Friday, June 17, 2016 8:34 am
By Olu Obafemi
Poring over the appropriateness of my choice to give this Birthday Lecture on the occasion of Femi Osofisan’s entry into the Septuagenarian Season, I engaged in a brief exchange, on phone, with Sola Adeyemi in February, who was acting on behalf of his colleagues who organized this very thoughtful and positively expedient literary festival. I recalled the opening statements in the interview I held with Femi in 2009, which in fact was the third in the decade- by- decade interviews I had held with him since 1978, in the history of our journey together. It goes like this;
You recall it is twenty years now since we had our last interview in 1989—which was eleven years after we had the first. Ordinarily, It should be simply unnecessary us recording interviews, given the unique privilege, at least for me, of our intimate relationship. Yet, it is always critical for objective distancing, in order to make creative and scholarly mediation possible and enduring. This is the necessity, even expediency, for this interview.
Now, here we are in 2016, and how apt this observation has become! I told Sola that, given the intimate relationship through friendship and brotherliness which exists between Femi (he likes to be called Egbon nowadays, even as he approaches this 70th with curious cavalier,) over the past four decades or so, can I possibly offer useful critical thoughts—do I possess the power of the ‘objective distancing’ required of me to ‘undertake a creative and scholarly mediation’ of any enduring value about our celebrant? The answer Sola gave me was both reassuring and challenging to the effect that what is required of me is not necessarily a rigorous theorizing but a talk from the angle of the closeness between us which will lend an uncommon insight into the life of the man of the moment, and which will fire the passion of participants and help set the tone of the Conference. You can all well imagine my dilemma or is it predicament? in preparing to meet the demands of this Lecture as proposed, informally, by the Organizers of this Conference.
The fact is that Femi and I, and a few other close or closer friends perhaps, talk all the time—on the traumas of society, our private lives, our work as writers, teachers, public commentators and theatre workers, and so on. The boundaries of our engagements have blurred so considerably that it has become difficult to separate friendship banter form purist discourses; jokes and jangle from pedantic demagoguery; rage and rail in work-a-day and in our trade of storytelling or indeed the landscape of scholarship. Honestly, how I had wished that this cup would pass over me! But as you can see, the Organizer’s gentle but firm importunacy would not go until I am here. But when the talk becomes too personal and therefore sheer tedium, just tap the desk and we’ll sing a song! This is simply because, to write about the life and works of Osofisan and his several selves on his numerous and diverse journeys with the Muse, is at once profoundly simple and unbelievably profoundly difficult.
This is why I intend to write freely about those things, those stories of our lives in our society—in its state of degeneracy, decadence and occasional flash of promiset—the stories we live through and tell in our profession—as we struggle to make and find meaning for ourselves and our society, indeed humanity. In doing this, one finds Femi, leading most engagingly in the reconstruction and recreation, regeneration of our immediate humanity, through his many creative talents as a Humanist— which manifest in poetry, drama and theatre, critical scholarship, songs and music, teaching and public intellection—of the traumas provoked by social incoherence, inequity, squalor, poverty, sectarian prejudice, since before independence and to the postcolonial present. The term, the concept, the notion and thus the curative metaphors that I have found most apt as deployed by Femi Osofisan for capturing the travails of our lives and the life of our Motherland, as perceived, at times with supernumerary devotion is trauma (implying tremor, quaver, quiver, all forms of violence, in tremulous dimensions). And this is not strictly from the Freudian/ Jungian and Lacanian perspectives of the strictly psychological rendering of the notion, even though Osofisan is deeply concerned with the damage trauma does to the individual and collective psyche—that which takes trauma as the state of emotion which provokes and can /may ‘cause long-term damage’ but only as it leads, in this rampaging writer, Femi Osofisan and most committed writers before and after our generation as they respond to these upsetting and unsettling experiences. That is not all, but one which triggers the perennial quest for illumination and regeneration, expiation and repair—and in revolutionary terms reform and transformation. This implacable perception of trauma, and the etching of metaphors for recuperation and cure, has propelled our celebrant, Femi Osofisan, along these numerous and diverse but fascinating pathways of his creative engagements for over five decades and still going!
Geoffrey Hartman, in his 2000’s study titled Representing Trauma: Issues, Contexts, Narrative Tools, opined that ‘True history or fiction has always required an extraordinary act of the sympathetic imagination: an identification with experiences or stories not our own’’ In our case in Africa, and Nigeria especially, this is only partly true as the implosion of trauma and violence has become part of our history and we are all, writers, politicians, workers and the masses, preys and their predators, are perennially implicated, the former from the receiving end and the latter from the inflicting end..
