February 5, 2017, the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos, presented Azagidi as part of activities to mark this year’s convocation ceremony, the words of the British novelist, John Le Carre, ‘betrayal can only happen if you love,’ quickly comes to mind. With multiple themes and sub-themes, the play, based on events that happened in Benin City, mirrors society’s decay and highlights how greed and insensitivity on the part of leaders make citizens suffer untold hardship.
Written by Don Pedro Obaseki, but directed by Tunji Sotimirin, the play tells the story of how Azagidi (Victor Owa) explores the marine world, where he meets one of the daughters of the sea god and confesses love. It opens with a warrior dance, with Azagidi and his other men-at-arms embarking on a voyage that bring them to the domain of Olokun’s daughter, Igbaho (Akaigwe Ijeoma), who holds court beneath the sea with her sister, Orue (Orishane Jessica).
When they gain access into the spirit world, the warriors plan for spoil, but the mermaids overrun them. The men surrender and plead for dear life. Wondering how a mortal being could take such risky adventure, Igbaho begins to admire Azagidi for his bravery, strength and sweet words. Azagidi, too, fancies the daughter of the sea god and the body chemistry between both of them ends in a marriage, an association that later brings calamity to both lovers.
While leaving the spirit world, Igbaho swears before her father, Olokun the sea god, (Akintomide Temidope) and other maids never to return to the land of the spirit. She leaves the faeries with her magical powers and divination, as well as the fiery beads as gifts, which she is to use only in times of great danger. Filled with the ecstasy of leading a mortal life, the union produces twin boys whom they love and cherish.
However, the blissful union later turns sour, when Uvbi, the only child and daughter of Ogie (Salako Opeyemi), the ruler of Udo, fancies Azagidi and chooses him as a mate. Azagidi abandons Igbaho, his mermaid wife and children, for the king’s daughter. This betrayal breaks Igbaho’s heart, as she becomes inconsolable and daily rains curses on Azagidi, Ogie and Uvbi for killing her joy.
To silence Igbaho, King Ogie arrests her and the twins, but this turns out to be like kindling live fire in one’s pouch. The irate wife seeks for ways to have her husband back. Igbaho persuades Azagidi to convince the king to make the twins pass the night with her. This request is granted and she kills the twins and sends her beads laced with a hex from Olokun to Uvbi, as a wedding gift. father and daughter fall and pass away, when they seeing the beads and leave the throne for Azagidi. The new king, Azagidi, does not enjoy the throne either, as he dies not long after. Igbaho takes vengeance for her betrayal by taking the lives of her children and Azagidi, and bringing calamity to the village.
With well-choreographed songs and dances, the play brings to the fore Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s dictum: ‘Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.’ Azagidi’s inordinate, tyrannical and corrupt powers ultimately ruin him. He fails to discern that his actions and inactions have direct bearing on his life and that of his children. Though he has all it takes to change the course of events, direct affairs for the betterment of all, including himself, he chooses to be egotistic, power drunk and corrupt. His myopia brings his society to a standstill, starving it of any meaningful development.
With Udo, as a personification of modern Nigeria and Azagidi as its leader, the play warns that leaders, no matter what, should always keep to their promises, especially to the people. Igbaho, who represents the ruled, shows that when the ruled make a move and distances itself from the ruler, no matter how powerful they may be, that the state crumbles.
It is a call foreveryone to play his or her part to build an egalitarian society. On the part of the ordinary citizens, it teaches us to always keep to our promises, as betrayal most times spell catastrophy.
Although the play lasted for over one and a half hours, the director must be commended for his artistry in managing the over 80-member cast, including the toddlers that featured. Also, there was appropriate use of lighting to highlight mood, season and periods of the day.
Despite the impressive performance, the director should take care to moderate Igbaho’s monologue, as it is extremely long and incessant. This is more so since the storyline has already played out what she intends to say. Her lamentations should have been included in her dialogue with her sister, Orue. Azagidi is a true story of love-turned-cold, and its consequences for everyone concerned.