By Prisca Sam-Duru
In recent times, a suicide which used to be anathema due to our cultural and religious belief as Africans has surprisingly constituted most of the violent news that confronts Nigerians almost on daily basis. Individuals who have taken their lives either left notes explaining why they transited through the most tragic means known to man, or, left their loved ones, wobbling through a difficult narrative.
In all, it’s been discovered that the terminal bad economy of the country which has left many in abject poverty is especially responsible for the high rate of depression and mental health issues leading to completed suicides lately.
Employing the art of storytelling to address the ugly trend, ‘Sniper’, an eight-man cast play, written and directed by Joshua Alabi, was staged over the weekend at the Alliance Française /Mike Adenuga Centre, Ikoyi Lagos. The staging of Sniper would have been described as the best therapeutic way to begin an afresh art period after months of reeling under the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, but for its emotive nature. Yet, theatrically, the play was worth the moment. It will live in the memories of its audience as a very heart-wrenching theatrical piece aimed at ending the spate of suicide not only in Nigeria but across the globe.
‘Sniper’ focuses on the increasing number of individuals suffering diverse mental health challenges and how their conditions are left unattended, resulting in most often in completed suicide. Some of the causes of suicide identified in the play area; family expectations, failures, drugs, discrimination, body shaming, emotional trauma, cyberbullying, peer pressure, and a host of many others. The play also shows that most individuals that completed suicide, were often too scared or ashamed to speak out.
‘Sniper’ centres on the adverse effects of suicide and the trauma the loved ones left behind are made to face for the rest of their lives. It also aims to help reduce the pressures that result in depression and suicide while sensitising the audience on the need to appreciate life and hang on, no matter how intense the pressure to end it all becomes.
“We are using art as therapy in the process of healing and support for people going through depression and mental issues”, the director Alabi said, adding that Kininso Koncept Productions aims to use storytelling to support a nation that is being ravaged by a host of depressing factors which now includes suicide.
‘Sniper’ which is part of the Art and Soul Digital Conference on Mental Health and Suicide especially as it concerns young people in Nigeria, was initiated by the Kininso Koncepts Productions’ in partnership with the Goethe-Institut and in conjunction with the Lagos State Ministry of health, Art4Life, Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative (SURPIN). It also got support from the Yaba Psychiatric Hospital and other NGOs.
Featuring a crop of very talented cast comprising Priscilla Okechukwu, Austine Onuoha, Peter Oladeji, Joy Nmezi, Emmanuella Odiri, Tobi Awosika, Princess Obuseh and Folar Asade who put up an impressive and believable performance, the impact of ‘Sniper’ is sure to be felt across the country especially as it plans to tour the Nigerian universities.
Eight youth suddenly find themselves together as though they are inmates sharing a hospital-like space incomprehensible to them, until one of them begins to explain their mysterious abode and new status as ghosts. They don’t believe him. Later, they begin to share stories of how they transited. The turmoil that comes with most cross ethnic marriages and how parents hinder their children from finding love outside their ethnic enclave is brought to the fore as one of the causes of suicide.
Their narrative also included completing suicide as a means of escape from a guilty conscience, body shaming, fear to lose loved one and unbelievably, for failing JAMB.
For instance, Talaban, an orphan who is popular, nice and friendly is set up by some bad boys and is beaten and shamed as a thief. He drowns himself in a well behind campus after being unable to bear the shame. His sister becomes depressed and fails her medical exams twice, and then completes suicide when she could no longer bear it.
Another ghost explains how she suffered low self-esteem because her parents totally controlled her life and were not available while she was sexually abused by her uncle.
Yet another’s tale is how poverty pushed her into looking for the money by all means. A time came in her wayward life that strange things began to happen to lead to depression and then, suicide. The most shocking tale is that of the youngest of the ghosts who narrates how he took his life for failing jamb after someone promised to sponsor his education. He exhibits the height of naivety when he says, “I thought it will trend on Twitter and make me popular. I actually thought it was a joke but I died”.
From the meaning of their names, the ghosts are told how beautiful they are before becoming wasted wealth. They become contrite and wish to be given another chance to life- such impossibility!
The transition from one scene, issue or mood, and change of roles among the cast, was swift, smooth, and well-coordinated. Cultural songs and the accompanying instruments intermittently were employed to express the mood of the scenes, creating the right atmosphere to assimilate the message embedded in the play.