With its explicit political message, the stage play, Jogbo rekindles the spirit of activism as exemplified in the life and times of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, writes Yinka Olatunbosun
Jogbo. Even that title may have understated the magnitude of the political message in this play written and directed by Joshua Alabi, the founder, Kinino-Koncepts Productions. For obvious reasons, since late 2018, most theatrical productions in Nigeria have been laced with political themes and Jogbo is no exception.
Sponsored by The Netherlands Embassy in Nigeria, the plot of the drama is based on the story of Nigeria’s foremost activist, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the mother of the Afro-beat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Set in Abeokuta, the play traces the history surrounding the women’s anti-colonial struggles in Egbaland against arbitrary taxations led by this woman of substance.
She founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union alongside her sister-in-law, Eniola Soyinka, the mother of the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka. The union had an estimated membership of 20,000 women designed to protect and advance the rights of women. Ransome-Kuti organised literacy workshops for illiterate market women, actively participated in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence and women suffrage.
A radical response to the oppressive tax conditions of the period came when the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) emerged under the leadership of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, who was a headteacher at that time. AWU thus united the working class and the middle class women and subsequently challenged the colonial as well as the patriarchal by structure and tyrannical by nature. That struggle led to the abdication of the high King Oba Ademola II in 1949, who was reluctant to yield to the demands of the women.
In the production, the director of this minimal budget play explored the use of an amphitheatre inside Freedom Park, Lagos, using the stage flanks as green rooms. Four microphone stands were set strategically before the stage to project the voices of the cast in lieu of the relatively expensive head worn mics. The backdrop was an assemblage of colourful raffia mats, a simpler and cheaper alternative to electronic backdrops. Those mats restored the euphoria of cultural life, which make many modern technological interventions into theatre performances stifling.
Some actors played three roles. For instance, Julius Obende featured as headmaster, drummer and stage hand while Opeyemi Dada, the assistant director acted the roles of teacher and palace chief. An impressive part of the characterisation was the casting of Jennifer Osammor as Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. Osammor, best known for her role of Mama Oji in the 2013 movie, Half of the Yellow Sun shares a striking facial resemblance with the play’s real-life heroine.
In the area of costume, props and make-up, Bisoye Kadiku made a conscious effort to dress the Jogbo women in traditional buba and iro (top and wrapper) for the market women while delineating the elite characters with their stylish dresses as well as skirts and blouses. The natural hair looks for some of the women was spot.
Jogbo, marked by its feminist slant is a celebration of traditional aristocracy, activism and well-measured ethnic pride. The Egba women characters in Jogbo regaled in the self-appreciation of their taste in fashion, education and their ability to perform their conjugal duties with efficiency.
It’s also interesting to see the production company engage the youths with this show, which is really the aim of the founder.
“We think beyond a theme, a venue and an audience,” Joshua Alabi explained. “We carve performances tat educate and enrich, creating avenue for young people to explore themselves in the arts and at the same time to pass on the gospel of theatre to the younger generations and instil moral values.”
Jogbo, rich in folkloric and comical elements, ended with the women’s message for the audience to sensitive them ahead of the next month’s general elections and their civic duties as the ruled. That message was echoed in the remarks by the Consular General, The Netherlands Embassy in Nigeria, Michel Deelen.
“The play says it all,” Deelen said. “It dominates in the themes of political engagement-together you are stronger but you have to make a difference. If you just sit down and you don’t take action, nothing will happen. I think this was a very clear message. Indeed, we have elections next month. It is everyone’s responsibility to vote.”
Remarkably, The Netherlands Embassy in Nigeria supports initiatives that lead to awareness, respect for human rights and supports economic as well as human development.
“Through this play, we advise active engagement and hope that this steers discussions that will further create an aware citizenry,’’ he stated.
Other projects by Kininso Koncepts Productions later this year include “World Clock’’ a collaboration with Theatre Haus, Franfurt, Germany; a touring performance titled, “Sorry’’ which sensitises and creates awareness on the political terrain in Nigeria and, of course, the Kininso International Festival of Theatre, a children’s theatre which is a cultural staple at the annual Lagos Book and Arts Festival (LABAF).