By Benjamin Njoku
The exceptional patience portrayed by the guests that thronged the Unity Hall of Government House, Asaba, Delta State, venue of the command performance of Alex Eyengho’s historical play, “Olu Akengbuwa”, it would seem, was borne out of curiosity than goodwill. Staged as part of activities that marked Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan’s official handover to Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa on May 29, as the new executive governor of Delta State, the play aptly chronicles the rich story of the Warri Kingdom.
It took the awe-filled guests on a terrestrial trip into the past, dramatically resurrecting the ghost of Olu Akengbuwa who happened to be the 16th Olu of Warri and the last Warri monarch before the 88 years interregnum in Warri kingdom. He was said to be the longest occupant of the Warri throne and the wealthiest of all the Olus of Warri of his time.
In a palace setting stage, Olu Akengbuwa, played by Ejike Asiegbu, was locked in a consultation with his palace chiefs. Suddenly, one of his wives interrupted the session with a report that the heir apparent to the throne, Prince Omateye, slapped her unjustly.
Angered by this report, Prince Omateye was summoned before the palace chiefs. But instead of showing remorse for his action, the prince confronted the king, as he went ahead to express his inordinate desire to ascend the throne of his forefathers, an ambition Olu Akengbuwa perceived to be rebellious and a taboo.
Disappointed with his son, the king made a pronouncement that cost Prince Omateye the throne. Indeed, it was Olu Akengbuwa’s pronouncement against his son, coupled with the curse placed on the Kingdom by Ife Priest from Oyo Empire that created a lacuna in the historical trajectory of the Warri monarchy, when for 88 years the Kingdom existed without a king. While the drama was unfolding, anxiety and suspense filled the air.
The sizeable guests, mainly of Itsekiri extraction and government officials, were eager to ascertain what happened after Olu Akengbowa joined his ancestors and the interregnum that lasted for 88 years. However, the period the play was situated was an aggressive interplay of power, greed and avarice, sustained by a woman, Princess Iye, played by Victoria Ajomeyinje, who did everything to self-guide and secure the Itsekiri Kingdom from external incursion.
The play, produced and directed by notable film maker, and president of the Association of Nollywood Producers (ANCOP) and Vice President of the International Federation of Film Producers Association (FIAPF), Alex Eyengho explored the history and the rich culture of the Itsekiri nation. It unravelled the circumstances that surrounded the 88 years interregnum in Warri Kingdom.
First staged on May 1, 2015 to commemorate the 28th anniversary of Ogiame Atuwatse II as the 19th Olu of Warri, the play reunited the Itsekiri people with their history and culture from the various kings that ruled the kingdom since its emergence over 500 years ago till date. For 88 years, the Itsekiri people had no king and this was what led to the British imperialists installing one governor and the other in the Kingdom until the interregnum ended in 1936 with the coronation of His Majesty, Ginuwa II, Emiko Ikenbuwa as the 17th Olu of Warri.
Using the various dramatic elements of songs, traditional dances, music and suspense, as tools of his exposition, Eyengho recaptured the story of the Warri Kingdom in a 2-hour performance that paved the way for one to travel vicariously into space and time to reunite with the history of the people. The stage setting is highly commendable just as it is typical of an ancient
palace embellished with all the paraphernalia that goes with the throne. The Thespians include Chief Peter Fatomilola who played Ifa Priest, Nobert Young, Ejike Asiegbu, Soibifaa Dokubo, Eliel Otote, Stephen Osezua-Imobhio, Raphael Etevens, Bongolipso, Haji Bello, Matel Alex-Eyengho, Barney Obi-Abiezue, Anthony Edet Offiong, Efe Mayford-Orhorha (the narrator) among others.
They worked so hard to give a feel of what it was like during the reign of Olu Akengbowa with all the elements evident, like the regal, traditional setting, and chairs.
The performance, however, raised a lot of curiosity and probing into the past of the Itsekiri nation. At the end of the performance, Hon Daniel Reyenieju, a member of the House of Representatives, representing the Warri Federal Constituency, urged Eyengho to go back to work to dig out more hidden facts about the Itsekiri nation. He said they will continue to promote the play, to the extent of bringing it to the national stage for the world to experience the rich culture of the Itsekiri nation.
Earlier in his address, Eyengho commended Dr. Uduaghan for his support of the industry, saying that he remained the only governor of the state, past or present, who supported the entertainment industry more than anybody else, even as he urged the new governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, to emulate his predecessor by supporting the arts and entertainment industry.
It would be recalled that at the Warri command performance of the play, early last month, the Olu of Warri, His Majesty, Ogiame Atuwatse II, approved the project as an integral part of programme of events for the annual anniversary of his coronation. With this, Alex Eyengho will each year, during the anniversary, stage a play about the story of any of the past 18 Olus of Warri.