By Mabel I. E. Evwierhoma
A multi-systems approach that assesses the roles of government, citizens and other stakeholders in society would take a look at the role of women in politics, be it personal or group, to assess and challenge discriminatory practices against them. Concerning femocracy, governance is pivotal where soft skills by women are displayed, in the manner of political, social, economic and historical enracinement at different levels of governance to ensure an open society. Femocratic women are both public and private in fighting for the ideals that help to generate an African power ethos in play texts. The term femocracy is not, and cannot be ascribed to the works of J. P. Clark alone. Other plays are open to femocratic analysis in that the factors for and against women’s oppression are cogently analysed. Wole Soyinka had campaigned against attributing one concept to a particular playwright. According to him in “Who’s Afraid of Elesin Oba”, “When a mere word is used to do service for some differing concepts, acts, situations, etc, the exclusive attribution of one particular concept of it to the author is a fraudulent act by any person”. (p.21).
Apart from the ‘fraudulent’ ascription, the need to excavate hidden meanings in a text further helps to facilitate exegetic acts in that text, which further throw more light on the contexts that influence it. What is femocracy? How relevant is it to the socio-politics of J.P. Clark’s works? These questions have made it necessary for one to attempt a chancy look at the femocratic ideal in some of the plays of J. P. Clark. Before now in June 1986, I had turned in a Long Essay in fulfilment of the requirements for THA 441 Special Author II, taught by Dr MM Umukoro, as he then was. Professor Umukoro recently retired from the University of Ibadan after meritorious service to the institution. The focus then was on the female essence in the plays of J.P Clark. Thirty-five years after, and sometimes in-between those years, one has taken an utter look at some of his texts, to confirm some of those early and hesitant, views on his works held by this writer. With yet some clarity, assessing the issues of governance that his plays disclose through the lens of femocracy is one opportunity that I am grateful to the organisers for. Thank you for this great chance to ventilate my views.
When dramatists have precognition and can infuse the plots of their plays with future events, that seem fleeting, but which coalesce into more realities in the future of futures, more analytical possibilities continue to open up their plays for exegeses, using recent critical tools.
This is the experience of critics where the plays of Clark and other Nigerian playwrights are concerned and it is as if the plays continue to reveal contemporaneity and were newly written. In the opinion of Anne Ferguson, “The women’s movement has created a rising consciousness of the social inequalities forced on mothers by our current social arrangements of parenting (masculinity sex/affective production) (p.90). I dare say that it is not only mothers but different categories of women that face inequality, most of which is validated by society directly or indirectly.
One is not certain of Clark’s (un)willingness to create a femocratic space and system. Democracy and the diversity of feminist action or women-centred proclivities for unrest, insurgency and subversion feature in some of his plays like Ozidi and The Wives Revolt. The leader of the unrest does not have to be king or regent like the eponymous heroine Wazobia in The Reign of Wazobia, a play by Tess Onwueme. None of all these women scripted by Clark, like Titi, Koko, Orea, Oreame, Orukorere, Fiobode, Mitovwodo among others had a stool or formal authority except in the home or community. Most of them were local women, who were not muted in their different communities. This means that Clark had the intention to give local women a push against oppression. But some of these women were oppressive! Yet they transformed their lives and others, without stealth, but deliberately. The display of hegemony in plays is not necessary for a show of force, but for positive change to be created. This force for change is translatable to mass revolt, messianic action or third-party force in mystical domination seen in Ozidi through Oreame. Clark’s investment in political power for his women is double-edged: There are weak, or powerful, women, the docile, strong and even fierce, depending on their textual circumstances.
