Art as Protest at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria

Dr. Joni L. Jones
Department of Communications Studies
University of Texas, Austin

I spent the 1997-98 academic year on a Fulbright Fellowship in Nigeria where I continued my work on the Yoruba orisa Osun in her patron city of Osogbo, and taught in the Department of Dramatic Arts at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in the historic city of IleIfe. This was a period of tremendous political upheaval and transition in Nigeria as dictator General Sani Abacha and leading political contender and popular leader Mashood Kasiamu Olawale Abiola both suddenly died leaving Nigeria to confront more directly the possibilities for its political future. Nigeria has struggled under a military government in spite of the economic, political and intellectual promise of the 1970s.

These are the conditions under which the Department of Dramatic Art produced "Drums of War," written and directed by choreographer Rasaki Bakare, a newly hired faculty member who is completing his doctoral degree from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria. During my one-year tenure at OAU, a handful of students had elected to direct plays with overt political content by Ola Rotimi and Femi Osofisan. Bakare, however, was the first faculty member to directly challenge Nigeriaís repressive regime on the stage. "Drums of War" is a ninety-minute production that tells the story of an autocratic king whose greed for power and whose narrow commitment to tradition plunge his people into one devastating war after another. Because of my desire to work on this production in some capacity, Bakare decided to add the role of omowale, child returned, to the dramatis personae. I became the daughter of the king who had been sent "to the white manís land to learn book."

In addition to working on this political drama, I worked with the OAU Forum on Governance and Democracy which is under the direction of Professor Kayode Soremekun. The Forum conducts a series of seminars designed to encourage college students to work for democratic rule in Nigeria. I traveled with the Forum to the University of Ibadan to provide Forum Theatre workshops as a supplement to the slate of speakers the Forum typically offered. Forum Theatre allowed the students to examine the power relationships present in many areas of their lives.

In this proposed paper, I will discuss the work of both "Drums of War" and the Forum on Governance and Democracy as strategies for protest in Nigeria. The paper will locate these efforts within the larger canvas of Nigerian performance activism which includes the work of Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Fela Anikulapo Kuti among others. The paper will go on to discuss the ways in which Forum Theatre was adapted to this specific Nigerian context, examine how I negotiated my shifting identity as an African-American working in Nigeria, and suggest ways in which this work might more profitably continue.