Did Judas Iscariot betray Jesus Christ? Was he a catalyst to the actualization of Jesus’ messianic mission? Was he actually scammed? These are questions popular Nigerian producer, director and dancer, Segun Adefila threw up when his theatre group, Crown Troupe of Africa staged an opera , Dis Loyal Judas from 2 – 5 April 2021 at the Art Factory in Bariga, Lagos. The musical play, rendered in Yoruba, Pidgin and English, speaks to the relationship between Jesus and Judas, subverting the popular narrative and offering fresh insights. In this interview with NEHRU ODEH just before the opera was staged, Adefila, who wrote and produced the opera, speaks about why he produced the play, what inspired it and the lessons to be learnt from it.
Why stage the play, Dis Loyal Judas?
For a long time I have been intrigued by the stories of Jesus and Judas. You know I grew up in a Christian family. My family is mixed. It’s a royal family and we are Christians, we are Muslims and we are traditionalists. And so my first experience was with Christianity and then I had a bit of connection with Islamic background when I went to the village. Of course it was when I went to the village that I became rooted in our traditional festival. So I am a mixture of all of these. But Christianity is the first one that comes to mind. And I have been intrigued by the stories of Jesus and Judas for a long time. I see the Bible as a record of history. And I see all the renditions as one of those myths that belong to a race. Just like we have our own, the Chinese have theirs and so on and so forth. But I am intrigued by the stories of the Bible. And one of these interesting stories is the relationship between Jesus and Judas. Then I started asking questions. A synonym for betrayal is when your friends say you are a Judas. Immediately you feel very offended, you feel terrible. But what kind of friend would be that close to a leader like Jesus that when he connived with others to identity Jesus there was a conversation? And for me the question is: Why did he return that money? According to my findings, he returned the money because he asked them, “You did not tell me you were going to kill him. You just said I should identify him.” That is my finding. It wasn’t out of remorse alone. It was out of the realization that he had been scammed. They scammed the guy. And so I began to see Judas as being scammed even by Jesus. Because Jesus was determined to carry out the order. And that is what makes Jesus special in my heart, that it is not easy for you as a human being. You are given a mandate. And as you go on, you see many activists turning against the people at the slightest opportunity. And so they are riling against the governments and leaders. And the moment they get into governance or have the opportunity, they forget where they are coming from. Only a few activists are able to stay on. Jesus had all the opportunities. In fact his people nominated him. They said “Come and be our king, our leader.” Remember the time they said they came to him and He took a boat and crossed to the other side just because He didn’t want to miss his mission. And this was a leader who while leading, why would they get to a place and they didn’t have money to pat tax and his disciples were like “we shouldn’t pay tax, you know who we are na”. Oh, He said “Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” And they didn’t have money at a point, He said “Go and catch a fish” and they took out money from that. And people were hungry, He fed five thousand people. All of these things. He walked on water. He raised the dead. He made the cripple walk. He made the blind see. He did all of those things. So I started thinking like Judas. I have seen this master. So let me say I am a member of Fela’s band. And Fela would ordinarily not do anything with government. I have forfeited my background as an accountant – Judas had to do with money, a lover of money – to go and stay with Jesus. “I have seen Him walk on water. He has performed all of these miracles but we are always cash-constrained. It happens, it is said in his stories. And some people come to me and say, ‘Listen, can you just show us this your man? Let us just know this your master.’ That’s all. And in my mind I am like if I tell Jesus let’s collect money from these people, He would not allow it. So I can make some money on my own. Maybe – and this is theatre coming into religion – even borrow the association, my company, the twelve disciples and our master money once in a while because I have gotten money from government or a source that they would not approve of.” I believe he was certain that Jesus could not be easily arrested. And so he identified Jesus and he saw Jesus just let go. And they took Jesus and punished Jesus in his presence. And if it were a mere rumour, there are ways you can excuse our mistakes and just walk away and say God will forgive us. No, he went back and returned that money. So let’s look at that money as 30 million dollars. He returned the money. He said this money means nothing and then went ahead to kill himself. That’s one part of it. How many people would feel that remorseful and say “I’m giving up on life.”
Are you saying Judas was a victim and not a villain?
