A scene from the play
Playwright Prof. Ahmed Yerima is the ultimate psychologist in his new play, The Mirror Cracks, staged for the first time last weekend in Lagos, by Joshua Alabi-led Kininso Koncepts at Theatre Republic, Lekki, Lagos. Apart from a few non-fictional books on Nigeria’s active military intervention to bring peace to Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, not much has come from those wars by way of fictional narratives. Indeed, not even the rank and file who fought in the wars have come up with their own accounts. This has left a yawning gap in the actual cost of those wars for Nigeria, in terms of men and material.
But a small window into the darkness of those wars fought just to keep peace on foreign lands has creaked open with Yerima’s play. Although a fictional representation of what went down in those brutal civil wars, The Mirror Cracks provides a firsthand peep into what Nigeria’s military leaders at the time – Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sanni Abacha – would rather keep shrouded in uttermost secrecy, even to the families that suffered untold casualties in lost loved ones.
From start, Yerima introduces multiple voices poetising about a cracked mirror, as a fitting metaphor to a split image personality, and how it allows for only a fraction of perspective while the whole is obscured from perfect view. It’s a perfect rendering of the dilemma of perception and how easily what is supposedly known becomes foggy and confusing. It is the perfect moral of the life of Major Olasupo Adegabi, who grew up an otherwise adoring young man but becomes a beast as soldier on whom the heat of war is turned in a foreign land.
At six, the pursuit of career had strained the marriage between Ambassador Adegabi (Julius Obende) and Justice Tundu (Izzi Akhabue) had broken down irretrievably. They go their separate ways and young Supo remains with the father and the care of a cousin (Jubril Gbadamosi) and a steward. He grows up a largely withdrawn youth. He studies at Oxford University, specialising in history and falls under the lure of soldiery. So that when Liberian and later Sierra Leonean wars erupt and Nigeria takes up the mantle of leadership to send in peacekeeping troops to arrest the drift into anarchy, Captain Supo is among the many drafted. But he soon falls to a stray, enemy bullet to cut short a promising career in soldiery.
That is how the transformation of Supo begins from a supposedly guileless young man to a brutal soldier in race against time to stem the tide of being vanquished in the hands of rebel soldiers, who see the Nigerians as enemy number one. Indeed, the story begins with a grieving father at the death of his son, whose life is cut short too soon. Amb. Adegabi is steeped in grief and inconsolable for his son, who catches a stray bullet. He is ready to drink and smoke himself to death.
Just then, his estranged wife arrives and the blame-game begins about the issues in their lives that separated them. But the arrival of a strange, Sierra Leonean lady, Hawa Kabata-Jones (Zaynab Balogun), changes the narrative about Supo and what went down in Sierra Leone. The Adegabis, like most parents and loved ones of soldiers, who didn’t make it back from that war, have received stories of bravery of their loved ones as painted by the military authority and are content with the valour narrative as it buoyed their spirit about such fallen heroes.
But Miss Kabata-Jones’ mixed narrative of Supo as a lovely and inhumane perona changes everything and gives a glimpse of the hellfire that the peacekeeping mission turns out to be. With his colleagues falling like flies all around him through a combination of intense fighting and treachery on the part of Sierra Leonean civilians, especially women, Captain Supo unleashes the beast in him. Kabata-Jones tells of the tragic encounter between her mother, Supo and herself, how Supo murdered her mother in cold blood, mistaking her for an enemy, and how, when she was brought under his care, he raped her in handcuffs. She sums up her horror narrative by announcing that she is pregnant for Supo and has come to be so identified by his family.
The parents are scandalised. It isn’t the correct picture of their son they know. But when Supo’s colleague, Captain Tade (Ore Okunnu) comes to pay his condolences, it all comes to the open Supo’s true character, of a man for whom war turned a dangerous bend. Tade corroborates Kabata-Jones’s story about their son. It is precisely for his brutal execution of his job that he got promoted above his colleagues to the rank of Major.
However, Yerima plays up the psychology of Nigeria’s peacekeeping efforts through Captain Tade’s submission about Major Supo, particularly his intellectual bent of mind and how it had begun to unnerve his superiors with its anti-military ethos. Confronted with the needless deaths of his colleagues and the treachery of the people they have come to help, Major Supo begins to question the rational behind ECOMOG’S so-called peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone. What is the justification for losing so many men and materials for other people’s war? So that when a stray bullet hits him, it becomes all too obvious Major Supo needed to be silenced so as not to demoralise the men, who are neck-deep in a senseless war.
Indeed, that is the heart of Yerima’s intense dramaturgy in The Cracked Mirror, the very psychology of an intellectual soldier, who is always questioning. Was it necessary to have sunk so much into other people’s war? What did Nigeria gain in return for its huge expenses and losses? The Mirror Cracks echoes the intervention of ECOWAS in The Gambia’s recent political history. Has Nigeria sufficiently recovered from those wars? What did the country learn about good governance to stave off the possibility of such turmoil back home? Also, issues about parent and their career path and how it can disrupt children’s proper upbringing, like the Adegabis experience, is an issue Yerima plays up strongly in the play.
The Cracked Mirror is a finely wrought piece of drama and Alabi’s directorial acumen is on point. The lead actors, Obende, Akhabue and Balogun, prove exceptionally brilliant in their roles. Indeed, the entire cast performed really well. In fact, it is unclear why Yerima is yet to stage the play at a bigger platform and if it’s even published yet. Could it be because the military authority might deem subject too sensitive? Whatever it is, The Cracked Mirror deserves to be staged at a much bigger stage for a larger audience.