IWU JEFF’S VERDICT OF THE GODS AND NIGERIAN POLITICAL LEADERSHIP SYSTEM BY SALIHU JUSTINA ODION & MOHAMMED ABDULLAHI
According to Ogbowei (2020), the play draws extensively on the author’s rich Igbo heritage (historical background). We will explore this historical background and see how the playwright is able to match its complexities.
The pre-colonial and colonial Igbo society was acephalous in nature with every adult male in the various communities having a say in the affairs of the community. In many of this type of communities, there was a form of theocracy where the village chief priest has political influence. This type of political power came from his office as the link between the people and their gods, so the chief priest was feared and respected because his voice was regarded as the voice of the gods. This type of political structure was also democratic in nature because virtually all decisions were made from the village square: the elders have a say, the youths have a say and sometimes even the women have a say in some matters (as it is even in contemporary Igbo society). Therefore, political power was not vested in one person, even the chief priest’s power was checkmated by the Dibias (Native medicine men). This is because the Igbos are not submissive in nature, so leadership was (is) a collective and shared responsibility. This type of political structure has historical evidence from oral accounts and even in the various literatures with historical Igbo settings such as Achebe’s works, the writings of Zulu Sofola, the novels of Chimamanda Adichie and many others.
However, few communities practiced a form of absolute or constitutional monarchy where political power was (is because they still practice it today) vested on one person. This person who was (is) called the Eze, Obi or Igwe rules with a council made up of elders (Ndichie) and titled men (Ozos). The elders and the Ozos act as check and balance on the powers of the Eze, with the chief priest also having a form of political influence because of the presence of deities. This type of political structure has a direct link from the Benin Empire according to historians, although some say that the Aro Confederacy practiced constitutional monarchy because of the need to keep the people under its control but this is not without the influence of their god, Ibini Ukpabi with its high chief priest. The known communities that practiced monarchy and still do till this day are the Onitsha people who have the Obis and the Aro Confederacy who has the Ezes. It is from these few ones and the colonialist’s use of indirect rule system that the practice of monarchy took hold in Igbo land. We now have Igwes and Ezes in almost every communities and towns in Igbo land and outside Igbo land.
This historical overview of the political and leadership structure in olden days Igbo society is needed in other to shed light on the idea that give birth to the time and place setting, and the type of political leadership structure in the play Verdict Of The Gods. The playwright employs this type of political structure in the text and that is what we are going to highlight.
In the text, the political leadership system is that of monarchy. The Eze (Obioha) is the king of Achara village, he rules with his council of elders who act as a form of check on his powers. We use the words (who act as a form of checks) because in the text it is not explicitly depicted that they did so however, the Eze always summons his council of elders anytime a decision is to be made and he also delegates them on all the important missions embarked upon to liberate the village. This is also an example of constitutional monarchy where everyone has one role or the other. In the olden days Igbo society, the Eze was not an absolute ruler. Therefore, we can say that it is a form of constitutional monarchy since the basic laws that governed the people has origin in conventions. If we compare it to Nigeria political leadership system, we can say that the president equates the king while the ministers can substitute for the elders in the council. The elders also take part in decision making with the Eze, it can be seen that they play legislative and ministerial roles. However, the basic source of traditional laws is from conventions and from the gods. Looking into the play, the people also act as executors of the law. This is present in the play where Agumba, the chief priest of Aro through divine revelation makes the audience to know that the ancestors of Achara people took the law into their hands and killed many innocent people. We can say that in Achara land, there are two sources of power flows: theocratic power and monarchy. In theocratic, power flows from the gods to the chief priest (Agriga), and then to the people. This is evident in the play because we are made to understand that many sacrifices have been made to the gods and it is obvious that the chief priest (Agiriga) requests for these sacrifices. Even virgins were sacrificed, so the chief priest can choose anybody to be used for these sacrifices not that it is stated in the text that he abused his office. But what we are trying to point out is that he can pick anybody to be used for sacrifices if the laws of the land permits it. This is a form of power on its own since human life is involved.
