The Trials of Brother Jero is a play written by Wole Soyinka, a famous Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist and essayist. The play was first published in Nigeria in 1963 and by Oxford University Press in 1964. It is a light satiric comedy that takes aim at religious hypocrisy in the form of a fraud named Brother Jero, who preaches to his followers on Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria. Jero is a master of manipulation and keeps his followers in a subservient position because he understands what they long for money, social status, and power and convinces them that they will soon be able to fulfill these materialistic desires. For their part, they are gullible enough to believe him. This humorous play is one of Soyinka's best-known and most frequently performed plays .
The Trials of Brother Jero opens with Brother Jeroboam, the central character, who speaks directly to the audience and introduces himself as a prophet and preacher. He says that his parents thought he was ideally suited to such a role because of his long, thick hair. He enjoys his work, which comes naturally to him. Then he says that nowadays many preachers have taken to the local beach to preach. So, there is aggressive competition among them for available space. Jero says that there are few worshippers coming to the beach these days because many people prefer to stay at home and watch television. He tells the audience that his purpose is to tell them about the events of one particular day in his life, which disturbed him. He also mentions how he was cursed by his Master. He is disturbed by the sudden appearance of his Master, Old Prophet who accuses Jero of having driven him off his piece of land on the beach. Then they insult each other. Jero tells the audience that the old man was a fool. Old Prophet curses him saying that Jero will be ruined by his appetite for women, and then exits. Jero admits that his one weakness is "women".
Chume, Joro's assistant, enters on a bicycle, with his wife Amope in the early morning. He stops the bicycle abruptly in front of Jero's house, and Amope gets angry due to bumpy landing that hurt her foot. She criticizes him. Chume says he has to go because otherwise he will be late for work. Amope responds by scolding him for his lack of ambition. Jero looks out from his window and sees Amope and tries to escape but he is not successful. Amope confronts him, saying that he owes her money and that he promised to pay her three months ago. Jero makes an excuse and goes back into the house. A woman trader passes by on her way to the market. She is selling smoked fish. Amope speaks to her in a surly manner and the two women exchange insults. No sale is made. Amope then sees Jero escaping from his house through the window. She curses at him and also at the trader, who has now disappeared. She insults a drummer boy, too. She is not in temper.
After sometime, at his church on the beach, Joro says that he bought a velvet cape from Amope, and hopes people will start calling him by some impressive name because of it, such as "Velvet-hearted Jeroboam."He curses Amope, and says that the cape was not worth what she was asking for it. He confesses that he likes to keep his followers dissatisfied with their lives, so that they will keep coming to him. For example, he refuses to give his assistant, Chume, permission to beat his wife, because he wants Chume to remain feeling helpless. Jero watches as an attractive girl passes, and then prays that he will be able to resist temptation. Chume enters and prays with him. Jero is surprised that Chume is not at work, and Chume says he is sick. Out of Chume's hearing, Jero reveals his contempt for Chume, and is satisfied that this simple man will never try to become his equal. He is also glad that Chume has found him on the beach this early in the morning, because he likes to pretend that he sleeps on the beach, whereas in fact he sleeps in a bed in his house. Chume asks permission to beat his wife, just once. Jero refuses and reminds him that he would become Chief Messenger. Now he predicts he will become Chief Clerk. Chume continues complaining about his wife, while Jero asks God to forgive him. Then he tells Chume once more not to beat his wife. The Boy Drummer enters, chased by a woman. They pass by several times, and Jero goes to intercept the woman, whom he recognizes as his neighbor. The woman becomes still, and Chume, encouraged continues his prayer, asking God to provide them with more money and more status in their work. The angry woman reappears, this time in possession of the boy's drums, while he follows her. He denies that he was abusing her father by drumming, which is why she is angry with him. Jero returns. His clothes are torn and his face is bleeding; he has been attacked by the woman. Finally Chume Jero realizes that Chume's wife is the woman he owes money to. Hoping to free himself from her request for payment, he allows Chume to take her home and beat her.
Later that day, in front of Jero's house, Amope and Chume quarrel again. Chume tells his wife it is time to go home. She says that she is not moving until she gets her money. Jero enters, hides, and observes them, as Amope taunts Chume about his humble station in life. Chume tells her to shut up, which astonishes Amope, who thinks her husband must have gone mad. Chume tries to force her to come with him, but she resists and bangs on the door of Jero's house, calling for help. Jero ignores her cries. Chume tries to force Amope on to the bicycle while she protests loudly. Neighbors gather to watch the scene. Amope dares her husband to kill her and calls on Jero again, saying that if Jero will curse Chume, she will absolve Jero of his debt. Chume questions his wife, discovering that they are outside Jero's house and that it is the preacher who owes his wife money. He had not suspected this before, but now he realizes why Jero finally agreed to allow Chume to beat Amope. Getting angry, he gets on his bicycle and rides off, telling Amope to remain there.
Jero observes a man at the beach who is practicing delivering speech at the end of the day. The man is an ambitious politician who comes to the beach to rehearse his speeches for Parliament, but he never has the courage to make them. Jero then thinks of Chume, assuming that by now he will have beaten his wife. This means that he will be confident and no longer need Jero, but at least it will have rid Jero of the woman's demands for payment. Jero then turns his attention back to the politician and decides to recruit him as a follower .He tells him that he will be raised to the position of Minister for War. He suggests that God might withdraw His favor if the man does not become a believer, and he suggests that they pray together. While Jero is working his wiles on the politician, Chume enters, talking to himself. He is furious with Jero as he sees all the preacher's lies and finds him fake and fraud.