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Remembering and reinventing the good old Jos

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor (Lagos) and Isa Abdulsalami Ahivi (Jos)
17 April 2016   |   3:17 am
You could be forgiven, when you visit Jos in the months of December and January, and you think it is Europe, because of the climate: cool and temperate. The beautiful weather and cultural charm of the city are very bold and dramatic.


You could be forgiven, when you visit Jos in the months of December and January, and you think it is Europe, because of the climate: cool and temperate. The beautiful weather and cultural charm of the city are very bold and dramatic.

Originally called ‘Gwash’ until Anglicised to ‘Jos’ by the colonialists, the city used to be one of the most picturesque in Nigeria. The sights and sounds, as well as the buzz of day-to-day life and splendid nightlife entice people. Its magnificent geography and landmarks have made it a destination of choice for many tourists and fun seekers within and outside the country.

The state’s name, Plateau, is from Jos Plateau — a tableland with an altitude of 1,280 metres above sea level, which covers 8,600km and seats at the centre of the city. It is a site with wonderful rock formations.

The city’s neighbour to the Northeast is Bauchi; Kaduna is to the Northwest, Nassarawa (Southwest) and Taraba (Southeast). However, the recurring crisis in the state, spanning over two decades, has drawn negative attention to the once peaceful state, affected societal values, quality of education and entertainment.

Disturbed by the incessant attacks and senseless killings of innocent citizens, several workshops, seminars and dialogue sessions have been held to seek an end to the problem and chart a way forward.

Before Jos became a theatre of crises, it used to be an entertainment city. The 80s and 90s seemed to have established the city as a hub for quality programmes. This period saw good soaps and TV dramas from that axis. The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), broadcasting through a network of sister stations, helped to bring these programmes to people’s homes.

NTA also gave opportunities to staff such as, Pete Edochie, Peter Igho, the late Matt Dadzie, Sadiq Daba, Ene Oloja, Salomey Eferemo, Gladys Dadzie (Bilqis Guobadia) and many more to be associated with quality programmes. A couple of the programmes even won international awards.

How Jos Got Its Groove
IN 1979, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) said it wanted a programme to sensitise farmers on how they could access loans from banks during the Operation Feed the National (OFN) Programme of General Olusegun Obasanjo, which the administration of President Shehu Shagari changed to the Green Revolution. All zonal offices of NTA were ordered to produce national programmes of their choice in English. That was how Cockrow at Dawn came about.

Hajia Lantana Ahmed (Afi), who was working at the Centre for Cultural Studies Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, alongside Uncle Gaga (Kasimu Yero), Sadiq Daba, Zainab Bewell (Ene, Uncle Gaga’s first wife), were successful at the audition. The programme also unveiled Ene Oloja, George Menta, Maureen Egbuna (Uncle Gaga’s third wife), Emmanuel Oniwun (Uncle Beke) and Tola Awobode (Lare).

It was the first soap opera drama on location, because others were done on TV with sets. Before the coming of Nollywood, very few people had few television sets, and it was a Holy Grail to congregate at a point to watch the drama. But these days there are many people who own television and can afford to buy the home video.

After Cock Crow At Dawn, the Jos axis also produced some commendable programmes like, Moment of Truth and Behind the Clouds, where Franca Brown, Zack Amata, Evelyn Ikuenobe-Otaigbe, Dan Emeni and MacArthur Fom emerged, as the stars. However,
Brown, Daba and Amata have had romance with Nollywood. Daddy Tsevende (Richard) recently retired as Director of Benue Arts Council, Kasimu Yero, the first director is also retired now. Ene Oloja and Dan Emeni have relocated to the US, George Menta, Matt Dadzie, Tola Awobode (Omotola Akinjobi Cattage) and MacArthur Fom have passed on. By the time Nollywood was evolving, Tola was already an Assistant Professor of English from 1984 to 1988, and English and Literature Professor from 1988 to 1993 at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria. She then worked as a Professor at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia.

From Cock Crow At Dawn to Supple Blues, Behind the Clouds to Moment of Truth and many other teledramas, Jos, which is home to the Nigerian TV College, was the source of a variety of quality TV programmes. And then came, Living in Bondage and everything changed.

The success of Living in Bondage gave rise immediately to the production of other straight-to-video independent films like, Circle of Doom, Dirty Deal, Taboo, Rattlesnake and Nneka the Pretty Serpent.

The paradox of the birth of Nollywood is that while the Lagos, Enugu and Port Harcourt axis saw a switch to the new format, virtually all stars from Jos axis, which made their names from the small screen, appeared to have lost interest. What could have happened that we no longer see Jos playing a major role in Nigerian movie production? What could have happened to some of the stars produced by the Jos Television School? Where are the products of Jos thriving television culture of the 80s?

The Guardian gathered that the coming of Nollywood robbed Jos of its initial vibrancy in film production, because what happens in Nigeria is that when something crops up, everybody moves there. The NTA camp that used to be a bubbling beehive of activities suddenly went moribund. There was a time when there were complaints about NTA owing the landlord, they could not sustain the rent and everybody just moved on.

When The Guardian visited the Television College, nobody was ready to comment, but was directed to the national headquarters for programming, but an official of the college, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said, “the moment Nollywood came, it became the ultimate. People moved in and government also realised that it was not a priority, which has been the way government thinks in terms of when it comes to arts and arts business. So, it was not a priority, funding was not there.”