Another power flow is from the Eze (Obioha) to the council of elders, the chief priest (Agriga) and down to the villagers. This type of power flow is basically what happens in the play. However, the villagers can initiate a process of power flow as the play portrays. They (the villagers) always come to the Eze’s Palace to lay their complaints and the Eze in turn would summon the elders and they would deliberate and act accordingly. If there is one thing Iwu Jeff wants (or is trying) to pass across to his audience(s), it is the fact that there can be accountability in leadership. In the words of Denja (2020), “the play quarries into the world of traditional leadership responsibility for communal well-being and brings us (the audience) in contact with yet another lesson that our world has refused to learn”.
The act of the King (Eze Obioha) from the beginning of the play to the end is that of courteousness, something our present set of leaders in Nigeria will never do. From the first scene where the people troop into the King’s Palace to complain of the suffering prevailing over them to the ending part where he commits suicide, he has been an epitome of selflessness. In fact, he is seen in the beginning soliloquizing and he is worried about how his people are dying. He also blames himself even when he has not done anything that will readily lay the cause of the problem and the blame on himself. Fast-forward to what is obtainable today and see what happens when there is a serious issue of national importance and the way our leaders handle it. Firstly, they will start the blame game; APC would blame PDP and PDP will in turn blame APC and so it goes.
In the play Verdict of the gods, Eze Obioha takes all blames— blames thrown at him and blames not thrown on his way. He blames himself and still works towards freeing the people unlike what we see among Nigeria leaders today; they do not take blame, and they do not act positively when blamed for something. Instead, they will have the persons arrested and detained.
Since the president is the head of state and government, everyone looks up to him that is why everything that goes wrong in the country is always blamed on the president. People even absolve their governors and chairman of blame and put it on the president. Whereas, in a federal system all the constituting authorities have their core responsibilities and duties to perform. However, because of either lack of adequate information or ethnic cum religious affiliation, people tend to lay the blame on the president. Blaming the president for whatever happens in the country is not altogether a new (bad) thing since from ancient times leaders have been blamed for the shortcomings of their society but what and how the president reacts to this is what matters in this study.
The 1999 constitution empowers the country with the federal and presidential system of government. The federal system of government is a mixed or compound mode of government that combines a general government (the central or “federal” government) with regional governments (provincial, state, cantonal, territorial or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system. In Nigeria, it is made up of the federal government and the various state governments and local governing authorities, which are the local governments. Power flows from the federal government down to the state governments and then to the local governments. However, the electorates (citizens) can initiate a decision process (which can become a law) through their elected representatives (the senators and the representatives). This decision process can be termed a power initiation.
Nigeria political leadership is built on the altar of nepotism, corruption electoral malpractices and other vices that going on and on. The leaders are self-serving. They will not do what is right obviously, because they are so encased in ethnic, religious and political leanings. Therefore they are liabilities and not leaders because in the words of Okadigbo (2002) If you are emotionally attached to your tribe, religion, political leanings to the point that Truth & Justice become secondary considerations, your education is useless. Your exposure is useless. If you cannot reason beyond petty sentiments, you are a liability to mankind. A leader that is a liability will only make things worse because he cannot reason beyond the clutches of all these sentiments.
The main theme in the play, which can be compared objectively with the Nigeria political leadership system is the theme of responsibility and accountability to duty. Almost every character at the corridors of power in the play carries out their duties effectively: from the gods who are unanimously in agreement to the chief priest who carries out his duties diligently and then to the Eze and his elders. Ordinarily, the chief priest could have lied because of the continuous cry (disturbances) from the people and make demands from the people just to have his peace of mind but he does not. Some of the elders are not affected by what is happening in the village yet they still carry out their duties. For instance, in the following scene:
Ezemma: Who is talking about dying? I still have many tubers of yam in my barn. (page 37)
Here we understand that Ezemma who is one of the elders is not affected by the sufferings and deaths but he still goes ahead to carry out the Eze’s errands with his fellow elders. Many Nigeria leaders today would feel relaxed since it does not affect them. That is why they were busy clamouring for the extension of the covid19 lockdown since they know that hunger will not get to them, while secretly holding parties and going to private functions where gatherings exceed the stipulated number given by the covid19 task force.
