- Title: August Inmates
- Author: Chidubem Iweka
- Publisher: Kraft Books Limited
- Number of pages: 65
- Year of publication: 2015
- Category: Drama
‘There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice’. – Charles-Louis de Secondat
Chidubem Iweka’s August Inmates is a fascinating, satirical play. Addressing politics, democracy and governance in Africa, the play explores a very relatable story. Many readers will easily identify with the plot and the characters, as they are reminders of our present political sphere. The writing is suspenseful and leaves readers on the edge of their seats, wondering how events will unfold. As far as suspense goes in literature, this play provides the highest form.
Chibudem Iweka is an accomplished film producer, musician and author. He studied Theatre Arts at the California State University, Hayward, California, USA. His other works include So Bright A Darkness, also published by Kraft Books Limited, in 2014.
The play follows several characters that are kept against their will in an unknown detention facility following a coup d’état. However, the significance of the story does not lie so much in their impending fate but rather on why they are being detained. Some of them used to be political juggernauts and godfathers in society.
Chief Vincent Ikechukwu Palinus Okoli is the Federal Minister for Trade and Finance, and Director of the Task Force for Mineral Exports. He is a fat, semi-literate but elaborately dressed man in his late sixties. Crafty, aggressive and very expressive in speech, he is the only character who speaks in his native language. He happens to be one of the last-living, first-generation politicians, and he is believed to have more political power than the President. The play reveals his corrupt nature, portraying him as someone who only cares about money, notwithstanding the fact that he is already very wealthy. He is ever willing to pay a bribe in order to have his way. Like the rest of his august counterparts in detention, he is unaware of what is going on outside their gaol, which leaves him very vulnerable and frantic.
Peter Adebayo, the Inspector General of Police, is described as a tall, fierce-looking man, but from his actions he is seen to be more of a coward. Alhaji Goladima Gambo, the Federal Minister for Petroleum Exports and Director of the Task Force for the Importation of Food, is described as a man in his late forties who is refined and speaks with a partial English accent. With these three characters, it is safe to say that the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria are represented in the play.
Mr Alfred Griffin, alias Archie Kane, alias Tequila, is an arms dealer who supplies weapons to many developing countries. He is seen as very easygoing and could care less about his present quagmire. Ojemba Ntubari is a convicted armed robber who appears crass and uncouth but happens to be well-educated. Mr Obi Akoli is a clever and skilled journalist whom readers come to see as the only character with integrity, notwithstanding his shabby physical appearance. He is very outspoken and fears no one and nothing, apparently, not even death. He appears to be the ‘new African’, the one whom most well-intentioned Africans aspire to be like, probably a modern day Nelson Mandela. Other characters include two guards, a Captain, a female Major, a steward and a lady whose designation is undisclosed. All of these unique characters end up having a shared experience in confinement while awaiting the unknown.
Going by the nationality of the playwright and the names of the characters, the story is set in contemporary Nigeria, although this is not made explicit in the play. The entire play takes place in the detention facility. The story discusses morals like integrity and honesty in governance which, for most of the play, seem to be lacking.
One of the first things that may catch the reader’s attention, which also happens to be the major plot of the story, is the depiction of corruption at its ugliest. The play casts a harsh light on the abuse of law and order, total disregard for the populace, and corruption, all of which seem to have no end in sight in the African clime. Although these august characters are no longer in the corridors or seats of power, corruption still lingers within them. This reminds one of the maxim, ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. Readers are made to understand that the practice of corruption has nothing to do with skin colour, educational background, ethnicity or position in society. Corruption is a societal bane that is no respecter of persons.
The play is sure to leave readers in deep thought as the characters are practitioners of some of the ills and vices that have ravaged African societies, from the foreign arms dealers who fuel conflict on the continent by supplying arms and ammunition, to the well-to-do individuals who manipulate situations in their favour, and even those who have total disregard for the lives and properties of others. Readers will most likely not have a hard time seeing those at the helm of affairs in our present-day society in certain of these characters.
The concept of powerful individuals in the same room and situation as ‘low lifes’ really underscores the notion of justice, which does not bend to the whims and caprices of anyone no matter their designation. The underlying theme of the play helps to strengthen this notion as it teaches everyone, whether young or old, the wonder of honesty and integrity. Whether or not there are rewards for being a person of integrity, if we are to live in a better society, we must convince ourselves to always do the right thing and forsake momentary gratification.
Although the playwright may have his reasons, this reader wonders at the fact that no female character plays a significant role worthy of mention. If we are truly to move forward beyond the abyss of corruption, gender equality is a bridge we must cross. Be that as it may, the story may have been even better if both genders were on full display with at least one female character playing a significant role within the story, rather than shoehorning a female officer into the story, who did nothing to advance the plot in any way.
The playwright does a commendable job with the character descriptions. The plot and suspense are well laid, leaving readers with no clue as to the playwright’s intentions until they are in the middle of it.
The play basically teaches that great morals should be imbibed by all irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity or nationality. In this present day and age where integrity and honesty, especially in public service, have been made to take a backseat, it is truly a thing worthy of note that these notions are being reintroduced. The play also communicates how one should never waver even in the face of either immediate gratification or dire consequence. Set in Africa, the book offers a vision of utopia, how we all ought to live and relate with one another. If only we would shun corruption and raise a new generation with the values of honesty and integrity, we would not have to continue to live in a violent and unkind world.
Photograph: ‘Behind bars’ by tommpouce
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