Furthermore, the femocratic impulse as imaginary as it sounds plays out in contemporary plays especially in revolutionary aesthetics of utopian texts that showcase unattainable dreams seen in many plays, by women and men as well as revolutionary or women-centred plays (Azumurana, Pp1-3; Osakwe, Pp90-1, Olaniyan, P. 146, Methuselah, P. 14). The impulse also highlights the role of memory where women’s power is concerned. That which was traditionally considered as normal, that is the subjugation of women is often challenged and either conceptualized as an aberration and women-centredness seen as the new norm or utopia. Women are more dominant in new texts by male dramatists and to hemline them in most drama is no longer feasible. It was common to make women non-participants in trans-national politics in some of the plays of yore, but the capacity in newer texts by Barclays Ayakoroma, Ben Binebai, Peter Omoko, Boniface Anyanwu, Tosin Tume, and Gloria Ernest Samuel among others show the appearance of femocratic women in circulation within urban and rural spaces in their texts.
In Femi Osofisan’s J. P. Clark: A Voyage, his autobiography on Clark, the author asks a pertinent question: “So what will happen when the Poet goes”? (p.39). To provide an answer to the query, today’s event is an example of what will happen, as his plays are going to be subjected to newer analyses using contemporary concepts and ideologies like femocracy being used in this paper.
According to Eistensein, “what was striking about the femocrats was their undisguised commitment to feminism and the acceptance of this within the bureaucracy. This was not a generation of women who, to win senior positions in government, had to conform to the reigning ethos and disguise their personal convictions” (56).
SPHERES OF FEMOCRACY IN J. P. CLARK
This presentation is hinged on the works of Amina Mama, Hester Einstestein, Ann Ferguson about their postulates on femocracy. It also features the stance of Zimbabwean critics in assessing how women try to reap what they did not sow in the fields of power. Femocracy is an ambivalent concept. At a point, it highlights the dominance of women (Hester Einstestein), at another, it showcases the exploitation of power, or proximity to it by women, showing that they do not deserve the prominence which they enjoy (Amina Mama). Femocracy is governance by the feminine or women. It also denotes exploitation of power by women in the vicinity of power, like social chameleon spouses, first ladies, relations of people in government to their own benefits and not to the masses. What can femocracy do? To Amina Mama, the concept is “an anti-democratic female power structure, which claims to exist for the advancement of ordinary women, but is unable to do so because it is dominated by a small clique of women whose authority derives from their being married to powerful men, rather than from any actions or ideas of their own” (Mama, p.41; Marongwe, & Magadzike, p.155).
In both senses, what pushes and pulls at each other are opposing standpoints or binaries of women’s politics at the micro or macro level. The Urban Dictionary considers femocrats as spiteful, misandrists and toxic feminists who brainwash their audience to believe that men are responsible for every evil, meaning that women are contributors to the evil that they condemn. In the end, we on our plates two combined flavours: the sour and the sweet.
Clark’s focus on powerful, hegemonic women is indexical of the traditional contexts of dominance, belief and ritual systems in his place of birth, as affirmed by J. Egbe Ifie. The male and female gods are in concert most times as they allow and partake in the display of mystical powers. There is also the causal linkage between women, power and subservience as well as the woman as supreme, in homely terms. The femocratic ideals are anti-masculinity/ masculinities, and pro-femininity.
In the plays chosen, there is evidence of exuberant manifestations, doggedness for retribution, resilience against oppression and a choice for activism. Be these as they may, the terrain of choice for Clark’s exhibition of femocracy in his drama is communal and indigenous. Clark’s women are politically conscious in the area of personal or group identity and gender politics like Koko, Titi and Mitovwodo. The domesticity and housewifezation of the women apart, we see the clarity of vision where the need to check colonial disruption and perturbation arises. The Bekederemo women come to mind in the manner in which they read and respond to the current colonial politics in All for Oil.
