Oppression as a Major Cause of Social Unrest: An Examination of Akinwumi Isola's Play Text, Aye Ye Won Tan.

Author:Ogunlola, Layo
Position:Critical essay


Social unrest has been a common phenomenon in almost all societies of the world and especially in countries where capitalist systems of government operate. Even in the Yoruba traditional system of government where the Oba is given the power of life and death over his subjects, there are evidences of oppression. This probably informs the establishment of the Oyomesi Council in the Old Oyo empire to checkmate the excessive use of power by the Alaafin. Various reasons have been advanced as causes of social unrest. These range from tussles over inheritance sharing, misuse of position and power, denial of one's rights, selfishness on the part of the leaders, marital issues and the likes.

There have been cries from different quarters on the aftermath effects of social unrest. People have called on individuals, community leaders, political office holders and even Government to find a lasting solution to the problems of incessant social unrest, and Yoruba Playwrights are not left out in the crusade.

This paper examines oppression as one of the major causes of the increased rate of social unrest as presented by Akinwumi Isola, a prolific Yoruba Literary writer, in his written play titled Aye Ye Won Tan (2009). The objective of this paper is to understand the writer's posture on oppression as one of the major causes of social unrest. What, in the writer's opinion, constitutes oppression? What solutions does he suggest for the eradication of oppression? And what actions must be taken in an attempt to free the society from oppression?

The theory adopted is the Marxist's Sociological theory of Literature which states that in any capitalist society, the leader will always want to oppress the led no matter the number of appeals, dialogues, and pleas. However, the theory emphasizes the need for the oppressed to face the challenge and fight for freedom. It however warns that such a fight should not be fought singularly but instead: should carry all stakeholders along.

There is a Yoruba saying that "agbard ojo ko loun o ni'le wo, onile ni o nii gba fun" meaning "the gutter rain water would always want to destroy or demolish the building, except the Landlord/Landlady does not allow it to happen". Our findings reveal that an oppressor will always want to continue to oppress as long as the oppressed refuse to fight for freedom. The paper, however, suggests that protest or revolution should be the last option to be employed by the oppressed especially when all other available means have proved ineffective or abortive. This is because experience has shown that most protests end in destruction of lives and properties.

This is confirmed by Fasakin in Aye Ye Won Tan when he explained why they should converge in secret to avoid been brutalized. Fasakin gives reasons why the protest should be supported. In his address he says:

Ija ohun yoo doju e lati ola lo bi won o ba se Ohun ti a fe a si n fe atileyin yin o. B 'aja ba Leni leyin yoo pobo o. olopad ni won fi n le wa Kiri o.e ran wd lowo o. (o.i.159). The fight will reach its boiling point tomorrow if they fail to do what we want and we need your support. If a dog has support, it will devour a monkey. It is the Police they employ to chase us around. Please assist us (pg. 159). On page 164 of the text, Ayan testifies to Fasakin's claim. According to him, he is seriously brutalized for failure to support Oba Sinmisola. It is also evident that the protest results in wanting destruction of life and properties.

What is Social Unrest?

The word "unrest" is interpreted to mean "a state of trouble, confusion and turbulence especially in a political context, a time of riots, demonstrations and protests". Going by this definition, a number of factors can cause social unrest. These include among others: selfishness on the part of the leaders, insensitiveness of the leaders to the plights of the led, denial of one's rights, land dispute, cheating, ethnicity, misuse of power and position, and the likes, all of which amount to oppression.

In the culture of the Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria, everybody is expected to be his or her brother's and sister's keeper, hence they say: "enikeni ti iwo bd ni'pd !dti ran Igwp, enikeji re ni, toju re'', meaning "whosoever you are empowered to assist, he/she is your partner, take care of him or her". It is believed that being one's partner is one of the antidotes to social unrest.

Hospitality, for example, is equated with kindness. Being hospitable is one of the moral standards set by the Yoruba. The need to be kind and show love is always emphasized in their culture. Yoruba people believe that it is good to be kind to one's fellow person.

This can be viewed from the perspective of being generous, faithful or showing love to one another. It is a situation whereby one feels affected by the distress or pleasure of another. This is what Wilson (1995, p.30) refers to as sympathy. Helpfulness is not expectation of gain or reward of any kind but for the sake of a person or situation needful of help. The natural law of compensation will return our good deeds in kind and in quality.

Yoruba people believe that it is good to be kind to fellow men. Adebowale, (1999 p.122) describes hospitality as:

Kindness or helpfulness. This means helping others to live successfully, giving others a hand in order to enable them realize their life goals, giving a helping hand to retrieve others from their besetting woes and difficulties. In Yoruba culture, love is one of the three primary human virtues; others are Truthfulness and Harmony. Love can be seen as a spontaneous, conscious and selfless feeling of benevolence, affection and devotion towards God and to one's fellow being. It is also an ethical concept implying such similar feelings from individual human creatures towards one another. It is a virtue to be mutually practiced by individual human beings in their relationships with one another. For instance, "ifa' expresses love as "avoidance of wickedness to neighbours and kindness, mercifulness and beneficence". Oppression, of course, is an act bordering on wickedness.

Irosun Meji of the 'ifa' literary corpus says "bi o ti fe mi si ni Olodumare mda fe o" meaning, "you will be loved by the Almighty God only to the extent of your own love for me". To the Yoruba, and according to Adebowale (1999), love does not wish evil for the other fellow. Love moves one only to wish the other fellow well, even as he himself.

Adebowale (1999) lays further credence to this. Making reference to Owonrin Rosun of the ifa literary corpus, he says:

Owonrin-Rosun extolled beneficiary as a virtue which will always make the beneficent beloved, and alternatively, wickedness is condemned as a vice which will always repel good people away from the wicked. Contractively, perfidy is decried as an act. Perfidy refers to a state of violating faith or allegiance, violation of a promise or vow, or of trust reposed. Adebowale simply describes perfidy as a betrayal of truth, (ile yiyo da). For instance, a person who has declared openly and publicly to pursue a social course but who later proceeds to sabotage that same course can be said to be perfidious.

Oppression no doubt is perfidious. A perfidious person is an oppressor in all ramifications. In a capitalist society like Nigeria, oppression is very rampant. Politicians, Heads of government establishments, Senior Officers, the rich in the society, and the well-placed people, all use their money and position to oppress the less-privileged. Workers are denied their monthly salaries; governments spend money on less important programmes and projects simply because the leaders will have their own share of the contract, without considering the plight of the citizens. The Yoruba will say "eni amori ibda ki" literally meaning "I don't care what happens so far it doesn't affect me". This is their watchword most of the times.

This has been the situation in the country even before Akinwumi isola wrote his play Aye Ye Won Tan in 2009, which can be grouped under "Protest plays". This leads us to the examination of Akinwumi isola's view about oppression as a major cause of societal unrest as seen in his play Aye Ye Won Tan.

Oppression in Aye Ye Won Tan

The story in Aye Ye Won Tan centers on the oppressive nature of the leaders of our society today. In the story, the writer presents Oba Sinmisola Osinyago, Oba of Ipo Town, as an oppressor who uses his position to enrich himself instead of making life better for his people.

In the play, Oba Sinmisola displays an attitude typical of Nigerian Politicians of today who will promise the people heaven and earth during their campaign rallies but as soon as they assume office, they become different persons entirely.

The author tries to tell us that the position of traditional rulers who are...

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