President Obonjo is a larger-than-life character in more ways than one. Aside from his refusal to use a microphone (“Africans don't use microphones”), Obonjo is a creation that has taken over its creator, comedian Benjamin Bello. He marches down the aisle in full military regalia and to the sound of police sirens, assessing his audience. He works with what he has at his disposal; it feels partly improvised, but at its core there is a theme running through.
This is a mad-cap Jekyll-and-Hyde show about a man trapped inside a lifelike African dictator, and it seems there's no way back for him now. For Bello, the imposing President Obonjo is real; he is here to spread his manifesto to help run our country, and eventually, through the help of a coup, usurp the current government.
There is so much more going on here than a satirical impression of a bloated egotistical dictator and his plans for world domination. On the face of it, it works as a well-crafted political comedy, exposing how the world has treated Africa and left much of it to suffer corrupt governments led by the likes of Obonjo. But it's the layers of context that really make this a fascinating, bewildering and painfully funny experience. Much of the show is spent with Bello the man talking in the character of the president, commenting on the effects the character has had on his family life and comedy career. It's sad when he confesses that there probably isn't a place for him on television doing what he does – you can imagine a documentary series following the President on his mission to conquer the Western World.
Bello, who appears briefly as himself in a frank, hilarious moment of exposition, questions why this character is funnier than the man who writes the jokes. Perhaps it is Obonjo's boldness, and his terrifying close inspection of audience members, that has people laughing. Because the President is so believable it's hard to pin-point the jokes, which is part of the genius. It's all in the bellowing delivery.
But there are finer details that draw laughs even from those not swept up in this concept. Bello's attempts to literally “shake off” the character frequently lead us to believe he has forgotten his lines; whenever it happens, Obonjo nods his head, and utters his simple memory-jogging catchphrase. It works on the metaphysical level that we are all in on the joke, but it also shows us a glimpse of hope that Bello has not been completely consumed by his creation.