Abiodun J. Macaulay’s Obanla (Travails of Our Heroes) paints a bigger picture of a society, Iluora, largely infested by ills perpetrated within the corridors of power surfacing and re-surfacing in the society from time to time. Divided into Fourteen Movements, it highlights such ills as “excessive lust for power”, “godfatherism”, “selfish interest”, “misguided use of power”, “usurpation” that have come to stay in Iluora, the fictional setting of the play.
It is evidently clear that works of fiction do not germinate out of oblivion; they are usually influenced by the reality. Though cleverly crafted round the traditional society of Iluora, Obanla is a parody of the Nigerian state of affairs. The partial use of Yoruba language, the characters’ nomenclature and generally the Yoruba background are attestations to this.
Moreover, Iluora, semantically a land that is flourished with natural resources, speaks volumes of Nigeria which is equally blessed with vast natural resources. In addition to this, some of the ideas seem to tally with each other. For example, “usurpation” witnessed in the beginning of the play symbolises the coup d’etats incessantly witnessed in the past history of Nigeria. Balogun Arobiojo also is an archetype of a military man who forcefully takes over the reins of power in the country. Standing on this ground, it is right to say that even with the changes in name and system, Obanla is just one of the several parodies about Nigeria.
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The play revolves round the character of Balogun Arobiojo who with the unflinching support of his fellow chiefs seizes power from King Fiwasaye of Iluora and his queen, Yewande. The plotters claim King Fiwasaye is too adamant for their liking. They believe he proved difficult to control and expect him to be a puppet in their hands.
“You are too adamant. You refused to yield to correction. The river that forgets the spot of emanation will dry off. We are your Godfathers.”
– Elemo (Page 17)
In bid to have their interests protected, these chiefs enthrone one of theirs, Balogun Arobiojo, a warlord who serves in the capacity of the minister of war and related affairs, as their king. Upon enthronement, Balogun Arobiojo feels insecure and uncomfortable about being controlled by his chiefs who are only after their selfish interests. He feels like a usurper but his wife, Adesua douses these feelings.
Arobiojo: … my enthronement is not official, it is untraditional.
Adesua: When we find out who they are and where they are, we shall get rid of them … If you don’t kill them, they will kill you.
At first, Arobiojo seems to have the interest of the people in mind but his chiefs who are keen on robbing the people and depriving them of the dividends of democracy won’t let him be.
Arobiojo: People are crying for food, I want to provide food. They are crying for shelter, I want to provide shelter.
Iyalode: We did not sponsor your coup for nothing.
Esaade: … until we see these people eating from the dustbin, we can actually not say they are hungry.
Elemo: He who pays the Piper dictates the tune. We are the architect of your rulership.
Arobiojo finds himself in a dilemma: between oppressing the people alongside his chiefs or protecting their interests and duly serving them. Here, his true intention is revealed. He promises to prove to his chiefs that he is not lily-livered and that he is strong. Obviously, oppressing the people will be his choice but not with his chiefs.
The Next Movement sees Arobiojo appeasing Egidiran, his personal god, in company of Olori Adesua. Egidiran will in the future protect him from threats of impeachment and assassination attempts.
In Movement Four, through the dialogues, we learn that Olori Adesua publicly insults Baale Agbaje and assaults Iyaloja. Olori Adesua insults Baale Agbaje on the account that he accused Ajayi Ogidiolu, Olori’s younger brother, of trespassing on his land and thereby called Ajayi a thief who had stolen cocoa from his farm. In case of Iyaloja, Olori slaps her because Iyaloja did not kneel down for her. The reader learns this information through the reportage made by Chief Lukosi. Chief Lukosi eventually gets his fair share of the slap too while reporting to Kabiesi. Guess who slapped him? It is Olori Adesua. It is most evident that Arobiojo’s powers are growing beyond the control of his chiefs and Queen Adesua seems to be in control.
King Arobiojo receives an important visitor in person of King Ajibade, Onibode of Bode. Bode is another territory entirely and its sovereignty resides in King Ajibade. The visiting king appraises Iluora as a land “full of milk and honey”, a common phrasal expression used in the description of how Nigeria is vastly blessed.
They discuss political and economical issues. King Ajibade advises his colleague on a whole lot of issues. He talks him into taking loans for his personal upkeeps under the guise of using them for infrastructural developments. He adduces that he has “borrowed one hundred billion naira”. This utterance shows that King Ajibade is just another self-interested leader who wrecks his country in the name of managing its affairs. And that King Ajibade made mention of “naira” is just another reminder that Nigeria is the subject of discourse throughout the book.
