For about one hour 40 minutes, the historic Glover Memorial Hall, Marina, Lagos, echoed with excitement as the highly anticipated stage production of ‘Awo’, a play that depicts the life and times of the legendary sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, premiered penultimate Sunday. Written and directed by Makinde Adeniran Fta., and produced by The Duke of Shomolu Productions, one of the leading theatre production companies in Nigeria today, ‘Awo’ is an inspiring story of courage, love, integrity, service to humanity. It is a rich blend of music, dance and drama. As the house lights go off, signalling the beginning of the play, the stage is dark.
Tiny white lights shine one after another through a mascot that’s soon to be revealed at the centre of the stage to be the image of Obafemi Awolowo. At the full lighting of the mascot, about 10 dancers – five males and five females – entire community of dancers swoop around the image, almost in obeisance as they celebrate this legend. They punctuate every beat of the heavy drums and sounds with reverberating dance movements.
As the fanfare begins to settle, the mascot gradually turns around to reveal Hannah Idowu Dideolu (HID) Awolowo, wife of the sage, played by Mojisola Kadiri, at the other end. She reveals in her song, the essence of a good wife and mother while the husband stays at the warfront. Mama (Mojisola Kadiri) points out that the most endearing weapon to take along in this enduring challenge is “character of love”.
For her, all lives shall come to naught someday “but our legacies live on long after us”. The dances and singing rise to crescendo, then begin to fall as the stage lights fade to darkness. Then there is spotlight on the British flag. In the background, members of parliament are heard in a very rancorous session over the impending agitation for and against the independence of Nigeria.
The voice of Awo is heard clearly and distinctly in the rancour saying, ‘The British rule in Nigeria, like any foreign rule, is unnatural, unjust, and inherently incompetent. It should therefore, be terminated not later than 1956.” Meanwhile, still in the background, the voices of the majority are heard agreeing to Awo’s assertion. Soon after, independence is announced.
The British flag descends as the green-white-green flag ascends in the spotlight. Highlife music rents the air. Prominent characters mentioned in history of Nigeria’s independence are led into the stage to celebrate, along with their wives. At the Awo‘s residence, Action Group party members discuss the coming election. Heated arguments ensue. HID (Mojisola Kadiri) leads other women to serve their husbands water to douse the tension.
The argument takes a new turn as Awo (Shallom Matthew) and Akintola (Moshood Fattah) confront one another over who the Action Group (AG) would support between the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon (NCNC). Akintola storms out insisting that he would rather go with NPC to form the government of National unity.
Some members who are in support of Akntola follow him out of the stage. While Akintola tries to convinces his followers, Awo, standing on another podium, on the other side of the stage, also tries to convince his own followers. The Akintola group soon begins a song indicating trouble. The campaign turns violent and eventually erupts into operation ‘wet e’. The entire scene is thrown into pandemonium. Following the conflict, Awo is arrested.
The next scene opens to the Hubert Ogunde—“Yoruba Ronu” done in libretto but in the background. Friends of Awo (Shallom Matthew) go from place to place to appeal for his release. At the last meeting, they become a bit relieved. They rush to finally meet with HID. The background music fades out as the report of the FG refusal to free Awo except HID comes to beg is presented. HID becomes emotional once again, while Awo’s friends console her, urging her to be happy instead, that at least, this time, what they want is just ordinary “begging” and Baba will be released. HID (Mojisola Kadiri) then bids for more time to think over it.
She also asks that the message be brought to the hearing of her husband so that he’ll consent to her going to beg the government. HID (Mojisola Kadiri) break down in tears again, begins to sing, reminiscing of happy days. Some family members/children try to console her, as she reels out the personal stories of her journey with husband in the song; “Before I Married Your father”.
There are enactments of a love letter written by Awo; the initial rejection of HID’s parent of Awo because he’s too stubborn and set in his ways; the controversy of many suitors and her eventual agreement to date this “stubborn Awo”; Awo’s place of a true fa-ther and husband ever since she married this “cocoa business man-turned politician even though he’s always so shy to give a kiss in the open”; and the song of-“ he loves dearly and loyally” is heard. Stage lights fade. Awo’s very roaring laughter in the cell opens the next scene. The loyalists say the wife asks that he approve her going to beg the Government.
Awo thanks the delegation for their onerous attempt at getting freedom for him at all cost but declines to grant his approval. Undaunted, he says: “My wife to beg whom exactly? Will she kneel down or prostrate? Beg for what offence exactly? That I plotted a coup? That’s ridiculous! You’re men of God, you should know that God does not encourage people to bow to injustice”. There is a brief pin drop silence. The Hubert Ogunde’s song of “Alamo ire o, Alamo ire, Ajala…” rents the air. Then Awo continues, in an almost cryptic tone: “I believe I should not be in prison but here I am.
The only Premier that ended up in prison for no reason… If you all are confused about my innocence, let God be the judge! If truly I did what they accused me of, I will not come out of this prison alive, but if I am innocent, I will not spend my life here in prison, I will come out and as the Lord lives, I won’t meet any of those who conspired against me alive!
Thank you gentlemen for your visit, I wish you journey mercies…” the delegate exits, disappointed. The next scene shows Awo (Shallom Matthew) sleeping in his cell at night. Report of a violent coup by middle cadre officers and the eventual takeover by the military high command is heard.
General Gowon is the new Head of States… Awo is announced a free man! As Awo approaches, he roars in a solo song, showering encomium on HID, eulogising her for that only decision she made! The loyalists appear on stage in jubilation. The show parades array notable actors with a strong background on stage, such as Toyin Oshinaike (who played the role of Shonibare), Yinka Davies (who played the role of Iya Agba), Seyi Fasuyi- (Rosiji), Ikponwensa Gold (MC/ Priest/Remi Fani-Kayode).