A Structuralist Review of Uduak Akpabio’s Perfect Mother

 Title: Perfect Mother

Author: Uduak E. Akpabio

Genre: Drama

Publishers: Athena Press

Town of Publication: London

Year of Publication: 2009

Pagination: xii + 321 = 333 pages

ISBN: 978 184748 574 8

Price: US $23.95

Reviewer: Eyoh Etim (M.A. English Literature)

                        Department of English and Literary Studies,

                        Akwa Ibom State University,

Obio Akpa, Nigeria.

The Author: Uduak Edward Akpabio is a born storyteller with a burning passion to share her stories with the world. She is a native of Ukana in Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. Her spheres of influence span the dramatic and the prosaic genres of literature. Perfect Mother, her first published work and, incidentally, the work under review, made the 2010 NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature Shortlist. She is also the author of Impostor Alert, a novel, published in 2018.

Introduction/Background: Human history is a chronicle of man’s continuous struggle over the forces of existence, some of which could be physical, spiritual or social. On the social scene, human history is replete with instances of war waged against certain anti-humanistic tendencies like slavery, racism and gender inequality. Yet try as human beings would, these vices tend to resist total annihilation as they are known to usually find ways of subsisting in variant mutative forms. It appears, therefore, that human society is doomed to engage in perpetual conflicts with these forces. This, perhaps, must have prompted Bernard Shaw’s assertion that, without conflict, there is no drama, since conflict itself appears to be the basic stuff of life. It is, therefore, not surprising that even in this postmodern era, human beings continue to grapple with these social challenges despite the awareness and enlightenment created by science and education. Literature, in keeping with its traditional role of reflecting society, has recorded these conflicts not only for entertainment purposes, but also for education. This is, of course, what Uduak Akpabio’s Perfect Mother depicts. The social burdens borne in this epic drama text are a bunch of issues that have evolved over time in man’s relation to another man, man’s relation to the woman and man’s relation to himself. The issues raised in Perfect Mother are part of the themes found in the works of pioneer female writers in Nigeria and around the world. It is owing to the fact that these issues persist in human society that has accounted for their inability to be purged from the literary text. From Flora Nwapa to Akachi Ezeigbo, from Chinua Achebe to Chimamanda Adichie, the struggle continues in all its complexions and shapes. In every culture and language, in every setting and clime, voices can be heard protesting and appealing for positive change. But there are times when it is difficult to make sense of all that the change is all about since it is human nature that is being portrayed in works of literature. To change human nature, therefore, is to alter humans to some other species. However, in Perfect Mother, there appears to be a glimmer of hope in solving the problem as the play seems to suggest, in the spirit of the Humanistic philosophy, that human beings have the capacity to sort out themselves from whatever existential complications they must have had themselves entangled.   

Synopsis: Perfect Mother is an enthralling piece of drama, which captures the conflicting moments in the family of Aniekan (Ani) and Celia Umoh in Lagos, Nigeria, where they live, work and raise their rug rats (all girls) – Itoro, Ekaette and Eno. The fact that Celia cannot bear any male child is of major concern to everyone in the family, especially to Idorenyin, Celia’s mother-in-law, who is ready to go to extreme lengths in order to secure from/for her son a male child. Apart from constantly harassing Celia to go for a fourth pregnancy against all medical advice, Idorenyin also is in the business of hatching plot after plot to bring in a second wife for her son. All these attempts to scuttle the hard-earned relationship between Ani and Celia seem to have failed as the bond of love between husband and wife proves too strong for the Idorenyin intrigues.

It is not long before this bond of love is put to the test by the sudden appearance of a male heir to the throne of the Ani Business Empire. The boy’s name is Ugochukwu, later named Ubong. His mother, Ijeoma, was a former personal secretary to Ani. There was an affair and that was that. Celia is angry that Ani is bringing ‘Bastard’ Ubong into the family and vows to do everything in her power to prevent the disaster and also save her marriage from the perceived ridicule that is to follow. On the advice of her friend, Sandra, Celia seeks the services of a native doctor at the outskirts of Lagos. She pays enormous sums in consultation fees, first, to make Ubong mad upon his arrival in the house, and when that fails, second, to poison him by a concoction given her by the native doctor.

However, Celia could only administer half of the first dose of the poison before her courage deserts her. She throws away the poison and, upon Ubong’s complaint of a general bodily weakness, takes him to the hospital to ensure that he comes to no harm. Meanwhile, Idorenyin, who had followed Celia to the native doctor’s, now implores her son to go with her to the weird environment. As fate would have it, Ani and Idorenyin eavesdrop on Celia’s confession to the babalawo that she has successfully administered the poison and that Ubong’s death is imminent. On hearing this, Ani quickly seizes Celia and in the scuffle that follows, the native doctor flees the scene while Celia goes into a coma.

En route to the hospital, Celia comes round but only to learn the news of her daughter’s death on getting to the hospital. It happened that Itoro, her youngest daughter, had drunk from Ubong’s arsenic poisoned Fanta. All accusing fingers point at Celia, who tries to no avail to convince everyone that she did not poison the Fanta. She is promptly arrested on the orders of her husband and locked up in a cell overnight. She is magnanimously released the following morning but her marriage is no more as Ani will not even let her get close to the house. Having given her statement to the police, Celia stays with her friend Sandra as the investigation unfolds into the mystery that surrounds the crime.

Through the combined efforts of the detective-minded Gerry, (Ani’s bossom friend) and those of the police, it is discovered, among other things, that Ubong is not Ani’s biological son; that Idorenyin poisoned Ubong’s Fanta when she realised that Ubong is not Ani’s son; that the arrival of Ubong in the house is a plot cooked by Idorenyin, Ijeoma and others to get Celia to leave the house; that even the native doctor was planted as an integral part of this plot. The resolution of the mystery surrounding this crime frees Celia and reveals her innocence. Idorenyin may likely die from the stroke she suffers arising from high blood pressure.     

Meanwhile, Celia knows within herself that she can no longer bear children as her womb had been removed to save her life from the complications that arose in her last pregnancy. Ani is equally aware of this, which explains why he is willing to adopt Ubong as his son even as the young man has already become used to calling Ani ‘Daddy’. In the end, Ani loses a daughter but gains a son!

Structural Analysis: This three hundred and thirty three page compelling play is organised in seventy scenes, including a prologue. The story deploys the plot structure of in medias res.

