A Historical Survey of Playwriting by Women in Nigeria


Eziechine, A. O.


This paper examines the development of playwriting in Nigeria since its inception in the 1950s. The study is basically a survey of the works of some Nigerian female playwrights such as Zulu Solofa, Tess Onwueme, Irene Isoken Agunloye, Julie Okoh, Tracie UtohEzeajugh and Stella Oyedepo. Content analysis of their works, particularly those of the new generation playwrights were made. The findings reveal that Nigerian female playwrights are seriously committed to using their plays as a means of addressing some of the issues affecting women in Nigeria. The paper concludes that drama has remained an effective tool for sensitizing the society on various social issues, and Nigerian female dramatists are wielding this powerful tool for women empowerment and the development of the Nigerian society.


Literary Drama, Female Playwrights, Women, Gender Issues, Playwriting, Liberation.


Playwriting in Nigeria began in the early 1950s with the publication of This is Our Chance (1956) by Ene Henshaw, the first notable playwright in Nigeria to write in English. The play This is our Chance, dwells on the issues of love, war and village hostility. Princess Kudaro of Koloro (Bambulu's student), and Prince Ndamu of the neighboring village of Udura, who should be inveterate enemies, have decided to elope to get married, an outcome of Bambulu's new ideas. This incident provokes a violent reaction in each village. Ajugo, the Chief Prime Minister stands for tradition and insists that Prince Ndamu (their captive) should be killed. Enusi, the junior Minister, an advocate of change opposes Ajugo. The contest takes the form of blind argument. The plot is however, given a complex touch, with the incident at Udura. The young son of Chief Mboli has been bitten by a snake and he lies in agony of death. Princess Kudaro who was also captured waiting to be killed in Udura has brought out Bambulu's snake antidote, which gives immediate relief. The villages discover the need to live in harmony with one another. Generally speaking, notable contemporary Nigerian playwrights include J.P Clark, Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi, Wale Ogunyemi, Zulu Sofola Bode Sowande, Femi Osofisan, Olu Obafemi among others.


The period spanning between the early eighties and the present day witnessed a great harvest of new generation female playwrights in Nigeria. This period is again characterized by a very high wave of corruption, political instability and economic holocaust. During this period, Nigerian female playwrights attempted to address a myriad of issues including feminist issues. Some of these playwrights also highlighted traditional practices that are inimical to women. These female playwrights built on the solid foundation previously laid by Onwueme. Playwrights in this category include Stella Oyedepo, Julie Okoh, Irene Isoken Agunloye and Tracie Chima Utoh Ezeajugh. Like Onwueme, most of their works project women agenda. In the words of Methuselah (2010:157), “The theme of infidelity, betrayal and cultural suppression of women permeates their plays with women suffering the brunt of male oppression and suppression”...


From the foregoing overview of female playwriting enterprise in Nigeria, it has been established that Nigerian female playwrights use their plays to advance the course of women empowerment, and to sensitize the society on various social issues. They have written and published plays portraying issues that concern women thus unveiling their experiences as women. Tess Onwueme unveils the obnoxious cultural practices and patriarchal structures that are inimical to the well being of women. The third generation playwrights also referred to in this work as the new generation female playwrights include Stella Oyedepo, Julie Okoh, Irene-Isoken Agunloye,Tracie Utoh-Ezeajugh among others. Stella Oyedepo captures the ugly experience of child abuse and exploitation, which have become an enduring experience in Nigeria and other parts of the world in Alice, Oh! Alice. Julie Okoh in Edewede, exposes the agonizing experience of women who undergo the cultural practice of female genital mutilation. On the other hand,Irene Salami Agunloye's More Than Dancing and Tracie Utoh's Our Wives Have Gone Mad Again, showcase strong women characters who venture into the world of politics, an area that is known to be the exclusive preserve of men, and defeat their male rivals.

In More Than dancing, Nona Odaro displays the highest form of political astuteness and cunning that her male counterparts who underestimated her were left dazed after her unexpected victory. In Sweet Revenge, Salami revolutionalizes Aisosa, her heroine, who deals with Sota the husband when he abandons her. The play advocates for the involvement of women in the mainstream of affairs, thereby moving them from the margin to the centre. Tracy in Our Wives Have Gone Mad Again, also uses the most unconventional method to secure the presidential ticket. Given this extensive contribution of Nigerian female playwrights, the paper concludes that drama has remained an effective tool for sensitizing the society on various social issues, and Nigerian female dramatists are wielding this powerful tool in their struggle for women liberation as their contribution to women empowerment and general development of the Nigerian society.


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