written by Adedara Oduguwa and published on Sunday 5th April 2020
Many of the millennia might not be well familiar with the name, but for those born in the 50s, 60s, 70s and early 80s, Hubert Adedeji Ogunde was a colossus whose many works of art queries government officers’ malfeasance. Ogunde was jailed several times for standing on the part of his employer-the masses.
Born on Monday, July 10, 1916 to Mr. Jeremiah Dehinbo Ogunde and Mrs. Eunice Owotunsan Ogunde, in a small ancient town (Ososa) found in the heart of Ijebu province (currently under Odogbolu Council). It is home of the delicious, Aadun (a local bread). Early days of the town featured traditionalists and a peaceful serenity. With subsistent farming as means of livelihood rather than a habit. That son would later grow up to become a teacher, police officer, teetotaler, human right activist, seer, prophet, folklorist, Nigerian actor, playwright, musician, dancer, dramatist, and a rare nationalist. Yesterday, April 4, 2020, made it 30 years since he departed this world.
Ogunde was completely fearless and selfless. He was not such person that would sing or act to please. For instance, in 1944, Ogunde added his voice to the agitation for independence by writing operas that are thought provoking. The colonial masters were infuriated with such dramas as, Israel in Egypt (1944), Nebuchadnezzar’s Reign and Belshazzar’s Feast (1945), Worse than Crime (1945), Strike and Hunger (1945), Tiger’s Empire (1945), among many similar titles. However, for these titles, Ogunde was arrested, jailed, humiliated or intimidated; he earned himself series of bans for standing for the truth and what is right. An act, which is extremely rare in modern day Nigeria.
Moreover, Ogunde was an outspoken contemporary political commentator, who was ready to risk the possible destruction of his Theatre in order to fight for the freedom of his people from alien rule. According to an editorial in Zik’s West African Pilot Newspaper (1947), “Ogunde’s preoccupation with the projection of the cultural as well as the political identity of his people were enough for the nationalist Movement to call him ‘a genius’ who did not seek ‘wealth or fortune’ …nor self inflation or any other artifice of fame, a genius who was once a poor police officer, perhaps one who shared with three others ‘10 by eight’!! A day came when he sat down, racked his brain, composed nature airs and dramatised them and by 1947, had become ‘Nigeria Theatre King’ … It is courage to take risks and determination to forge ahead in spite of manmade handicaps. Good luck to Hubert Ogunde.”
While many artist, musicians, writers, clergies, journalists and social commentators of today are working as mouthpieces for government in power and the economic profiteers, artists of the old were majorly into the ‘complementary institution’ saddled with the singular responsibility of talking for the people and check-balancing abuse of the rule of laws. Sadly, that role is today bedeviled by evil of corruption and monetisation of the political economy, which has seen the complementary institution compromised and forcefully whisked into the pit of misrepresentation and shadowy of self-induced greed. Thereby becoming a tool to torment the poor, who themselves look up to be saved by the Complementary Institution.
Today, the narrative has changed, colonialism has ended and the new masters are egocentric-Nigerians. These egocentric-Nigerians are politicians who continually rule us through the shackles of poverty, insecurity, poor infrastructural facilities, dungeons called roads, darkness called light, and imprisonment called freedom, among many others. Further, these sets of people occupy the biggest offices in Nigeria, from the political office holders to economic bourgeoisies. The institution he left behind is now a shadow of itself. Musicians of today now preach Malianism. A term used to describe people following the doctrine of non-compliance to social norms and ethics. A Malian does not wear belt, a Malian does not graduate from school, a Malian does not respect elders, a Malian does not marry for love. Musicians and dramatists of today act to please and or act to gain — An opposite of yester night’s artists who were truly the people’s voice. They are now tools to illegality, incompetency, mediocrity and ignorance.
Ogunde in his hey days stood for anything that was just, fair and people oriented. After Nigeria gained her independence in October 1, 1960. Chief Awolowo who was the leader of the Yorubas and outgone Premier of the defunct Western Region was conspired against, thereafter, earned Awo 10 years incarceration for an offence called ‘treason’. Awo’s prosecutors were so happy and it was during this period of jubilation that Ogunde and his troupe were invited by the new Western Region government headed by one time best friend of Chief Awolowo (Chief Ladoke Akintola). Ogunde unveiled two plays; Yoruba Ronu (Yoruba Think) and Otito koro (Truth is bitter).
Yoruba Ronu is a prophetic play that lampoons and foretells the political future of Chief Akintola and his co-conspirators. In 2017, this writer translated the Yoruba play into English language, the excerpt is reproduced below: “Once upon a time, during the primordial age, there lived a king in Yoruba land named Fiwajoye. This king was so powerful and popular that the people of his kingdom loved him so much. During his time as king, the Yorubas had wealth and riches. There was money, pedigree, jobs for all and sundry. Crops bore good fruits for harvest and plants’ leafs were green. Pets like goat, ship, and hen were surplus. Traders were making profit. Wealth and power were so much for the Yorubas to the extent that they almost forgot God.
There was a staff in the primordial period called Opa-Ase (staff of authority or staff of Oduduwa). This staff was a thing of utmost secrecy to the extent that no eyes can see it except Iya-Agba, Yeye-Oloye and few elders. This staff is the secret of power of the Yorubas. Because, it is often used to pray for the king and his subjects (the masses) in Yoruba kingdom for promotion, riches, prosperity, honour and power. Indeed. It was truly a staff of authority. Mass of the people loved Oba Fiwajoye to the extent that Yeye-Oloye brought the staff of authority to him so that he can always pray with it. Then, there was a Chief in the land, who was next in command to Oba Fiwajoye. He is popularly referred to as ‘Ekeji-Oye’ (Second in Command). This Chief was not happy with the peaceful state of affairs enjoyed by the Yorubas. He wanted the king to be dethroned and be made his replacement
According to him, “You called me second in command! You called me with empty mouth. If they bring yam, it’s the king they will give it to. If they bring corn, it’s the king they will give it to. If they bring money, it’s the king they will give it to. The king is getting fatter, I am getting thinner! I am not contented with this. I will go and dominate over other lands.” And so, Ekeji-Oye (second in command) became an enemy of the Yorubas. He lied and deceived the Yorubas and he succeeded by changing their minds against Oba Fiwajoye. The kingdom turned into disarray and the land was in deep chaos. Not long from this period, Ekeji-Oye cunningly took the staff of Oduduwa from the palace where it was kept.
