MANY have likened the spate of rash and contradictory judgments and pronouncements from Nigeria’s judiciary to what happens in a kangaroo or banana republic. In fact, pronouncements from Nigerian courts sometimes leave serious-minded people in open-soul amazement as only a dysfunctional system could produce such judicial charade.
A big man steals billions of dollars from the people and is ordered to pay a paltry sum in thousands of naira as plea bargain and is let off the hook. A poor man steals a fowl worth N5,000 and gets 10 years jail term without the option of a fine! That is travesty of justice that Nigerians have come to know it.
It is this peculiar, jaundiced legal system that Mr. Femi Branch has satirised in his hilarious play Jungle Justice which Kininso Concepts Production staged in the first two Sundays of January at the opening season of Theatre@Terra 2016 at Terra Kulture, Lagos. It was directed by Mr. Joshua Alabi.
Judge (Opeyemi Dada) is the incomparable dictator in his court who has a soft spot for beautiful women. He rules his court with iron fist, and has a cane and a gun to administer and coerce instant submission from anyone in his court, including the Prosecuting (Joshua Alabi) and Defence Counsels (Angela peters). What is worse, he is the true African who is ready to don his talismanic coat of studded amulets of cowry shells and other protective totems just in case anyone is stupid enough to challenge him in a diabolic way.
Before him is a case of murder. An area boy, Ijimere Ika (Uche Enechukwu) is accused of killing his friend, Kasali at a brothel, and Defence Counsel is trying her best to turn the tide of murder case while Prosecuting Counselis tightening the noose of justice around Ijimere’s neck. Witnesses are called to testify. First is Sadiq Danjuma (Yemi Adebiyi) who has neither forgotten nor forgiven Ijimere for raping his sister and causing the mayhem that happened at Hausa quarters. So that even when his own testimony is at variance with what could have happened, he just wants Ijimere sent to jail even at the risk of perjuring himself before the stern Judge.
Ijimere’s wife, Fadeke, (Bodunrin Afolabi) is the next witness Prosecuting Counsel calls to the stand. She spills the beans on her husband. First, she isn’t properly married to him; she just moved in with him after he impregnated her. She sells oranges in the neighbourhood and Ijimere has a way of buying all her oranges from her while he keeps her in his room. But she is not the faithful wife or girlfriend type; Ijimere’s friends are complicit in her generous sexual favours. Kasali was at the act with her when Ijimere kills Kasali in a fit of jealous anger.
Judge is captivated by her seductive charm, and picks interest in her at once. Her sensuality is oozing out and he can’t keep his eyes and hands off her even in court; she becomes some piece of evidence that has to be examined. This isn’t the first time; Judge had earlier eaten the suya exhibit Sadiq presented even as Defence Counsel protested his action of destroying evidence.
IN fact, right there in his court, Judge shows that he can turn his courtroom into anything he likes including a dance floor, a massage parlour, a classroom, with the lawyers as school pupils he can cane at will. He has a willing collaborator in the court Policeman (Jubril Gbadamosi) whom he turns into his emergency Court Clerk when the latter absented himself from duty.
When Ijimere protests Judge’s acting up romantically with his wife in court, he orders him to be tied up and gagged or risked being shot! Baby Lawyer has to ensure Ijimere chooses being tied and gagged. But Judg soon finds out he is emotionally investing in the wrong woman; she is a nymphet for any man’s picking. He looses interest in her.
When Ijimere manages to remove the gag in his mouth, he threatens to kill Judge the ways he killed Kasali for sleeping with his wife. Judge reacts to Ijimere’s threat by dumping his robe and donning on his juju coat; Defence Counsel and Prosecuting Counsel run out of court for dear life. This is when Judge decides to give his verdict; Ijimere has convicted himself over Kasali’s murder when he owns up to the act because Kasali slept with his wife. First, Judge sentences him to life jail term. But Ijimere has smartly observed that Judge has problems securing women. He offers him a damsel. This sways Judge to cut down his term to a few years; when Ijimere offers to bring him a beautiful woman in 30 minutes, Judge absolves him completely of the murder charge and sets him free for being of good behaviour.
AGAIN, Dada acquits himself creditably in his role as Judge in Jungle Justice. So, too, Gbadamosi as Policeman; Bodunrin doesn’t perform badly either. Together, they bring the farcical plot to admirable roaring end. Young Alabi’s Kininso Concepts Production, like the other young directors – Ikenna Jude Okpala (Wazobia Theatre House), Bimbo Olorunmola (B/Rated Productions) and Fasunhan Ibukun, Kenneth Uphopho – are keeping the Lagos theatre circuit alive with less than string budgets for their productions. Together with their equally young cast of actors and crew, they are only armed with an undying passion and uncommon zeal for the theatre.
Sadly, this is not being reciprocated well enough with support except Terra Kulture and The Ethnic Heritage Centre that give them spaces to perform. Interestingly, a steady stream of theatre enthusiasts patronise these shows that are starved of corporate sponsorship that ordinarily keeps theatres going all over the world. For Alabi, Okpala, Olorunmola and the others, it is a sad story pains and struggle as one company after the other turn them away and deny them vital funding. This is in spite of the fact that their social role is assured with the number of young people these productions houses employ in each production week after week.