Prologue: The play, which spans about one week, begins with a ceremony at the Umohs. It is the celebration of the birth of their first child, Eno, a baby girl. They had waited for her eight years since the consummation of their marriage. It calls for celebration, but it is just a halfhearted jubilation since the baby is not a boy. It is expected that more babies will be coming and that they will be boys. In her joy, Celia makes a promise to be a perfect mother to Eno and invariably to all her children.

Scene I: By the time the first scene opens, nine years had gone by; during which Celia has successfully produced three children (all girls). Celia is portrayed putting up her best motherly skills, ably assisted by Atim, the Maid, in her struggle to get the girls ready for school. Ani is also there to give, in this case, the hardly needed leadership of a competent father. It is lovely to observe how she handles the harmless squabbles over socks and the seemingly endless rows over what meals each child would like to take for breakfast. Celia’s mother-in-law, Idorenyin, is also present in the house. She had come down from the village to Lagos ‘on a visit’ to her son and his family. But it is obvious that this is going to be a very long visit, not only from her body language but also from the fact that she had stayed in the house for over a month so far. With the children gone to school in Ani’s car, Idorenyin finds the right opportunity to harass her daughter-in-law about having a male child. Celia, she advises, should get pregnant again and hope that the child will be a boy. This conversation agonises Celia as she recalls how her womb was removed during her last pregnancy.

Scene II: This scene takes place at Ani’s office. Itoro is with him playing. She is still enjoying her holidays. Ani is portrayed here as a competent and listening father, especially in his relationship with Itoro. The innocence and loveliness in the little girl are also revealed. Ijeoma comes to visit Ani and is about to shock him with a story of a male heir for Ani.

Scene III: In this scene, Celia visits her best friend Sandra at her boutique. At first they discuss business and then Celia bares her mind about the problem brewing between her and her mother-in-law. As a solution, Sandra advises Celia to kick out her mother-in-law and send her back to the village where she came from. Celia is also furious about the possibility of Ani impregnating a girl outside. It is also revealed here how Celia stood by Ani when he had nothing. She practically brought him to where he is at present. Marrying another woman at this point because of a male child would amount to betrayal as far as Celia is concerned. It is over Celia’s ‘dead body’ that such a thing would happen.

Scene IV: This scene takes place at the Umohs’. It does not take long before Celia observes Ani’s absent-mindedness and, upon questioning him, discovers that Ijeoma, Ani’s former secretary, had visited Ani in the office. Ani confesses that he once had an affair with Ijeoma but that, unknown to him, it had resulted in an issue, a boy named Ugochukwu. Celia is so shocked and angry to the extent that she tears the pictures of the boy. But Ani has already made up his mind to bring the boy into the house. Meanwhile, the little girls are struggling over who should drink coffee, oblivious of the development that would soon prove fatal to one of them.

Scene V: This is a very short scene in which Ani, in search of respite from the wounds inflicted on his feelings by Celia’s words during their heated argument over the new child, informs his mother in the parlour that he is going over to see Gerry, his best friend, at his place. Idorenyin uses the opportunity to impress on Ani the need to try again for a male child, apparently unknown to her that a male child had already arrived.

Scene VI: Ani is in Gerry’s house having a chat with his best friend during which he informs him of the new development in his search for a male child. Ani also expresses his eagerness to meet Ugo. He is equally eager to bring him into the house. The earlier Ugo is united with the rest of his sisters the better. Already, Ani is guilt-stricken that Ugo has lived eight years without knowing him.

Scene VI: Ani gets back to the house late at night to meet a lonely and worried mother and a distraught wife. There is ceremony as he checks on his children and then goes to the bedroom for the night. Another heated argument ensues at the end of which Ani insists on bringing Ugo to the house despite intense protestations from Celia.

Scene VIII: Celia goes to meet Sandra to report the manifestation of her greatest fears and to ask for advice on how to deal with it. In the end, the two ladies come to a decision that the only way to secure Celia’s marriage is for Ugo to be prevented from coming into the house. To achieve this, Sandra suggests the services of a native doctor, which in turn was suggested to her by one Regina Olusola. Celia is used to seeing native doctors having done so in the years preceding her first pregnancy. But her husband could swear that she has never heard of such people. The reader is not told if her having children was made possible by any of these native doctors except that they all agreed that the previous babalawo were not effective. What then helped her have children?

Scene IX: In this scene, Ani finally gets to meet Ugo, who is portrayed as a painfully shy boy of eight. He starts out calling Ani ‘sir’ and it will take him a considerable length of time to adjust to the filial word, ‘Daddy’.

Scene X: Sandra drops off Celia in the house for her to look for the pieces of Ugo’s picture which she had thrown away. She finds them in the waste bin outside the house, but she is caught by her ever watchful mother-in-law. Celia covers it all up by explaining it away as a search for her lost ear-ring. Idorenyin seems satisfied with her words but she keeps her suspicion. By the way, Itoro’s school is resuming the following Monday.

Scene XI: Ani is out again with Ugo, this time for toy shopping. Ugo’s perceived shyness shows no sign of abating. Ani and Ijeoma, alongside Ugo, are espied by Regina Olusola. This tickles her sense of curiosity.

Scene XII: This scene takes place in Celia’s car. They are heading to the native doctor’s abode located in a suburb of Lagos. At the babalawo’s place, Celia at first wants Ugo dead (apparently she is buffing), she later settles for making him mad. A sum of one hundred thousand naira is paid to the native doctor to acquire the charm for this purpose. What really stuns both Sandra and Celia about the native doctor is his uncanny ability of knowing Ugo’s name when Celia could not recall it.

Scene XIII: Celia is able to carry out the native doctor’s instructions on preventing Ugo’s arrival at the house. Her wish is to make Ugo mad. She is espied by Haruna, the gatekeeper, as she sprinkles the front yard of the house with the weird substance while chanting, ‘Make him mad. . .’  Ani comes home and expresses his anger at Celia’s rude attitude of cutting his calls and asking him suddenly to go on school run when it was her turn to do so. He also gives an order restraining Celia from leaving the house unless his permission is obtained. Celia’s anger and moral superiority return when she later realises that Ani was with Ugo at the time she called him to undertake the school run. Their quarrel at this point no longer escapes the notice of the children even as Itoro admonishes Celia, ‘I don’t want you to shout at Daddy!’