The Wives’ Revolt
Here, we experience women’s absent presence. The conscious group struggle against and patriarchal heteronomy and malevolent oil politics as determined by maleness is the major theme of the play. The convergence of diverse sites of reification: domestic, communal, corporate, and industrial, facilitate the women’s demand for impartiality, accountability, transparency, due process and environmental justice. A society of strong women produces other strong women. Their revolt for power and justice pays off in the end. The enlightenment and self-reliance of Erhuwaren women and the revolt against objectification by men pays off in the end. Apart from the deliberate insurgency by women, Clark depicts a foreknowledge of the politics of women in nation-building and the requirement for gender justice. The approach by women for a Niger Delta political economy built on equity prompted the call for transparency. The women reflect clearly that domestic issues like animal husbandry were linked to revenue sharing and allocation, including national issues. and therefore show that:
- Through leadership, activism and governance by women, they passed through the processes of query: they were not satisfied with what Okoro and the other men proposed as the formula for financial responsibility. They asked questions;
- They deliberately revisited what the men expected them to accept;
- Consciously revised their history; and
- Rewrote it themselves, without intermediaries.
The Wives’ Revolt is all about grassroots activism for fiscal reforms which are what is to be expected of women today. To subject the play to further scrutiny, must the women all be wives?! What if it was just a revolt of unmarried women or single women? Would the marital status of the women ascribe some worth or triviality to the struggle by women? The revolt, therefore, benefits from the women’s proximity to the men, an advantage which the women exploited for their gain.
Here, the transcendental femocrats hold sway in the manner they are imbued with deep vengeful characterisation by the playwright. Orea, Oreame Azema, and the clan of witches versus the habitation of their victims generate force and resonate with tradition. They also highlight the need for indigenous resources for healing and recovery shown by the seven virgins, and the woman with child, another character. The revolutionary aesthetics that appears in Ozidi differs from the one in The Wives Revolt. The boomerang of femocracy is evident in the former play using the myths and legends of the people of Orua and by extension, Ijoland. Again, the women reverse oppression and can rightly be termed oppressive, misandrists and toxic feminists. For example, many deities are female like Tamara, Oyin, Ayebau among others. (Egbe Ifie, 73), yet they fight against their own.
In the strongly motivated revenge play, Ozidi, the storytelling theatre comes to life. Set in Orua, where kings hardly lasted on the throne, the line of rulers is extinct but for Ozidi and his older, but senile brother Temugedege. The idiot is preferred as the king and on Ozidi’s insistence that tributes be brought to the king, the community kill Ozidi and his head served as tribute. Unbeknownst to them, Orea, Ozidi’s wife is pregnant with child and her mother Oreame nurses her at Ododama until younger Ozidi is born. Oreame the super and supernatural woman nurtures Ozidi II who returns to Orua to wreak vengeance on his father’s assassins. Another strong woman is Azema, mother of Odogu, whose wife Ozidi seduces. Unfortunately, Oreame is struck down during one of the fights. To Ashaolu, Oreame “is destroyed by the very agent she has used to effect her plan of revenge”. (195). In this circumstance, femocracy fails. The villains in the play Ofe, Oguaran, Azezabife and Agbogidi meet their waterloo also. Left with his mother and enemies, the former’s love conquers in the end. Orua governance is in turmoil as a result of a great deal of violence. Matthew Umukoro declares that “The Ozidi drama is a study in extreme physical violence”. Much to our chagrin, such violence is a daily occurrence in Nigeria today and women are contributory factors to the seemingly unending viciousness.
Women do not feature but are in reference as symbols of interpersonal political communication in a sexualised unstable workplace. If women did, there would have been a palpable involvement in the governance and management of the raft that implies a turnaround of the peoples’ fortunes. In The Raft, the third in the trilogy by Clark (Three Plays), all the characters are male, but there are references made to female characters like the wife, mother, concubine, from the four lumbermen’s contextual experiences. The men, Ogro, Olotu, Ibobo and Kengide are adrift, cannot see through the night, and there are no stars to guide them in their helpless drift (p.95). They use a bowl to determine the direction of the tide and make a startling discovery that they are in the Osikoboro whirlpool, at the confluence of seven rivers.
