Hubert Ogunde: Nationalism and retrospect
Struggle to free Nigerians and Africans from foreign profiteers, the gruesome imperialists and suckling economic bourgeoisies left no one out in the colonial regime. The quest for self-government and independence became a common priority for the rich in the West who traded in cocoa; the Hausa/Fulani herdsmen in the North and Aba women in the East, who believed their husbands, must not be taxed. It further became a goal later to be pursued by the well-to-do; poor, illiterates, politicians, artists, writers, lawyers, educationists and clergies. In fact, the area called Nigeria was at its best in terms of unity as a colony than after October 1st, 1960.
Those factors that unified us were unequivocally more than those that divide us. The degree of unity to rise against a common enemy found in the colonial masters cannot but be respected. Moreover, before 1897, there was no country or area called Nigeria until it came into being as a result of an article sponsored by Flora Shaw (later Mrs Lugard) in The Times of January 8, 1897, who argued that since all the towns and villages or protectorates in this area consists of many ethnic nationalities, the area therefore should be called ‘Nigeria’ (Ajayi, 2009).
Of course, this argument might not represent the view of many, but then, that was what was said by Mrs. Luggard, wife of Nigeria’s Chief Administrator in the colonial Nigeria.
“By May 1906, Sir Lugard had become high commissioner in Northern Nigeria. Before this period, Britain had been ruling the three groups or countries (Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo) separately, independently and indirectly through the use of the existing local chiefs who were responsible to the Queen of England. However, because of difficulties in administration and the cost of maintaining these protectorates, his wife named the three conglomerates territories ‘Nigeria’… _ (Culled from the book Chief Obafemi Awolowo: The Political Moses, by Adedara Oduguwa; 144-145).
But shortly after the amalgam procedures were concluded, Nigeria witnessed massive exploitation in terms of raw material and manpower under the colonial regime which was only an attempt to milk Nigeria dry alive. Abuse on Nigerians by foreigners made many Nigerian families to adopt English names like Johnson, Jones, Anthony, Simpson, George, Thompson, Macaulay, Ebenezer, Clark, Ransome, Thomas, the list is endless. The purpose of adopting these foreign names was to give themselves face in a country owned by their forebears in the hand of ruthless but diplomatic business negotiators.
Crusade for independence became heightened in the mid forties through activities of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), an offshoot of Lagos Youth Movement (LYM). Apart from the Trade Union, Market Women Association, traditional institutions, politicians, and the Student Unions that added their voices in fighting against this mordant and mercenary regime. There was this man, out of his devotion and commitment to seeing a free Nigeria, echoed ‘freedom’ through the fearless and adroit acts of art. He was Chief (Dr.) Hubert Adedeji Ogunde.
Ogunde was born on Monday, 10th of July, 1916 in a small town of Ososa (Ogun State) to Elder Jeremiah Dehinbo Ogunde and Mrs. Eunice Owotunsan Ogunde. Elder Jeremiah Ogunde was a convert of Baptist Church, Ijebu Ife and a strict disciplinarian. At the age of nine, young Ogunde entered Saint John’s Primary School, Ososa for his elementary education and left the school in 1928 for Saint Peter’s Faji School, Lagos State where he was until 1930. Between 1931 and 1932, Ogunde was at Wasimi African School, Ijebu-Ode. His graduation from Wasimi African School actually marked the end of his entire formal education. He altogether spent approximately seven years.
Despite few years spent acquiring formal education, Ogunde’s command of English was not only superlative but much better than many university graduates of his time. More so, in Ogunde’s personal submission, his limited formal education might have contributed to his successes as a playwright. According to him, “I thank God today that I didn’t go to that college or university at all. Because, possibly, I could have been exposed to some classical way of life or some classical way of doing drama that I could not have been able to do what I am doing today.”
