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When Nigeria lost the TV groove

By Christian Okpara
24 June 2018   |   3:50 am
Last week, The Guardian ran a story on 50 years of The Village Headmaster. In what seems a sequel to that, GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR, Arts and Culture Editor, takes a look at how television lost its groove to Nollywood revolution. Gbagan! Gbagaun!! Gbaun!!! Omo oni resi tide Omo oni resi tide Aduke… Alake… omo oni…

Set of a Nollywood movie

Last week, The Guardian ran a story on 50 years of The Village Headmaster. In what seems a sequel to that, GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR, Arts and Culture Editor, takes a look at how television lost its groove to Nollywood revolution.

Omo oni resi tide
Omo oni resi tide
Aduke… Alake… omo oni resi tide…

THhis signature tune of The Village Headmaster heralded what many consider as the golden era of Nigerian television.

The tune was like summon to come and watch, as well as share in a story about a village that was a mirror of Nigeria.

The drama ran on Nigeria Television (NTV) on Sundays at 8.00pm. It was a prime time programme, which came before the news at 9pm.

Then, television stations resumed at 4 pm in the evenings and closed at 12 midnight.

The first series of The Village Headmaster ran from 1968-1984 before it was rested, while the second was from 1985-1991.

What preceded the Village Headmaster was a radio drama on Western Nigerian Broadcasting Service (WNBS and WNTV) entitled, Broke Time Bar, by Wole Soyinka.

The radio play was the portrait that sketched out the village headmaster.

Oja village was to be an ideal village set not to be far away from Lagos. It was a mixture of people. The cast was not for you to know the particular tribe they came from.

The headmaster was to be an enlightened man, chief adviser to the local king / Oba in the early Nigerian village. He was not only a headmaster during the week, but a preacher on Sunday, the interpreter of the law.

The New Masquerade was another Nigerian sitcom aired on the Nigerian Television Network on Tuesday nights from 8:30pm – 9:00pm during the 1980s, until the mid-1990s.

The show started out as radio programme known as The Masquerade transmitted on the East Central State Broadcasting Corporation, Enugu.

It was a segment on In the Lighter Mood. It was created after the civil war as a means to bring laughter to the homes of citizens after the devastation caused by the Nigerian Civil War.

The creator was James Iroha who also played Giringori on the TV show.

The multiple-award-wining programme revolved around Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo alias 4:30 (Chika Okpala), Ovularia (Lizzy Ovoeme), Clarus (Davies Ofor) and Giringory (James Iroha), Chief Jegede Shokoya (Claude Eke), Apena (Christie Essien Igbokwe) and later Ramota (Veronica Njoku). In fact, The New Masquerade was a classic.

An equally good programme that commanded crowd loyalty was Hotel De Jordan, which had Idemudia, Kokori, Lord Mayor and Ajas. This programme was the toast of the Benin people on NTA Benin.

Other great programmes of the 1970s to 1990s were Cockcrow at dawn, Mirror in the sun, Ripples, Behind the cloud, Adio Family, Basi & Company, Second Chance, Samanja, Sura the Tailor, Koko Close, Awada Kerikeri, Third Eye, Mind Bending, Pot of Life, Magana Jarice and Mind your Language.

In the 70s and 80s, you could watch a different television programme every week, and many were locally produced.

That era also produced a generation of Nigerian film and TV practitioners, who took matters into their own hands and started producing local content. Peter Igho, James Iroha, Laolu Ogunniyi, Matt Dadzie, Ene Oloja and Lola Fani-Kayode were some of them.

The political climate was conducive to the blossoming of the creative industry and the well-funded public organisation became the breeding ground for many film-cum- television talents.

Government at the time believed in the importance of culture and was aware of the need for international artistic standards.

It was a golden era of Nigeria’s television. Each regional centre had a programme that was on the network.

Just Before Nollywood

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.

However, The New Village Headmaster and The New Masquerade later became tools of propaganda in the hands of the Military governments of the day, and each new government used these programmes to express their policies, which sometimes, are not popular among the people. By the mid ‘80s, people lost interest in these programmes.

Successive military governments played an important part in its downfall.

The funding started dwindling, until it came down to zero. All the people in the industry dispersed.

The military saw the creative artist as a potential catalyst for change, one who needs to be watched and, if possible, put in chains, as the veteran TV producer and creator of the first soap opera in the country, Winds Against My Soul, noted in an interview with a foreign media recently.

It was the end of government backing for the creative sector and the beginning of oppression, with actors barred from performing and artists getting arrested and jailed.

The veteran filmmaker, Eddie Ugbomah, in a chat with The Guardian, said the military and economy murdered the cinemas, by extension creative efforts.

The military also took over every institution in the country without the capacity or proper planning to do so. They didn’t provide enough funds and the process of creative production was tampered with.

“But this suited the military’s purpose very well because their mindset is that educated people are the most difficult to rule or brainwashed, as you please.