The raft breaks into two in a sudden gust of wind, one half-carrying away Captain Olotu. Ogro seeks refuge from a steamer, the crew reject him and he is cut to pieces by the stern wheeling engine. The remaining two lumbermen approach Burutu port, but fog suddenly descends and they drift past their destination to the open sea. The tragic fate of the women is referred to by Ogro in the terms that they “…wail/Going to bed, and wake up wailing, for their seeds are eaten by the black beetle (113). Ibobo and Kengide are left with dreams about women, who to Kengide, unfortunately, have been affected by refinery civilization, and labour union matters. The strength of motherhood is depicted by Ibobo, who without his mother: “all the rivers will go dry of starch/And farina and but for her taking canoes of fish upcountry, folks there will be mere goats feeding on their cassava … (131).
Readings of the text have linked the play’s plot to the unending national crisis currently being faced in Nigeria at intervals. The split raft is an epitome of the troubled and fractured ship of state. Osofisan’s Another Raft is a link to the socio-political impetus of the play.
Song of a Goat
In the homestead relayed before us in the first play of the trilogy, is the silent actualisation of the female authority in domestic governance. In Song of a Goat, Orukorere under the influence of the spirit of the family god saw something and said something to cause disarray. Clark’s drama features individual, communal and national identities at stake in the wake of upheavals. When realities are forced, conflict erupts often involving the gods and men. The forced, seemingly inevitable relationship between Ebiere and Tonye, depicts this mimicked reality, where the gods settle scores. Ebiere’s closeness to Tonye and the Masseur was expected to profit her, but femocracy fails her and the result is the tragic end that we witness in the play. The Ijo serve several purist deities, many of them women, that assert much influence on the people. This is evident in Song of a Goat. Set in Deinogbo, where the Masseur is an advocate of the deity, it is he who suggests the deviant liaison between brother and sister-in-law, leading to incest and adultery. According to Albert Ashaolu, incest is the first crime in the play (181). Thus, the Masseur, who is expected to provide succour transgresses the boundaries of the woman’s space. The supposed healer brings pain and unease. Ebiere is not barren. She had borne a child (Dode) before. Her problem was the delay in giving birth to another child. Infertility becomes debility, and a link with the undue desire to entrench her position in the Zifa homestead. As Ebiere fails to give birth, symbolically, there is a disconnect between the seed and the soil, evident in the images used by the Masseur. Symbolically, Ebiere is like Nigeria, robust on the outside, but with much turbulence inside. Another similarity with Clark’s nation is the penchant for the reactive rather than the proactive. The sacrifice could have been preventive if carried out earlier, instead of the pursuit of a curative one.
Next, we encounter the impact of Orukorere another femocrat in the play, and her foreshadow-vision as it features the need for sacrifice and sanctity in the institution of matrimony. The old woman on account of her age is closer to the gods than the others, sees and hears from the spirit world in ‘double vision’ hence her role as the mouthpiece of the gods. Orukorere as the femocrat aligns with the gods to create domestic dysfunction, exact purgation and later tragedy. The two pertinent issues- sacredness and morality- in the text counter R. G. Armstrong’s position that Song of a Goat is not fit to have the “status of tragedy” (31). Ebiere’s death and Zifa’s suicide are tragic enough, but the misbegotten son later manifests in the next play in the trilogy, The Masquerade.
Tufa is a link to the plot of The Masquerade. The play Song of a Goat as domestic tragedy affected communal affairs, the way the local and communal problems seep into the national space. The former play employs folktale material based on the Spirit-Suitor and the girl who rejected all other suitors but the spirit. In the play, Titi the adamant maiden’s plan to marry the ‘scarecrow capped with a vacant skull’ ends in futility and a father-daughter conflict. Diribi the father shoots Titi the ‘revolting youth’ (Ashaolu, 196). The recent EndSARS protest provides an insight into geriatric intolerance of youthful dispositions. Why shoot a young person for deciding for a preferred spouse from another ethnic group, community, social status, faith, or any other distinguishing feature? Divisive identity politics continue to decimate life in the text as well as context. The class inhibitions and xenophobia exhibited by Diribi and Umuko, Titi’s parents, also have repercussions. This is not an odd happening today. The seemingly unclear link with femocracy in the play however seeks fruition in Titi undoing herself at the hands of her pater familias while her mother is powerless. Umuko in alliance with the patriarch of the family entrenches maternal support for the negatively dominant father, perhaps to establish her position as wife and mother. Like Song of a Goat with national import, the emphasis on the younger generation- Titi and Tufa- proves that domestic juvenile infractions have communal and national impacts, which upset the balance of the family and community. Titi revolts against family, tribe, Ebiama community and the ancestors. Her strong challenge against patriarchy as opposed to her mother, Umuko’s docility.
