wait to be back here again.”
Inuwa says that to describe Plateau State as unsafe is really unfair. “By the same token, when you travel to the West (Europe or America), people think the whole of Nigeria is unsafe, because there is unrest in some places,” the lecturer at the Jos ECWA Theological Seminary argues. “Sometimes, there is a problem in a part of Jos and people think it’s the whole city. Same for when it happens in Maiduguri, Damaturu and elsewhere in the country. There is nowhere that is safe, not in Nigeria and not anywhere in the world, except in God, It’s the global context of violence that we currently live in.”
In his welcome message, Patrick-Jude Oteh expresses is pain at the current state of insecurity in some parts of Nigeria which threatens the collective dream of the citizens, but he holds out hope for a Nigeria of his memories.
“But it was not always like this. Once upon a time, we all lived a dream, a dream that brought smiles to our faces, dreams that we are not sure of anymore. Yes, it is important and mandatory to dream. It is like breathing — we must dream,” he says, describing this year’s festival as a “clarion call to all men and women of goodwill to rise up and rescue this nation from the hands of evil people who are hell bent on doing harm to this country by severing all the fabrics that we have woven for decades.”
Themed “Building a New Generation for the Arts”, the festival is chiefly supported by the US Mission in Nigeria.