Scene XIV: It is night at the Umohs’. The family is having their movie time. Ani uses this opportunity to reveal the existence of Ugo to the children and his mother for the first time. They are all astounded at the news but soon recover to the extent of even looking forward to meeting the boy. By now Ani had changed Ugo’s name to Ubong to reflect that the ethnic group he hails from is in Ibibio land.

Scene XV: Another short scene set at Ani’s office. Gerry Umana, Ani’s bossom friend, brings a driver that he has recommended to Ani. It is also known that Ani is going to court that morning to formalise Ubong’s new name.

Scene XVI: Ubong comes into his new home at the Umohs’. Everybody welcomes him warmly except, may be, for Celia’s coldhearted ‘welcome’ with a forced smile. Incidentally, nothing evil has befallen Ubong. Celia is disappointed.

Scene XVII: It is symbolic that Ubong’s cup of tea has no name on it. He is more or less a stranger. Ubong still finds it difficult to adjust his subconscious to calling Ani ‘Daddy’. He does not also feel qualified enough make any choice. Whatever choices others make for him in the house are good enough for him. To the request by Ani for him to choose a movie, he replies, ‘Anyone is OK. . . Daddy.’ Celia finds it difficult to conceal her dislike for Ubong’s presence in the house.

Scene XVIII: In this scene, Celia begins her campaign to get her mother-in-law back to the village. Ani promises to impress upon his mother to return despite his initial resistance. The antagonism that exists between Celia and Idorenyin is also given expression in this scene.

Scene XIX: This scene is set at Sandra’s beach barbeque. Celia intimates to Sandra the failure of the babalawo’s charm in making Ubong mad. Celia vows to make the native doctor refund her money early the next day even at the risk of going alone as Sandra would not be free to go with her. Meanwhile, Ubong is shown to have been fully accepted into the circle of the children as he plays freely with them at the beach to the utter annoyance of Celia, who expects him to be mad by then.

Scene XX: Celia is at the native doctor’s shrine. She vents her frustration on the native doctor and demands her money back. In response, the native doctor consults the spirits and comes up with the revelation that there is a strong spiritual force protecting the boy. He suggests a more physical approach for his destruction. Ubong is to be totally eliminated. When Celia agrees to this new approach, the medicine mad charges her five hundred thousand naira. It is agreed that one hundred thousand be subtracted from the new fee to make up for the failure of the previous one. Celia is to get the poison when she comes with two hundred thousand the following day. It is after the effectiveness of the poison has been tested that Celia will pay the balance.

Scene XXI: This scene is situated at Ani’s work place. He attempts, albeit unsuccessfully, to persuade his mother to return to the village. Idorenyin insists on staying for one more week before leaving. She alone knows what she wants to do with the time she has just bought. Meanwhile, she becomes excessively kind and polite to Celia.

Scene XXII: Celia lies to Sandra that she had collected her money back from the native doctor. Sandra apologises for the pains and the disappointment her suggesting the babalawo has caused her, reiterating that she should have known better than to believe Regina, who is known for her tongue prattling. The scene ends with Celia withdrawing money intended for the native doctor from the ATM.

Scene XXIII: This scene shows how Idorenyin has started using the new driver for her personal businesses. Ubong still attends a different school from that of the girls’. The children announce their school trip to Abuja to be with the First Lady. But it seems only Ekaette and Eno will make the trip this time. Itoro and Ubong will stay back. Celia soon leaves the house but not without attracting the curiosity of her mother-in-law.

Scene XXIV: Idorenyin trails her daughter-in-law to the native doctor’s shrine, where Celia pays and obtains the supposedly deadly substance.

Scene XXV: When Celia returns from the native doctor’s, Idorenyin is all nice and courteous, thanking Celia for her hospitality and expressing her earnest desire to assist her in making things easy around the house. Celia continues her display of mothering skills with the children, coupled with her care for her husband and the now naked hatred for Ubong.

Scene XXVI: Celia is shown poisoning Ubong’s tea, but it is only half of the dosage recommended by the native doctor. If the first dosage was to make him weak, then this half dose would have almost no effect all.

Scene XXVII: Celia attempts to poison Ubong’s Fanta the following morning, but her courage fails her. She changes her mind on going ahead with the dastardly act. Idorenyin is observed leaving everyone at the dining table to go inside the house. What to do inside, the reader is not told. But Ubong is already having signs that the poison of the previous night has already begun its work. He is unable to eat and looks a little unwell. Celia promises to call his school to find out how he is later in the day. Ekaette and Eno leave for Abuja.

Scene XXVIII: The now repentant Celia confesses her sins to her best friend Sandra. Rather than collecting the money back from the native doctor, she had paid more money to obtain poison to eliminate innocent Ubong. She even asks God’s forgiveness.

Scene XXIX: Idorenyin goes to Ani’s office to report Celia’s dealings with babalawo. Ani does not believe her. She urges Ani to come with her to the place to see things for himself. Ani declines the offer. Apparently he believes his wife is a saint.

Scene XXX: This scene takes place near a bank. Sandra lends Celia the money she will use to pay off the native doctor. She had decided to tell the babalawo that the poison is working in order to go off his hook. She calls the school and is told that Ubong experienced a general bodily weakness earlier in the day. Celia decides to take him to a proper hospital. Ani is informed of this development.

Scene XXXI: At the hospital, the doctor pronounces Ubong fit as a fiddle. But Celia insists that tests should be conducted just to be certain. The doctor advises Ubong to eat in order to regain his strength while awaiting the test results. Meanwhile, Celia leaves the hospital. It is possible she would be heading to the native doctor’s shrine.

Scene XXXII: This scene is dramatised outside Ani’s office. Idorenyin has been hanging around the office while Ani assumes she had gone home. Now she practically forces Ani to follow her to the native doctor’s shrine in a last desperate bid to bring down Celia.

Scene XXXIII: Celia arrives at the shrine and pays off the babalawo because, according to her, the poison is working as expected. At the same time, Idorenyin, in the company of Ani, arrives the shrine and eavesdrops on the conversation between the duo. An incensed Ani attacks Celia and, in the scuffle that follows, the native doctor makes his escape. Celia loses consciousness but recovers in the car as she is being driven away from the shrine. En route to the hospital, Celia receives a tragic call from Ubong concerning Baby Itoro.

