The Theme of Social & Political Injustice in Zulu Sofola’s ‘King Emene’ & Esiaba Irobi’s ‘Nwokedi’
It has been said that injustice is a wrongful action, a situation where people are treated unfairly. This research helps to throw more light on the subject, preferably using drama which is an effective mode of communication. It can be visibly seen that injustice is a lingering theme well portrayed in Nigerian drama. It can conveniently be concluded that drama can expose injustice and proffer solutions to it, and this is shown in the two plays to be discussed in this research.
In an article, Adeniji reports that King Emene explores the rituals and traditional beliefs of the people of Aniocha area of the present Delta State, and is structured in such a way that its relevance to the present socio-political crisis in the country is not in doubt. Adeniji further says that King Emene can rightly be classified as presenting a revolutionary vision that is rooted in animist metaphysics. Akinwale in his chapter entitled Zulu Sofola: Her Writings and Undermeanings says that King Emene “is constructed purely on the Aristotelian principles of tragedy.”
This is true. The play King Emene is the tragedy of a stubborn king. The Peace Week is the week when the king assumes the role of a god and enters the shrine to carry the problems of his people to their God. According to tradition, the king must be pure and undefiled before he undergoes this sanctified task. A ritualisation process accompanies this to seek the full consent of the Oracle and the goddess Mkpitime. Emene is the king of Oligbo, but not the rightful king. The real king is Chibueze, his half-brother, but he is murdered by Nneobi, Emene’s mother. He is killed in order that Emene can take up the throne. A disruption of the cosmic harmony has thus resulted from this action and the Oracle insists that unless the crime within the royal family is revealed and appropriate sacrifices performed, the Peace Week cannot be ushered in.
The theme of injustice in Irobi’s play Nwokedi is manifested in the characters of Arikpo and Nwokedi Snr, two corrupt politicians. Arikpo is the son-in-law of Nwokedi Snr. At the beginning of the play, Arikpo complains to Mrs. Nwokedi, his mother-in-law, about a new house he built which is burnt down by the Unemployed Youths Association in Ugep. From the way the house is described, it indirectly confirms the accusations the Association makes against him: he built the house with “stolen money, political money, corrupt money, the voter’s money.” (Page 4) Without heeding the warning of the youths against campaigning for a second term in office, he goes ahead, hence his predicament. Here, Arikpo is portrayed as a corrupt politician, a senator who hungers to be in power. The character of Arikpo is that of political ruthlessness. He imports guns into the country and he flashes one of them at Nwokedi as Nwokedi threatens him with a dagger. Ezinna, his wife who perished in the Ugep disaster along with her three children, had insisted that he should abandon politics, stop importing guns and return to legal practice. He had used her and the children for ritual sacrifice, and this confirms Nwokedi’s accusation made against him concerning the death of his sister.
In comparing King Emene and Nwokedi, the playwrights make extensive use of historical and traditional customs. Traditional songs and proverbs have been infused in their plays according to the dramatists’ Igbo origins.
In Nwokedi, Irobi incorporates songs which are applied to intensify different levels of emotions emanated in each scene, and to portray some certain political statements. The play has a display of interesting puns, and this shows the playwright’s ingenuity with words. King Emene has quite a variety of traditionally rooted proverbs and dirges which colour the changing situations in the play. Akinwale under the chapter Zulu Sofola: Her Writings and Undermeanings says that King Emene “is a product of both history and the artist’s own creative intuition.” He asserts that Sofola applies myth, ritual and traditional culture in the play and she believes that “the past can be used to examine the present so as to project into the future, and this is very relevant to contemporary society.” On the other hand, Nwokedi clearly reflects the playwright’s deep influence in the Marxist philosophy. Ohaeto’s lecture notes clearly states that “the interest of the play is in harnessing and distilling what the leftists say and what the liberals postulate, and from that bundle of creative fodder fashion out what can be broad-shouldered enough to sustain the peculiarities of his (the playwright’s) individuality, temperament and vision.”
King Emene is a play about the fall of an arrogant king. A slave to power, his inability to listen to sound advice causes his downfall, and by the time he discovers the truth, it is too late. Akinwale under the chapter Zulu Sofola: Her Writings and Undermeanings states clearly that “we see him being enmeshed in a web he himself makes, he gets to a point of recognition and reversal, but too late.” It can be conveniently said that the character King Emene does a great injustice to himself and the whole community of Oligbo by his rash decisions, his thoughtless actions and his youthful stubbornness and arrogance. The two corrupt politicians who were disgraced and threatened by unemployed youths in Nwokedi are a perfect portrayal of the corrupt civilian politicians of the First Republic. The two politicians are hungry to stay in power and their nature is confirmed by the confessions they make. It could be conveniently said that by their involvement in money-laundering, lying, ritual sacrifice and buying of houses abroad, they have successfully done a great injustice to the society they are meant to serve.
Nwokedi and King Emene are two plays that share a lot of things in common. Apart from the fact that these plays were written by two playwrights of different Igbo origins, the characters these writers use to portray the theme of social and political injustice are slaves to power. At the same time, these plays portray the ultimate consequence of injustice, which is death. The characters used to portray injustice subsequently meet their end in bloody death.
Irobi and Sofola have successfully portrayed the level of injustice in the society using Arikpo, Nwokedi Snr, King Emene, Diokpa, and many other characters in the plays to mirror that society. Since injustice is widespread and deep-rooted in the society, incisive imaginative insight along with historical and traditional background is needed to expose it. That is what Sofola and Irobi have successfully done in their plays.
Irobi, Esiaba. Nwokedi (a play). Enugu: ABIC publishers, 1991.
Sofola, Zulu. King Emene: Tragedy of a Rebellion. London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1974.
Akinwale, Ayo. Zulu Sofola: Her Writings and Undermeanings. In Otokunefor, H. C. & Nwodo, O. C. Nigerian Female Writers: A Critical Perspective. (ed.) Lagos: Malthouse Press Limited, 1989.
Ezenwa Ohaeto’s Lecture Notes on the course Modern African Drama.
Adeniji, Olayiwola. ‘King Emene’ re-echoes Zulu’s political vision. The (Nigerian) Guardian Newspaper. Tuesday, July 16, 1996: Page 29.