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Remembering Nigerian radio drama’s glorious past



• Gbadamosi’s radio play provoked arrest at Radio Nigeria

Gone are the days when radio drama was a staple item on Nigeria’s radio airwaves. It has become a thing of distant memory. Many adult Nigerians remember the pure pleasure of listening to good old drama on Radio Nigeria. About the only radio drama one is likely to listen to is the BBC-spired Story, Story: Voices from the Market. In spite of the multiplicity of Frequency Modulated (FM) radio stations across the length and breadth of the country, radio drama is a rarity, leading to the death of that genre of radio programming. Phone-in programming seems the fad and has taken the place of radio drama. What it means is the employment within employment radio drama ordinarily gives in radio environment, with advertisers supporting such dramatic efforts, is lost. A writer, photographer and veteran of that radio genre, Lindsay Barrett looks back in nostalgia to the golden era of radio drama in Nigeria and wishes it could be brought back to balance out the sometimes clumsy chattiness that now dominates radio

In these days, when dynamic live programming, dominated by innovative phone-in pidgin language and social commentary, forms the bulk of Nigeria’s popular radio broadcast fare, many listeners might not be aware that a major tradition has been largely overlooked or even been neglected. In the early years of post-independence broadcasting, Nigeria’s radio drama repertoire was widely regarded all over the English-speaking world as a truly innovative and exciting medium of creative expression. Among the most memorable productions of that period the enormously popular series known as Safe Journey, with its famous star characters “Shakey-Shakey” the lorry driver, and “Alao” his conductor was a world-class comedic programme. Its scripting was done by several impressively talented writers, prominent among whom were the late Ralph Opara who also produced the series, Solomon Ayagere a librarian and scholar, and Sam Iyamu a British-trained theatre director.


These very accomplished scriptwriters did not confine themselves however to writing episodes of the popular series. Every Sunday afternoon there was a slot for serious drama on Radio Nigeria or the Nigerian Broadcasting Company (NBC) as it was then known. In those days of state broadcasting, some impressive works of serious literary expression were commissioned by radio producers, who were notably adventurous in their production styles. Iyamu, and Tunde Aiyegbusi were among two of the most innovative of these producers and their Sunday Afternoon Theatre of the Airwaves recorded some remarkable and memorable examples of audio-theatre. It is unfortunate that due to bad recordkeeping and an incredible display of historical ignorance by the bureaucratic establishment of the broadcasting profession in Nigeria the legacy created by those devoted professionals has been lost.

If recordings from the heydays of Nigerian radio drama were available to be restored and recycled on modern radio they would provide a vital link to a vibrant tradition and help to inspire new directions in communication. This writer provided scores of scripts in the late 1960s and early 1970s for radio drama broadcasts and while most of them are lost many of the listeners who heard them in those days still remember them with nostalgia and say that they regret not being able to hear repeat broadcasts of the best radio drama of the era.

One major recollection some listeners remember was the famous incident in which a radio play, adapted by the late Rasheed Gbadamosi from his stage production entitled Trees Grow in the Desert, portrayed a coup d’etat so realistically that the military government of the day raided the station in an attempt to arrest the players. Luckily for the actors, the programme was not live but several of the senior managers of Radio Nigeria including the controller of programmes, Ishola Folorunsho, were picked up and detained until the misunderstanding was cleared up.

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Lindsay Barrett
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