All for Oil
Mitovwodo in this play exhibits a positive femocratic disposition to oil and colonial politics in the play. The favourite wife of Bekederemo has a clear analytical approach to governance. In All for Oil, with Fiobode, the two women are not left out of the need to explain governance and its patriarchal influence. Under the strong control of Bekederemo, Mitovwodo is the domestic ruler and matriarch who with foreknowledge, considers Nigeria a ‘night market’. The play dwells on the colonial exploitation of natural resources and the deliberate act of some members of the oil river communities to checkmate it. There is evidence that in The Wives’ Revolt and All for Oil, Clark takes a deliberate turn to the path of activism, rather than reaction. Placed between two chiefs, the colonialist Moorhouse pits Bekederemo and Numa against each other, another intuition into what politics forbode in Nigeria several decades after. The placement of the colonial characters on the cast list reflects Clark’s disdain for their politics in the past, present and perhaps future. The absence of characters like Ditimi, is another signifier of a conscious effort by the dramatist to diminish whatever impact Numa or any disparager of Bekederemo’s stature as a man of means would have in the play.
Lagos is far from the Southern Provinces and the Governor-General is absent. It behoves his minions to act out colonial hegemonic inclinations that further divide the people. The femocrats’ unconstructive actions in the play come in Ditimi, and other women. Nevertheless, if femocrats derive advantages from propinquity to maleness and male dominance, one could aver that Fiobode, Mitovwodo and other spouses of great men in the play are femocrats. Mitovwodo as Bekederemo’s senior wife is credited with a raised political consciousness as she discusses local politics with ample knowledge. She speaks in the play with some foreboding about Nigeria as a ‘night market’ in All for Oil. The concept in its dual form is about usage and abusage, hence its ambivalent nature.
Any Agenda for Femocracy?
To Mama, the femocratic rule by women is feminine, autocratic, and ‘runs parallel to the patriarchal oligarchy upon which it relies for its authority, and which it supports completely (p. 155). Mama opines that ‘the state has been primarily a vehicle of male elite interests (p.38). Therefore, any support for women by men to advance women, is to realise ‘male political agenda at the expense of female political agenda” (Goredema and Chigora, p. 76) Despite the struggles of women, in whose interests are the collateral of struggle? How can women’s lot be improved upon during and after any struggle? Mama declares that what Nigeria has witnessed is “the emergence of a femocracy, rather than the development of a women’s movement” (p. 55). This to her also means that Nigerian politics lacks a ‘feminist space’. The indicators of Femocracy are:
1. Participation by women
3. Mass awareness-creation
4. Creation of fake heroines (Goredema and Chigora, 2009:76)
5. Amnesia of history
6. Battle the distortion of historical facts on women
7. Revisiting the forgotten real women fighters
Whether the women in Clark’s plays reflect the use or misuse of power to the detriment of their fellow women or not, what is pertinent is for women to have legitimate power, arising from their right in society as contributors to development, not as accessories or appendages to men who wield power.
In being amenable for femocratic discussion, the texts reflect a social world of women and men that are not shielded from political processes. Femocracy is an agenda for the present and future. It, therefore, seeks the recognition of all women, irrespective of their status that often shuts out the struggles of ordinary women, or people who are excluded from the power equation often. The real fighters for the emancipation of women are the labourers for justice and not the cosmetic agitators who align with oppressors to perpetuate male hegemony with lucre in mind.
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* Prof. Mabel Evwierhoma teachers Theatre Arts at the University of Abuja, Abuja