I want to see him like that. I want to see him like a victim. In fact if we judge him by the rules of those days we might begin to call him names. We can excuse anything these days. He didn’t build any house with the money. He didn’t buy a pin for himself. He dropped every kobo of that money and ended his own life. What can be more honourable than that? Besides, everything about Jesus had been predicted, that He was going to come, He would die and all of those things. And there was .no way those things would happen without somebody aiding it. So he was just a catalyst to the process. That’s what this story is all about.
How did you come about the idea?
The artiste’s mind is a restless mind. They are always thinking of something new. They are always thinking of new stories to tell and all of those things. And I said being a Yoruba boy when I was a child I used to sit with elderly people and they would tell us stories. So we enjoyed storytelling. I saw that material. I don’t go to church but I am intrigued by the story of Jesus Christ. It is so touching. And what we are trying to do with it is to look at our contemporary world, that if I am your follower, or if I belong to a certain church, and I imbibe the doctrine of the church if I go and play smart, it may backfire. So that’s simply part of the things that happened. Perhaps if Judas had stayed his course maybe he wouldn’t have done that. Then how would Jesus be discovered? So he helped.
Is that why you think Judas was loyal?
It is Dis Loyal Judas. And it is an opera. It is music from beginning to the end in Yoruba, Pidgin and English. Of course, because I’m Yoruba, I used the language I can defend. So I used my language as background, and there is English and there is pidgin running at the same time. And so we played on words, that if we use Pidgin then it is Dis Loyal Judas, that is this Judas is loyal. But if we use English then it is disloyal. That is why there is always a gap between Dis and Loyal. .
Don’t you think you are apt to be misinterpreted by Christians and be branded as evil?
Yes. Again, for the world to move forward we need to stir up a conversation. They are entitled to such opinion. You know what I’m saying. If you read what I wrote, I said the idea is to question the answers, not to answer the questions. It is to question the answers that we have been given. Let’s sit down and ruminate over it. This is not to celebrate Judas. I don’t think I can be any one of them. I don’t think I’m powerful enough to be Jesus or Judas. Because it takes a lot of sacrifice for both. And I carried out some research on it. In fact, it was as if Jesus chose Judas for that purpose. If you remember the conversation at the Last Supper, when they were asking, “Master, would it be me?” He said, “You said it.” That was his response to Judas. I think it suggested something like Go and do what you have to do. Go quick and do what you have to do. Because he really wanted to do it. And what made Jesus one of my heroes, I mean, my major hero, is that point when He was alone, when He knew the hour was approaching, He put in a human form and the Bible even recorded Him as a human being on Gethsemane, when He went up. He was scared. He said, “If this cup can pass over me.” But again, He said, “Let your will be done.” How many of us allow the will of God to be done? We always want to influence. We are scared. We want to change it. Did he change it?
Over the years you’ve been known for subverting texts, norms and narratives …
No, I am not that. I’m a good boy (laughs). I listen to narratives and I ask questions.
But this is subversion?
It is a question. It is not subversion, that if you say that everything God says must come to pass, why are we querying …. There are so many questions. See, there was a battle in heaven led by Archangel Michael. He led the heavenly hosts and they had a battle against Lucifer and his own angels. And that battle was won by the heavenly hosts. Isn’t it? Where did they throw Lucifer and his angels? Earth. When the heavenly people cannot deal with Lucifer, why would they send them to us mortals to deal with? And so it rationalizes every bad thing happening. If Jesus defeated all of these in a human form, that we can’t do it. And that is why the esu factor comes in. Because he said, “Let’s make man in our own image. So he already made me a god from the beginning. So every time I fail, I don’t like people telling me somebody is doing me. It is one witchcraft that is doing me. It is my grandfather that is troubling me. I don’t like listening to such things. The question is, What I have done with the God in me about the choices I make? So I make mistakes every day. But I own up. I tried my best to own up in my heart of hearts. And I am urging that we are able to do that. So that everybody, both the politicians, the leaders and the led begin to take responsibility for our actions. Religion is not going to save us. It has not done anything. It has only worsened our matter. Even if we had been allowed to live our life the way we were living it, maybe our society will be saner than it is now. Because we see what we have got on our hands now. It is beyond us. We can’t handle it. It is bigger than us. So what does it say to us? That Dis Loyal Jesus is one of the questions that we want to raise. It is not to say that Judas is the hero. It is to say that how many Judases have we had? The politician that was voted in and decided to mismanage the resources of the people is a Judas.
