Sunday, July 4, 2021 1:00 pm
This is a tribute on Professor Femi Osofisan who, on 16 June, 2021, turned 75
By David Edremoda
It was January 2013. Professor Femi Osofisan and Joke Silva were special guests at Olashore International School, Iloko Ijesha, Osun State. The Chief host who welcomed the two profusely was Derek Smith, the Principal and CEO who thanked Osofisan for “honouring us with his presence at our performance of his play and Joke Silva for joining us this evening and sharing her experience with our budding actors.” The play staged for entertaining guests was Morountodun.
The play, Morountodun, which translated in English means ‘I have found a sweet thing’, is an interesting theatrical text written in 1983 by this renowned Nigerian playwright, Osofisan. The play, according to the review published on freelartdesigns.wordpress.com, relives the ancient myth of Moremi, the queen of Ile-Ife, who during the civil war was said to have offered herself to be captured by the enemy (the Ugbos, of Ilaje area, not Igbo of Eastern Nigeria) so as to infiltrate their camp and ascertain their secret in the battle to ensure her people’s victory in the war. This, she succeeded in accomplishing, hence ensuring her people’s victory in the war. Morountodun, set in the Western part of Nigeria, focuses on the Agbekoya uprising in which farmers who are thought to be docile rise to fight the government over the stiff taxes imposed on them. The wealthy are referred to as the cause of this uprising and in a bid to put an end to the rumours, Titubi, a young and rich lady, decides to infiltrate the camp of the rebel farmers who are demanding their rights in order to find out the farmers’ plan and bring their leader to the authorities. She sets off on this suicidal mission against her mother’s wish. On this mission, Titubi discovers the trials which the peasants (poor farmers) face and also finds love as she falls in love with their leader. She becomes the catalyst that brings about the end of the war. Morountodun is the new name given to her by her love.
Professor Babafemi Adeyemi Osofisan, popularly known as Femi Osofisan, or as Okinba Launko (his pseudonym), as reflected in his profile on freelartdesigns.wordpress.com, is a multi-talented creative artist and scholar of remarkable versatility and richness. A playwright, director, actor, poet, fiction writer, critic, translator, and newspaper columnist, he is also an administrator who served, some years ago, as the General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the National Theatre in Lagos.
Born in Erunwon, near Ijebu-Ode in 1946 and educated at the famous Government College, Ibadan, Professor Osofisan had his higher education at the universities of Ibadan, Dakar in Senegal, and the Sorbonne in Paris, obtaining a PhD at the early age of 28. He began a teaching career at Ibadan, and retired mandatorily in the year 2011, after serving as full professor for 38 years.
Osofisan’s flair for literature was revealed when, while still a student at GCI, he won the WNBS Independence Anniversary Essay Prize in 1965 and, a year later, the 1st T.M. Aluko Prize for Literature.
Within a decade of his doctorate degree, he produced plays such as A Restless Run of Locusts, The Chattering and the Song, Who’s Afraid of Solarin, Once Upon Four Robbers, and Morountodun, which led to his rapid emergence as a writer-scholar of growing significance in both the domestic and international circles. All this was just the beginning of a career that has now recorded a harvest of over fifty published titles for stage, television and radio. They include such popular plays as The Oriki of a Grasshopper, Birthdays are not for Dying, Farewell to a Cannibal Rage, Esu and the Vagabond Minstrels, Yungba Yungba and The Dance Contest, Another Raft, and several others.
In addition to these, Professor Osofisan’s creative output also extends to poetry as well as prose fiction, both for young and adult readers. Many of these works have won the ANA (Association of Nigerian Authors) Prizes, and some have been serialised in newspapers.
Professor Osofisan is equally prolific in his scholarly output, where his works in literary criticism have won him respect among his professional colleagues in academia. Some of the over forty essays which he has published in academic journals have now been collected and published in books both at home and abroad. He has also been the editor and co-editor of many journals, including Opon Ifa, Journal of African and Comparative Literature, Black Orpheus, and the Oxford-based The African Theatre Review which was, till recently, the only existing international journal on African drama.
Professor Osofisan has carried the nation’s flag far beyond our nation’s shores as he has taught at numerous institutions abroad and has also directed both his and other African plays in theatres in Asia, Europe, America and other African countries, with the most recent being the production of Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel, which he co-directed with Joe Graves at the Peking University in China last November.
Osofisan’s plays have been commissioned by important theatres such as the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, the Emory Theatre in Atlanta, the Cornerstone Theatre in Los Angeles; the University College of Northampton, the Tricycle Theatre in London, the Lionel Wendt Theatre in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and the Chipping Norton Theatre in England. His play Nkrumah-ni, Africa-Ni! was part of the year-long Kwame Nkrumah centenary celebration in Accra.
Osofisan has been honoured with many fellowships abroad, including a Fulbright to the famous International Writers Program in Iowa in 1987; a Fellowship with the Henri Clewes Foundation in La Napoule, France, in 1990; with the Japan Foundation in Tokyo in 1991; the International in Frankfurt, Germany in 1992; and the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, USA, in 1993. Since 2009, Osofisan has been a Fellow of the International Research Centre at the Freie University in Berlin.
Professor Osofisan was Drama Consultant to the Cultural Olympiad at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996; he was on the final shortlist for the prestigious Neustadt Prize in North Carolina in 2000; and a year later, in 2003, Osofisan was appointed the Lee G. Hall Distinguished Playwright-in-Residence at the DePauw University in Indiana, USA. Earlier on, in 1999, Osofisan was conferred with a French national honour, and made an Officier de l’Ordre de Mérite Nationale de France. In 2006, he was conferred with the Fonlon-Nichols Prize for Literature and the Struggle for Human Rights; and that same year, he became a Fellow of the National Academy of the Arts.
The Playwright is married to Prof. Adenike Osofisan, a computer scientist, and they are blessed with four children. He is currently a Visiting Research Professor at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Osofisan has written and produced more than 60 plays. He has also written four prose works: Ma’ami, Abigail, Pirates of Hurtand Cordelia, first produced in newspaper columns, in The Daily Times and then The Guardian (Nigeria). One of his prose works; Ma’ami was adapted into a film in 2011. Several of Osofisan’s plays are adaptations of works by other writers: Women of Owu from Euripides, from The Trojan Women, Who’s Afraid of Solarin? From Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector, No More the Wasted Breed from Wole Soyinka’s The Strong Breed; Another Raft from J P Clark’s The Raft; Tegonni: An African Antigone from Sophocles’ Antogone and others.
Osofisan in his works also emphasizes gender: his representation of women as objects, objects of social division, due to shifting customs and long-lived traditions, and also as instruments for sexual exploitation; and his portrayal of women as subjects, individuals capable of cognition, endowed with consciousness and will, and capable of making decisions and effecting actions.
*David Edremoda, a writer, contributed this piece to alice, Air Peace inflight magazine, from Benin City, Edo State