Ogunde grandfather’s influence was great on him throughout his lifetime. As a young man, he adopted him by providence as his early mentor. His forebears were committed Ifa worshippers and founders of Ososa township. According to Chief Ogunde, “My grandfather was an Ifa priest. My grandmother too was an Idol worshipper and in our house, we have several Idols – the Ifa, Sango and all these. And so, as a result there were ritual ceremonies taking place every day. So being born into all these, drumming, dancing, incantations and then these rituals ceremonies, I think might have had some influence on me. My father was a Baptist missionary. In fact, he became a pastor. He was a pastor, an organist and a disciplinarian. And so, I think I might have been influenced by both.” (Culled from the manuscript, Hubert Ogunde: Odyssey of Renowned Nationalist by Adedara Oduguwa).
Between the ages of 17 and 25 (1933-1941) young Ogunde was a school teacher at Saint John’s Primary School, Ososa and a dedicated church organist. However, in December 1941, Ogunde joined the Nigeria Police Force in a bid to better serve his mother land. By March 1945, approximately four years in the Force, Ogunde resigned in order to pay full attention to his passion — acting, since his passion for opera was mindboggling. His resignation was spurred by reckless and gross misconduct of the colonial regime, which was demonstrated by Ogunde in his much talk about 1945 opera entitled ‘Worse Than Crime.’ The opera was a political satire on the colonial masters which set to establish that ‘Colonialism in any shape or form is worse than crime.’ This earned Ogunde and Mr. G.B. Kuyinu (His co-director) two days in the police custody.
According to Oxford Dictionary, nationalism can be defined as “patriotic feelings, principles, or efforts; policy of national independence.” Similarly, James Coleman in Nigeria: Background to Nationalism describes nationalism as:
“Broadly, a consciousness of belonging to a nation (existent or in the realm of aspiration) or a nationality and a desire, as manifest in sentiment and activity, to secure or maintain its welfare, prosperity, and integrity and to maximise its political autonomy. Nationalism is directed towards the attainment, maintenance or restoration of its political independence as a nation-state in the international state system.”
However, with my terms of reference, Ogunde is more qualified to be called a nationalist, having fought rigorously alongside others to secure independence for Nigeria. Ogunde, unlike many other nationalists, was a determined dramatist who believed in freedom for all and life more abundance (Awolowo, 1959). His nationalism struggle originally started in 1944, when Ogunde added his voice to the agitation for Western Nigeria’s self-rule by writing operas that are thought-provoking and colonial masters anger infuriating, such as Israel in Egypt (1944), Strike and Hunger (1945), Nebuchadnezzar’s Reign and Belshazzar’s Feast (1945), Worse than Crime (1945), Tiger’s Empire (1945), Bread and Bullet (1950), among many other similar titles (Clark, 1979).
However, for these titles, Ogunde was not only arrested, jailed, humiliated or intimidated; he earned himself series of bans for standing for truth and what is right — an act which is extremely rare in modern-day Nigeria. A point in reference was on September 24, 1978 when the veteran television presenter, Mr. Mike Akiode asked Chief Ogunde to comment on Strike and Hunger (1945), an opera that led to 1945 workers’ strike. On this, Ogunde enunciated:
“…Yes, I wrote the play on the strike of the workers of 1945. The play was very successful in Lagos here. But then, it was trouble for me in the North. Not only ‘Strike and Hunger.’ I was detained in the police cell for one week for writing ‘Worse than Crime.’ And then, another three days again for writing my play ‘the Tigre’s Empire.’ Because I likened the colonial government to a Tigre’s government — the government of Tigers.” (Culled from the manuscript, Hubert Ogunde: Odyssey of a Renowned Nationalist, by Adedara Oduguwa).
Moreover, Ogunde was culture and tradition enthusiast, who was ready to die for the preservation of African beliefs. Between 1968 and 1969, he took his group on tour of Europe and Britain for a full year. Then, his group was chosen to perform at the International Musical Architecture they called it ‘Wales 1969’, so after the performance, he had an interview with the world press. A Briton BBC interviewer asked him questions on polygamy, the extract is below:
“… ‘Chief you have six of your wives in this group performing on this tour and then, I understand you still have another six, making twelve in all. May be you still have more, why is that so? How can you even cope with twelve wives? Do you think it is good for one man to have twelve wives?’
