Little drops… theatrical advocacy to lift womenfolk in the Niger Delta

• A cultural troupe performing at the event

• A cultural troupe performing at the event

To curious observers (many were in the hall that penultimate Thursday evening at Hotel Presidential, Port Harcourt), it might be difficult to draw a correlation between the core mandate of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the stage play, Little Drops in commemoration of this year’s International Women’s Day.

But the thought of ‘misplaced priority’ would soon evaporate as one stepped into the hall where a make-shift stage seated. Motifs of degradation with which the stage was decorated gave away the message of the drama presentation whose central theme was to provoke national consciousness about the travails of Niger Delta women and children.

Before the start of the show at 5.50p.m., the red carpet was busy as guests, mostly women, took turns to engage #Pledge for Parity, a rider to this year’s theme: Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality, by registering their support in form of graffiti on the big board at the foyer leading to the hall.

Inscriptions such as “I love girl-child”, “I pledge to help and mentor girl-child”, “empower a woman and grow the nation” and so many others soon crowded the board and with the on-the-spot interview with the guests around the big board, which was transmitted live to the audience already seated in the hall, there was excitement in the air.

As this endorsement was going on, a cultural troupe was entertaining the guests at the entrance of the hall, thereby setting the tone for the stage play that featured renowned actresses such as Joke Silva; Tosan Edremoda-Ugbeye; Najite Dede; and Zara Udofia-Ejoh; as well as actors Toritseju Akiya Ejoh and Abiodun Kassim. Written by Prof. Ahmed Yerima, it was directed by Niji Akanni, while Alhaji Teju Kareem served as Technical Director.

Essentially, Little Drops is the story of four women, connected through their dangerous experiences in the Niger Delta crises. It calls attention to the wanton destruction of life and property in the region, and the attendant physical problems. Overall, it echoes the need for caution and appeals for peaceful resolution to these issues. The wide applause that trailed the one-hour performance showed that the message was well delivered.

The evening, which attracted dignitaries such as the wife of Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, Justice Eberechi Nyesom-Wike, renowned poet, Pa Gabriel Okara, top management staff of NDDC, women leaders among others, was also spiced up by poetry recitals – Through the eyes of the storm and We Thought it was oil.

Justice Nyesom-Wike, who tendered apologies for arriving at the venue some minutes behind schedule, described women as builders whose mental health should be protected at all times. She decried cases of rape, domestic violence, and practices that are not women friendly perpetrated against womenfolk. She said when the childhood of a child is stolen, he or she cannot get it back.

According to her, “I got married at 27. Yet, I am still facing challenges of maintaining a family. How can a girl of 16 years cope? I cannot think of any greater challenge than what the girl will face. When you marry off underage girls, they face many health challenges. The mental health of our women is what we must take serious because only a stable woman can manage a home.”

The government, she pleaded, must do all it could in order to lift the womenfolk, insisting, “We need to love one another. Men should give women a chance to grow and develop. When you build a woman, you are raising generations.”

She made a veiled reference to the rerun election conducted in some part of the state yesterday on the account of increasing spate of killings going on in the state, saying Rivers is big enough to accommodate everyone. And there is no justification to be fighting over politics. “When two brothers of the same father fight to death, it is the stranger that is going to inherit their father’s property,” she concluded.

Acting Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of NDDC, Mrs Ibim Semenitari described the event as one of the activities of the commission to inspire and cerebrate the courage, determination and achievements of ordinary women facing extraordinary challenges.

Mrs Semenitari and the great poet, Pa Okara

Mrs Semenitari and the great poet, Pa Okara

She underscored nexus between the play and the mandate of the commission, especially the aspect that gives huge priority to women development, insisting that Pledging for Parity is a campaign that everyone must support as it is in recognition of the importance of women in their capacity to positively impact the world.

According to her, the choice of Little Drops became compelling as it reflects great environmental, political, social and economic challenges the women of the Niger Delta are facing on a daily basis.

The objective of the commission, she clarified, was “to re-introduce, through such an engaging platform, the issues confronting the Niger Delta to national consciousness, conscience and discourse, through the voice of women, unscripted victims of our region’s continual struggle for development. Today, we want to reaffirm and consolidate on that goal.

“Today, in Port Harcourt, in the heart of the Niger Delta, we want to remind ourselves again of the inequities that led to agitation and conflict and ask again, that the Niger Delta region not be forgotten, but her challenges resolved.”

And in addition to its entertainment value, the advocacy element of theatrical offering, Semenitari stressed, was being exploited “to bring, once more, to national conscience, the anguish and travails of the women, children and people of the Niger Delta. It is part of programmes which we have lined up to raise awareness, encourage industry among the people and improve human capacity.”

“So, the play presents the sad painting of this reality. It is one that the NDDC was established to tackle, in the pursuit of the mandate to facilitate the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region. Indeed, the Niger Delta Development Master Plan makes specific provisions for the advancement of women issues, some of which this play treats. Women must continue to play this important role, beyond the stage, beyond the portrayals of drama, taking it to the communities and creeks of the Niger Delta.”

As part of efforts to raise awareness and improve human capacity in the region, she disclosed the commission’s plan to begin the Girls in Engineering, Mathematics and Sciences (GEMS) programme and the Queen Kambasa Awards for Excellence.

In line with the NDDC’s aim to recognize and reward achievement of Niger Delta women in different spheres, these initiatives, she said, were to encourage young girls in the region to embrace science and technology, and provide quality manpower. “It is important to create role models for our young women and girls by showing them the path to excellence,” she noted.

The commission, Semenitari reiterated, would continue to pursue these lofty goals, “as we work to facilitate overall regional development. We must continue to work to improve the living conditions of our people and alleviate their suffering. It is one we are determined, by the Grace of God and the will of humanity, to accomplish.”

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