Scene XXXIV: At the hospital, Ani is the first to learn of the death of his daughter, Itoro. She had drunk from Ubong’s poisonous Fanta and could not survive. Celia is the prime suspect. Celia goes berserk. She hardly could make sense of all that is happening.

Scene XXXV: While Celia is holding a discussion with the Matron of the Mother of our Saviour hospital, the police arrive on the orders of Ani and promptly arrest her. The Matron calls Sandra to inform her about her friend’s arrest.

Scene XXXVI: Sandra visits Celia at the police station. She is shocked at how she has been manhandled by the police. She promises to secure her release the following day. She even gives Sandra a copy of the Holy Bible to console her in her grief.

Scene XXXVII: Gerry is in Ani’s house to sympathise with him in his moment of sorrow. Ani announces that he will order the release of Celia the next day for the sake of the remaining children. He sheds tears for Itoro and tells Gerry that all along he was not aware that he was married to a stranger.

Scene XXXVIII: The scene is still at Ani’s house. Ani is searching through Celia’s things with the aim of getting to know her really. In the course of the seach, he finds the poison in her bubu’s pocket. There appears to be no doubt now that Celia poisoned the Fanta.

Scene IXL: The following day, Ijeoma visits Ani’s house to start the process of implanting herself there. Naturally, she acts as if she is concerned about Ubong’s welfare. As unfolding events later reveal, Ubong is the last thing on her mind. She is only using him as a pawn to achieve her real hear’st desire – marrying Ani. Ani gives instructions against allowing Celia access into the house.

Scene XL: Investigation by the police into the incident has begun in earnest. The native doctor is arrested at the shrine. The police seize all the incriminating evidence at the shrine.

Scene XLI: Idorenyin, who had been admitted into the hospital for high blood pressure after the Itoro incident, is visited by Ani and Gerry. Ani informs her that part of why he has come to the hospital is to test a plastic container he found among Celia’s things. Everyone agrees it is not yet time to inform the two girls in Abuja about the demise of their sister until their return. Idorenyin insists on leaving the hospital.

Scene XLII: Sandra goes back to the police station to try and get Celia out on bail only to be told that Celia is free to go, ‘just like that.’ Apparently Ani has kept his word to have her released. Sandra informs Celia about the attempt by Regina to extract information from her on Celia’s current travails.

Scene XLIII: Ijeoma visits Idorenyin at the hospital. She asks after the health of Idorenyin, whose only response is that she is fine but that she wants to go home. Both then agree that it is a terrible thing that has happened. Of course, they know why.

Scene XLIV: Gerry pays Celia a visit at Sandra’s house. Celia tells her own side of the story, admitting administering half dose of the poison to Ubong the previous day but vehemently denying poisoning the Fanta. The puzzle here is: who poisoned the Fanta? Celia equally expresses the fear that Ijeoma is aiming to take over her marital home.

Scene XLV: Gerry goes to see Ani in his office. He finds him in a state of despair, mourning the loss of his beloved daughter. The Matron of the hospital calls Ani to confirm Gerry’s suspicion that Arsenic was used in the doomed Fanta. Gerry tells Celia’s side of the story to Ani, who promptly dismisses it as a bundle of lies. The police chief also calls to inform Ani that the native doctor has been arrested. Ani and Gerry leave immediately to the police station.

Scene XLVI: Celia and Ijeoma exchange heated words at the hospital. Ijeoma accuses Celia of attempting to murder her son while Celia charges Ijeoma with trying to rob her of her husband. Celia is furious at Ijeoma for driving her car. Despite her protestations, the doctor insists that Celia be examined.

Scene XLVII: This scene takes place at the police station where the native doctor is being interrogated. His name is revealed to be John Maduekwe. He denies giving anything poisonous to Celia, insisting that what he gave her was incapable of killing anybody. He gave her Vitamin C. Being confronted with the fact that a poisonous substance was found at his shrine, John cries out in dismay and sets about telling his own side of the story.

Scene XLVIII: Ani and Gerry arrive at the police station. They are briefed by the police chief on the findings based on the confession of the native doctor. In the course of the report, Gerry asks relevant questions to help him clarify some issues. It is now known that it was Ijeoma who hired John to play the role of a native doctor in a plot that has come to prove more complicated than what was thought. Ijeoma is to be picked up by the police to explain her own side of the story.

Scene IL: Ani and Gerry are in the hospital to see to it that Idorenyin is discharged. Idorenyin herself is eager to go home. It is here that she makes the slip that will lead Gerry to discover the truth about the case at hand. Idorenyin asks Ani what the tests reveal on the plastic container found in Celia’s bubu. Of course, Gerry recalls that Ani didn’t mention exactly where the plastic container was found. Idorenyin is opposed to Ijeoma moving into the house on the pretext of looking after Ubong.

Scene L: Ijeoma appears to have fought herself into Ani’s house. As the scene opens, she is seen at the dining table with members of the family, including Ubong and Idorenyin. Gerry soon arrives and enters into a long conversation with Ani (out of the earshot of the others of course) on his new findings in trying to unravel Itoro’s murder. Their discussion hints on a possible complicity of Idorenyin in the case at hand. Ani is not comfortable about this but there is no doubt that he is impressed by Gerry’s analytical mind. The police arrive and the stage is set for Ijeoma to be picked up.

Scene LI: Ijeoma is arrested and taken to the police station for questioning since she denies ever knowing the native doctor. She is, however, speechless when John’s phone is used to call her line.

Scene LII: Back in the house, Ani confronts his mother on how she knew that the plastic container that harboured the poison was found in Celia’s bubu. She insists that it Ani told her even to the point of anger. So Ani lets her alone.

Scene LIII: Gerry carries on with his personal investigation into the crime. He finds out from Celia that she came to know about the native doctor through her friend Sandra, who in turn was told about him by one Regina Olusola. Celia insists on her innocence when it comes to the poisoning of the Fanta. Gerry also informs Ani that based on his discovery, Ubong is not his biological son. Their blood groups do not match.Ani is shocked beyond words. They leave for the police station to confront Ijeoma.