Hartman continues to stress that the ‘dilemma of remembering a painful past has been crucial in the last two hundred years; a period of unprecedented social, economic and political changes; genocide,; and disappearing cultures’ (and that) ‘Writers and workers of the imagination’ because of their acute sensibility, irrepressible sensitivity, have committed themselves to the art and the urgent business of witnessing and testifying to these cataclysms ‘as they attempt to preserve personal and collective memories from assimilation, repression or misrepresentation’
As all writers are acutely aware, art reflects and indeed refracts ‘ a growing awareness of the effects of catastrophe and oppression on the individual psyche,’ leading to an ‘examination of the psychological consequences of wars, centuries of slavery and human traffic, poverty, colonization, and domestic abuse have provoked ad indeed compelled creativity of unimaginable magnitude’ In the particular instance of writers before and of Osofisan’s generation, these two thousands seasons , to borrow Ayi Kwei’s epochalization of African centuries of deprivation, degradation, decimation and deculturization, have had the tendency to provoke avid creative prolificacy
Trauma and its narratives, and especially the emerging creativity from it, enhance recovery from collective amnesia of the horrid experiences of life and generates illumination, social recovery and reconstruction through the consuming power of creative metaphors. From theorizing to plain witness narratives, a plethora of works of creativity have emerged all over the world—‘’ testimonies of the Holocaust, Vietnam, civil wars including our own Nigerian Civil War, terror and insurgency rage, religious violence, kidnapping, rape, racism, incest, cultism, ritual killings, money laundering and other manifestations of corruption, colonization, etc have produced creative tornadoes across the world; Contemporary writers here and elsewhere—Wole Soyinka (in his prison notes, The Man Died, Season of Anomy and Madmen and Specialist), Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah and Girls at War, Author Koestler’s The Yogi and the Commissar, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, Pablo Neruda, Dennis Brutus, Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid, Femi Osofisan, wa Thiong’O, Allison, and so on, have engaged their creative imagination in providing prophylactics and recuperative antidote to the damaging and ravaging impacts of trauma on man and society’s psyche with terrible lucidity and comprehensibility.
Trauma via Violence and Dystopia and its Curative Metaphors in Osofisan’s Odyssey
Osofisan is the most persistent, indeed consistent, among African writers, to the best of my knowledge, in devoting a substantial part of his life and work to reflecting, pondering and refracting on the power of deprivation, anarchy, chaos, violence and dystopia, and indeed, traumatizing experiences, to produce qualitative and socially regenerative literature: Right from the beginning of his adventure as a writer and a scholar, the question of whether ‘committed aesthetics’, as he recalled again recently, ‘dedicated to the principles of democracy and individual freedom,’ is ‘feasible at all in a season overwhelmingly determined by the demons of error…’ We find, almost simultaneously, in his creative work and scholarship the recurrence of predation, anomy, violence and the trauma they yield in our individual and collective psyches, and the commitment to finding the courage and compassion, indeed, the curative metaphors for redeeming our society.
Think of Osofisan’s the two-part essay titled ‘The Quality of Hurt’(1974) on poetry; ‘ Anubis Resurgent: Chaos and Political Vision in Recent Nigerian Literature” (1975): “Do the Humanities Humanize? –A Dramatist’s Encounter With Anarchy and the Nigerian Intellectual Culture” (1981); Equally palpable in this regard are many of the essays in the main studies, collections of essays in ‘The Nostalgic Drum: Essays on Literature, Drama and Culture”(2001) and Insidious Treasons: Drama in a Postcolonial State(2001); Literatures and the Pressures of Freedom: The Challenges of the Nigerian Writer in the 21st Century’ (2010); Literature and the Pressures of Freedom (2001); The Muse of Power and the Apologues of Pain: Literature in the Forest of a Thousand Dystopias (2011). In Osofisan’s most recent review of Insidious Treasons (2016), you find the climax of this fascination with trauma and its creative therapy, (through the stage). Reflect, specifically on the pieces on ‘The political imperative African Dramaturgy’, ‘The Revolution as Muse: Drama as Surreptitious Insurrection in a Postcolonial Military State The dramatist proposes, in fact asserts, in his usually provocative polemics, in the title essay of his recent essayistic offering, ‘’ The Muse of Anomy: Literature and Contemporary Nigerian Life’’(2016), that any ‘form of artistic expression’- be it ‘fiction, drama, poetry, sculpture, music’—is a product of psychosis; since ‘the muse of art is, invariably, the muse of anomy, and that ‘horror, suffering and anguish are the bed on which the seed of literature flourishes’ (253).’ I must quote him fully to illustrate his consciousness of the creative avidity of trauma:
Anomy, as we know, is synonymous with chaos, violence and anarchy. It is not normally a condition to be wished for any society. But it is, perhaps astonishingly, the fertilizing food of the creative genius. Art, it seems, is compromised by happiness. The artist, however endowed, will sooner or later, find himself lured into silence or somnolence by luxury and content…felicity and satiety (for the artist,) are dangerous drugs, the type of things that he must not pray for because, with them, the edge of his creative imagination must inevitably grow blunt. The disease known as ‘writer’s block’ is bred in comfort, and not in want.’…perverse as it may sound, the gods of creativity arrive to possess their worshippers only at such moments when these votaries are in acute distress, when they are sunk in situations of deep emotional and psychological crisis or lost in ecstatic delirium’’ (My emphasis). In short, the graver the trauma, the better the creativity.’ Because it is pain, not pleasure that accelerate the ‘creative motion’.