In a later incidence, Elemuru leads a bandwagon of kingmakers in “a premonitory chant” to dethrone King Arobiojo. The objects with which this was made include “tail of the scorpion”, “head of the Cobra”, and “tooth of the scorpion” each with the function of knocking on Arobiojo’s door and “the calabash of death” that informs the supposed and expected abdication and suicide of Arobiojo. The officers involved include Jigan, Elemuru and Ologbojo. When Arobiojo offered them riches, Jigan(biekun) betrays the lot during the procession. Arobiojo, reputable for his sharpness, orders the execution of Ologbojo and Elemuru.
During the stream of conversations that played out between Akogun Esiri, Akogun Alaran and Beyioku (all activists), we also learn of Muturus, and how Arobiojo at the height of his cruelty executed “young, innocent and intelligent warriors of Odo-Ora, the lower part of Iluora” because “he saw them as a threat to his government in the near future”. (Page 50)
Akogun Alaran: Muturus were traitors… normadic herdsmen and warriors who were driven away from their land by famine to find a more richly blessed abode, a land of milk and honey. King Ojijiola gave them the upper part of Oke-Ora to settle in… Some years after, the children of Ojijiola have been subservient to them since then. They have become second class citizens in their land. The Muturus bit the fingers that fed them. (Page 50-51)
Akogun Esiri, Akogun Alaran and Beyioku resolve that “it is time to fight … time to reclaim” their birth rights. They agree to fight the tyrannical rule of King Arobiojo but their pact didn’t last. Arobiojo cunningly lures Beyioku, profoundly known as a critic of his government, with chieftancy title. Beyioku hesitantly accepts the offer after weighing all options. Arobiojo claims he needed Beyioku to assist him with his administrative ingenuity. He successfully “initiates” Beyioku into his clique of chiefs.
Subsequently, we witness how Arinke, a victim of Arobiojo’s tyranny, killed Arobiojo with the help of a charm. She is in subsequent event shot by one of Arobiojo’s guards. That is not the end. Egidiran revives Arobiojo from death/stillness.
Movement Eight is just the parody of the outrageous execution of Ken-Saro Wiwa and eight others by the military government of General Abacha on account of treason. Here in the play, “these nine murderers” allegedly kill the Baales while “agitating for equal rights and good standard of living in their wards”.
They claim their inheritance was the Ojukoland. Chief Esaade acts in the judge’s capacity and tries to let Arobiojo see the logic behind the case; that these men are “not men of violence” and are not responsible for the death of the Baales but Arobiojo refuses to consider this view. For this reason, King Ayilola, the head of “the Kings Association” threatens to sanction Arobiojo and the “Holy Father” equally pleads with him to let go of the nine activists. In fact, King Ayilola’s emissary said that if the men die, King Arobiojo would lose his membership right in the Council of Obas.
As exactly noted in the aforementioned paragraph, this particular incident can easily be linked with the execution of the nine Ogoni activists. Like the nine men in Obanla, Ken-Saro Wiwa and others fought for the same cause. The Council of Obas is the caricature of Commonwealth of Nations. Ojukoland symbolises Ogoni land. The Holy Father engulfs round the personality of the Pope. Arobiojo in this context can easily be linked with General Abacha. And like Arobiojo, General Sani Abacha defied these sanctions. Hence, Nigeria was suspended from Commonwealth of Nations.
Arobiojo makes the same decision too. He concludes:
“I have spoken and it cannot be revoked.” (Page 69)
Akogun Badejo in this case epitomises the person of Ken-Saro Wiwa.
Elemo, a prominent chief in Arobiojo’s government, questions the verdict of Arobiojo but Arobiojo strips him of his chieftancy title in the process. The extremeness of Adesua, the queen, stares us in face when she advised her husband to exterminate Elemo. The two believe Elemo posed threats to their growing power because he is a very powerful and influential man. The playwright showcases Adesua as a die-hard proactive Machiavellian politician and illustrates the firm influence a woman has on a man’s decisions.
Arobiojo: He would meet my lion in the den.
Adesua: No, it could be dangerous. Don’t wait for him; hit him before he hits you. Attack him before he attacks you.
Arobiojo: Kill him?
Adesua: Yes, for your safety.
There is yet another historical allusion and indirect reference to the Nigerian born Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka in Page 74 of the play:
Adesua: So, how do you get hold of that grey hair scribbler that is destroying the image of your government in exile which Elemo has promised to trick back home for you to deal with?