Scene LIV: Ijeoma is being interrogated at the police station. Here, John accuses Ijeoma of putting the poison there to incriminate him, insisting that he did not have any poison at the shrine. But how could Ijeoma give the native doctor anything poisonous if she knew it was going to kill her son? Regina’s name comes up in the investigation as the person who gave Ijeoma Vitamin C powder. She is to be brought in for questioning. Ijeoma says Regina is her aunt and that she is behind the whole native doctor racket.

Scene LV: Ani and Gerry get to the police station, driven by Ani’s impatience to extract the truth from Ijeoma concerning the parentage of Ubong. Celia also comes to the station at about the same time on the invitation of the police chief.

Scene LVI: This scene is enacted at the Olusolas’ house where the policemen have gone to bring in Regina for questioning. Regina’s husband, Thomas, tries to prevent his wife’s arrest, asking the police to only take her statement. On the orders of their superior, the policemen forcefully arrest Regina to the utter consternation of her husband.

Scene LVII: Ani is met by the police chief, who fills him and Gerry in on the progress made on the case, while Ani intimates to the chief police the likelihood that he is not the father of Ubong after all. Both Ijeoma and the native doctor seem to confess that what they had was not meant to harm anyone. Who then brought in the poison? This is the nagging question here. Ani eventually confronts Ijeoma concerning Ubong’s parentage. She denies totally that Ubong has any other father apart from Ani.

Scene LVIII: Regina is brought in for questioning. Celia is also there with Sandra to meet the police chief. Thomas, Regina’s husband, has equally come to secure the immediate release of his wife. He meets Ani and both talk on the present situation. This scene shows that Thomas is innocent of his wife’s involvements in the case.

Scene LIX: Regina, during interrogation, denies any meddling on the case but confirms that the suspicion that Ubong has another father by the name Chijioke Eze. She, however, denies recommending any native doctor to Sandra. The highpoint of this scene is when Ijeoma is about to reveal the anonymous source that was to inform Ani that Celia has been patronising a native doctor.

Scene LX: The scene is still at the police station. While Thomas is threatening fire and brimstone over his wife’s arrest, Celia tries to convince Ani that she is innocent of the Fanta poisoning.

Scene LXI: In the presence of Ani, Ijeoma reveals to the police that Idorenyin is also involved in the murder of Itoro. It was her role to inform Ani of Celia’s patronage of a native doctor. There is more investigative thinking from Gerry which does a lot to help the police in getting closer and closer to solving the crime. Ijeoma still refuses to admit that Ubong has another father. Ani leaves the station to meet his pastor as part of the burial arrangements for Itoro.

Scene LXII: Back in the house, Ani confronts his mother about Ijeoma’s allegations. Idorenyin denies everything but it is obvious that she is completely shaken by the revelation. It does not take long before her blood pressure shoots up and she slumps, hit by stroke.

Scene LXIII: Ubong finds it hard to believe that Itoro is indeed no more.It is gleaned from the conversation between Ani and Gerry that Idorenyin may not recover and that even if she does recover, she is likely to remain an invalid throughout life. Ani discovers some papers in Idorenyin’s room which attest to the fact that Ubong is not Ani’s son. Idorenyin had known this all along. Ubong’s real name is Ugochukwu Otobueze. He is seven years old and not eight as has been alleged by Ijeoma. These discoveries and others raise more questions that Ani cannot answer; and so as usual, he leaves everything to Gerry: ‘Well, Gerry. You’re the one who’s been figuring it all out. I have a headache. I’m depending on you to make sense of this!’ Idorenyin’s things are searched. Ani finds the poison in her bag. It is rat poison, but the kind that contains Arsenic. Idorenyin had taken advantage of the whole situation to try to eliminate Ubong whom she must have found out later not to be Ani’s son.

Scene LXIV: The police are able to present two more witnesses to prove to Regina that she was the one who suggested the native doctor to Sandra.

Scene LXV: Regina Olusola is rearrested and brought in by the police for further investigation. She is charged with being an accessory to the murder of Itoro.

Scene LXVI: Ani gently questions Ubong and he confesses that ‘Aunty Ijeoma’ threatened him to lie about his age. She also forced him to call Ani ‘Daddy’. It is also found out that Ubong never stayed with Ijeoma, who did not allow him to call her ‘Mummy’ because according to her, it makes her look old. She was also known to also beat the poor boy frequently.

Scene LXVII: Regina finally confesses the whole plot that was aimed at planting Ijeoma as Ani’s wife after sending Celia out by accusing her of trying to get a native doctor to poison Ubong. As Ijeoma’s aunt, Regina had taken it upon herself to finance the whole plot with the sum of four hundred thousand naira. All Regina wanted was for Ijeoma to have a husband to call her own.

Scene LXVIII: Ani decides to adopt Ubong. Gerry makes Ani see how he is also to blame in the whole saga. If Ani did not have an affair with Ijeoma while she was his secretary, none of this would have happened. Ani also decides to forgive Celia and bring her back into the house, mostly for the sake of the children.

Scene LXIX: This scene describes the burial of Itoro with all her siblings present, they having come back from Abuja.

Scene LXX: This scene takes place at night in the bedroom of the Umohs. It is a night of reconciliation for Ani and Celia.Celia accepts Ubong as her son. She states her realisation that being a perfect mother is difficult to achieve. All she wants now is to be good mother, and that is not at all easy. Celia confesses that she can no longer bear a child as she had had her womb removed. Ani replies that he was aware of that before now. The couple then decides that there will be no more secrets between them.

Themes: Uduak E. Akpabio’s Perfect Mother is a carefully woven tale of domestic intrigues, which encompasses all the possible timeless and universal themes in human relationship. Some of these themes which come in dialectical pairs include love and hatred, life and death, patience and impatience, peace and conflict and so on.

The Disillusionment of Perfection: Perhaps, one of the most outstanding themes that can be extracted from Perfect Mother is the fact that perfection is an ideal that is difficult to attain by any human being. It is instructive to note that at the beginning of the story, Celia promises to be a perfect mother to Eno. As events unfold, it is possible to see that her words amounted to careless arrogance inspired by excessive joy of motherhood. In the course of the story, Celia comes to represent all that perfect motherhood negates; the height of it all being her attempt on the life of Ubong. It is instructive that at the end of the story, she comes to the realisation that she has been anything but perfect. All she now hopes for is to be a good mother. None of the other central characters in the story is perfect. Even Ani’s mother, Idorenyin, who assumes a high moral ground from the beginning of the story, is soon discovered to be behind all the travails of the family. Ani himself provides the primary cause of the conflicts in the story by his action of having sex with his secretary. In end, it is realised that all have sinned and fallen short, . . . except, maybe, the children characters in the story, whose innocence keeps the atmosphere of the play from excessive pollution.