It is suffering and not satiety, anguish and not euphoria, frenzy, not sobriety, that animates and powers the catalytic impulse to creation. Thus, the artist is most articulate and/or sublime in the presence of pain, as he tries to find ammunition to trounce pain and gain triumph, for society, since ‘the candour of genius is honed by the knife of catatonia.’
In the works of our fresh and celebrated Septuagenarian, Femi Osofisan, through the numerous detours and pathways of his restless, creative life, we encounter his engagement, dialectical and ideological disputations, locating, as Hartman graphically captures it, the importance of trauma as a ‘ multi-contextual social issue’ and its concomitant ‘consequence of political ideologies and its generational departure platforms. In 1996), lifting himself from dirge (mourning the deaths of so many writers, Ken Saro Wiwa, slain by the State, Zulu Sofola, Efua Sutherland, Ayo Mamudu, Sesan Ajayi,Soony Labou Tansi and others) to hope ( at the wake of Spring) at the tale end of Winter, he could recoil from the reality of trauma; “True, our continent is bedevilled by all kinds of problems, some of horrendous proportions,; true, there is much brutality and violence on our streets, there is widespread misery and squalor in many homes, true, the relationship between several of our governments and the people they claim to serve is that of naked terror and abuse. But even with all these, as the trope of Spring suggests, there is also in Africa incommensurable delight. Beyond the savageries, beyond the wanton cruelties, are acres and acres of generosity, of the purest compassion’ Osofisan speaks of undying resistance to prevalent Trauma,(our continent being ‘bound to violence’, in the frightening presence of the ‘the tragedies on the continent(which is) always so frightening , so absurdly grotesque… that we find ourselves trapped unwittingly in this role of self-flagellation’ (150). Finding creative strategies for dislodging trauma in the human (society’s) psyche, is, for Osofisan, a way of engaging history as it tries to move away from a-historicity, mythopoesis, individualism to adopt the option/alternative of collective engagement with finding meaning and essence to contemporary social incoherence, or indeed, how to assist society to self rediscovery.
I assert, without any fear of contradiction, that right from his outset on the path of his mission as a votive of the creative Muse, Osofisan has made the interrogation of trauma as social-historical experience a creative enterprise which needs to be internalized, demystified, reconstructed, challenged and overcome, if society must gain liberation. In Osofisan’s perceptive vision, trauma, in the form of violence and dystopia, is not a subject of merely imagining as belonging to the past; it is tremulously present and terrifyingly extant, with consequences for the future if not apprehended, engaged, understood, analysed and defeated. Thus, in its varying levels of manifestations, trauma is the very dialectical climate of contemporary society, Nigeria and Africa in our case, which we ignore to the greatest peril of the survival of humanity—whether as manifest in 9-11, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, ethno-religious wars, militancy of the MEND and Avengers’ coloration, the herdsmen’s terrorsm and its national equilibrium-threatening outrage across the nation, and ravaging poverty across the world, and so on, we are in the strangulating clutches of trauma and Osofisan is relentless in his preoccupation with raising mass awareness to its frightening reality and its combat.
In his polemics and creative works in print and on stage these many years, Osofisan has raised alarm, with unbridled stridency, to the rage of violence on our landscape. Political violence and the corruption cankerworm dominate the story of A Restless Run of Locusts (1969) and Kolera Kolej (1975) (his first novel turned to a play). In his first poetry volume, Minted Coins (1988), under unhidden pseudonym, Okinba Launko, he alerts us to the fact of the growing kleptomania among our politicians who have shredded the national flag to sew their ‘under-pants.’ I have from 1978 to 1981 and published in 1982 and 1996) devoted attention to the works of the writers of my generation, led on the stage by Osofisan, Omotoso, and Sowande in their proposition of a revolutionary alternative to the systemic violence wrought on society by dysfunctional governance in the mould of crude and obtuse capitalism. Many other scholars and critics of Osofisan’s works-from Biodun Jeyifo (1985), Chris Dunton (1992) and Sandra Richards (1995) to Muyiwa Awodiya (1993) and Sola Adeyemi(1999) have directed attention to the numerous paths Osofisan has beaten to fashion discourse dialectics for social transformation.
