Book Title: Afonja: A Historical play
Author: Sakky Jojo
Publisher: Grethworth Consult
Pages: 88 pages
Reviewer: Moshood Zakariyah
Sakky Jojo’s play-text centers on dispute between Afonja and the forces of the imperial rulers of the Oyo Empire, and how the dispute heralds not only the sovereignty of Ilorin but also marks the serious decline of the Oyo Empire. Even though the story of Afonja of Ilorin, (Aare Onakakanfo) the Generalissimo of the defunct Oyo Empire has been told and retold by different scholars with different academic orientations and social biases, the adaptation of the story into a play by Sakky Jojo brings a different impetus of understanding to the story. This is because the playwright combines academic training as a historian with creative skills as a writer, in addition to being an indigene of Ilorin, the epicentre of the story. This triangular approach with which the author approaches the story poses the challenges of balancing the truth, the determination to douse any tension that the story might have generated over the years, in addition to making the story widely acceptable by ensuring that it has the qualities befitting a play whose storyline occupies a vintage position in the annals of history, among others. One of the fundamental features of plays of this nature is their ability to make the storyline clearer as the readers are better mentally engaged through visualization process of the story. Sakky Jojo takes full advantages of this by using simple diction, understandable physical setting, and a logical and sequential arrangement of events to drive home his points.
An exploration of the plot of the play text as presented by the playwright indicates that Afonja refuses to attack Iwere as ordered by Aole, because Iwere is home to the mother of Abiodun, the immediate past Alaafin. This abominable act of Aole makes him to commit suicide. Maku becomes the new Alaafin but Afonja refuses to recognize him or pay him the expected traditional homage. War looms large over Ilorin, Afonja’s base, forcing him to seek military and spiritual assistance against the forces of the Oyo Empire. With the assistance of Alimi, a Muslim cleric; Afonja repels the forces of the Oyo Empire as he successfully defends his territory (Ilorin) which he has declared independent of the Empire’s control. However, the victory, and its associated sweetness is short-lived, as tension starts brewing between the Afonja warriors and members of the Jamaa who are the loyalists of Alimi. The boiling crisis gets to its peak, forcing the erstwhile allies to take up arms against one another. Before any help could come his way, Afonja lost his life in the crisis, and the circumstances (the immediate and remote causes) of his death remains a subject of academic debate till today. Therefore, this review poses some fundamental questions that are germane to the thematic concerns of the text: Is Afonja a traitor by forcing Alaafin Aole to commit suicide? Did Alimi plan the execution of Afonja? Under what circumstance is Afonja killed? The above questions and several related ones are systematically and dramatically answered by Sakky Jojo in this beautiful literary piece.
Divided into twenty-eight contexts, as against the conventional acts/scenes, the contexts are carefully arranged in a way that enhances the readers’ understanding of the plot of the play. Sakky Jojo also employs the use of traditional music, war songs, use of parables and proverbs, among others, not only to make the text lively, but also to add to its dramatic essence. The play is easy to understand as its diction is simple, free flowing, and devoid of complex or ambiguous grammatical composition. Without mincing words, it is of immense benefits to students and lovers of history, to all stake holders in literary world, to students and researchers in performing arts, and to the generality of (Yoruba) people across the globe. The text does not only entertain, but also serves as a means of preservation of history and culture. Indeed, it is a must read for all. Against the above submission, Afonja by Sakky Jojo is recommended for all lovers of literature, history, as well as for those who are likely to be inspired by this text to write their own.
Moshood Zakariyah is a Senior Lecturer at the English Unit, Department of Linguistics, African and European Languages, Kwara State University, Malete. His area of specialization is Sociolinguistics: with keen interest in the interface between language and culture. He has attended conferences within and outside Nigeria, and has published papers in reputable local and international journals.