Selfishness and Greed: The theme of selfishness and greed can be inferred in the play not only by Celia’s actions but also by the actions of Idorenyin and the other characters. It is a well known fact that self preservation is at the core of the human nation. Thus, when Celia takes steps to safeguard her marriage from possible husband predators, her actions seem understandable. But one could not imagine the extent to which human beings can go to preserve self interest even at the expense of the lives and happiness of others. Celia’s desire to keep her husband leads her to the thought of poisoning Ubong, an innocent child who has no hand in any of the plots to oust her from the house. Her action amounts to leaving the substance to pursue the shadow. Besides, Celia initially saw Ubong as a threat to her family’s survival. How could he come to inherit all that she had laboured for at the expense of her girls? Idorenyin is also shown to be selfish and greedy. She has grandchildren though they are girls, but that is not enough for her. She needs a grandson at all costs even if it means that Celia has to die trying. She does not care about Celia’s welfare in the matter. All she wants is a grandson. It is her greed that fuels all the crises and tragedies in the play. Out of her selfishness and greed, she joins with Ijeoma to plot Celia’s removal from the house. John Madweke’s greed is what leads him to return to the shrine to pick up the balance of the money that Celia paid. This leads to his arrest, which does a lot in helping the police to solve the murder of Itoro. This theme can equally be ascribed to Ijeoma and some of the other characters in the play in varying degrees. Ijeoma, in her inordinate desire to get married, throws all caution to the winds as she plots, first manipulating Ubong and then putting him in all forms of danger. Ijeoma does not care how Celia will feel if she loses her husband. Selfishness has no empathy, nor does greed.

Hatred and Jealousy: This is another basic theme of human nature which is prevalent in the play. This theme can be easily identified with Celia and Idorenyin in their relations with each other and also in their relations with other characters in the play. Celia does not really hate Idorenyin but the reverse is the case. Idorenyin truly hates Celia, though she is able to mask it most of the time. Celia is aware of this and so she is always careful of Idorenyin. At a point, Celia could not hide her animosity towards Ubong. It is Idorenyin’s hatred of Celia that drives her to plot her downfall in the family. Had she loved her, she would have been more understanding and more considerate. Celia is a jealous wife indeed. She is ready to go any length to keep Ani to herself.

Love and Friendship: Love and friendship is another set theme of human relationship. The relationship between Ani and Celia is only sustained because of the love they have for each other. Even after it was apparent that Celia was culpable in the death of Itoro, Ani could only bear her to spend one night in the cell. Even though the reason he gives for her release is for the sake of the children, one can really see that he loves her nonetheless. Gerry proves to be a true friend to Ani just as Sandra proves to be a great friend to Celia. It is the steadfastness of these friends in time of trouble that help Celia and Ani to go through their travails without being broken or destroyed. It is instructive that Sandra does not abandon Celia even when it seems she was involved in poisoning Ubong. Rather she believes Celia’s side of the story. Ani would not have gotten through his problems in the play if not for the friendship and companionship of Gerry, his bosom friend. One hardly can go through life alone. It is Gerry who even helps Ani to decipher some of the complicated issues of the crime. Of course, Ani is in no shape to engage in logical thinking, what with all the problems and all. There is also friendship among children as can be exemplified in how Ubong relates with the girls.

Poetic Justice: The death of Itoro serves to reward Idorenyin and Celia for their wickedness at various points in the play. Even Ani shares in this natural justice. It makes him pay, albeit remotely, for being unfaithful to his wife. Again, whatever happens to Idorenyin serves her right as she can be seen to have fully paid for her greed and hatred. Generally, each character is rewarded according to his or her deeds.

The Dual Nature of Man: This Dr Jekyll-and-Mr-Hide phenomenon is most observable in no other character than Celia. Indeed, other characters such as Idorenyin and Ani have this trait of dual nature, but that of Celia is the most pronounced. The play exposes to the fore the dark and the pure personalities locked in an individual. At the beginning of the play, Celia is portrayed as a conscientious, charitable, amiable and selfless lady. But as events unfold, one gradually sees the other side of her emerge. For instance, she vows that it is over her dead body that will she allow another woman to supplant her in her marital home. Then at the native doctor’s shrine, she opts for the option of killing Ubong once and for all. Though this later turns out to be a joke or bluff, the fact that she entertains such a damning idea sheds some light into the other part of her nature. But what should be observed about Celia’s nature is that her good side dominates her personality. Indeed, it is only the challenges of life that can push human beings to the edge of their virtues.

            While Idorenyin plays the perfect grandmother and mother-in-law, she carefully hides the other aspect of her character. While she takes the moral high ground, pontificating to Ani and Celia on how to raise the children and bring forth male chlidren, Idorenyin carefully hides her degenerate nature. It is only time, coupled with the watchful eyes of Gerry, including the excellent job done by the police that finally reveal her true nature.      

The Burden of Womanhood: The playwright is conscious of the gender issues in her milieu. The woman in any typical African society bears a lot of social burdens. In the first place, her sex is considered a disadvantage right from birth. She is a woman and so second to men. Her voice is rarely heard and her choices are limited in the society. The woman is expected to marry and be subservient to her husband. She must give birth to children, as many as it is possible and most of the children must be boys. Though through the instrumentality of education some of these social burdens have been lightened, most women are still subjected to some of these practices. Idorenyin, for one, is an embodiment of these social values. This is manifested in her looking down on Celia because she has no male child. She is ready to send Celia who has three girls out of the house to bring in Ijeoma who has one boy. She only changes her mind when she realises that Ubong is not Ani’s son after all. In the play, it is easier for the man to get away with unfaithfulness than it is for a woman. For instance, Celia easily forgives Ani for having an affair with his secretary but just for not telling Ani her whereabouts, Ani blows his top and decides that Celia must obtain permission from him before leaving the house.

