The Ozidi Saga; Play by J.P. Clark, a revenge tragedy based on an Ijaw myth about treachery and vengeance. Ozidi being a festival play and plucked from mythology, brims with African performance elements such as mime, music, dance/poetry and ritual. But behind the facade of myth, Ozidi packs a potent number of relevant socio-political comments enough to prick the conscience of a nation adrift, serving notice of inevitable reprisal to those seeking to unbalance the society. Despite having been written as far back as 1966, it confronted the 1995 Nigeria with topical issues, even those that engage the attention of Abacha‘s constitutional conference. Beside man’s attempt to redress the injustice in, and cleanse the society, the gamut of the play’s preoccupation includes the touchy issue of rotational presidency, participation in national governance, inequality in the distribution of wealth, poverty and the incredible impoverishment of oil producing Communities like Ogoni in the midst of plenty.
Ogoni advocacy in Ozidi
The play begins with a festival which has not been celebrated for long because of the pauperism foisted on the people by their unjust socio-political system. During a ritual by the stream side to propitiate the “sea people,” therefore, the story teller prays for prosperity. In a voice evocative of the Ogoni appeal to the conscience of the nation, he wonders why they, the offspring of the sea people from whom the wealth of the world should suffer privations while parvenus in faraway cities and seats of government are ministers of state riding in big cars and “cleaving the skies with houses of mirrors.” Perhaps not with a view towards making light the exigency that engendered the issue of rotational presidency at the constitutional conference in the country, the play subtly points out the pitfalls of the practice.
Story of Ozidi
Following the tradition of rotating the kingship among the royal families in Orua. Rivers State, it is the turn of Ozidi’s family to produce a king. He declines, being the younger of the two men in the family, while pointing out also that his elder brother, Temugedegede, an idiot and drunkard, is obviously “in no shape for a role like that.” But against his good reasoning, the Council of State led by Ofe, the short, an acclaimed enemy of Ozidi decides to enthrone the unfit candidate Temugedegede. Five days after the king’s ascension to the throne, none of his subjects has come to either salute or give him tributes. Not ready to put up with lite people’s disrespect to his brother, Ozidi promptly goes to town and delivers a trenchant phillipic against his people, concluding by challenging anybody who feels insulted to a duel at the market place. Taking a cue from the “insult” Ofe and cohatch a plot to take him out. On the pretext of going on a raid to bring tributes to the king: Ozidi is lured out of the town and murdered, his head sent to the king his brother, who abdicates the throne immediately. Ozidi’s pregnant bride too ilees to her powerful mother in Ododama. There the posthumously born avenger, the young Ozidi, is groomed and primed for his mission.
Ozidi returns at the head of his family and with Oreame, his grandmother as a spur constantly at his side, he takes on his late father’s murderers, who fall one after the other, before him. In the end, even Oreame who goads him on is killed by him at a moment of lapse. Ozidi himself becomes stricken with small pox of which he is cured only after a purification rite performed by Oreame.
In Ozidi, the audience is not over-indulged to the point of letting them lose sight of the playwright’s intention and comments in the play. For with the ruthlessness of an Ozidi lopping the heads of his opponents, the old stager sheared off a couple of scenic possibilities afforded by the play, relying more on the actor’s skills, braced by lighting and sound effects to sway the imagination of the audience. This however, is understandable, Ozidi is a long play – in reality the saga takes seven days to perform with time- consuming scene changes[i].
[i] TELL May 15, 1995