Arobiojo: Let the fool remain forever in exile. If he ever returns to this town again, I shall personally scrape his grey hair with a broken bottle.
For everyone who has read the life history of Wole Soyinka either written by himself or somebody else, it will be easy to link the “grey hair scribbler” used in this context with Soyinka. This particular part justifies the fact that this work is framed round reality.
In Movement Nine, the playwright completes the portrait of Egidiran as a blood-sucking deity. At request for blood sacrifice, King Arobiojo offers an unsuspecting, sleeping guard to Egidiran. After the completion of the sacrifice, Yemoja, the river goddess, appears to Arobiojo to warn him of the calamities that will befall him if he fails to abdicate the throne. In abdicating the throne, Yemoja said he will “save lives and properties” and redeem his image. King Arobiojo turns deaf ears to Yemoja warnings and fails to comply with her admonishments. Thus, he is portrayed here, as a sit-tight power-clinging dictator.
Meanwhile, some “assailants” are already planning to take Arobiojo’s life. Egidiran duly informs him of their coming. Therefore, Arobiojo makes preparations to welcome them. He easily takes the unsuspecting assailants to afterlife, and snuffs out the assassination attempt.
Seeing that Arobiojo has grown powerful, intimidating and interminable, the chiefs make a plea to Bioloja to help them restore sanity to Iluora, and sanctify it. Bioloja agrees to help the chiefs on the condition that they all swear on an oath that will bind them to secrecy. Jigan feels uncomfortable about this but left with no other option, he consents. I hope we remember who Jigan is. Let me remind you. He is the chief that betrayed his other two colleagues during the attempt to remove the king for a bag of money. He and Beyioku betray their comrades. Both Jigan and Beyioku are now on Arobiojo’s side. It is apparent that Jigan is the Judas in their midst. So, he has to consent to the oath in order to reinstate their trust.
This is the first time we encounter Bioloja. Bioloja was the Balogun removed by King Agbadaola, Fiwasaye’s predecessor, who replaced him with Balogun Arobiojo.
Three witches appear thereafter to show Bioloja their support, and tell him they have rendered Arobiojo impotent and that he can takeover Arobiojo’s rump. Adesua, in Movement Eleven, consults and seeks the assistance of these three witches. She pleads for leniency. The three witches deceive Adesua into believing that they have accepted to forgive her husband’s misdoings on her behalf but they do not. Rather, they strengthen their resolve to destroy Arobiojo.
Then, in Movement Twelve, Prince Laronwi, a splitting image of the June 12 presidential winner, declares himself as the king of Odo-Ora (lower part of Iluora town) claiming it is his birthright just the way MKO Abiola declared himself as the president claiming it was his mandate. His wife, Fayoke, fights Arobiojo with intense fire.
Arobiojo orders that Laronwi should be locked up and Fayoke too for what he considers disrespect and contempt of the royal institution. In subsequent event, Jigan(biekun) pays for his betrayal and unfaithfulness when he divulges the sworn secret of Bioloja’s meeting and plans to dethrone Arobiojo. He dies mysteriously for breaching the oath of secrecy he was bound to.
Movement Thirteen brings an end to Arobiojo’s tyrannical government. The much anticipated end to Arobiojo’s government comes in full view in form of an armed rebellion. Arobiojo’s protectors meet their downfall. Omimi dies fighting to defend Arobiojo to his last breath. Ladepo attempts to give up arms with reason that his eyes are now opened but meets horror in Arobiojo who deposits a bullet in his body. He manages to escape. Both Bioloja and Arobiojo engage in serious metaphysical war but in the end, the man with the backing of the gods wins.
At first, Arobiojo offers Bioloja to Egidiran as sacrifice but with the backing of the gods, the blood-thirsty deity is poisoned with Bioloja’s blood and the other is resuscitated. During Bioloja’s stillness, both Akogun Alaran and Esiri enter. When offered riches with benefits, Akogun Esiri compromises his values to be on Arobiojo’s side while Akogun Alaran stands his ground.
Upon resuscitation, Bioloja strikes Arobiojo to death with a barrage of incantations invoking destruction from Ogun and the other gods. The three witches appear to Arobiojo before his death to inform him of their detachment from him.
To save his face and escape from the shame, disgrace, and pain that would accompany his betrayal, Akogun Esiri hangs himself. Queen Adesua shoots herself. Prince Laronwi is poisoned.