In response, Chief Ogunde said: ‘In Africa, we don’t pretend to be what we are not. We are faithful people. We are truthful people. When we marry one wife, we say it is one. When it is ten, we say it is ten. When it is twenty, we say it is twenty and people know. But here, you marry one officially for everyone to see and you have ten, probably twenty outside. So, you are hypocrites! We are sincere’.”
While many artistes musicians, writers, clergies, journalists and social commentators of today are working as mouthpieces of government in power and the economic profiteers, artistes of old were majorly into the ‘complementary institution.’ By complementary institution, we refer to the totality of institutions established by God and man to augment efforts and activities of government and the poor masses of any given institution or country (Gagliardi, 2014). These institutions are saddled with singular responsibility of speaking for people and check-balancing abuse of the rule of laws.
Sadly, that role is today bedevilled by evil of corruption and monetization of the political economy, which has seen complementary institution compromised and forcefully whisked into dungeon of falsification and shadowy of self-induced greed, thereby becoming a tool of torture for the poor, who themselves look up to be saved by the complementary institution.
Modern complementary institutions do not see when politicians do not want them to see. They do not say when they are not heavily paid to say and they do not write when brown envelop is yet to be given to them. ‘Everything is now for sale’ said one journalist. Disappointedly, we do not read the truth any longer than voices and opinions of the ruling class.
Ogunde was an outspoken Hercules and contemporary political commentator, like Caesar, 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 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 ‘ten by eight’!! A day came when he sat down, racked his brain, composed nature airs and dramatized 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…”
More so, Ogunde was one of the few African dramatists that worked tirelessly against the colonial dictator in the 40s and 50s. By 1960, he was joined by other radical and prominent political writers and musicians to help stabilise Nigeria’s baby independence. Among which included Prof. Wole Soyinka, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Chinua Achebe, etc. Let’s not forget that, Ogunde complemented Nigeria’s fathers of nationalism found in Sir Herbert Macaulay, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Sir Tafawa Balewa, Oba Samuel Akinsanya, Chief S.L Akintola, Ernest Ikoli, Mrs Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti, Sir Anthony Enahoro, Tai Solarin and Chief Adeleke Adedoyin.
In 1964, there was a political tumult in the then Western Nigeria. Chief Awolowo was incarcerated on treason accusation and Chief Ogunde, wrote the highly controversial account for his indictment entitled it ‘Yoruba Ronu (Yoruba Think!).’ This account put him at loggerheads with Chief S.L Akintola who was at the time Premier of Western Region since the play directly attacked him and his government. For this, Ogunde Theatre was banned for two years (1964-1966). This ban had grave financial effect on him since majority of his audience were in the Yoruba-speaking Western Region.
In the words of revered historian Prof. (Mrs) Ebun Clark, describing Ogunde:
“…for all the Nigerian playwrights in Yoruba Nigerian theatre and indeed in English, Ogunde was the most consummate social commentator and satirist, who easily make his views on people and events known through his sketches and characters (Clark, 1979).”
Ironically, ‘Yoruba Ronu’ was presage of days to come. By January 15, 1966, the presage came alive and Akintola’s government was not only ousted out of power: many had paid with their lives. The military had taken over and on request, the ban on Mr. Ogunde and his company was lifted by Lt. Col. F.A Fajuyi, the newly appointed governor of the Region. Hence, to say that message ‘Yoruba Ronu’ is still valid for present crop of politicians in Yoruba land today is not out of point.
That sincerity, patriotism and sense of obligation as a citizen of this great once united nation is continually lost to greed and ignorance. Somebody says our artistes, journalists, musicians, writers, clergies and social commentators are now ‘Pocket pickers’ like Judas, had derailed from the righteous path, dived into roads once trekked by tyrants. They make hypocritical noises just to get carrot or national honours.
Today, the name ‘Ogunde’ is only synonymous with that popular Nigerian musician and dramatist of all time. July 10, 2016 marked 100 years of his birthday and 26 years in death, tomorrow, what do we say about you?
Oduguwa, a social commentator, an author and culture enthusiast, sent this article from Sagamu.