There are many other miscellaneous themes in the play. These include secrecy and hypocrisy, forgiveness and reconciliation, reward and punishment, deceit and self deception among others. Perhaps, the most important lesson of all that one can extract from this story is the fact that two people can live together for years but remain total strangers to each other. This accounts for the unpredictability of humans and their actions in the play. Indeed, it is only the drama of life that can expose the individual for who he or she really is.

Characterisation: This epic-sized play has a long list of dramatis personae. This review will only do justice to the personhood of mostly the central characters. Mention will be made to the other characters as the need arises. The central characters in the play include Celia, Ani, Idorenyin, Ijeoma, Gerry, Sandra, Ubong and Itoro.

Celia: Celia Umoh is married to Aniekan Umoh. The reader is not told of her background and parentage. She is portrayed as a loving and dedicated house-wife who loves her husband and her children. Celia is one of those ladies who can be described as pillars to their husbands rather than caterpillars. With love, dedication and devotion, Celia helps to build Ani’s business empire to the shape that one finds it at the beginning of the play. She also bears him three children, though they are all girls. To have more time to spend with her children, Celia resigns from her bank job to be a permanent house-wife. She had earlier used her leverage in the bank to grant her husband loan for his business even at the risk of going against the professional ethics of her job. Celia is free and friendly with everyone. Even her relationship with her mother-in-law can be said to be very cordial especially given Idorenyin’s past treatment of her and also given Idorenyin’s dark intentions and the events that followed. Celia is depicted as a dynamic character or round character.  Her dynamism or roundness is seen in her overcoming all her frustration, jealousy, anger and revenge to the point of reconciling herself to the realities in her life. It is only when this happens that she is able to forgive her husband, ask for his forgiveness and accepts Ubong into the home. She is no doubt the heroine of the play. She is the perfect mother who could not make it to perfection. Through her, it is seen that human beings fail when they try to be perfect.

Ani: Aniekan Umoh is a business man married to Celia. He is one of the central characters in the play. He is portrayed as someone who came from nothing to be one of the business moguls in Lagos but mostly with the solid support from his wife. Ani is a loving husband and he is a caring father. He might be always pressed for time due to the demanding nature of his business, but he does not shirk his fatherly responsibilities. He hardly keeps late nights as he ensures that whatever he does, he must come home in the evening to his wife and children. Even when he comes in late, as he sometimes does, he must check up on the children and watch them as they sleep before going to his room. He is indeed a responsible and responsive husband and father. Ani never maltreats his wife and has never raised his hand against her. Ani allows Celia all the freedom that she can have. She even has her own car, which she drives her herself. All these characteristics are meant to portray Ani as a perfect husband. But is he? Maybe he is but he has not always been. This is so because the plot of the play has hardly begun to unfold when the reader stumbles on the revelation that Ani had once cheated on his wife and that that affair had produced an issue – a son. This is the seed from which springs all the discords, disaffection and bad blood that generate the epic conflict in the play. Perfection? Not with human beings!

  Idorenyin: Idorenyin is Ani’s mother and Celia’s mother-in-law. She has come to stay with her son in Lagos and to also have a glance at her grandchildren. But her real intention remains unknown until towards the peak of the conflicts in the play. Meanwhile, she is the perfect grandmother taking care of her son’s needs, looking after her grandchildren and humouring Celia with the idea of getting pregnant again in order to have a son. When the conflicts in the play begin to build, Idorenyin is the only innocent character. No one dares to think in her direction, except Gerry; and that is because she makes a slip – a costly slip. For the meantime, Idorenyin takes the moral high road, yet she is behind all the conflicts in the play. She takes advantage of her temporary innocence to manipulate the actions of the other characters to aid the realisation of her scheme. Idorenyin is depicted as a deeply traditional flat character. She does not shift her ideals throughout the play even in the face of death. She seems to get what she deserves at the end of the play.

Ijeoma: Ijeoma is one of the central characters in the play, whose qualification is not based on plot dominance but based on her role and its significance. She was once a personal secretary to Ani. In one of those clumsy moments of human life, Ani had an affair with Ijeoma. As Ani puts it, it was just that one time. Years later, that one-time relationship returns to haunt Ani as Ijeoma appears in his office one morning to announce that she has a son for him. Ani, who was subconsciously wishing for a male heir, could not resist the temptation of accepting the happy news as it were. Without even verifying the authenticity of Ijeoma’s claims, Ani brings Ubong into the house. From then onward, Ijeoma uses the situation to her advantage. Her aim is to supplant Celia from the house. Ijeoma is portrayed as a cold, calculating and cunning lady. She is ruthless in the execution of her plans. As events unfold, one gets to know who Ijeoma really is. She is such an artistic pretender. She connives with Idorenyin to see to it that Celia leaves the house. She would have succeeded if not for the fact that Idorenyin found out the true parentage of Ubong.

Gerry: Gerald Umana, also known as Gerry, is not only Ani’s bosom friend, but also his companion and helper. He is also a businessman. He is blessed with an analytic mind, which helps in no small way in solving the crime reported in the play. His incisive memory recalls that Ani did not mention to his mother that the plastic that contains the poison was found in Celia’s bubu and wonders how Idorenyin came by the idea. Gerry is also known to be impassioned and objective in his analysis of the issues surrounding the crime. He gives everyone the benefit of the doubt and gives everyone their due. He does not rush into conclusions, but takes the issues on all their merits. This is how he comes to take the pressure off Celia and finally help the police to extricate her from the crime which, at first, obviously casts a guilty hue on her. Gerry as a friend is a blessing to Ani. He encourages him in all that he was going through and stands by him through it all. Ani is the epitome of a friend in need and Gerry a friend in deed.

Sandra: Sandra Edo is a business woman in Lagos. She runs a boutique of international standard. Sandra is Celia’s best friend. She is portrayed as a kindhearted lady who cares about the welfare and feelings of others. Sandra is to Celia what Gerry is to Ani. In the play, Celia is depicted as always relying on Sandra for advice with any problem she has. At the beginning of the play, Celia is seen confiding in Sandra on the suggestion from Idorenyin that Celia should get pregnant again.  In the end, one can see that life would have been more difficult for Celia but not for Sandra. When Celia is arrested on the orders of Ani for poisoning Ubong, Sandra is the only person who is there for her. She goes to see her at the police station and once there assures her that she would be released the next day. Sandra even gives Celia the Holy Bible to comfort her in her moment of distress. This is what true friendship is about. At the initial stage of Celia’s arrest, only Sandra believes her side of the story – a mark of true friendship. Even after Sandra had cause to disbelieve her going by the fact that Celia had earlier lied to Sandra concerning her dealings with the native doctor, Sandra still demonstrates true friendship by standing by Celia in her travails. Sandra should also be credited with making enormous efforts and sacrifices in ensuring Celia’s release. She does not only defend Celia’s innocence to the police but also gives relevant information to the police and Gerry that helps in unraveling the crime. Sandra represents friendship and human relationships.  