To cite Biodun Jeyifo’s supportive, if incomplete, statement here that ‘in Nigeria, ‘only Osofisan, Sowande, and Omotoso…have dared to believe in , and represent revolutionary alternatives to the contradictions of the semi-colonial and neo-colonial societies of Black Africa (1985: 62). To be sure, the early revolutionary plays of Femi Osofisan (The Chattering and the Song, 1976, Once Upon Four Robbers, and Morountodun then unpublished), Kole Omotoso’s The Curse (1976 and Shadows in the Horizon(1977) and Bode Sowande’s The Night Before and Farewell to Babylon, my own Pestle on the Mortar (unpublished then in 1975 but on the ABU stage, and Nights of the Mystical Beast ( unpublished also but on Leeds stage in 1980), Tunde Fatunde’s Water No Get Enemy and Oga Na Tief Man) had begun to raise, on stage, the dialectical materialist alternative to the bourgeois social reality that characterize (s)(d) governance in our society since the First Republic, provoking the literal and metaphorical conflagration on our national landscape—the trauma of violence that Osofisan’s oeuvre preoccupies through his serial pathways of creativity.
As I began to mention, Osofisan himself is acutely and deeply concerned about the examples across ages and geography of trauma and violence —from Euripedean classics on the horrorsof wars, Shakespeare’s tragedies , Dickson’s London, ‘Balzac in Paris’ against the emerging Industrial Revolution in Europe, ‘Gorky, Mayakovski, Dostoyevsky (War and Peace).. He reminds us of the Cold War and the writings of Latin Americans on the communist revolutions through the works of Pablo Neruda, Las Vargas, Allende, Garcia Marqueze, and so on. What of the growth of a national literature in Nigeria through the works of our literary patriarchs in their varied involvements in the events of the cataclysmic, fratricide of 1966-70—Wole Soyinka eloquently reconstructed in ‘quartet, the prison memoirs, The Man Died and Season of Anomy Madmen and Specialits and Jero’s Metamorphosis, Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah and Beware Soul Brotherr, JP Bekderemo Clark’s Casualties, and the post-war outings of Cyprian Ekwensi, John Munonye, Elechi Amadi, even the younger ones like Kenule Saro Wiwa, Kole Omotoso, Femi Osofisan Niyi Osundare, Tunde Fatunde, Odia Ofeimun, Tanure Ojaide, Funsho Aiyejina, Festus Iyayi, and so on.
All these and the creative outpourings of generations of writers of both gnder, following immediately after; including Catherine Achonolu, Akachi Ezeigbo, Tess Onwueme, Ahmed Yerima, Esaba Irobi, Harry Garuba, and so on …have had to assemble those irrefutable , condensed traumatic experiences to curative metaphors and cathartic (not in its reactionary Aristotelian notion of that concept) processes. All of these essentialize the inextricability of literature and society, in their ‘endless process of mutual refraction and (re) construction’ and the artist’s in Nigeria having blossomed best in the period of trauma and social incoherence and dislocation where ‘the ogre of anomy triggers off their talent for the creation of beauty.’
Osofisan’s works—in all the genres aptly summarizes into Pain Remembers, Love Rekindles—a title of one of his poetic titles. In them, we encounter the phenomenal axis of rebirth emerging from the fundamental understanding of self and communal knowledge of those factors that brought violence, incoherence, dystopia and social tragedies which remain un-abating in our society since shortly before and after political independence, even raging like vampires in our street today as Osofisan turns Seventy.
This Lecture therefore trebles as Tribute, explorations of the celebrant’s diverse devices and paths trodden to mediate in our society’s and humanities many travails and a celebration of his commitment to art and society.
We live in an age when such things as honouring our heroes, our mentors, our great achievers, have become a rarity. People would rather despise those who have built them, or simply pretend as if they never existed than celebrate them. Governments driven to discomfort by the bitter truth o the nib of the acerbic pen, would rather censor than celebrate writers. When teachers, colleagues, friends and former and present students, who nowadays, find it essential to celebrate one of the greatest of our compatriots and builders, like Femi Osofisan, they deserve any and every encouragement. This is my way of doing just that. I thus wish to congratulate, in no uncertain terms, all the organizers of this four-day Conference on the occasion of my friend’s seventieth birthday.
