And then there was Nollywood.
Time was when Iweka Road was just another street in Onitsha as was Ebinpejo Lane in Idumota, Lagos…most of the home-made Nigerian entertainment that I knew of came from the good ole NTA. But today, at least for those of us like me who live outside of the country, most of the Naija entertainment that we get is from movies made in Nollywood. While we are on the subject, I have asked around and no one can tell me where Nollywood is, it seems it is more like an idea than an actual location.
Back in those days, there were fewer movies coming out of Nigeria, home videos were at most a pipe-dream. Our TV screens – black and white or colored – was our Nollywood and the likes of Peter Igho were the top-notch producers. The city of Jos which is home to the Nigerian TV College was the source of a variety of TV series and made-for-TV movies.
I decided to take a walk down TV Memory Lane and tried to remember a few of the TV shows, series, soap operas and such like that were the source of entertainment and information back then and came up with this list below…it is in no particular chronology. I know that perhaps there have been others that have come and gone since these aired but I have not had the privilege of watching TV in Nigeria for several years…so this is the best I could come up with.
Cock Crow at Dawn – The series which explored the life of a family uprooted from the city to the village and the trials and tribulations that they went through. A case of modern life meets rural life. It was one of the first that I remember from the Jos crew and had a cast which included- Sadiq Daba, Ene Oloja, George Menta, Tola Awojobi . Bongos Ikwe provided a wonderful soundtrack including the theme song and other unforgettable songs – I have been searching for, Only last night I had a dream…something good is gonna happen to me
The New Masquerade– one of the funniest combination of characters that I have come across on TV – Zebrudaya alias 4.30, Ovularia, Jegede Sokoya (I could not believe it when someone told me that the actor who played him was not Yoruba at all), Apena (played for many years by the singer Christy Essien Igbokwe), Clarus and Giringori (someone told me that it is actually meant to be Gregory grossly mispronounced) and the always hungry Nati (you get to see the actor who played him in some of these home videos for example Osuofia in London)
The New Village Headmaster – set in rural Western Nigeria and revolving around the life of – like the title says – the Village Headmaster. The names of some of the characters made their way into mainstream Nigerian lexicon (or was it the other way around?) – Gorimapa – the bald-headed King’s attendant is also the name given to someone with no hair on their head and Amebo – the character who never minded her business -played by the legendary Ibidun Allison- is the name given to someone who pokes their nose everywhere it should not be. Other characters include the Oloja of Oja (the king of the town) played by Dejumo Lewis, Counselor Balogun (Wole Amele), teacher Garuba -Garus Garus (played by the late Joe Layode), Sisi Clara (the local sewing mistress who dealt with her apprentices with an iron hand) played by the amazing Elsie Olusola (of blessed memory), Okoro -the store keeper played by Jimmy Johnson, Boniface, Eleyinmi (played by Funso Adeolu), and the new headmaster played Justus Esiri (although someone else played the old one). In a case of real life imitates art , Funso Adeolu, who played Eleyinmi one of the king’s right hand men (otunba) was actually made a king himself
Moment of Truth – a feature-length movie from the Jos crew, I think it also won an award of some sort…I remember this so well because it had such a great lifespan in Nigerian TV rerun land. The story was of a couple who had tried for years to have a child and were more or less settled to the fact that they could not have any kids. They spent a great deal of time with the family of their doctor who had a daughter that the wife was quite fond of. Finally, the wife gets pregnant and has a little boy…during a party to celebrate the highly-anticipated birth, the little boy develops some ailment and in the wife’s opinion is mis-diagnosed by their doctor friend. He had been drinking when he made the diagnosis and the little boy dies. In a sharp turn of events, the grieving mother plots to also kill their daughter using sinister means (okay, juju)…and just when the daughter is about to drink the concotion prepared for her…she screams no…don’t drink it…the moment of truth. The cast of Cock Crow at Dawn was quite prominent in several of the roles… I remember Bitrus (Sadiq Daba) played the doctor
Baba Sala – a 30 minute of side-splitting comedy in Yoruba featuring Baba Sala with his trademark gigantic bowtie
Aluwe – the title character was played by the versatile and comedic Sunday Omobolanle and thus he would be known in other feature films and TV series. Aluwe was more than a show… the name Aluwe or PapiLuwe became a registered trademark character which could only be played by him as was the case of the other characters in the TV series – Oga Bello (Adebayo Salami), Awero (Lanre Hassan), Yinka Quadri, Alabi Yellow – the tongue-twisting albino, Pa Ojoge and I think Jide Kosoko made his TV debut on Aluwe…but whatever the case it was 30 minutes of hilarious drama in the Yoruba language. The acting ensemble was originally brought together by Duro Ladipo before his demise.
Second Chance– an adaptation of the British comedy – Mind your Language. A colorful mixture of characters attending adult evening classes as a second chance at getting an education – hence the title. I remember them vaguely…Abiola Atanda as Madam Kofo stands out because of her head ties. Tony St Iyke played the stuttering Igbo gentleman. I think (but I could be wrong) that Joke Silva also acted in this but I can’t remember her character’s name. The late Funso Alabi and the legendary Lai Ashadele also played the role of the teacher/instructor at various time during the life of the series
Samanja – The adventures of a soldier in the Nigerian army and what he got up to with his unit in the Northern part of Nigeria
IcheOku– . In this drama series, set in the colonial times in Eastern Nigerian, the local people would bring their grievances to the colonial court – there was the court baillif who also doubled as the translator and in many cases did not do a very good job at translating! And then the judge who was supposed to be a British man but maybe at one time it may have been, but the times I remember trying to watch it – it was sometimes an albino or a powdered-up fair-skinned actor and it would freak me out to the point that I would change the channel, much to the annoyance of the other people in the room!
For Better or For Worse– a different story about marital bliss or conflict every week with different casts of characters played by different actors and actresses including (I think) the excellent Taiwo Ajai-Lycett- I remember one of the highlights of my childhood was meeting her in person and she was delightful
Sura the Tailor– I can’t remember much except the title character was played by Tunji Oyelana and the theme song was very infectious. Oh, now I have it in my head…Sura, Sura, Sura the tailor is your man! Ironically, once upon a time (after the series was off the air)…we actually had a tailor called Suraju. Of course we could not resist calling him Sura the Tailor!
The Adio Family – One word would remind anyone of this Alagbin. And that’s all I remember, sadly. I know that the plot centered around a family- father, mother and two children – a boy and a girl. And the househelp who I think was also the father’s brother and he was called Alagbin and he always used to sing while he worked – No condition is permanent in this world. The mother never got along with the househelp and the father was played by Jab Adu.
Basi & Company – A rich ensemble of characters created by the late Ken Saro-Wiwa – Mr B is a millionaire and so is Dandy. The role of Mr B -the title character – was played first by Albert Egbe and later by Zulu Adigwe (then more famous for his stage roles) there was the elegant Segi (a role played by Mildred Iweka (Okopi) and later by another lady), Dandy, Madam the madam (It’s a matter of cash, Come in if you are handsome and rich). It explored a number of get-rich schemes which struggling Nigerians delve into -without success.
Behind the Clouds– From the Jos crew, Ene Oloja (also in Cock Crow at Dawn) I remember was in this and it was set in Jos. Macarthur Fom who played Nosa one of the notable characters passed away due to complications from cerebral meningitis. His death threw most of the viewers in mourning and although it was written into the script, the show was never the same after that and was pulled off the air shortly after
House Number 13 – I don’t remember a lot about this one…I do know it centered around a superstitious landlord who made several unsucessful attempts to change the number of his house from 13 …much to the annoyance of several of his tenants
Koko Close – all I remember about this is Oluwalambe Lodge
Owuro Lojo – a mini-series based on a story written by Bunmi Oyinsan. This featured Joke Silva and Peju Ogunmola (a.k.a Mrs Aluwe). It centered around a young girl (Joke Silva) who has an improper relationship with her older cousin (Peju O)’s boyfriend and gets pregnant. He denies the paternity and fastforward to years later, she is an accomplished artist with her son and (the boyfriend) has three or four daughters and no son. I never got to watch this till the end…because at the time it was showing…NEPA was dilly-dallying with us in our neighborhood so it was –no light=no TV. One thing I remember about Owuro Lojo was the props and the costumes it was set both in the 70s and the 80s/90s and the costumes were spot on…when I started watching it, it took me a while to realize it was actually set in more recent times (circa late 80s or 90s) I know that it seems like I am raving over something very simple but this is often rare in many Naija movies when you will see a scene supposed to be set in the 1970s and the actress fingernails are perfectly manicured à la 2000s
Ripples – Talab Abbas played by Alex Usifo Umiagbo was one of the characters who stood out…but I can’t remember much about the plot line. I do remember that it was directed by Zeb Ejiro just before the video movie industry took off and it was one of those series that disappeared from our screens without much explanation and I think Liz Benson was also in this
Jaguar – Mai bele o…mai head o. The adventures (or should I say misadventures) of Jaguar and his side-kick Oseni dodging Jaguar’s wife – Grace.
