The Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton Hotel Abuja was filled to capacity with a sea of human heads and majority of the guests were expatriates and a handful of Nigerians in our national dress. The 16th of November was special and the coloured lights beaming from the overhead light stands made rainbow appear reachable to our hands. My friend and I had all beaten the building traffic to make it to the venue of the 2009 Operabuja to make it on time for the event billed to start at ‘7.00 pm prompt followed by a cocktail’.
Everything was ready. And every member of the Abuja Metropolitan Music Society (AMEMUSO) was set for the performance of the 3rd in the series of opera which started in 2007 as a brain child of Mrs. Maria Cecilia Toledo, the wife of the German Ambassador to Nigeria. This year the focus was on ‘Kanma’; a Nigerian operatic adaptation of the globally-acclaimed ‘Carmen’ opera by Georges Bizet which Prof. Ojo Bakare had domesticated and indigenized for the Nigerian audience. Amemuso which hopes to turn Abuja into the true arts capital of Nigeria is planning to built a high-tech auditorium and theatre near Aso Rock that will outclass MUSON centre.
At the hour hand embraced the mark of 7pm, we settled into our seats waiting for the members of AMEMUSO to emerge from the backstage with the EUROPERA Ensemble of conductor, violoncelloist, flutist, pianist, violinist and a Nigerian Konga drummer. But there was no sign of the MC at sight or the co-compeer to douse our anxieties. So the wait began and the embarrassing silence was filled with some music from a technical crew that managed the audio visual input for the night.
After about 40 minutes of waiting, the “special guest of honour” arrived with his entourage from his base in the Presidential Villa with sirens and retinue of State Security Service personnel who positioned themselves at strategic points in the hall. The MC then announced his arrival and cued in the National Anthem when the technical crew could not play the recorded version. So we stood and sang ‘Arise O Compatriots.” to signal the start of the 2009 Abujaopera with no official apologies from the special guest of honor’ in the person of the Vice President of Nigeria, His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as we usually say in Nigeria.
His lateness didn’t take the shine out of this classic opera which only a few in Abuja had the privilege of attending as unlike other music shows where tickets are sold. The tastefully designed and flamboyant Invitation Card granted the bearer a seat in the hall, and the opportunity to dine with the diplomatic community and high ranking and influential Abuja residents at the cocktail party by the poolside where notes and chords wafted through the air from the strings of an acoustic piano in the background. For sure this is not the first time a public event or social function had started belatedly on account of a ‘special guest of honour’ who chose to be late for all the seemingly plausible excuses that will make the guests understand. After all, no public function starts without the father of the day or special guest of honour in Nigeria!
Maria Cecilia Toledo led the crew as “Kanma”, the Nigerian version of Carmen, the girl who was born to a white sailor by a Nigerian mother of Igbo descent who works in a palm oil plantation. Her father left tem when she was yet a little girl while her mother died a few years later and she saw herself as authentically Nigerian despite her connection with the world of white people.
The beautiful Kanma had fortune smile at her when she inherited a choice estate left behind by her dead father, and felt she could have any man she wanted and walk away when she wanted without any qualms. An ‘enchanting attitude’ that had lustful suitors, Escamillo “Kabiru” a Nigerian of Hausa descent played by Derrick Lawrence of USA, who had to wrestle with Don Jose “Ajose” played by Wolfram Meyer of Germany. Ajose will finally renounce his honour, the love of his dear mother, and his relationship with Micaela “Nikeola”, the beautiful Nigerian girl played by the Omo Bello, the superb soprano singer based in Paris National Conservatoire of Music to fall in love with Kanma and followed her to her Villa to live freely.
Like the tale of many romantic relationships, Kanma would face the ambivalent nature of human beings when she began to desire the obvious charm of the Nigerian man which she had always admired and saw in Kabiru. Hence she began to see Ajose as being short of the man of her dreams. She sets out on another adventure of finding someone better whom she’ll be proud of and be free with, and this life of protest and quest for love and freedom will mark her life. Her life would end in tragedy by favour of Ajose who stabbed her when she spitefully tried to leave him by force for Kabiru,who defeated Ajose in a wrestling match. She would die in the arms of Ajose, the sad lover whom she despised!
Barring the lateness of the Special Guest of Honour, Operabuja 2009 lived up to its high billing and once again satisfied the longings of many who have had enough of comedy shows and music concerts where DJs helped artists to mime their songs. As I shared my experience with a couple of friends, I came to appreciate the fact that His Excellency the Vice President of Nigeria was gracious enough to be just about 40 minutes late for the opera though it will take about 10 minutes drive from the Presidential Villa.
Another special guest honour, Goodluck’s predecessor, His Excellency, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was said to have arrived by 11:00 pm for an event in Lagos billed for 7:00 pm and some of the guests got back home in the wee hours of the following morning. Dr. Adamu Abdullahi, the former Governor of Nasarawa State allegedly arrived by 1.00am for a state dinner billed for 7.00 pm in Lafia during his tenure. Rather than apologize for his stately lateness, he asked about his commissioners who had to courtesy and pay obeisance to their political suzerain before the belated dinner could start. Of course, his belatedness made the event an early morning breakfast!
We need no blame our special guests of honour for their lateness to events, for as a country, we have yet to some to a point where we count it important to be early at social events when we are habitually late to business meetings. We have allowed the “African time’ mentality to make us underperform and fell far below expectations but this trend needs to stop if we must develop into a competitive and strong economy in the coming decades. Else the year 2020 will soon berth and we will be too shocked to see how our perennial lateness to events would have caused us dearly!