Author: Uche Akunebu (Ph.D.)
Home Country: Nigeria
Publisher: Stone Touch Communications (2022)
Reviewer: Benvictor Makau
Oga Vendor is a play written and staged to highlight how the media stands essential in informing, educating, and entertaining the public, but more importantly, how the Newspaper Vendors ensure that the audience gets the newspapers and magazines on time.
It simultaneously paints the image of how the newsstands are points of free learning, debating and changing the society holistically through insights and resolutions from the debates by the vendors, customers and free readers.
Satirically, it also reveals how rotten the government is getting each day, with commodity prices spiking every now and then.
The lights shine the stage in a morning conversation between Oga Vendor (the Newspaper Vendor) and Jude, his Boy, on whether one of the newspaper suppliers has left copies of one of the magazines.
The early-rising customers have just started breezing into the place to purchase different newspapers.
When the boy sees Mama Put, the Food Vendor, from a distance and informs Oga Vendor, the two have a brief conversation about how her food is usually peppered, with Oga warning Jude of the dangers of overusing pepper, as it can cause hypertension.
He shares the same concern with Mama Put, claiming that the papers he sells are not just there to fancy the audience, but “I read them to gain knowledge.”
Gradually, as more customers join the newsstand, a conversation on looming fuel prices and other current affairs from the Newsville Newspaper sparks anger into the air on how the government has imposed high prices and unbearable economic times on the citizens without any caring heart.
The idea of using the vote to remove the uncaring leaders (rulers) from power escalates, and both the customers and Oga resolve that they need change, and voting wisely is the way out.
Shortly afterward, in the Newspoint paper, Prof, the president of the Free Readers Club, is concernedly caught by a story on police brutality over protesters, raising his adrenaline on why the police chief allowed his boys to embarrass the public, with the memories of previous similar cases.
Before the curtain closes for Act One Scene One, Oga Vendor reveals that even apart from the police, the environmental task force people have equally been embarrassing vendors and the public.
“That is absurd, citizens must be treated with respect,” Prof mutters.
Uche Akunebu, the author of this play, which is his 24th book, takes the reader from the painful outside world and opens the door to Oga Vendor’s happy family.
The children and Mrs. Rebecca, their mum, are watching a Christian film about a guy who refused to change his religion, despite being bribed to do so.
But they are also debating on different life issues, including what each would like to become, and their mama encourages them to work hard and make her and their dad proud.
They all agree on the essence of hard work.
The author brings up a conversation by Prof and two members of the Free Readers Club, Dennis and Okon, on an Education Minister throwing an opulent birthday party while the teachers are on industrial action and the schools closed down.
Sounds familiar? It happens in Africa.
They argue that the president has been doing the same for years and, being more corrupt, must be unwilling and unable to call out the minister.
But, even elsewhere, “How can somebody be comfortable celebrating birthday when his ministry is in turmoil?” asks Dennis.
But also, from more stories in the papers the club members are reading, the author surfaces reports of planned demolitions of 200 houses in a nearby area.
The free readers condemn the plans and hope the human rights community will stand up for the people.
The playwright identifies the place of civilians against injustice and, through Prof’s lips, he notes, “I find it practically impossible to sit on the fence in the face of injustice. Which is why I will join forces with the civil society to protest the so called impending demolishing of houses.”
The play reminds readers that beyond talking and remaining angry about the challenges facing their nations, it is their responsibility to act towards changing the situations through right voting and standing up for human rights, among other strategies.
The play presents the mundane conversations of the frustrated civilians who purchase the papers and those who read them freely from the newsstand.
It paints the image of a typical country where the public has complaints concerning governmental strategies, approaches and problems, but all in a satirical way.
Turning to corruption and the rottenness of the local government in the Body City, which frustrates local vendors for bribes, Akunebu goes local and down-to-earth on what the citizens face.
Taskforce Officer I and II, early on a Friday, are confronting Oga Vendor and telling him that they want to clean the street and his newsstand is a distraction that should be removed.
“Have they just realized that today, after all that long?” you may wonder.