Our leaders in the country lack accountability and responsibility. They do everything in their own interests without taking the peoples’ interest at heart. This is in contrasts with the courteous behaviour that Eze Obioha displays in Verdict of the gods. Take for instance how the government handled and still handling the covid19 pandemic: when the pandemic was ravaging other countries, people told the government to close the borders but they refused because some of its high-ranking members were not in the country therefore, the borders cannot be closed against them. This act alone portrays the government as being callous by placing more value on its political echelon than on the lives of its citizens. We all know that before the borders were closed, it was already late as the virus had already entered the country through the airspace on the 27th of February 2020. On March 30, 2020, President Buhari issued a series of stringent, non-pharmaceutical interventions, including stay-at-home orders and cessation of non-essential movements and activities (collectively referred to as a “lockdown strategy”) in Lagos and Ogun States and FCT for an initial period of 14 days, extended for an additional 21 days in the same three states and adding Kano State. These states were selected based on a combination of the burden of disease and their risk: Lagos State was the initial epicentre of disease and had the highest number of cases; Ogun State, which borders Lagos State, was the source of the index case, and has a highly urban population with a high rate of travel into Lagos State; the FCT had the second-highest number of cases at that time because of the influx of people from other countries. After the initial two-week lockdown period, incidence in Kano increased rapidly, prompting inclusion in the lockdown. The lockdown included closure of schools and workplaces, bans on religious and social gatherings, cancellation of public events, curfews, restrictions on movement, and cessation of interstate and international travel. Alongside the federal lockdown in Lagos, and Ogun States and the FCT, many states adopted measures as well, including school closure, movement restrictions, and curfews.
One of the emergence orders of the presidential covid19 task is that everyone coming into the country from other countries should surrender themselves for covid19 test and thereafter, isolate themselves for the period of 14 days but we all know how this played out. Many politicians violated the rules (in fact, many members of the House of Representatives who came into the country from Germany violated the rules) and they were the ones that aided the rapid growth of the pandemic. After various phases of lockdown measures did not work, the president completely shot down and grounded the country to the detriment of the poor masses. Other countries made provisions for their citizens but in Nigeria, reverse was the case. Instead of making provisions, politicians saw the pandemic as an opportunity to loot, steal and stack funds. Even when the federal government made provisions for the people, some governors gave the contract of sharing it some persons who distributed little to those close to them and convert the remaining ones for their personal use. While at the same time some governors refused to share it to the people instead some sold them out while some just stored them in warehouses (to waste) which was later discovered during the Endsars protest.
Eze Obioha in the play, Verdict of the gods, would have moved the earth had there been a solution to their predicament no matter how difficult it is, after all, what is more difficult than sacrificing one’s life for a cause. Leadership is a call to service but while some choose to be leaders, others choose to be rulers. In any form of leadership, dedication to service matters a lot. This is what the Eze has that is lacking in the leadership system of Nigeria, both governors and the president. The fact is that dedication and accountability is lacking in every sphere of leadership in Nigeria today.
Still on the issue of covid19, the citizens were treated this way despite all the emergency budgeted money and donations made by individuals and international agencies. In fact, it is on record that the IMF approved $3.4 billion of emergency support to Nigeria to tackle the economic impact of the pandemic. In addition, individual donations were running into billions of naira yet these things were not utilised to alienate the impact of the pandemic on the people. Selfish politicians diverted most of these funds for their own personal use. They prefer the common man to go hungry instead of doing the needful. This is pure wickedness. Besides, it was the initial lackadaisical attitude of the government towards the pandemic that made it to spread rapidly which led to loss of lives. If the government had acted timely one cannot but wonder how many lives could have been saved.
