Onuekwuke Nwazulu Sofola was born on June 22, 1935, in Issele-Uku, Delta State, Nigeria to Nwaugbade Okwumabua and Chief Ogana Okwumabua of Ogbeutu quarters, Issele-Uku. Professor ‘Zulu Sofola or “Mama” as she was known, enjoys the enviable distinction of being the Matriarch ofthe Nigerian theatre and the first published female author in Nigeria. A true pioneer in every respect, ‘Zulu Sofola was Africa’s first female Professor of Theatre arts and a true embodiment of the essence of African womanhood in their traditional position of power and respect.
‘Zulu Sofola obtained her primary education at The Federal Government Primary School, Asaba, Nigeria. She then attended the American Baptist Girls’ High School, Agbor, Nigeria, where her talents were quickly recognized thereby receiving a scholarship to complete her high school education in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. This happened at a time when most parents forbade their female children from getting a formal education; fearing that female children who received formal education risked not findinga husband in the future. ‘Zulu’s parents broke with tradition and took a leap in the dark, eventually sending her several miles away from home to “fetch the golden fleece”. She continued her higher education at the Virginia Union University, Richmond, Virginia, receiving a B.A. (Cum Laude) degree in English in 1959. She went on to complete her post-graduate studies, obtaining an M.A. degree in Drama (Playwriting & Production) from the Catholic University of America, Washington D.C. in 1966. She completed her Ph.D. in Theatre Arts (Tragic Theory) from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s Premier Ivy League University, in 1977.
Academically, Professor ‘Zulu Sofola was a well known scholar internationally, and one of the most prolific writers on the African continent. Record has it that she was also a very accomplished musician and theater director. She was a producer of plays for stage and television. Her academic prowess heralded her inevitable rise to become the first woman to hold the Chair and Headship of a Theatre Department as the Head of the Department of the Performing Arts, University of lIorin, Nigeria.’Zulu Sofola received many scholarly awards and distinctions both nationally and internationally. She was the recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship at the State University of New York at Buffalo, New York, 1988. In that same year, she represented Nigeria in the first International Women Playwrights conference sponsored by the University of Buffalo, in New York. After the end of the first conference, the International Center for Women playwrights was established. Sofola was also a former Ford Foundation Fellow; a recipient of the prestigious Literary Award of the International book fair of the University of Ife, Nigeria. She was listed in the World Who’s Who of Women in Education; Professor ‘Zulu Sofola held many positions of leadership and was actively involved in educational reform for Nigeria and Africa as a whole. She spearheaded the movement for educational reform to reflect the African perspective even in the arts and sciences. She was also a former President of the Nigerian Association of University Women, the National treasurer of the Association of Nigerian Authors as well as numerous committees and panels conferred for the advancement of education in Nigeria and Africa.
In addition to numerous critical works and presentations, ‘Zulu Sofola had about fifteen published plays to her credit. Among them are; l)The Celebration of Life, 2) The Deer and The Hunters Pearl, 3) Eclipso and the Fantasia, 4) Ivory Tower, 5)King Emene, 6) Lost Dreams, 7) The Love of Life, 8,) Memories In the Moonlight, 9) Old Wines Are Tasty, 10) The Operators, 11) The Showers, 12)Song of A Maiden, 13) Sweet Trap, 14) Wedlock of the Gods, 15) and The Wizard of the Law. Prof. Sofola used some of her plays to criticize the mistreatment of females in our society within the contest of social injustice. Some of her social critics portrayed her as “a liberal feminist” but credited her as a writer who sought justice for all. In her play, “Wedlock of the Gods”, Sofola questions the outstanding tradition that reduces women to chattels, the view that “a man’s daughter is his source of wealth”. Other social ills that Sofola addressed through satire includes the political savagery of military dictatorship that tries to clean up corruption among the population without first, cleaning up itself. Although Sofola spent most of her life writing against social injustice, she was not the hard core “feminist” who preached women’s independence from men or the bra burning approach to demonstrate women’s freedom from men’s oppression in society, rather, she was paradoxical in her beliefs in the “conceptual approach that a person be treated not on the basis of gender but purely as a human being worthy of respect”. Above all, Sofola espoused some of the African and Christian family values like humility, and wives honoring their husbands.
‘Zulu Sofola’s writing style is simplistic and her knowledge of self and pride in her heritage is demonstrated in her plays, some of which portrayed Issele-Uku culture and names. In her plays, she shared her extraordinary knowledge of her country’s history and traditions and present circumstances, particularly as they related to women. For example, Sofola used her native icon like “mother Mkpitime”, and several indigenous Issele-Uku names like, Adigwu, Akuagwu, Diokpa, Jigide, Odu, Olinzele, Odibei, Ogoli, Onowu, Ogbelani, Okeibunor, Omu, Ojei etc. This is not to suggest that the social ills Sofola criticized in her plays is peculiar to her native town, but rather, it is her style of bringing the images of her characters closer to her audience. ‘Zulu Sofola’s plays are read worldwide and her message of fair treatment to all human beings is the battle cry for human rights advocates and for human dignity everywhere. She left an indelible mark in contemporary playwrights and social justice. Professor ‘Zulu Sofola was married to Professor Adeyemi Sofola, whom she met and married while she was a student in Washington, DC, USA. Most people who knew this couple would describe their marriage as one of legendary love. Their union produced 5 children and many admirers worldwide. Professor ‘Zulu Sofola was called to glory on September 5th, 1995, barely 6 months after the passing of her husband and soul mate. Indeed, they were “like thunder and lightning: inseparable”. Theirs was truly the “Wedlock of the Gods”.