Facts are facts and they are hallowed and sacred. I shall therefore continue, as I will do here, to state what is obvious about the celebrant on this occasion of his birthday, which has caused the creative and intellectual world to converge or descend on Ibadan to celebrate him. First, as you must have been inundated these past two days, is that the man’s profile simply intimidates and confounds even the most cynical, that we are dealing with a rarity. The University of Ibadan, ten years ago, gave the following citation when he gave the Faculty lecture a few years back; it liberates me from any further tinkering with a justifying bio-data. They describe Osofisan as
A restless artist and multiple award winner, with over two dozen plays in print, plus four novellas and five volumes of poetry. Professor Osofisan has been honoured with fellowship from various international bodies, including the British Council, the International Writers Programme at Iowa, the Henri Clewes Foundation in Napoule, France, and the Ragdale Foundation at Lake Forest. He was Drama Consultant to FESTAC 77, to MAMSER, and to the recently concluded COJA. From 2000 to 2004, he served as the General Manager and Chief Executive of the National Theatre Iganmu, Lagos.
As a scholar, Professor Osofisan has to his credit three books of published essays, including The Nostalgic Drum, published by Howard University Press in Washington; five edited books; several monographs and essays in learned journals; as well as three books of translation.
He is a former President of the Association of Nigerian Authors [ANA]; a current Vice-President of International PEN, Nigeria Chapter.
Osofisan was honoured with the French National Order of Merit Award in 1991; the Faculty of Arts Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2001; and the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award, which is the highest in the Nigerian academia, in 2004.
This profile has of course been dwarfed by his breath-ceasing achievements and exploits in the past decade since this was written. By way of memory-waffling, I have said so in a tribute published in a book when he turned 60, in a way that anticipated the University’s encomium thus;
I have used the terms profile and multi-talented rather frequently already, unsubstantiated, but without trepidation, as many of those who will genuinely celebrate Femi Osofisan must know. How else can one describe a man who has published fifty-one five full-length plays, five novels (he would describe them as novelettes, and actually published them under a pseudonym), five books of poetry, six robust works of literary scholarship (bringing his creative and scholarly outings and edited works to a daunting 100), numerous edited journals and hundreds of published newspaper columns? For his effort in painting our nation and Africa’s creative landscape literally red, as undoubtedly Africa’s most prolific playwright, inimitable scholar and itinerant player, laurels and awards have come his way in appreciable measure and from all over the world Appointed Emeritus Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan, he was recently made a Distinguished Professor of Performing Arts at the Kwara State University, Ilorin, while also presently serving as a Fellow of the International Research Centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ at the Freie Universitat in Berlin, Germany. Becoming an Award winner literally before weaning, having won, in 1965, the First Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service Independence Prize with his Essay, ‘Five Years Ago’ and the first T.M. Aluko Prize for Literature at the Government Colllege Ibadan. Osofisan is a multiple award winner: 1982, he was awarded the City of Pennsylvania Bell Award for Artistic Performance for his role in A Flash I the Sun directed by the Prof Joel Adedeji: 1987, ANA Poetry Prize and the Regional Commonwealth Poetry Prize for First collection both with Minted Coins (as Okinba Launko):1992, Ford Foundation Fellow, Africana Studies and Research Centre, Cornell University, USA, Fellow of Drama of Other Worlds, King Alfred’s College, Winchester, England, Grand Patron of the Arts, Ghana Association of Writers: 1993, Ragdale Foundation for Playwriting, Lake Forest, ANA Drama Prize with Yungba-Yungba: 1997,made Officer de l’Ordre Nationale de Meerite, Repulique de France (having in i973 been unable to secure hotel accommodation in Paris and slept on a bench at the train station!): 2000, appointed General Manager/ Chief Executive Officer of the National Theatre: 2001, conferred with the Award of Distinguished Alumnus, Faculty of Ars, University of Ibadan; 2004, Awarded the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) in the Humanities; 2006, Conferred with the Fonlon Nichols Award by the Arican Liteature Association and Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters.
In this brief talk, which I must confess I only manage to scramble together, I shall discuss Osofisan’s historic and pioneering contribution to the development of committed drama and theatre in Nigeria, as the creative arm of the rise of radical ideological commitment to the evolution of an alternative vision to the rapidly decaying obtuse capitalist structure of our fledging independent, neo-colonial nation. What do I mean by this? The politicians, to whom the mantle and maze of governance was handed, succeeded only in wrecking the dreams and promise of a new and fulfilled nation after the trauma of colonialism and imperialism. The initial nationalist efforts and political ideals of erecting a virile and vibrant nation gave way to political brigandage, ethnic nationalism, self-seeking and election manipulation and thuggery. The writers, many of who provided the cultural arm of the struggle for independence, soon retreated, having being afflicted with disillusion and near-anguish.