Going back to Verdict of the gods, we see a direct opposite of all that our leaders represent. Ordinarily, Eze Obioha could have stayed comfortably in his palace where he has his personal guards to protect him and not care what becomes of his people since he has tried everything within his power to liberate the village but all to no avail. He could as well hire the services of a powerful dibia (native medicine man) to shield and protect him and his family from the direct wrath of the gods. Nevertheless, did neither, instead, he never slacked from his resolve to free his people from sufferings and deaths. This resolve is borne out of love and a sense of responsibility towards his people and because of his position. This sense of responsibility and love is what our (political and traditional) leaders are lacking. Even when the youths of Achara surround the Eze’s Palace and threaten to burn it to the ground if the king does not come out to address them, the guards while trying to prevent the youths cause a pandemonium; the Eze comes out and strictly warns the guards never to stop his people from gaining access to him. Now compare this to what happened during the Endsars protest where the youths demanded that the president address them on live television, which never happened. Instead, the president only spoke through an intermediary. The truth is that the president has never deemed it fit to address the people on live television despite all the killings, kidnapping and hunger in the land.
The root cause of what gives birth to all the pains, sufferings and deaths we see in the play, Verdict of the god, is as a result of the sins of the ancestors of Achara people therefore, the Eze does not have a hand in it but he still takes the blame upon himself. The villagers also blame him and he never for once ordered for the arrest of anybody. He could have them arrested since he is the king but rather he absolves the people of blame and plants it on himself. In Nigeria today, you dare not criticise the president openly or you will be arrested by DSS (department of state security). We only play the blame game. Whatever the present government cannot control, they pass the blame on to the previous ones. During the regime of president Olusegun Obasanjo, he blamed the military government for most of the his administration’s shortcomings. Fast-forward to president Buhari’s regime and we still have the blame game still on. The APC government is blaming the PDP for their inadequacies. The funny thing is that even the illiterate masses are mostly the ones pushing this agenda.
The Federal system of government is meant to be complementary in nature where each federating unit (in the case of Nigeria: federal, state and local governments) plays its part in the overall interests of the country. In a country like Nigeria, the reverse is the case. People will travel through a road (this type of road depending where it is situated is often not the responsibility of the federal government) that leads to their village and still blame the federal government for the road being not motor able. The basic reason for the adaption of federalism is that every region and state could develop according to their own pace. However, in Nigeria, there is so much power concentration on the federal government to the detriment of other constituting authorities, which is why many are clamouring for restructuring, but this does not absolve the states and local governments of blame.
More so, for any country to succeed, each of the core institutions of governance such as the executive, legislative and the judiciary must work together. In fact, the sociological theory of functionalism, also called structural-functionaltheory, must be in practice, it sees society as a structure with interrelated parts designed to meet the biological and social needs of the individuals in that society. However, in Nigeria instead of national interest before political, ethnic and religious interests, what we see is people in positions of power putting their political, religious and ethnic interests before national interest and this will not augur well on the country. The opposition caucus at the national assembly would try to block the bills and policies initiated by the ruling party just for selfish reasons not because they are acting on the people’s interests. So, they do this to frustrate the activities of the government in power especially when they are majority. In the play, Verdict of the gods, the council of elders who are part of the decision making body do not try to thwart the efforts of the Eze even though they have their disagreements. This theme of unity can also be seen in the gods of Achara village who are united in their act of vengeance. In the words of Ijir (2020), the trinity of the gods is highly unveiled, their art of intervening and decision-making are unanimously agreed without disputes from either gods. This entails that there must be unity and agreement before development can take its course. This is applicable to Nigeria.