Are politicians remorseful?
So how dare they condemn Judas? Judas is a hero. I mean he paid the ultimate price. These guys will call a lawyer to bail them out of EFCC nets and their children will become leaders again. But we are growing older. Our children are getting into school. In another 10, 15, 20 years’ time our children will be in charge of this nation? What are they leaving for those children? And so we can’t afford to fold our arms. We need to say something because my daughter will ask me, “Daddy what did you do?” Fela’s children will ask. Fela’s children can raise their heads and say “My father said so many things but the people didn’t listen.” What about the children of all those other people?
Fela has been a major influence on your art. Why do you infuse Fela into your drama?
Yes, because of what he did with his art. Because he did with his art the traditional role of art. Art is not merely for entertainment. I consider any art that can entertain but speak to topic as a noble art. Art is therapeutic. Art should heal. When you are despondent, sad, are in a very bad mood, and you listen to good music, or a comedian comes on stage and makes you laugh, that is therapeutic. But there is art that is just for its sake. Fela didn’t practise art like that. Fela made excellent music. Remove the lyrics, remove the contents, just listen to the music, the arrangement alone, it is excellent. But in it he was telling us things that happened. You know, Water, light, food, house o. Wetin do them? As at that time we weren’t shouting Up NEPA as much as we are shouting it now. That time looks like a glorious age compared to what is happening today. Our parents didn’t go through the pressure we are going through to put our children in school. He said all of those things. I remember what Lateef Jakande, the former Governor of Lagos State that just passed on said in his campaign in 1983, I remember as a child listening to his campaign on TV. He said, “I won’t be in government when bread will be one naira.” I remember that campaign. And I said how can bread be one naira? It was too much. It was like saying bread will be one million naira. Now you can’t give children 200 naira bread and they will be too happy. Look at the value of our money. Look at everything falling. But Fela said it. So Fela has a strong influence because he did what my ancestors did.
In this play you are subverting a text. But you said you didn’t subvert, that you are only asking questions. Still you’ve been known for subverting narratives through drama. Why do you subvert narratives?
It is the narrative that is subverting the real narrative. So we are trying to reset and say “No, it is not like that. Ah ah. Sebi this is what you said will be it.” I belong to the Creative Arts Association Pioneer Group. And I am the financial Secretary. And every time I keep getting alerts and one of those things. And before I could take up that job. I am an artist, struggling artists trying to make ends meet. You can see the number of kids you meet here every day. The government won’t come and do this. I would not go and sit down and be campaigning because I hate so many things. We need to provide practical solutions. So I rely on friends, family and all of those things. Sometimes I don’t have credit, not a dime, to call out. So I would call a friend and say “Please my daughter is finishing any moment from now,” and then they send two thousand naira to me. And I keep doing my work and one of those things. All of a sudden I am in control of a hundreds of thousands of naira sent by other people. In fact, we are in a meeting and they are talking about inauguration, what they are going to spend, and I would say no. Do you understand? Because I don’t have anything to give my children I am not giving them any house. I am not giving them anything. I am, giving them their name. I am giving them Adefila. So if all of us begin t pursue in our little ways those excellent things .God will help us. It was Babantunde Raji Fashola who said, “May our loyalty not be tested.” So the solutions to Africa problems is in the hands of Africans. Look at what you have done. You’ve taken time out. If you are in a beer parlour now, nobody will blame you for being there. Can somebody come and meet you at your age and say what are you doing in a beer parlour? But you invested time into your daughter’s life to come and see theatre. Who is paying for it? Who is paying you for this? Who is paying you to come and do this? So you heard about me doing what I am doing and you said let me go and hear him out. Until we begin to appreciate ourselves, until society begins to make people like you a standard we aren’t going nowhere. So if you cheat and collect brown envelopes and subvet the truth and you have all the big cars, that’s the society they want us to embrace. But we’ve got to fight it. So my fear for you and I and every other person and those that we are trying to follow their footstep is that our loyalty should not be tested. That’s why Jesus said, “Lead us not into temptation.” Because you have your children sitting at home, they are not going to school and a politician says Come and make a song for me or make a performance that will celebrate me. And you know that that politician is corrupt, you are forced to do it when they offer you a lot of money so that you can live a good life and the society can respect you. So Fela is not remembered for his money but for his music.