restricted access The Shifting Structures of Power in The Beatification of Area Boy
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The Shifting Structures of Power in The Beatification ofArea Boy KOLAWOLE OLAIYA Literature can convey the life experience ofolle whole nation to another / .../ And liter· ature conveys irrefutable condensed experience in yet another invaluable direction: namely from generation to generation. Thus, it becomes the living menwry of the nation. Thus it preserves and kindles within itself the flame oj her spent history ill a form which ;s safe from defamation and slander. In this way, literature together Wilh language protects the soul of the nation .,' /...j Woe to that nation whose literature is disturbed by the intervention a/power. (Solzhenitsyn 40) Wole Soyinka's creative works are primarily responses to the upheavals within Nigerian society. Although he has been accused of not being "ideologically committed" and of mythologizing essentially mundane experiences by Marxist critics (Jeyifo, Truthful Lie; Osofisan), his life and writings reflect his daring resistance to tyranny. His creative and critical works show his responses to sociopolitical events in Nigeria - past and present - as a sustained engagement with the State and a "historical" record of the different forms and manifestations of power at different periods. Taking Africa, and Nigeria in particular, as his subject, there is a way in which his creative and critical works - in their range, content, and form - reflect the inherent relationship "between literature and its sponsoring context" (Olaniyan, "Rotimi" 201). The Beatification ofArea Boy (1995) is one of many plays in which Soyinka engages with, and responds to, power and its shifting meanings in Nigeria . It is a satiric and parodic exposition on the life of a group of Area Boys in Lagos, which ends in the marriage of Sanda, the leader of the Area Boys, to Miseyi. Soyinka uses the play to interrogate power structures in Nigeria as they relate to "Area boys," a group described as "bullies," "thugs," and "extortionists" (102) who "intimidate [innocent citizensL extort money from them and vandalise their cars" (85). As recently as September 200t, the disModern Droma, 45:3 (Fall 2002) 395 KOLAWOLE OLAIYA course on "Area Boys," refracted in Soyinka's play of '995, was still the focus of newspaper reports and articles in Nigeria. In presenting the issue of Area Boys, Soyinka tries to document "the life experience" (Solzhenitsyn 40) of Nigeria in '994, when the country experienced the worst military dictatorship in its history. This article will examine Soyinka's explorations of the meanings and shifting structures of power and the deconstruction of Areaboyism through a close critical reading of The Beautification ofArea Boy. The Beatification of Area Boy is a satire on contemporary sociopolitical issues rooted in the past. It reads like a sequel to Opera Wonyosi, first performed in 1977, a free adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera (1928), which is itself an adaptation of John Gay's The Beggars' Opera (1728). In his prefatory notes to the performance of Opera Wonyosi in 1977, Soyinka sums up the events that led him to write the play: The post civil-war years, [...J harvel witnessed Nigeria's self- engorgement at the banquet of highway robberies, public executions, public floggings and other institutionalised sadisms, arsons, individual and mass megalomania, racketeering, hoarding , epidemic, road abuse and reckless slaughter, exhibitionism ... callous and contempt\lous ostentation, casual cruelties, wanton destruction, slummification, Naiiamania and its attendant atavism (ritual murder for wealth), an orgy of physical filth ... the near-total collapse of human communication. (qtd. in Ogunbiyi 6) Soyinka could have been writing about the Nigeria of '994. The only difference between [977, when Opera Wonyosi was performed, and 1995, when The Beatification of Area Boy was published, is the exponential increase of the "social decadence" that Soyinka had hoped would "never again be experienced " in Nigeria (qtd. in Ogunbiyi 6). In 1994, General Sanni Abacha, the most brutal military despot in Nigerian history, became the head of state. This had far-reaching consequences for the life of the nation: apart from the increase in armed robbery, and the insurgence of state-sponsored political terrorism and extreme deprivation in the face of inflation, Nigeria was practically under military siege. Executions of armed robbers at the Bar Beach were replaced by extra-judicial murders of suspected armed robbers in...