The conversation escalates and the bribe they need is N10,000 to suspend the removal of the newsstand.
Oga Vendor, afraid of them and the government, which they say they work for, gives them N1000 and promises to offset the balance the next week on Monday.
Jude isn’t happy about it, and so are the members of the free reading club when they realize it later.
They promise to team up the following week and stop the extortion from happening, and Prof resolves to ask his friend, who is a friend to the local government chairman, to solicit him to restore manners on the officers.
Within its scenes, past the boundaries of corruption, bad governance and other perpetrations by the government locally and nationally, the play contains splashes of religion, sports, human rights activism, insecurity, and other matters of interest, as conversations by the customers and the Free Readers Club members.
Evidently, the newspapers, magazines and the media remain instrumental in educating, informing and entertaining these folks.
But there’s a problem.
According to Oga Vendor and Prof, with the newspaper reviews on Radio and TV, most people prefer not to buy the paper and part with their monies.
The reviews give them a hint of what is in the papers and they find no need to have the papers thereafter.
The author uses this misfortune to remind the reader that in every business, they will always be a challenge and you must adapt.
Turning to modernity, Prof adds that with the technology affording people the online copies of the newspapers they need, the print is suffering.
The ‘reviewers’ from the free readers club also go international and discuss different matters affecting other countries, named in altered naming of countries.
“Look at that political unrest in republic of Kosoto; when will Africa get it right politically?” Prof, their leader, wonders.
Bad leadership, primitive accumulation of wealth by government officials and greed for power are some of the causes of unrest in today’s Kosotos.
But, even in today’s Africa and the world at large, “It is only madness that will make somebody that was elected on a two term constitutional arrangement wanting a third term. I support the people of Kosoto for pouring unto the street to stop the greedy president,” says Prof.
Again, the author reminds the reader never to sit back and watch as their country goes up in flames, set by bad governance.
He stresses the need to rise, speak up and take action according to the constitutional provisions and human rights leeway to the public in dealing with such cases.
With the media informing the people of what is happening around them, as seen in the pages of this informative and well-staged play, the media also sets the agenda and the news spark conversations on paths the public should take to protect their countries and constitutional powers from tyranny.
Beyond the limits of style, inspired by the undying spirit of Pan-Africanism, and from within the circles of Ubuntu, Akunebu tells his story with charisma and, within the pages of Oga Vendor, unapologetically incarnates the African setting post-colonialism.
As a media teacher, the author also informs the readers that they should equally defend their right to access information by standing in solidarity with those facilitating the news to reach the readers, such as newspaper vendors.
Akunebu, however, through the sentiments of Prof, the de facto president of the free readers club, is keen enough not to encourage violence, but guides resisters of injustice to fight it using intellectual power, constitutional provisions and by bending towards human rights provisions.
Bala, a member of the club, asserting that the next day they will be defending Oga Vendor from the extortionist task force people at the local government, supports Prof’s sentiments, noting that “… it is not a matter of carrying weapon but that of registering our disapproval of any act of corruption.”
Religion plays its part in solving such problems in society.
Jude, Oga Vendor’s assistant, is hopeful that God will ashame such officials who are adamant about toppling the news vendor’s business and whose greed for bribes remains insatiable.
Despite being a chilly and rainy morning, Bala, Okon, Dennis and Prof keep to their word and, early Monday morning, come to defend their kind vendor from the predators.
It speaks to you, the reader, of how kindness should be paid with kindness if the society is to enjoy happiness.
In reality, they confront the two local government officials who have come back for their bribe balance.
To the officials’ faces, Prof and his colleagues expose the evil the two are doing and demand of them that instead of extorting and humiliating old people and innocent citizens, they should go to work and sweat for their money.
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From the voices of the four, the seriousness of the matter is clear to the two officials, who flee, though not without a cowardly promise of regrouping and returning.
Akunebu witfully sends a message that the people have the wherewithal to rise against the ills perpetrated against them in their countries. He rightfully glorifies unity as the key to winning the battles governments wage against the innocent public.
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