Obari Gomba’s Grit has been shortlisted for the Nigeria Prize for Literature, administered by the Nigeria LNG Limited. It is the fifth time that Gomba has been listed for the prize: Lengthof Eyes (Poetry, 2013), For Every Homeland (Poetry, 2017), Guerrilla Post (Drama, 2018), The Lilt of the Rebel (Poetry, 2022), and Grit (Drama, 2023). No other Nigerian writer has been that consistent and none has been listed back-to-back twice.
The poet and playwright, Gomba, was born in 1977 in the oil-rich land of Eleme in Rivers State. As a writer, he has won many awards in poetry and in drama, the two genres where he has distinguished himself. Whereas in 2018 his play Guerilla Postwon the Association of the Nigerian Authors Drama Prize; his poetry collection, The Lilt of the Rebel, won the PAWA Prize for African Poetry in 2022. But those are not his only laurels andworks. As a writer with an astonishing creative impulse, unquenchable zest for addressing topical issues and an unconquerable spirit that represents the vision of an age, he has churned out many literary works that includeGeorge Bush & Other Observations(2006), Canticles of a Broken Glass (2009), Pearls of Mangrove (2011),andThunder Protocol (2015). It is quite clear then, judging from the above, that so much is expected from him,and his artistry is evident inhis latest play.
In structuring his play, Grit, Gomba sets it in Sonofawhich is a fictional depiction of his country where bad politics has devastated many families. He presents the play in thirteen scenes to show incidents in a cause-and-effect manner that gives immediacy to the actions of the characters.In their specific roles, the characters shape the unfolding plot.
Appalled by the evil he sees; the playwright beams his searchlight on the family as the nucleus upon which society’s unity depends. The disunity in Pa Nyimenu’s family, by and large, extends to the whole society. In Scene One, we encounter explosions and gunshots. This scene foreshadows the greater part of the ugly incidents in the play. Shocked by the turn of events, offended by the looming danger, Pa Nyimenu declares that ‘All the demons in the world are in Sonofa tonight and my family is at their mercy’ (p. 2). He knows that crisis has swept through the community.
The careful and consummate craftsmanship of Gomba situates Pa Nyimenu’s family in the eye of the storm.Pa Nyimenu stands as an embodiment of the enduring power of the individual who, though troubled by the circumstances of life, is bold enough to confront his problems. Local politics has driven his family to the point of implosion and his sons (Oyesllo and Okote) are at each other’s neck. Oyesllo is misguided by his sense of loss after serving his country in the army, Okote(who equally served in the army as a medical doctor)is unsettled by the death of his mother. By presenting these two opposing individuals (Oyesllo and Okote) from the same family, the play depicts the foibles and follies of society such as obsession with power, graft, corruption,political violence, and misplaced entitlement.
Oyesllo’s deep-seated anger, frustration,and ambition have made his father’s compound a theatre of war. He recounts his difficulties to his wife Nmade: ‘I am jobless, a retired army officer, a wounded man, a broke man, almost utterly broken’ (p. 5). He further confides in his wife ‘I am involved in this constituency’s election…to raise the quality of our lives’ (p. 5). A man with such a motivation will do anything to get power, even to the displeasure of his wife, father, and brother. The ruling political party, the Democratic People’s Alliance,exploits the situation and things turn uglier when the opposition United Progressives Party woos Okote. Observably, the political parties exacerbate the situation in Sonofabecause it is the joint-interest of the potentates to bring the brothers to fiasco and disaster. The plot and plotters of intrigues make the play captivating.
We must admit that Gomba’sGrit is as tragicas it is engaging. The play calls us to vigilance and to duty in our different communities. Beneath Gomba’s artistry is a deeper sense of philosophical understanding which finds expression within the realm of existentialism. For Gomba then, life is full of evil, and evil has ‘a staying power’ (p. 1) that must be confronted and defeated before society can thrive for all. Those who want to build a better society must pay attention to this thrilling play. It should be read by all.
Lawrence Bira teaches in the Department of English Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria.