Deconstructionist Interpretations of Rotimi’s Ovonranwen Nogbaisi in Yerima’s The Trials of Oba Ovonramwen

IFEANYI UGWU ., Aloysius Ikechukwu Orjinta


History and theatre maintain a close relationship. The former provides material for artistic recreation in terms of the latter. This link can be exemplified by historical plays, like William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Emeka Nwabueze’s Dragons Funeral, Emmy Unuja Idegu’s The Legendry Inikpi and numerous other dramatic texts. A playwright enjoys the artistic liberty to wield his tools in articulating a given historical subject to suit his creative philosophy – even when such creativity is of certain remove from facts of history. The playwright, however, may decide to be as faithful as possible to the authenticity of history. Consequently, different dramatists may present diverse pictures of a given historical event. Take as an example, the true history of ancient Benin Kingdom during the 19th century.

Following Obaro Ikime’s version of the history, under the caption: “The Western Niger Delta and the Hinterland in the 19th Century” (262), the picture of the erstwhile powerful, peaceful and prosperous Benin was that of a troubled kingdom during the first half of 19th century. Economy was in disarray, while hostility with her Itsekiri neighbour aggravated matters. Numerous other circumstantial forces drove the economy further into dungeon.

The status quo generated political upheavals as rebellions and rivalries rocked the kingdom. Spirited efforts by the monarchy, to arrest the situation rather complicated matters. European authorities who were already establishing their influence within the Niger Coast exploited the turbulent condition as an excuse for imposing themselves on the kingdom during the second half of the 19th century. This condition lingered until the reign of Idugbowa, who ruled Benin with the name Ovonramwen, and was popularly referred to as “Nogbaisi” (meaning “The Enlightened”) (Yerima 9).

Ovonramwen did not, like many of his predecessors, have to fight for his throne, but he had enemies among his chiefs. And to secure his authority, he executed all the chiefs. This did not solve the problem. Rather, it created fear and intrigue in the King’s court and frustrated the needed stability for effective, rational and unified planning against the growing aggression from European imperialism of the 1880s (Ikime 275).

Ahmed Yerima recounts:

Since 1862, British efforts to persuade the Benin Monarch to sign a treaty of protection which would give the British government some legal basis for assuming control over Benin affairs had been rejected by the Benin authorities. However, in 1892, Henry Galway, the British Vice-Consul… visited Benin and was able to persuade Oba Ovonramwen to sign a treaty of protection with Britain. This treaty contained the usual clauses committing the Benin Kingdom to throw open their country to free trade (9).

But this contract rather spelt doom for the Benin Kingdom, since her subsequent insistence on the monopoly of trade against the interest of Britain, attracted confrontation. Hence, in 1896, under the leadership of Vice-Consul Phillips, the British government started the conquest and occupation of the kingdom. The disastrous consequences of this move led to the dethronement of Ovonramwen and his replacement by British hegemony.

This authentic history attracted the creative interest of playwrights like Ola Rotimi and Ahmed Yerima whose plays diverged in many respects, while the latter poses to be more faithful to historical authenticity. However, since a playwright may, inadvertently employ language and other elements of composition in a way that predisposes his work to meanings beyond his personal conjecture, post-modernist criticism advocates reading approaches that are not tied to interpretive determinacy. One of such approaches is a reading process conceptualized as “deconstruction”. The objective of this essay is, to attempt a deconstructionist reading of Ola Rotimi’s historical play – Ovonramwen Nogbaisi and explore Ahmed Yerima’s The Trials of Oba Ovonramwen as a textual reflection of the deconstruction.

Full Text: PDF
Download the IISTE publication guideline!

To list your conference here. Please contact the administrator of this platform.

Paper submission email:

ISSN (Paper)2224-5766 ISSN (Online)2225-0484

Please add our address "" into your email contact list.

This journal follows ISO 9001 management standard and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Copyright ©