The first generation of Nigerian writers were critical of this failure of vision of the politician, but did not really go beyond giving, through literature, a lucid but cynical expression of the tragedy of dysfunctional leadership. Writers like Soyinka, Clark, Achebe and so on, aptly painted the picture of socio-spiritual decadence that had overtaken the political terrain % a situation which eventually led to the collapse of the First Republic, first through military coups, then a Civil War and subsequently the rise of a military oligarchy and the death of democracy. The writers, however critical, offer no positive alternative solution to the sordid situation they exposed and criticised.
There was therefore the need, among the younger generation, from the early seventies in all sectors and disciplines, to begin to find new options, new solution, new redeeming strategies to the failed social economy that they find themselves growing in. A radical, left-bound, elite emerged along the Ibadan-Ife axis. Prominent among them were the late Comrade Ola Oni (he being more of a mentor than a peer), Omafume Onoge, Bade Onimode, Biodun Jeyifo, Edwin Madunagu, O. O. Darah Ropo Sekoni and so on. They began to offer, from a materialist ideological perspective, new transformational strategies and vision for society what they refer to, in the summative words of the sociology scholar, Omafume Onoge, as ‘positive affirmative consciousness’. It is the literary and dramatic segment of this, one which is less explosive because creative, but no less dynamic, that the new generation of committed Nigerian dramatists emerged to represent.
Femi Osofisan was clearly and unequivocally in the pioneering, driving seat of these emergent and emerging radical voices from across the apron of the stage. He was, and still is, the most articulate and most prolific of that generation both in terms of ideological commitment and the political aesthetics of all of us in that generation, which included, among others, Kole Omotoso, Bode Sowande, Tunde Fatunde and this writer. There are other writers, who are not dramatists. The poets Niyi Osundare and Odia Ofeimun, Tanure Ojaide, Funso Aiyejina belong essentially to this generation of writers who were palpably committed to the social responsibility of writers to deal, urgently with contemporary social problems in society, with the sole aim of raising mass consciousness of a positive, even revolutionary alternative, to the pervading decadence on the Nigerian landscape. As I said before, Osofisan offers a clear and lucid parameter of the departing lines between his generation and the one that came before. I shall quote a statement by him to buttress this claim. In an interview with Ossie Enekwe in 1978, he had pointed out as follows:
A number of us, the younger generation in fact share this perspective…you may say we are leftists without being essentially dogmatic about Marxism but our essentially socialist leanings and convictions separate us from the older writers by a wide margin…we wanted to create an alternative tradition…from a materialist perspective. We look at literature as a social force, an ideological weapon.
Now, it will be interesting to see how many of our students and writers of the younger generation that came after apprehend or take seriously those concepts and theories that informed the ideological departures and divergences stated above. How many of our literature and theatre students are informed about those varieties of commitments which lead writers to take positions that reflect development in the social economy and politics of the land? It would be a fascinating exercise to ask us to define Marxism, or its economic and ideological opposite, Capitalism. In the theatre classes, we study Brecht and his Alienation Effect, including his impact or influence on our dramatist, the subject of today’s talk. But are we aware that even the Masters from whom Osofisan and his generation of writers parted visional company also related to Brecht and are influenced by him? The fine conceptual and ideological lines of differences may have since been lost on us in our classroom and theatres today as the two generations of writers have written plays, prose-fiction and poetry whose radical and commitment dispositions have mesehed/or mergd somewhat. Well, this is the subject of future enquiry.
Obasi (2012) reports that theoretical basis is often synonymous to” the opportunity to explore the distinctions between the theatrical and dramatic activity and to appreciate the give-and-take inherent link between non-dramatic theatrical activity and dramatic theatrical activity”. Adeseke (2014) quotes Akinyemi and Falola’s (2009) opinion on the personality of Osofisan’s dramatic representations, from the standpoint that:
Osofisan’s plays are geared towards the emancipation of the oppressed, the common man, the underdogs, and the opinion that Nigerian can be a haven for all, if there is good leadership. His dramatic radical oeuvres, spanning more than three decades, have provided an ambit for making comments on the Nigerian society, using the Yoruba worldview and cultural milieu as a springboard. (p. 29)
As is evident, and in spite of claims made for him otherwise, Osofisan continues, trough his craft and rhetoric, to be a deployer of leftist theory of dialectical materialism which as defined by Clapp cited in Obasi (2012) is “a theory used in the explanation of Marxist ideas.” He explains that “it is a science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought which was and remains a revolutionary philosophy that constantly challenges capitalism in every sphere and substituting science for dreams and prejudice”. I would iterate that the core/nucleus of Marxism is unequivocally on the imperativeness of social change which of course is a product of a concise engagement of the aesthetics of revolution; revolutionary aesthetics. The basic dilemma that confronts playwrights like Osofisan is how to create a theatre that will form part of the socio-historical crisis in Nigeria as well as ‘transcend the banality of everyday experience’. Osofisan is deeply aware of this dilemma facing a dramatist who is committed to protecting a socialist viewpoint of art as well as giving an aesthetically valid art and most of the experiments that he has engaged his theatre laboratory with have been concerned with striking the appropriate equipoise between aesthetic balance and political correctness. He expresses the enormity if the task in an interview with this writer nearly four decades ago thus;
For those who want a certain profundity in their art, a lot of the things we do will be very disappointing, because you can’t really get to the depths of experience. And I suppose that this is why one is still working and writing… that one should get what will be very social relevant and at the same time have some depth.