We have agitations from various groups such as the IPOB (indigenous people of Biafra), the Pro-Yoruba groups agitating for Oduduwa nation. These are people agitating for a break away from the country which is basically their rights, but what does the government do; treat them as terrorists and continue to kill them while those behind the main act of terrorism are being treated with kids gloves. The issue of Boko Haram is what various Nigerian governments have been battling with without success, unknown gunmen and bandits laying siege on the collective unity of the country. The attitudes of each government to these issues are not encouraging. The government pay lip service to the calls for the employment of stringent measures in combating all these menace especially Boko Haram and bandits but nothing has been done. Boko Haram continues to act undisturbed while bandits are busy kidnapping and capturing villages and towns unabated. Instead, the government initiated a policy, which seeks to rehabilitate and integrate those captured by the army into the society by giving them scholarship to study abroad. And according to the governor of Borno state, Babagana Zulum, rehabilitated Boko Haram members sometimes pass information to those yet to be captured. He made this statement while speaking at the North-East Governors’ Forum meeting in Bauchi. This is why many are accusing the government of being complacent in what is happening in the country. The government came out in 16th March 2021 to say that they will not use sophisticated weapons to engage bandits. They have refused to declare killer herdsmen and bandits as terrorist organisations just because they (the government) are not affected directly. The masses are dying everyday and nothing is being done by the government to stop it.
If this is how Eze Obioha handles the problems in Achara land the people would have all been dead by now. Instead, he did something unusual for someone in the corridors of power by sacrificing himself in other to save his people. In the words of Ukah (2020) “……where a king unusually pays the ultimate price by giving his life for the redemption of his people). We the audience know that the king is innocent. In fact, he is not left out of the troubles in the land. Before he commits suicide, we hear him saying in the following dialogic dramatic aside
Eze Obioha: …..everyone casts suspicious eyes on me. I have become the roadside faeces that attracts nothing but spits and stones from passers-by. My family is scattered. My son died two nights ago, before he died, an extra hand came out through his chest. My daughter was struck with imbecility. Tongues are wagging. Am I the cause?
This clearly shows that he is also affected but he still sacrificed himself, thereby dying an innocent death to pay for the innocent bloods killed by the ancestors of the land. Some may likely say that he does not have any other option but that would be a lie. If he had waited to hear the report of the elders he sent to Agumba to inquire the reasons for all the pains and sufferings in the land, that argument maybe valid. We just have to agree that he did what he did because of his sense of responsibility. Ogbowei (2020) rightly put it as an uncommon display of courage and acceptance of responsibility for the mistakes of past leaders.
The question is how many politicians in Nigeria today will sacrifice not their life but their political ambition for the benefit of the people? I really do not see anyone doing that. They would rather have a million people die for their selfish interests than let go of their political ambition. How many leaders in Nigeria today will take responsibility for their actions let alone the actions of others even if they belong to the same political party? They only take credit for projects initiated by the previous administrations but not the blame for the administration’s shortcomings. Rather they will distance themselves and resort to the blame game.
The present administration of Buhari is blaming Jonathan’s government for all the problems currently ravaging the country. In some quarters of the country, some are even saying that the APC government would need to rule for 50 years in other to completely undo what the PDP did to the country, while the PDP are gearing to take power from the APC come 2023. If they succeed, they will start blaming the APC for whatever failure that they would likely encounter, and so we will keep on revolving around the same circle of irresponsible leaders and their blame games. This is not so in Iwu Jeff’s Verdict of the gods.
About the writers:
Salihu Justina Odion and Mohammed Abdullahi graduated from Federal College of Education Kontagora. This piece is an excerpt from their final year project submitted to the Department of English, Federal College of Education, Kontagora. The full project is entitled, ‘A Comparative Study of Verdict of the Gods by Iwu Jeff as Touching the Nigerian Political Leadership’.
Jeff Iwu’s Verdict of the Gods, which draws extensively on the author’s rich Igbo heritage, is a parabolic commentary on our country in dire need of veritable change. Like Achara, Nigeria is plagued by a curse brought on it by the ferocious greed of its scheming, homicidal and ostentatious political leadership. In this touching tragic play, Iwu reveals that Nigeria’s problem is deeply rooted in its savage history of murder, plunder, marginalisation and exploitation of the weak. This season of change, Verdict of the Gods calls for concerted effort to unravel the problem and address it holistically. The play’s ending with the suicide by hanging of Eze Obioha (lit. the heart/will of the people), is an uncommon display of courage and acceptance of responsibility for the mistakes of past leaders.
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