The Guardian’s checks showed that while public servants, especially, NTA staff and a few students from the university dominated productions from Jos axis, the same could not be said of those, who took part in Mirror In The Sun. The Lagos axis equally had quality programmes like Ripples, Checkmate, The Palace, Supple Blues, Fortunes and Fuji House of Commotion. And among the major acts were, Regina Askia, before she relocated, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Joke Silva, Nkem Owoh, Olu Jacobs, Clarion Chukwura, and many more who dominated soaps and shows on the small screen all made the evitable switch to Nollywood productions. Most of the stars were not NTA staff, just actors.

Patrick-Jude Oteh, the artistic director, Jos Repertory Theatre, said when he arrived the city, it was bubbling with film activities, adding that shortly after that era, people moved on, because the endeavour was not sustainable, especially, with dwindling government funds.

Oteh said, “between that period and now, we should be talking about 30 to 40 years. People have moved on, people have aged; there are other concerns beyond acting. Concerns of what do I retire to, concerns of what am I leaving for my children, concerns of what will happen in the next 10 years. For a lot of them, I think the concerns have gone beyond acting, because I want to act. It is now other life issues of security, comfort and live life to its end with much dignity as you can.”

He said, “what I am trying to say is that people just moved on because they could no longer live on hope, nobody wanted to sustain it just because it was good; I don’t think anybody wanted to live on that kind of hope. So, they moved onto other things that could fetch them either money or put bread on the table. But for those that moved into Nollywood, they are doing very well.”

Oteh continued, “it was just a phase in our nation’s entertainment history. I think also, like in everything human, once the actors found out that nothing was forthcoming in terms of remunerations, in terms of sustenance, in terms of even job guarantee, they had to move on to other things. I know some went back to their home states.”

The John Kennedy Centre Arts fellow, however, explained, “but that generation now provides a crop of mentors for the younger ones in our own programmes to tell them that once upon a time this happened and if they moved with their career, as it should be with discipline, with hard work and rely on God to lead them right, then somewhere along there, the sky will also be the limit.”

Oteh believes that like everything about life, it is a phase. “Eventually, people will realise that Nollywood has to do with home video, and then of course, there is television, live theatre and visual art. Ideally, all of these should co-exist side by side.”

The theatre practitioner said, “the thinking out there is that Nollywood is the beginning and end of all forms of art right now, because it seems to be in the radar of government, it seems to be in the radar of funding agencies, let us use films to reach mass people, but again, like I said, this is a passing phase. Somewhere along the line, people will trace their steps to where they are comfortable. So, right now, it seems as if everybody is moving into Nollywood. But ideally, somewhere along the line, all of these arts will co-exist, which is how it should be.”

He said, “I know, a lot of them are involved in mentorship programmes as in trying to bring up a new generation. But again, the fund to be able to propel this has not been forthcoming, because mentorship is not really a concept that a lot of us understand, what do you pass to the younger generation? But some of them are into one or two talk shows, but the majority of the crops of that era, I think they moved on, they cannot wait, they cannot hope against hope.

“I think somewhere along the line, the pathetic thing again is that Jos is not even one of those areas or cities where even Nollywood films are shot, even with all the ideal natural locations that exist and abound in Jos. I think the state has not really taken advantage of all these locations that abound in this state. Jos is not even one of the cities where shooting is going on. People think in terms of Enugu, Calabar, and Asaba. There is a lot of movement towards Asaba now because the state government got involved.”

Oteh said that Jos offers, which was what happened in Behind The Clouds, an easygoing town that is good for creativity. “It is a town that moves on a leisurely pace. Whenever I go to Calabar, I think of Jos. They are on the same platform, but I think Jos has a better pedestal to negotiate its tourism and culture, because of its weather, which is, for most part of the year, just ideal for creativity. But it is harnessing this that has been the problem or that has been a major challenge and I don’t know how it is going to be got right, but I think to be able to bring back those days of Behind The Clouds, Jos has to get its tourism potentials out there for people to know what is available, but right now that has not been done. And until that is done, Behind The Clouds, will simply remain an era in our nation’s entertainment history.”

A Principal Arts Fellow in the Department of Theatre and Film Arts, University of Jos, Mrs. Bose Tsevende, however, disagreed with the notion that the old good actors had gone underground, saying what has happened is that a lot of them have migrated into doing more films and excelled, while still in the medium of theatre and film.

“You remember, Ene Oloja was the star of Cockcrow at Dawn. After that, she left for NTA and from NTA she left for the US. Recently, I read in the newspapers that she was in the Hollywood film. So, she is doing very well,” the dance and choreography teacher said.

She said, “Jos is a small place and is not the capital of Nigeria. Nollywood is heavily based in Lagos, and maybe, Abuja, but they shoot their films everywhere and most of the times, even Jos here, is one of their destinations for shooting. So, we still have them around.”

Tsevende recounted, “about 18 years ago, we had Behind The Clouds in which Matt Daze, who is dead now, was the director. We were the resource persons; the actors and actresses were based here in Jos, in the Department of Theatre Arts. He was using a lot of the staff and students from the department to play those roles. Some of the lead actors were also from Lagos. Things were happening in those days. I did my bit in Cockcrow at Dawn. I was not really part of it as an actress, I was in welfare and my husband, Richard Tsevende, was actually part of the production, both as the set person and an actor.

“There are new crops of actors and actresses. There are new talents being discovered on a daily basis. There are a lot of them. They are waiting for opportunities to take part. They go for auditions wherever they are called for. People actually come here asking them to take part in auditions, to take part in all these Nollywood productions and they do and get certain roles.”

Tsevende added that she knows there are students from the institution who left the Department of Theatre Arts and are doing very well also in the Nollywood, pointing out that Sadiq Daba recently took part in October 1 and he is also doing very well and a lot of other people.