PERHARPS his name may not ring a bell now. But his works in the 80s may still stir the memory about his works, which may still linger on the minds of lovers of television drama. Paul Emema worked behind the camera, as writer, producer and director of some Nigeria’s tele-dramas among them are Behind the Clouds and Supple Blues.
In the mid 90s, his name was synonymous with educational offerings like Intended Outcomes, a tele-drama aimed at bringing about positive social re-engineering. It was sponsored by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA). Emema doubled as director and producer of the trend-setting I Need to Know television series that ran for eight seasons.
Against this background, the reading from his book A Plague of Gadflies published last year brings to mind again his contribution to the development of television dramas. It makes use of traditional folklore and oral performance, a satirical statement about a world Emema knows too well. The dramatic impact is structured around the best of African traditions, of a nation plagued by corruption, tottering and on the brink; it’s a nation succumbing to the plague of decadence gnaws at everything.
Though written as far back as 1993, it captures the trend of events happening in today’s Nigeria, what with the menace of the Boko Haram sect. it also echoes the revolt in other parts of Africa - Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and others. Emema, while holding us individually responsible as active participants, carefully and clearly points out the path of redemption.
A Plague of Gadflies is set in his native Niger Delta, of a simmering intensity that sends up the resource-rich but poverty-stricken realm of oily corruption.
According to Emema, “The play is dedicated to the healing of Nigeria and all God’s wounded children in Africa; it satirizes the strange doings in the land of Ovrode in the heart of the Niger Delta. The traditional ruler of Ovrode, Ovie Gideon Ogbighe Okumagba, who bears the alias ‘The Night Fox’, holds court with a special breed of potentates known as the Royal Blood. The corruption of the cosmos by these controllers of economic and political power leads up to the choice of Isaiah Akpojaro as the next Odio-logbo, to wit, the noble Chief Adviser to His Majesty.”
Emema pointed out that “Corruption is not from the government alone but it is all over the place - from the contractors to the private sector. We, as individuals, should check ourselves. I may have used the traditional setting to express my views but it boils down to looking at ourselves because we all makes up the government”.
Producer and director of Visual Network, Iloyd Weaver, commended the drive in Emema’s pen that seeks to makes a mark.
He said, “Emema’s courage should be saluted for giving us an epic-proportion play in this age of minimalist plays. As a big play, A Plague of Gadflies is reminiscent of the vast canvass of the late Ola Rotimi in The Gods Are Not To Blame and Kurunmi. His words are aptly deployed, and the proverbs are a joy to behold. The book deserves to travel far and wide.
“In the book, Samson Akpojaro, the half-brother of Isaiah, aided by the fiery Ochonogo, leads a handful of freedom fighters who, alongside the entire populace, initiate an uprising that dislodges the regime of corruption. It all comes to a head at the time of the spiritual and ritual festival of peace called Egba. Houses are burnt and the revolting freedom fighters take the offspring of the oppressive gang hostage such that members of the Royal Blood are left with only the clothes they are wearing at the time of the mayhem. The revelation comes over the filthy lucre - the bags of cowries and the parcels of land they collected from Isaiah Akpojaro - members of the Royal Blood never bothered to offer the requisite traditional sacrifice to the ancestors.
“The 23 years that His Majesty Okumagba had been on the throne of Ovrode comes to such a pass that he pronounces banishment for the Royal Blood thus: “I, Gideon Ogbighe Okumagba – The Night Fox – as I live, and because my noble ancestors watch over my throne night and day, I pronounce your exile to Bini Kingdom until your deaths.”
Even so, The Night Fox cannot bask in innocence because Edokpe with whom he had sworn to an oath of secrecy reveals that His Majesty also wallowed in corruption because of all the villagers’ farmlands he gave to “our foreigner friends” in exchange for the selfsame bags of cowry.
“Emema has penned a prophetic play that expands the Niger Delta canvass of oil, blood and gore to encompass such happenings as the stepping-aside episode after the June 12, 1993 annulled election, the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Arab world, etc”.
For Emema, the moral of his play could be a challenge starring his native country in the face, “the story reveals itself; it is only a matter of time that the little things we do catch up with us”.