Gboro mi ro – The People’s Court – Naija style or should I say Yoruba-style. Instead of one judge, you would have a panel of judges (experts) who passed judgement as people (families and friends) brought in their many grievances ranging from the petty (ejo wewe) to the gravely serious. It was not altogether formal and I don’t know if it actually had any legality, what I do know was it was real and it was interesting to see what people go through in their lives
Nkan be – Strange but true…some of the spookiest stories that I have ever come across were in this reality series which explored strange but true events. I remember that it was also on the radio at some point. Also in Yoruba
Lagbo Video – This was fun to watch…it was a round-up of latest videos released in Yoruba and often you will get some of the actors and actresses come in to promote their work. It was presented by a gentleman called Mustapha I think… think Regis and Kelly minus one but with the usual parade of stars strutting their stuff
Tan Mo -…ko wa so o. A Yoruba question and answer game show where there were tons of ‘dazzling prizes’ to be won…boxes of Okin biscuit, Super Blue Omo, etc
Things Fall Apart – an adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s highly acclaimed novel. In a case of Before they were famous…Pete Edochie who is quite visible in several Nollywood movies played the primary character – Okonkwo. I remember it also had an operattic soundtrack
Mirror in the Sun – directed by Lola Fani-Kayode. Nigerians were introduced to Sola Fosudo, Babara Soky and Clarion Chukwurah in this soap opera. Again, I don’t remember the plot line
Mind Bending – a series of short films also directed by Lola Fani-Kayode. It explored the impact of drug use on the life of Nigerian
Fortunes – featuring another example of Before they were Famous Nollywood star- Ramsey Noah was introduced to the Nigerian audience as one of the sons of a rich patriach played by Lai Ashadele. Pat Attah, who I also see these days in some Nollywood videos, played the other son.Former-beauty queen Regina Askia was also in this series but I can’t for the life of me remember much about the plot line either.
CheckMate– This was one that I actually followed from start to finish and I remember quite vividly – The story centered around the Haatropes, their family business and their friends. Ego Nnamani Boyo was Anne Haatrop and Bob Manuel Udokwu played her younger brother Richard Haatrope, there was another brother called Benibo and his uppity wife -I can’t remember their real names. There was Bimbo Manuel who played Nduka and Mildred Iweka (now -Okopi ) who acted the part of his wife Ada. Norbert Young was the randy professor and his son was Akpan (played by the very talented Tunde Euba), Richard Mofe-Damijo (Segun Kadiri, Anne’s nemesis and love interest), Nkemji (played by another famous actress, I tried but could not remember her name but this was her Before they were famous role), Kunle Bamtefa (Chief Fuji- ma beji fun e) and his household – the Fuji House of Commotion. I mean Commotion is what you would expect in a polygamous family featuring three wives living under the same roof starting with the junior wife -Ireti (also known as Catering Practical for the odd dishes which she prepared for her husband..based on the practicals that she conducted in the catering school she attended) , the middle wife – Peaceful Peace (the complete opposite of the name she bore and the most cantakerous member of the household…I remember one episode she served her husband cockroaches for a meal because he did not leave money to make soup) and Toun Oni as the iyale (Just as an aside, I was reminded of the the Fuji house of commotion last year when I watched a drama series airing on HBO which was exploring polygamy in America it was called Big Love – same theme Three Wives – One Husband – same disastrous and hilarious outcomes). Amaka Igwe directed this soap opera the characters are linked one way or the other. Ada and Ann are old school friends, Chief is an old friend and business associate of the late Haatrope patriach, Akpan and Ricky are also school friends. After fighting each other for episodes on end…Segun K and Anne H finally get married in the final episode only for us to find out, that she married him because she is expecting his child and knows that he had tried to doublecross her in a business deal even while he was professing his love to her. Classic Nigerian Soap Opera
