Wole Soyinka, Nigerian playwright and Nobel laureate, was charged with treason in his homeland March 12 by the military government he has fought both with his plays and with offstage, real-life activism.
If convicted, Soyinka could face the death penalty -- though Nigeria's junta under Gen. Sani Abacha will have to catch him first, as he has lived in exile since 1994. The "Oxford Illustrated History of Theatre" describes Soyinka simply as "generally recognized as Africa's greatest living playwright."
According to various reports, Soyinka is one of 15 dissidents accused of precipitating a recent series of bombings targeted at army installations.
The Associated Press quoted Soyinka in California saying, "They haven't got one scintilla of evidence."
No evidence reportedly was presented when 11 of those charged were brought into a court in Lagos, Nigeria, March 12. Soyinka's early, joyous works include A Dance of the Forests, which celebrated the independence of his nation from European colonial power in 1960. Using African ritual to tell a dramatic story, Soyinka also began deepening the political content of his plays after Nigeria came under the grip of the miliary in 1965. His 1980s drama A Play of Giants satirized the gross excesses of Idi Amin and other miliary rulers who had seized power in many African countries.
Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.
After the military government invalidated election results in 1993, Soyinka urged Nigerians to stop paying income taxes. The government revoked his passport but he slipped across the border while hunting, the New York Times reported, and has been traveling ever since on a special passport issued by UNESCO.
Soyinka's plays have been staged in the U.S. several times, most notably in 1987 when his Death and the King's Horsemen was produced on Broadway. His latest play, The Beatification of Area Boy, was performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York in October 1996.
Here is a partial list of Wole Soyinka's plays:
The Swamp Dwellers (1958)
The Lion and the Jewel (1959)
The Invention (1959)
A Dance of the Forests (1960)
Camwood on the Leaves (1960)
The Strong Breed (1964)
Kongi's Harvest (1964)
The Road (1965)
Madmen and Specialists (1970)
Jero's Metamorphosis (1973)
The Bacchae: A Communion Rite (1973)
Death and the King's Horsemen (1975)
A Play of Giants: A Fantasia on an Aminian Theme (1984)
The Beatification of Area Boy (1996)
-- By Robert Viagas