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Jero’s Metamorphosis … Chronicles of a sick church

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A scene from the play

A scene from the play

When the Germany philosopher, Karl Marx, saw how church leaders in Europe used religion, supposedly expected to give solace to the soul of man, make him lead a better life and also impact positively on society, but instead, led members to fight wars that depict man as a beast, he came away with the aphorism that ‘religion is the opium of the people.’

Many religious leaders then took Marx, who was then expressing his disappointment with religion, to have gone crazy and described him with diverse unprintable words without examining and re-examining the situation that informed his statement. This was centuries ago in Europe, before the birth of Nigerian Noble laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka.

Like Marx, Soyinka also saw so many wrong things with the way Nigerians practise the Christian religion. It prompted him to come up with a play Brother Jero’s Plays, which satirise religion and expose the sly behaviours of some church leaders.

Ibadan Playhouse, in collaboration with Lagos Country Club, Ikeja, presented Jero’s Metamorphosis to Lagos audience last Sunday. Set in Lagos, the play shows how church leaders utilise public spaces like the beach, meant for public relaxation for their services. Brother Jero happens to be one of the many prophets, whose church uses the beach, as a place of worship.

The play opens with Brother Jero (Ropo Ewenla) instructing his Secretary, Sister Rebecca (Adebayo Ọdunayọ), to write invitation letters to other prophets, also operating on the beach for a meeting. Jero is in possession of a confidential file that reveals government’s plans to transform the beach into a public prosecution ground and tourists’ centre. The wily Jero plans to use the file and its contents to unite all the church leaders operating at the beach and make them form one church with him as leader. On the meeting day, the prophet comes late. He had instructed his secretary to give the prophets lots of alcoholic drink. His late appearance is to get the other prophets soaked in alcohol.

By the time he arrives, most of the leaders were drunk and could not take any meaningful decisions. The meeting, however, goes on, but not as expected, as some of them discuss off points.

They agree to form a unified church as a way of protecting their interests and also to be relevant in the government’s new plans. The leaders decide to vote on who to head the church. Influenced by alcohol, they cast their votes in favour of Brother Jero, over Pastor Shadrack (Olajide Monsuru), his rival. Pastor Shadrack is a dedicated, true man of God, the opposite of his colleagues, but his fellow leaders connive and throw him out of their circle. Though, he threatens them with a lawsuit, he doesn’t act on it.

Having metamorphosed into one church with Jero as head, the leaders buy the idea of changing their religious titles of Bishop, Pastor and Prophet to military titles like General, Colonel, Sergeant and others.

By satirising Christian religious hypocrisy, particularly the unquestioning devotion that many believers display towards their spiritual leaders, which usually expose them to manipulation, the play depicts some church leaders as fraudulent, deceptive, who also lust for political power. It also shows how some church leaders have abandoned the flock they are called to care for, in pursuit of commerce and other mundane things.

Produced by Ropo Ewenla and Semore Badejo, but directed by Soji Cole, its themes cut across leadership struggle, deception, lies, stealing, drunkenness, false lifestyle and an expose on the ills of society. It shows how those in authority are easily hoodwinked by religious leaders to do their bidding.

Although written in the 1960s, the timeliness of Jero’s Metamorphosis in its portrayal of Christianity today is as apt as it was back then. Indeed, Soyinka’s message back then and now is the same: all religious organisations and heads, irrespective of their faith, should cleanse themselves of charlatanism.

While the cast showed a mastery of performance the director might want to caution the Clerk and Tourist Board (Amosu Mofaramọla) from overacting. The costume added colour to the story, while the music and dance were also apt.

The director, Ropo Ewenla, said Jero’s Metamorphosis was held in honour of the playwright, Soyinka, who recently turned 82.


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