 Ubong: Ubong is portrayed as one shy boy who for seven years of his life never got to know what real happiness meant until he is brought into the Umoh’s household following the grand scheme of Ijeoma and Idorenyin. His mother, Ijeoma, denies him the opportunity of experiencing the love of a mother. She does not allow him to stay with her; instead she takes him to stay with a string of relatives. Ubong is also forbidden to call her ‘Mummy’ because, according to her, it makes her look so old. Ubong should rather call her ‘Aunty’. The characterisation of Ubong represents the woes of many a child in the dramatist’s cultural milieu. Ubong’s circumstances present a sharp contrast to those of the Umohs’ three children – Eno, Ekaette and Itoro, who are brought up in all the comfort and luxury their parents can afford. Ubong is finally adopted into the household of the Umohs. Sadly, Itoro becomes a victim of the intrigues and the grand scheme of the villainous characters in the play.

Itoro: Itoro, like her sisters, is portrayed as an innocent child enjoying the care and love of her parents. She is particularly loved because she is the last born. Itoro is loved by both her parents but Ani is particularly fond of the girl. When the play opens, Itoro’s school is yet to open. She goes to stay with Ani in his office. The scenario really depicts the bond of love between father and daughter. When Ubong comes into the house, Itoro is one of the first persons to accept him. She comes to love him as a brother and share things with him. This is how she unsuspectingly and innocently drinks from Ubong’s doomed bottle of Fanta. Her death unleashes an atmosphere of grief on everyone in the household, including Idorenyin, whose desire in poisoning the Fanta was for Ubong to die. Itoro’s death is, in many ways, a sacrifice. Through her death, Ubong lives to become a son to the Umohs; such that the family now has two daughters and one son. Also, her death unites the family and rekindles the love bond between husband and wife, parents and chidren.

Setting: Uduak Akpabio’s Perfect Mother is set in Lagos of contemporary Nigeria. It is a society where, despite the advancement made in education and science, people still hold on to superstitious beliefs. This is exemplified in the consulting of native doctors by some of the central characters. Lagos is one of the biggest cities in Nigeria, comprising a well mix of all the ethnic groups with their various cultures and religious beliefs. Thus, in the play one can find Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and Ibibio characters. For instance, the story itself revolves around an Ibibio family living in Lagos. Ijeoma is Igbo while Regina Olusola is Yoruba. Haruna, the gatekeeper, is Hausa. This beautiful mix of people and culture makes Lagos a beautiful microcosm of the nation Nigeria. Among the many permanent features of the city include its chaotic lifestyle, the traffic and the fact that it is a land of opportunities. Anyone who is determined can make it in Lagos as can be seen the case of Aniekan and Celia.

The temporal dimension of the play is the contemporary time; specifically, the play is set in the beginning of the 21st Century; say year 2000, mostly because of the use of cell phones in the play, as this phenomenon began in Nigeria at about 1999. The play does not allude to any political situation that would help clarify its timing.

Evaluation: Perfect Mother by Uduak Akpabio is an epic play of intrigues and grand schemes in the family of Aniekan Umoh, orchestrated by Ani’s mother in collaboration with Ijeoma because of the desire of the former to have a male grandchild and because of the latter’s ambition of becoming Ani’s wife. The story is beautifully told in its minutest details. The author makes a graphic and scenic presentation of events that, in the end, build a story so dense and tense. Perfect Mother is a thrilling work of ingenious craftsmanship. It is a page turner any time, and the average reader needs to read it a second time in order to appreciate the breath of artistry that qualifies this story as a detective story in the subgenre of the theatrics. The play deals with timeless and universal human situations, such that the reader finds himself or herself at one point or another in the story as he or she identifies with the actions, aspirations and struggles of the characters in the play.  It is difficult to say whether Perfect Mother is a tragedy or comedy. The safe way is to call it a tragic-comedy in the most relative sense.

The playwright deploys ordinary everyday language in the play, making the characters engage in a kind of conversation that yields meaning only towards the end of the story. This is symbolic as the story, in not seeking to use high-sounding metaphoric dramatic language, achieves its aim – capturing the attention of the reader to tell a story of love and hatred, affection and jealousy, poverty and wealth, guilt and innocence, dream and reality, health and illness, life and death, among other dialectical or binary thematic relationships.

Perfect Mother captures the world we all know but presents it in a detached sub consciousness so that the reader appears to be seeing a movie acted in a faraway land, but one which is not unknown. The characters are presented in their relations to one another in a clear dimension of objectivity. The author tends to make allowances for their weaknesses even as there is an attempt to justify their actions. This way, it can be seen that the playwright does not condemn her characters. It seems the playwright is operating on the assumption that everyone has a reason for taking a particular action, and that until such a reason is understood, one cannot really condemn them.

The play also raises the issue of appearance and reality, one of the age-long preoccupations of literature. How could it be known that Idorenyin, who was all along playing the moralist, is actually the villain in the whole story? Here lies the beauty of drama: the presentation of one of the salient facts of life.

Conclusion: Uduak E Akpabio in her Perfect Mother tells a story of a Nigerian family living in Lagos and its attempts to overcome the forces of disintegration which often plague many families in their society. Their success at the end of the story, though not without a great cost, is a model of achievement for the other extra-literary families to copy from. It underscores the importance of love and friendship in the tackling of life’s challenges. The play is a well composed piece of drama, a story beautifully woven in its intricate patterns, which can only be deciphered by an attentive reader. Its dialogue is conversational and it is presented in a language the average reader can understand. It is a masterpiece worth reading by one and all.

Recommendation: I recommend this epic play to all lovers of literature in Nigeria and the world over. It tells a thrilling story that can entertain the most bored reader. Students and teachers in Language and Literature departments will find in its content something fresh and exciting to research on, especially in gender studies, psychoanalysis and cultural studies. Happy reading.

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