To them, it is better to have the people uneducated because this makes it easier.

The military with its hierarchical nature does not brook arguments.

They prefer sycophants willing to dance to their tunes and lick their boots,” Femi Adedina, a drama teacher at the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Otto/Ijanikin told The Guardian.

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.

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.

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) retired as Director of Benue Arts Council, Kasimu Yero, the first director and 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.

Death, Death, Death

Almost three decades after The New Village Headmaster was rested, the bulk of the prominent members of the cast and crew have passed on.

Chief Elsie Olusola (Sisi Clara) passed on over three decades ago, so for Chief Ibidun Allison, who featured as Amebo. Others who have transited include, Chief Wole Amele, who featured as Councilor Balogun; Sam Agbebi, who featured as Lawyer Iyanda; Chief Funso Adeolu, who featured as Chief Eleyinmi; Joe Layode, who featured as Teacher Garuba; Jab Adu, who played Bassey Okon; Chief Femi Robinson; Ted Mukoro and Chief Justus Esiri, all of who featured as village headmasters at different times.

However, there are a few members of cast, including Chief Dejumo Lewis; Dele Osawe; Lara Akinsola; the Edo State-born Daniel Imoudu, who featured as Prince Dagbolu, and Kate Adepegba, who are still around and in active practice.

So far, of the six original lead cast members of the original Masquerade television drama programme, only Davies Offor (Clarus), who is now visually impaired, Chika Okpalla (Chief Zebrudaya) and Lizzy Ovoeme (Ovularia, his wife) who are alive.

Hotel De Jordan has equally had its own unfair share of deaths. Prince Musa Yesufu, known as the Lord Major, has passed on.

So are, Okhue (Joseph Edobor), the humorous native doctor, who married the ‘mami water’ and divorced her, “Casino Manager (O’ Ray Slater), “Kokori” (David Ariyo) another actor, whose role as an imbecile, cracked ribs.

Technology And Its Effect

Aside from the military, one other reason for the decline in Television production in the country was technological developments, which made it possible for anyone who could afford to buy video equipment to make a movie.

Technology also opened the way for large-scale illegal copying: nothing was spared from piracy.

Media commentators and watchers of events in the industry have argued that TV viewers then were not exposed to lots of distractions and technologies.

They noted that the Internet that makes it possible to view programmes from other lands, see X-rated materials online and others were not available.

Also is the fact that, as some put, they are now highly exposed.

They said some of these old programmes if done in this present world, would not pull much effect as they did back then.

They believe that those TV programmes pulled those attractions because those then were left with no choice of other TV content to watch.

They harp on the fact that the Pay-TV platforms and access to the Internet altered the taste buds of Nigerian viewers such that the Mexican soap operas have become the preferred.

According to Emerson Asore, a University of Ibadan trained theatre artist, when these programmes were popular, the Internet didn’t run peoples lives, and there were no 24-hour cable channels. Everybody was completely at the mercy of NTA for entertainment.

He said, “we could and would surpass the past glory of the Behind the clouds, Mind bending, and their like, if only we could enforce professionalism – professionalism that is void of sentiments and corruption.”

Asore continued, “from the classroom to pragmatic reality of the world, we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of film, theatre and television in Nigeria, but surely let there be funding and the Zee Worlds of this world will have no place in television, theatre and film in Nigeria.”

And then came, Living in Bondage and everything changed. And Nollywood was born, with eastern cities such as Aba and Onitsha gaining importance.

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.

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.

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.

For Dr. Solomon Iguanre, head, Languages and Literary Studies Department,

Babcock University, Ilishan, Ogun State, “the fate befalling soap operas of today befell the live theatre in the 70s or thereabout.

You will recall that the attention the Yoruba Travelling Theatre groups got in the 60s to early 70s was more of a phenomenon that many thought was forever.

But by the time the soap operas upstaged the live theatre, it was like pushing the latter to the waste bin of history.

One could remember the days of Winds Against my Soul, Checkmate, Acada Campus, Cock Crow at Dawn and the likes.

These programmes had the capacity to sweep the streets clean of TV drama enthusiasts who would hurriedly rush home to stay glued to their screen.

The cinemas came too, made a striking larger than life impact and then frizzled out.

So did the home video and now it is the world of cable television that gives viewers multiple choices at the click of a button in the comfort of their homes.”

He said, “the cinemas are back, and the soaps are creeping in, but whether they can hold the entire nation captive times past or even like the Latin American series is a dicey situation. The private investment still leaves much to be desired.

The local content of some of these operas is still hazy as there is so much artificiality that many viewers may not identify with.

That is however not intended to denigrate the efforts of those presently producing soaps but there is a need for total refocusing.”

Iguanre added, “the society is ever so dynamic to the extent that what is trendy today, may soon become a material for the archeologists tomorrow, coupled with the fact that the rate at which technological inventions is changing the face of the entertainment industry, makes one wonder what comes next and how.”

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