Wole Soyinka’s King Baabu is a comedy satire that parodies many African nations, including our beloved Nigeria. As coup follows coup in the nation of Guatu and the citizens cry out for democracy, the military rulers in Guatu struggle to reinvent themselves. General Basha, shortly after playing a central role in General Potipo’s ascension to power via military coup, is pushed and prodded by his wife, a veritable Lady Macbeth, to acknowledge his ambitions and take over government. With help from his wife, her brother, Tikim, and the labour, religious and traditional rulers of the day, General Basha is able to oust Potipo, who manages to escape with his life, and declare himself monarch of Guatu. He takes on the guise of outwardly benign ruler, paying lip service to democracy and open government even as his actions remain decidedly undemocratic.
All is well for Basha – now King Baabu – for a while. But soon enough, discontent and insurgency arise, led by General Potipo, and King Baabu is on the run.
Featuring a stellar cast that includes Seun Kentebe, Toju Ejoh, Abiodun Kassim, Tessy Brown and several others, King Baabu will have you falling off your seat with laughter. My favourite memories of the play are of King Baabu (played by Toju) dancing in his kingly robes and crown. But besides its fun and humour, King Baabu will get you thinking, about Nigeria and the many countries like us – each in our own way a picture of Soyinka’s Guatu – where former military rulers outwardly reinvent themselves. I think it is significant that for a huge portion of the play Basha/Baabu wears his military uniform underneath his robes – this monarchy/democracy is a sham that makes us question the verity of Nigeria’s democracy. The ease with which the labour, religious and traditional leaders are bought over to whatever side holds power is, though humorously portrayed, disturbing. The play’s ending – spoiler ahead! – is the ultimate question. The supposed savior of the kingdom is General Potipo, the same one who had, in the first act, taken power through a military coup. Is he just another player in the same vicious cycle, a placeholder until the next coup?
King Baabu is an important play delivered with humour and wit. Delightful yet thought-provoking, it is one I am glad to recommend.