Palace – In this soap opera, Funlola Aofiyebi is introduced to the Nigerian audience as Kofoworola Baker. A captivating drama series, which was still running when I left the country and featured a cast of characters who would become players in Nollywood including Jide Kosoko and Foluke Daramola (as father and daughter), Antar Laniyan as Banky and a young actress whose name escapes me but who bore such a striking resemblance to Mr Laniyan it was hard to believe that they were not related
In addition, to keeping us entertained, several of these programs also touched on social and cultural issues which were having a significant impact in Nigeria at the time. Cock Crow at Dawn explored the rural -urban migration and the differences between folks in the village and folks in the city. In several episodes of CheckMate, the issue of secret cults in Nigerian universities is visited and we take an indepth (fictional but possibly real) walk with Akpan has he confronts his inner self while coming to terms with the fact that his father is a casanova and he has less confidence in himself. In one episode I remember, when his mother – who is fed up with her husband’s infidelity has walked out on the family and his father’s girlfriend who also happens to be the wife of his father’s colleague, is left to run the household, she confronts Akpan with weapons (knives, machetes, etc,) she has found under his bed. What are you doing with all these…are you a soldier? The writers of CheckMate also brought the issues of the Osu Caste System in Nigeria (which I had heard about but knew little of) to the forefront as Nduka and Ada confront this head-on – Ada is Osu much to the annoyance of Nduka’s family who cannot stand the idea of their son being married to an Osu and it does not help matters when they don’t have kids and of course Nkemji is introduced into their marriage.
And since we are still on TV Memory Lane, I thought I’d throw in a few other non-soapy/serialy programs which kept us entertained back in the day.
There were the kiddie programs like Animal [Show/Game] – I think it was a variety program featuring kids and animals and had Uncle Wole. It always had kids from different schools in Lagos and the theme song went something like – It’s Time to Say Hello and of course there was Tales by Moonlight – the tortoise featured frequently in the stories told by moonlight often under a tree by an aunty with children seated at her feet and there was usually a moral to each story. I’m not ashamed to admit that although I was well past the age for this when it was airing, I still tuned in just for the fun of it and I was entertained. There was Jimi Solanke’s musical program which I am trying to remember the name of but keep drawing a blank
Two variety shows also stood out for me back then – the Bala Miller show – presented by the late Bala Miller and the Sunny Side of Life which was presented by Patrick Itoyan(sp?) who (I think) would later become Director of Programs at the NTA .
Also Sunday nights were not complete without Newsline with Frank Olize – featuring some of the best pieces of investigative journalism in the country – I mean who could ever forget the Kikelomo baby story and of course we should not miss out on the newscasters and TV presenters way back then – Siene Allwell-Brown (later Razak-Lawal), Ruth Benemasia-Opia, Tokunbo Ajai, Augusta Maduegbuna, John Momoh, Funmi Odubekun, Lola Alakija, Cyril Stober, Efunseke Meriman-Johnson (Stober), I can’t seem to remember many of the guy presenters and newscasters
Writing this reminds me of how far Nigerian TV and movie industry has come and what a rich and colorful history it has…if only we could be more organized…for starters let’s give Nollywood a location and not just a name!
If reading this has given you any serious pangs of nostalgia…I have a scoop for those who don’t already know – INollywood has some of these oldies but goodies available for purchase or streaming at an affordable price. Check it out, you just might find yourself at your computer screen but back to Nigeria in the 70s or 80s
* Special thanks to the folks at INollywood for the photos of the title banners for the shows which appear on this blog