Critical analysis/summary of The Killing Swamp by Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba

Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba’s The Killing Swamp, composed principally of four characters, is obviously a play of one act. The Killing Swamp was first published in the year 2009 and in course of dramatizing The Killing Swamp, Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba avers in the author’s note that “the play should run seamlessly from the beginning to the end without interruption.”

The play is a dramatic chronicle of Kenule’s trial and execution. It reflects the factual reality of The Ogoni Nine who the court found guilty of murder and therefore sentenced them to death by hanging.

The Killing Swamp, at the initial reading, dramatically presents two cast – Kenule and Sergeant – on the stage. Kenule is roughly manhandled and kicked in the groin by Sergeant who forcefully pushes him towards a large tree.

A noose dangles from the tree from the tree and beneath it is a stool placed directly. Sergeant is to make all possible preparation for the execution of Kenule. He says absolute nothing throughout the preparation even when rudely questioned by Kenule. Sergeant’s silence and subsequent demeanor appears seemingly weird to Kenule who does not only find fault at the hidden surounding of where his execution is set to take place but complains aggressively of being on verge of executed alone while his fellow accused are kept out of sight.

Where are they? There are nine of us. We promised one another that we would bow out holding hands. There is nothing more miserable than the loneliness of death. But when men in similar fate flock together to the bitter end, holding one another for support, the agony of forced exit becomes much more bearable and the soil dissolves splendidly into the void from which it sprang. What have you done to my colleagues? (p. 7).

The arrival of Major – the third character – spurs the play into dialogue. He offers Kenule Bible and Koran to make a choice, so as to forge ahead with the execution. Kenule refuses to accept Majar’s offer. Kenule, in fact, demands for Ogoni Bill of Rights which he preffers to Bible and Koran.

MAJOR: (sternly) choose, Mister!

KENULE: Between life and death?

MAJOR: Between these two holy books.

KENULE: I want the Ogoni Bill of Rights.

MAJOR: That’s not yet a holy book.

KENULE: It’s holy to us.

MAJOR: The Bible or Koran?

KENULE: I said I want the Ogoni Bill of Rights.

It is apparently at this interval of Major persuading Kenule to make a choice that it dawns on Kenule that something is plainly amiss. Kenule observes pointedly that Major is concealing his face in a mask. Quite unusual is the dialectic pronunciation of his name by Major, which only the tribal Ogoni can perfectly pronounce without any blunder.

KENULE: Your voice sounds familiar too. Have ever met before? Why are you wearing a mask ? Why are you hiding your face ? (p.11)

Later in page 12 he says suspiciously:

You call my name like an Ogoni man. So, they found an Ogoni officer to do this dirty job.

What distinctly bothers Kenule is clearly not his inevitable fate of execution. It is, of course, his execution in the hand of his tribal person – those he fights for, seeks their total liberation from the oppressed government that vows to ignore the plight of the Ogoni people. Presently, he notices the dark finger of an Ogoni person pointing at his grave.

What a betrayal !

What a tragedy !

The hilarious decay of police and government handling execution is visualized through the repeated snaps of the rope used as a noose. When the attempt to hang Kenule fail severally, Kenule makes mockery of the government’s mediocre facilities

This is what you get in a land of mediocre: mediocre facilities, mediocre hangmen. What a shame ! (p.14)

Sergeant is extremely irksome about Kenule’s derogatory remark, and if Major regards it as a jocular statement, it is precisely on the ground that Kenule would definitely and unfailingly use his head to pay ruefully for the affront he belches at the government. Time will tell! But now that Kenule is not yet hanged, he complains bitterly that “I want to ease my myself” (p.16).

Perfect strategy to evade execution, Major thought and then asked: “How would you like to do that?”

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