Obasi (2012) also submits that “for anyone seeking to change the world in a socialist direction, the ideals of Marxism are critical, and are indispensable tools and weapons to assist the working class in its struggle to change society”. This socialist belief in collectivism, as opposed to the ‘protagonist ego’ of bourgeois art, is evident in the recruitment of slaves and rank and file for social revolution by the enlightened few such as Leje and Sontri n Osofisan’s The Chattering and the Song, and as Prof Biodun Jeyifo (2006) has recounted, is a dialogic ferment in The Oriki for a Grasshopper
Ugwu (2011) reports that:
The development of revolutionary consciousness during this theatrical period was signalled by the appearance of writers whose works were rooted in the Marxist revolutionary ideology. The proponents of this theatre inclination are Femi Osofisan, Bode Sowande, Kole Omotoso, Tunde Fatunde and Tess Onwueme. Plays of the revolutionary bent are: Femi Osofisan’s A RestlessRun of Locusts (1975), The Chattering and the Song (1976), Who is Afraid of Solarin (1982), Once Upon Four
Robbers (1980), Morountodun (1982), No More the Wasted Breed (1982)…
Sola Fosudo (2012) affirms dysfunctional governance and leadership failure as an engaging themes in Osofisan’s theatre when he maintains that,
In all, there is a general consensus by the critics of Osofisan that he creates through his writing the awareness for responsible leadership in society, the consequences of misplaced priorities in decision-making, and the results of societal vices such as corruption, non-accountability and despotism. These themes are clearly portrayed in plays such as Once Upon Four Robbers, Who is Afraid of Solarinand Many Colours Make The Thunder King (117-118).
As you may be aware, the older generation did not take quite kindly to such a brewing ‘subversion or rebellion’ and they, especially Wole Soyinka, said so in the ferment of debates that ensued in the mid-1970s. In a paper which he read at a Conference organised by the ‘Ibadan-Ife group’, of which Osofisan is a critical member, Wole Soyinka angrily cautioned those he dubbed ‘Chronologues’ and ‘ideologues’ of the end of his ‘patience’ with radicals who, he said, ‘ignore evidence of a permanent dimension of a writer’s life and art in order to sound suitably and fashionably political’. Here he states his suspicion and disputation of an ideological posture of art. This was an age of ideas and vibrant discourse, which we can only relish with nostalgia in this theory-dry landscape. In any case, Osofisan is not about to back out from this creatively fertilizing fount, which Soyinka remains for him and his generation. We must read Osofisan’s “Essays in Dialogue with Wole Soyinka” in Insidious Treasons and Beyond” (2016) to confirm the irrepressibility of his subversive spirit towrd his mentor:
It is sufficient that Soyinka, like all profound thinkers, is capable …to provide an insight that is at once illuminating and provoking—in the sense of stirring you into active response, whether the response be of fury or despair, of consternation or ecstasy.
So, Osofisan continues to Soyinka and ‘write back’(because, strangely,) the moments when I disagree with him are the very moments when I respect him most…when I discover that I owe him the fullest gratitude’. And this reading and reading and recreating (writing back) is one of the many fascinating paths that Osofisan, the great eclectician treads. He does it with J.P. Clark Bekederemo, with who he has found, it seems to me, a seductive alliance even after creating Another Raft from The Raft, until he has finally created the most authoritative Biography of Clark “A Voyage’ on which I have been made an accomplice!
How did the generation of Osofisan present this ‘difference’ in aesthetic and theatrical terms? If the philosophy is pointed, topical and politically pungent, and not metaphysical and ahistorical, how does it ramify on stage and in the dramatic texts? Briefly, in order to make theatre shape people’s awareness and furnish society with the right change perspective, Osofisan consciously moved away, in his plays from the sophistication of the linguistic apparatus deployed by his predecessors, especially Soyinka and Clark, which he confessed, impeded audience understanding of and involvement in his theatre. A theatre that will conscientize must neither be obscure nor dense. As Osofisan has grasped quite early in his theatre career, a theatre that will speak for and with the target audience must deploy ‘language that is immediately accessible’ because, as he said, ‘if I’m in the theatre, I want the theatre which he students, the workers and the porters can relate to and take something out of.’ But I must clarify that it is not an embracement of sheer surface experience, or being simplistic % which is different from being simple. His plays, right from the earlier ones, recognise the need to balance social relevance with valid aesthetics.