During the same period, there lived a queen in a kingdom not far from Yoruba Kingdom. Her name was Yeye-Iloba. This Yeye-Iloba happened to be one of the greatest enemies of the Yorubas. She was so fearless and powerful. She was not happy with the development going on in Yoruba kingdom. Because in Iloba, there was no money, no jobs, no peace and sicknesses and diseases almost reduced the kingdom to nothing. Yeye-Iloba was looking for means to fight the Yorubas in order to take them captives. But she doesn’t have hint as several efforts were in futility. Ekeji-Oye went to the kingdom of Yeye-Iloba and told the Queen that if she can give him a huge amount of money, he is going to sell the Yorubas and delivers them to her. This was a great news and deal for Yeye-Iloba.
Consequently, this was how Ekeji-Oye (Second in Command) collected a huge amount of money from her and delivered the staff of authority or literarily puts ‘ staff of Oduduwa’ to Yeye-Iloba, so that she can be using it to pray for her kingdom. Thereby, selling the Yorubas into the hands of their enemies. Without the staff of authority, there is no Yoruba Kingdom. However, not long from this period, Yeye-Iloba waged war against Yoruba people and she gallantly won them since they have previously lost the Staff of Authority to her.
Oba Fiwajoye and a few of his people were whisked off Yoruba land under captive of Yeye-Iloba. They were used, maltreated and beaten as slaves. They were turned into messengers and gardeners in the palace of Yeye-Iloba. They were handcuffed and ruthlessly dealt with. House chores like sweeping, washing and cleaning of the palace was a daily routine for the Yorubas under their new foreman (Oba Fiwajoye) in the palace of Yeye-Iloba. Oba Fiwajoye and his people were engulfed with sadness and humiliation. It was so shameful, disgraceful and slave-like that the people of Iloba monger their mockery like hawking pepper. More so, since the king was taken into captive, the land was in disarray and almost completely destroyed. There was no money, no jobs and the once green leafs were now gray and dark. Corn refused to germinates, traders became debtors and the Yorubas were absolutely in a melancholy state while their prosperity diminishes.
The Yorubas were in the state of sadness and hopelessness. They were on the verge of repentance. They called upon themselves in a united front. They became so united to the extent that they forced Yeye-Iloba to free their king and the other captives. This was successfully achieved. Oba Fiwajoye returned to his stool and things changed completely for good as the Staff of Authority was recouped. Consequently, Ekeji-Oye (Second in Command) was arrested and banished for the act of betrayal. Yorubas also returned to their joyous and peaceful life. Just like what was experienced in the past. Corn starts to grow, traders start to make profit. Wealth, prosperity and power returned to the land and Oba Fiwajoye became wealthier than before.
Just in the hall of presentation, Chief Akintola and his ministers angrily left the hall; they believed the drama was to ridicule their government. By interpretation, Chief Awolowo was Oba Fiwajoye (who at the time was been jailed for treason), Chief Akintola was Ekeji-Oye (who sold his boss and by extension the Yorubas to slavery) while Yeye-Iloba represents Yoruba enemies. The second day, Chief Akintola’s government put a ban on Ogunde Theater for two years (1964-1966) in Western Region where 80 per cent of his fans reside. As a result of the ban, no one could buy or play Ogunde’s songs on radio or at home.
It was a turbulent time for the creative actor and father of Nigerian theater. But then, Ogunde’s prophesy (Yoruba Ronu) came to pass, just two years after the play was first staged. Chief Akintola and 21 other top government officials including the Prime Minister Alhaji Tafawa Balewa were gruesomely murdered by the military between January 15 and 16, 1966 coup led by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna. Consequently, Chief Awolowo regained his freedom, rose to become the first deputy president under any military regime in African, and also Nigerian Federal Minister of Finance.
After 30 years of Ogunde’s departure, the truth is still much bitter; Yoruba are yet to think; Israelites (Nigerians) are still in Egypt of want, unemployment, bad leadership, insecurity, poverty, diseases, poor infrastructural facilities; Danfo drivers are still on high speed; human parasites are still everywhere; the salaries are still more than crimes; civil servants still strike on hunger and Nigerians are still in the Tigre’s empire. Ogunde served only his employer (the masses). And in returns, made a good fortune from such unconditional giving. With the present incessant killings in Nigeria by the Boko Haram Sects, insensitivity of government officials and the presidency, musicians urge for money and not for message-passing, corruption in the church of God, 33.5 per cent unemployed Nigerians (National Bureau of Statistics, 2020), Herdsmen killing innocent farmers, election rigging and manipulations, world’s poverty capital with 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 5.3 per cent or 70.6 million, a country of 1.3billion people (Brookings Poverty Capital Report, 2018).
How can there be jobs when musicians do not sing for the people any longer but for their pockets? How can there be peace when clergies do not preach the truth but preach to please? How can there be jobs when public officers are now king Nebuchadnezzar that listens to no opposition? How can we eradicate kidnapping when politicians are ready to pay ransoms? Are the Yorubas not in another train to Iloba? Where is Ogunde the people’s voice?