“The Okeho Exodus: Regicide, Revolt and Relocation (2022, Peo Davies),” is a historical Play written by Olutayo Irantiola, a literary, history and cultural enthusiast. The Okeho Exodus is a play grounded in history – the colonial history of Nigeria’s Iseyin-Okeho rising of 1916. It is predicated on the crisis that greeted the imposition of a new system of administration and the imposition of a new king on the town by the British colonial government. Thus according to the playwright, the drama is a creative re-enactment of all that happened before, during and after the crisis and eventual punishment of the indigenes of Okeho by Captain Ross, the British Resident Officer of the Oyo Empire.
It opens with Oba Arilesire’s worry about the persistent invasion of Okeho, his domain, by the Fulanis and Dahomey.
In the play’s opening scene, he confers with Mogaji, his confidant and counsellor. The king and Mogaji agree that other communities be invited to pitch their tents with Okeho, a town surrounded by five mountains so that they can, with the cooperation and unity of these communities, they would be able to conquer Alimi (the Fulanis) and other invaders.
Oba Arilesire is chosen by consensus by all the towns now together as their head. And he is rechristened from Onjo of Ijo to the Onjo of Okeho, a confederation comprising all the towns.
Then tragedy strikes. The King, the unifier of all the 11 quarters of Okeho passes. And the process is in motion to select the next king. The princes in the royal house begin consulting the kingmakers to seek their favour to be selected king, even if it means to circumvent the oracle. But the family presents Owolabi Olukitibi to the kingmakers as their family’s choice.
In the play The Okeho Exodus, you see the interplay of politics and tradition in the attempt to select a new king. There is the attempt to financially induce the kingmakers. There is also the protest against the choice of Owolabi Olukitibi by the royal family at the expense of Adewamiwa, an obvious choice of the youths in the town. This is reminiscent of the intrigues that greet the Nigerian political space just before and during election seasons.
Then comes Captain Ross who reads rules and regulations for day-to-day running of the town by Oba Olukitibi on behalf of King George V. Onjo Olukitibi is rechristened as paramount ruler and more stringent rules are now in place. One of the rules is the prohibition of open defecation. In what has been frowned at by the men and chiefs in Okeho, Captain Ross’ rules includes the liberty women now have to decide if they want to divorce their husbands. The men think this is a slap on their culture. The chiefs (district heads) are distressed and the whole town experiences brewing unrest.
This play, The Okeho Exodus, is a text on conspiracy and deceit, and intriguing mutiny. The mutinous men invade Iseyin and Okeho, killing loyalists of the kings and all sympathisers of the white man. However, the rebellion fails and the leaders of the insurrection are executed. Part of the punishment is the relocation of the people of Okeho from Okeho-Ahoro to Okeho-Ile, hence the Exodus of 1917.
In this play, you see an injection of modern feminist ideology of gender and social equality. This is evident in the conversation between Olojomo the Chief Priest and Jinjin his wife (Act 2, Scene 4). The Oro festival beckons and the woman insists on witnessing the rituals and unlocking the mystery behind the Oro. She questions the culture that keeps women off the fray of the festival and queries society’s audacity to violate women’s rights to social equality and freedom of association.
This five-act play is a creative re-enactment of the history of Okeho, especially the revolt against the rule of the colonial government between 1916 and 1917. The playwright has deeply and creatively weaved documented history into a dramatic text for the present generation and for posterity. This is indeed a play for all seasons.
. Olatunbosun is a broadcast journalist, fact-checker and book reviewer at Splash FM 105.5, Ibadan. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, and on X and Instagram @miketunbosun.