Monday, 13 January 2014

Alapata Apata… A satirical take on the abuse of power

By Anote Ajeluorou

Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka has long been in forefront of those who decry the abuse to which power is put in most part of Africa and the developing world. He is known to have engaged the powers-that-be on its legitimate use, especially when it runs counter to its benefit to the larger society. Having fallen victim of such power abuse in the early days of Nigeria’s independence by being imprisoned, perhaps no one else knows better the sting of power when wrongly applied.
  Some 50 odd years on, there is no abating the invidious manner to which power continues to be put in the hands of those who have subverted every democratic means to acquire it. And as ever a writer of first class mien, Soyinka has once again drawn attention to the illegitimate service to which power is constantly put in the pursuit of personal ends while thwarting the aspirations of the majority it ought to serve.
  Indeed, Alapata Apata (which the master himself calls ‘a play for Yorubafonia: Class of Xenophiles) is the foremost playwright’s metaphor in the appropriation for self that which it does not qualify to have. By so doing, what appears innocuous, wrongful application of stress patterns on two words – Alapata Apata - changes both their meaning and range in a manner that reinforces the oddity of a society that is far gone in excesses of the absurd.
  And so Alaba the first class butcher goes into retirement after a meritorious service that puts the name of his country first. But he does not forget how in a bid to straighten the school atlas it broke the globe, which makes him to drop out because his father refused to pay for it. For Alaba the world since has not lost its crookedness what with an atlas that remains bent forever, a world that would not be straight no matter what anyone does. It’s such a world that spews forth such characters like Daanielebo and the General to torment the souls of others with their greed and selfishness that seek to corner everything good thing for themselves.
  Daanielebo was a former protégé of the General, twin evil geniuses who are now at each other’s throat as they seek to outsmart each other and corner the commonwealth (in this case, the minerals in Alaba’s rock) for their personal use. These are two men with whom Alaba has the misfortune to stand up against in their ribald quest to seize control of the rock on which is suspected to have huge deposits of precious metals. But Alaba the keeper of the rock of his inheritance is a man of deeper nobility, a former Ifa acolyte, who was dismissed for not discerning enough to be taught the rudiments of a powerful oracle like Ifa less he misapplied the knowledge.
  Nevertheless, Alaba’s few months of apprenticeship would seem to have equipped him with enough powers to confront the duo of Daanielebo and the General or perhaps his simple innocence in being the rightful owner of the much sought-after rock gives him enough power to repel their aggressive advances on his simple habitation. Either way, Alaba comes top against the two power-lust personalities of his time, whose avarice can consume an elephant in a single sitting.
  In any case, Alaba’s retirement from butchering work is symbolic and even symptomatic of the absurdity of those in power who have a penchant for celebrating certain days and months they have stayed in office. Alaba is celebrating his first 30 days in retirement not unlike what most elected state functionaries do in Nigeria’s democratic set up. He has in tow a schoolteacher as his adviser, who schemes up things for him, as Alaba concretises his retirement by sitting atop his inherited rock ‘doing nothing’, just as government officials apparently do nothing but find occasion to celebrate their days, months and years in office, as avenues of frittering away state’s resources.

  Teacher: Transparency is the key, I told you. That is what prevents temptation and backsliding. When you sit up there, where everybody can see you cannot perform, knowing that everybody’s eyes are on you, you have no choice. We can all bear witness to you working assiduously industriously, methodically and conscientiously at doing…? (Raises his hand. What follows is like practised routine, with him conducting)
  Alaba: Nothing.
  Teacher: Thinking…
  Alaba: Nothing.
  Teacher: Producing…
  Alaba: Nothing.
  Teacher: Transforming…
  Alaba: Nothing…
  Teacher: Innovating…
  Alaba: Nothing.
  Teacher: Proving yourself capable, summarily of…
  Alaba: Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
  Teacher: But always full of sound and fury, signifying…
  Alaba: Nothing. Oh, Teacher, you are a tower of strength.
  Teacher: I know you give me credit but, lest I be accused of abusing copyright, of plagiarism- the greatest crime our profession can be guilty of – that last one was from the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. But he was of a different tack altogether. For truly teaching by example, one stands on the shoulders of the Great Teachers, those who have taught us that it is possible to spend four years, eight years, even decades in office, with resources envied by the world from the North Pole to the South, with all the manpower available for cooption and yet end up doing…
  Alaba: Nothing.
  Teacher: Excellent!...
  Alaba: I feel inspired my mentor. Energised. Ready to take that 100p-day target head-on.
  Teacher: And then a year, then five…

  Teacher dreams up a scheme to upgrade Alaba’s butcher’s signpost to his status as a retired butcher and asks his pupil Picasso to embellish it. But herein lies trouble. A pupil of no Yoruba descent, he does not know where to put the required ascent to give it the proper meaning; what he ends up with the assistance of Alaba is Esu’s handiwork in confusion. Alaba relies on his abeti agba (dog-eared) cap for inspiration in guesswork manner – head you win tail or you lose!
  Of course, it ends up wrongly and Alaba unwittingly awards himself a chieftaincy title that invokes the anger of royalty to summon a court sitting on his rocky perch. He is fined heavily for his impertinence, and it would seem Alaba’s breaking of the school atlas to make a crooked world straight would forever remain crooked, also with everything else. But Alaba soon finds reprieve for his uncommon bravery in repelling both Daanielebo and the General, sole tormentors of ordinary folks for which he gets a royal pardon and a reinstatement of a title he mistakenly awards himself in wrongly applying the ascents.

SOYINKA’s new play Alapata Apata is an exhilarating political satire that employs the everyday occurrences of Nigeria’s political absurdity for effect. Alaba the butcher represents the people who, unlike Alaba, have not mustered enough guts to confront their tormentors-general to a standstill the way Alaba does to the two old foes. Alapata Apata is a dense play with multiple layers that equally yields multiple meanings.
  Alaba’s rock, the subject of many inquiries from those who want to make it big in dubious ways, is fittingly Nigeria, with its many endowments in natural resources, a country also equally endowed with equal number of looters all scheming to outdo the others in their bid to corruptly enrich themselves at the expense of the people like Alaba. But Alaba has the resoluteness lacking in the Nigerian polity.
  But also, Alapata Apata is Soyinka’s mild rebuke for those who would not make efforts to pronounce unfamiliar names or words properly. He sees it often enough in his globe-trotting, especially in play productions that are essentially African that induces a certain laziness in the actors to fake bewilderness at the unfamiliar.


  1. This book is a read for all. A get a copy of the Book Alapata Apata by Wole soyinka at Sunshine Bookseller:

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  3. Thanks for added to my knowledge of the interpretation

  4. Thanks for added to my knowledge of the interpretation

  5. Powerful piece. Literature mirrors the universe.