By Kayode Ogunbunmi
‘One Muse, many masks: Reflections on Ahmed Yerima’s recent drama,’ edited by Professor Gbemisola Adeoti and published by Kraft Books, is a compendium of 17 critical essays by 17 scholars on various aspects of the literary works of Professor Ahmed Yerima – as well as an extensive interview with the dramatist by Professor Adeoti.
The publication covers over 30 plays, from Idemili, Akuabata, Little Drops, Odenigbo, Druggs, Queen Amina, Iyase, Abobaku to Muadin’s Call and No Pennies for Mama.
As noted by the author, Yerima, dramatist and former director of the National Troupe, is a major in Nigerian theatre and ‘his concrete contributions to Nigerian dramatic literature have become subjects of doctoral and post-doctoral studies.’ His books, Adeoti further noted, are being avidly discussed in conference papers, journal articles, book-length studies and others.
In the opening essay, Adeoti identifies the ethno-cultural sources of each of Yerima’s play and explores how the plays are deployed to explore socio-developmental issues of the time. The central role of language in Yerima’s drama is the focus of essays by Ifeanyi Arua and Ibrahim Olaosun, while Lekan Balogun explores issues of divinities and other super natural powers in the plays.
A large number of the contributors however dwell on issues of conflict and violence – ranging from the Niger Delta, herdsmen banditry and Boko Haram terrorism. Yemi Atanda, Oluwole Coker, Adesina Lawal, Sesan Akinwunmi, Sola Ogunbayo, Stephen Ogundipe, Bode Ojoniyi, Segun Adekoya and Adeoti all tackle various dimensions of the theatre of violence that parts of the country have devolved into.
Isah Ibrahim and Kikelomo Owoeye explore the interplay of patriarchy and gender role plays in Yerima’s work while Adekunle Adeniyi and Nwangbo Obi focus on issues of social hierarchy, materialism and sundry human vices.
As Adeoti notes, One Muse Many Masks shows that Yerima’s dramaturgy is ‘generally defined by free imagination, constant research into Nigeria’s cultures and resourceful deployment of language and artistic devices.’
The book also received endorsement from Professor Femi Osofisan.
‘As a sensitive, devoted scholar who sets out both to elucidate Yerima’s work as well as ease the public’s response to it, Adeoti has helped to a pleasantly expedient extent shape the formal reception to it. More than any other critic so far that I know, it is Adeoti, through his books and essays, as well as the writings of other scholars that he has inspired, who has directed serious and consistent critical attention to the works of this contemporary of ours, recognized now as one of our leading dramatists,’ wrote Osofisan.
Adeoti, a professor in the English Department of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife is author of several books including Naked Soles, Voices Offstage, Aesthetics of Adaptation in contemporary Nigerian Drama and Nigerian Video Film in Yoruba. His areas of teaching and research interest include dramatic literature, literary history, literary theory and popular culture.