Another theatre technique of his popular theatre is the practice of stage democracy. The alternative theatre must generate an attitude of questioning and debate. It must throw challenges at history on the part of the audiences and the masses. There is the essence of promoting a robust audience participation in this democratisation process. As we find in his play, Once Upon Four Robbers, most notably but not in isolation, the audience is involved in problem resolution % especially as regards the kind of judgement that the audience makes. There is an ‘opinion pool’, of a kind, to determine the play’s conclusion. As a text, the play suggests alternative ending(s), depending on the tenor of response to each performance.
There is also the engagement of multiple role-playing in this committed theatre. Now, this is generally, simplistically, referred to as borrowing from Brecht, hook line and sinker. There is this element in Brecht’s Epic theatre, to be sure. In fact, Soyinka has earlier deployed this quite a lot in his play, especially in Madman and Specialist. But we must note that it is also a derivation from the indigenous, Yoruba performance and oral narrative tradition. In examining Osofisan’s use of this dramatic technique of multiple role-playing, which he has, in fact, established in as early a play as The Chattering and the Song (1976) and formalised into a ‘a play-within-play’, we must not lose sight of the impact of the story-telling format and vision on his dramaturgy and ideology-we have developed this further in our fabulist-fabulous theory, exemplifying Osofisan’s theatre. Form The Chattering where the technique of riddles transmute into a framework of political indoctrination, to Once Upon Four Robbers where story-telling, via the raconteur narrator Alfa, lays the foundation of his total theatre aesthetics, to the boon plays % Esu and the Vagabond Minstrels, Twingle- Twangle, Many Colours % Osofisan has firmly rooted his theatre on the idiom of the rustic floral of the Yoruba performance tradition and sharpened it with the knife of global theatrical currencies that range from Brecht to Gogol.
Uji (2014) renders a discourse on the Main Themathologic Preoccupation of Femi Osofisan’s Radical Drama which is woven around the revolution and its revolutionary romanticism in Osofisan’s radical dramaturgy with a focus on The Chattering and the Song, Morountodun, No More the Wasted Breed and Red is the Freedom Road. Uji submits that there is a revolutionary belligerency staged by farmers against a coercive State apparatus, where the State is projected as being exploitative, dehumanising, and corrupt, in Morountodun. In the case of No More Wasted Breed, he is of the opinion that the plot of the play “hinges on a revolutionary conflict constructed on the traditional purification ritual in the society”. Also on The Chattering and the Song, he explains that the conflict/revolution of the Farmer’s Movement in the play pre-empts a change in the polity. Lastly, a revolutionary conflict for the purpose of freedom was raised in Red is the Road to Freedom. Uji (2014) goes on to explain that “the theme of revolution as opposed to resignation to fate, is tied to what is termed, in Marxist parlance, revolutionary romanticism”. This he says is ultimately based on social awareness and articulated struggle.
On another dimension of thought, Adedina, Adinku and Bolaji (2013) also undertook a research on and an analysis of Osofisan’s theatre with their central focus being on the women in Osofisan’s plays. They are of the opinion that Osofisan projects the women in his works as leaders who possess innate qualities and abilities to lead in society. They found that “to Osofisan, women are not as a weaker sex as misconstrued by their male counterparts, but as a force to be reckoned with in all spheres of life”. They submit that being successful in politics, education, or becoming a figure to reckon with in any society is not dependent on sex They base their assertion on the roles and characters of Iyabo (Restless Run of Locusts), Altine (Altine’s Wrath) Tegonni (Tegonni… an African Antigone), Titubi (Morountodun), Ibidun (Red is the Road to Freedom), and Alhaja (Fires Burn and Die Hard)
Permit me to now draw from texts and statements which provide the essential trend and the nature of his engage theatre and art, and then focus on his earliest plays, which provide a road map to his consistent and enduring theatre of illumination, enlightenment of and commitment, to a path to the social regeneration for the preys of our earth % the ordinary, deprived people of our society.
As I began to assert, Osofisan is a key pioneer of committed theatre in Nigeria. There is a sense in which he can be said to have tested the creative waters before other members of his generation, having written his early plays during and shortly after the traumatic years of Nigerian Civil War. The play, A Restless Runs of Locusts, was premiered here in Ibadan in 1969, while the play, Oduduwa Don’t Go! was written and produced a year earlier, 1968 at the tender age of 22.