A vision of nationhood: Reading Akin Adejumo's She Who Must Be Despised.
At the beginning of the play, Lady She and her husband, Chairman, are engaged in a debate about the running of the company. While she laments that Yohabo's fortunes are plummeting, that 'her workers are miserable, the staff schools are no longe safe/for the children and their teachers' and that 'her directors and managers help themselves/with the company's income,'(p.118) he orders her to keep quiet and claims that the problems can only be addressed by God. Hear him: 'Can the clay query the porter?/Can the dregs and trash of the earth/say to his maker/why have you done this?/God abides in the heavens/Whatever pleases him, he does' (p.118). The binary dichotomy here is between a pragmatic approach and a fatalistic one and given the sharp contrast between the two points, it is easy to see that the author is not strictly bound by the Biblical story. As a matter of fact, there is a marked contrast: while Job is the voice of wisdom in the Biblical story, this role is taken up by Lady She in the play. It is no wonder then that, to her mate, she is a mere irritant. As he says: 'You rant with reckless abandon/Like one of those foolish women.'(p.121). But she is undeterred: 'Who has sieves for mind/And noodles for brains/But he who abandons his fingers/For Lady Ki's chopsticks?'
The implied reader/audience can easily see the point: the corporation is partly bankrupt because of its consumerist approach and love for foreign, specifically Asian goods. In the next scene, Chairman mediates a fierce debate between Fem, Chim and Bab, each of whom retains a different perspective on how the corporation should be run. While Fem, deeply intellectual but too rigid in his approach, canvasses the re-jigging of the company, Chim opts for a complete break up while Bab is an apologist for the status quo. Fem says 'let's re-jig this business/in line with modern best practices,' (p.125) but the Chairman, who maintains the same worldview, claims that the re-jigging process is in fact already on. This is because, as Bab explains, 'all the departments in this company have one account/the beef department is being restructured,.'(p.125), a simplistic statement which ignores the dire fortunes of the company on the inter/national market. To Chim, however, it is either re-jigging or outright break up. Thus: 'We must rejig now!/Or I am out of this pseudo-symbiosis.' (p.130).
We notice that, unlike when he argues with his wife, the Chairman is withdrawn when the three stakeholders provoke a debate. The dispute is, eventually, however mediated by the workers' president Yon, who, although he agrees that the company must be re-jigged, nevertheless shows the three stakeholders the weaknesses of their various approaches. Thus, he asks them to present a common front and fight greed and corruption, for 'many's the champion licked by an underdog'(p.139). They must treat workers well, and avoid stereotypical behavior, as 'stationary progressives' (i.e Fem) and conservative dinosaurs (Bab) (p.140), for 're-jigging is an idea whose time has come.' (p.141). Yon is, overall, therefore the prophet of change.
Like A Wry Keel, She who must be despised is an X-ray of Nigeria and its quest for nationhood. While Fem represents the South-West, Chim, who hankers after total break-up of the company/country in the absence of restructuring, represents the South-East. The conservative, status quo-preserving Bab is of course the representative of Nigeria's North in this poetic drama where Yohabo (clearly an acronym for Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo) is a problematic work in progress. Because She who must be despised is a project locating the Biblical Job in contemporary Nigeria with modifications anchored on authorial predilections, the main character looks very much like incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, even if one does not feel too comfortable with the rather sympathetic portrayal in view of the acts of ethnic cleansing, massive corruption, impunity and nepotism that have apparently characterized his leadership. Against the backdrop, then, of the rather critical stance of Mrs Aisha Buhari to her husband's presidency, can she be seen as the motivation for Lady She in this eponymously titled play? In answering this question, recourse must be made to the Soyinkan muse from which the author draws his inspirational canvas, a muse which thrives in multivalence. In this play, Lady She's viewpoints are rejected by her husband, the Chairman, partly because of the patriarchal setting. Thus, unlike the metaphorical Western woman who must be obeyed, LadyShe is despised, and the play might, in this regard, be read as both a faithful depiction and a critique of Black Africa/Nigeria's patriarchal and s3xist culture. And so we must conclude that she represents the visionary women in the corridors of power.
However, the symbolism of 'She who must be despised' can also be seen in the broader context of the badly misgoverned Nigerian populace which has, paradoxically, been pointing the way forward for the belligerent and decidedly visionless leadership, and also in the symbolism of Yon, the ideologue. In this connection, the inversion of the automatised 'She who must be obeyed 'foregrounds the author's dissatisfaction with the Nigerian state of affairs, where the people who should be celebrated are, to those in government, those who must be despised. Lady She is a voice of wisdom pointing out the errors in Chairman's fatalistic approach to the company that he heads which permits him to supposedly wait on God even when he is equipped with the ability to make the necessary changes that would make Yohabo to thrive, but Yon is the major voice of change. In portraying a nation as a company, the author canvasses the view that nations ought to be run as businesses, with mechanisms for handling profits and losses. The second play in Adejumo's new trilogy (Dramatricimx), She who must be despised is an engaging (24-page ) poetic drama which documents the Nigerian dilemma and canvasses the restructuring imperative.