‘Tings Dey Happen’ – Creating National Dialogue Through The Arts
“When Americans say 'sh** happens', somehow it doesn't carry as much weight as when Nigerians say 'tings dey happen'.” Dan Hoyle explains in answering a question addressed at his chosen title for his play. Those three words combined does allow for one to ponder on and explore the depth of any subject matter. One of his characters takes it a step further emphasizing that 'tings dey occur'.
The event was a special performance of the highly acclaimed play ‘Tings Dey Happen’ hosted at the Culture Project by the New York-based media company Africa-Related LLC. Tagged an ‘Evening of Theatre and Conversation’, the event drew guests from all fields - from artists, intellectual, students, journalists and particularly the Nigerian community in the U.S.
‘Tings Dey Happen’ is a one-man-act written and brought to life through the masterful art of miming as brilliantly performed by Dan Hoyle, a San Francisco native. As a Fulbright Scholar, Hoyle spent a year in Nigeria in 2005. Settling down into the southeastern region at the University of Port Harcourt was the easy part; the people and issues he will come to confront at the end of his year will be the subject of his masterpiece - a disturbing truth forever etched in his memory.
Simply put, ‘Tings Dey Happen’ brings to light different views and perspectives of all the players that are involved in challenges being faced today in the Oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria. From the oil companies to the prostitutes and consumers, the militants to the governments, it explores all the issues from colonialism to gender, injustice and human rights, race and lending aid. All of these done as Dan captured the spirits of each character he portrays in his gestures, body language, superbly done accent and ‘Pidgin English’
THE NIGER DELTA CHALLENGE
As the theatre roared with intermittent bouts of laughter, one would get the feel of being in a comedy club, but are soon reminded again of the real issues the play seeks to address. Where the country that hosts the region from where 2 million petroleum barrels are extracted per day, the same region that accounts for more than 75% of Nigeria's export earnings; yet the distribution of oil wealth among the citizens of the region has never risen above 15% since 1959.
Abject poverty, lack of education, clean drinking water, electricity and basic means of survival coupled with environmental hazzards and pollution became only some of the reasons militant groups formed and began a series of activities to bring their plight to the limelight. Groups suchs (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People) MOSOP formed and later gained prominence with the execution of its leader Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1994. Others such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) soon followed.
Dialogue and negiotiations soon crumbled as increased kindapping and killings of foreign oil workers emerged as the only language to get the world’s attention. With past governments doing little or nothing to address the situation, and a current sitting Vice President who is from the region, the presidency of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua has promised to put the Niger Delta challenge on top of its priority list. Only time can reveal the outcome of this promise.
The Highlight of the evening was an interactive panel/audience conversation with Dan Hoyle. The panel was made up of Lisa Vives of Global Information Network, Jerry Itimi President of Coalition of Niger Deltans in Diaspora (CONDIDIA), Okey Ndibe columnist and author of ‘Arrows of Rain’ . Others were Oyeronke Oyewumi, a Sociology Professor at Stony Brook University NY, Chaka Ngwenya radio host and creator SARFM Radio NYC while evening host Oyiza Adaba served as moderator.
‘Dan's piece is a clear result of art combined with real issues of today’, said special guest Mrs. Harriet Mayor Fulbright while presenting Hoyle with a copy of the self-produced documentary on her late husband, J. William Fulbright's life-long works in education and peaceful dialogue as a means of conflict resolution. 'This evening is a real reason why we must continue the fight to keep the arts in our schools’
A CALL TO ACTION
Recalling when I first saw the performance, I realized then that I was the only Nigerian in the theatre. Africa-Related then worked with Culture Project to create the evening to not only raise awareness of the Niger Delta challenges, but to also promote Dan Hoyle creative work among the African community. I remain proud of the sold out evening with over half the seats occupied by Nigerians and fellow Africans.
This is a play that should tour from city to city and country to country until the situation in the Niger Delta becomes a thing of the past. If you are yet to see it, you are in luck as the New York run has just been extended to December 31, 2007. If you cannot make it to New York, demand for it in a city near you.
Nigerians on home soil will soon have the opportunity to see it as indicated by the secretary to the Federal Government Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, after he and other Nigerian dignitaries watched the performance during the United Nations General Assembly week in New York.
‘Tings Dey Happen’ does not judge anyone’s actions or lack thereof. It merely states the fact and allows one’s conscience be the judge
By Oyiza Adaba
Oyiza Adaba is the creator of Africa-Related LLC and a contributor to this publication
Photographs by Kobina Annan Jr., Marcos de-Castro & Oyiza Adaba
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