Good memories were spontaneously evoked recently when the Nigeria Police band at the orchestra pit, Terra Arena launched forth the soundtrack to the classic Nigerian television drama series The Village Headmaster. Many hummed along while others stared in amazement at the display of nostalgia in the auditorium. It was the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Village Headmaster, which was created by the late Ambassador Segun Olusola for the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
The night’s compère, Yemi Shodimu set the ball rolling with his curtain-raiser performance. Many had found exciting the energetic performance by Crown Troupe of Africa titled, “Our Area”. With the opening song, “Nigeria go better”, the cast made their way to the stage in green and white costumes.
Relying heavily on chorused lines, Segun Adefila’s experimental theatre took the audience off-guard with its animated portrayal of harsh social realities, dark humour and minimalist approach to stage design. From bus to religious parody, the satirical play is very contemporary in its treatment of the themes of governance, corruption and humanity.
The mother of all television drama series in Nigeria, “The Village Headmaster” written in English and partly pidgin-English was created as a unifying television content with an unparalleled cross-over appeal. Both young and old as well as rich and poor stayed glued to the television screen throughout the 70s and 80s which were the peak periods in the history of the drama.
In his opening remarks, the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who was represented by the DG, NTA, Yakubu Mohammed acknowledged the role played by the cast and crew of Village Headmaster in nation building.
“The Village Headmaster is the first indigenous drama series that showcased the top of Nigerian actors, scriptwriters, producers and directors. Apart from serving as a mirror reflecting the typical village setting, the series became a veritable tool for culture re-engineering with its emphasis on virtues of honesty, tolerance and loyalty,”he said.
Reflecting on the quality of the script, depiction of characters and the overall professionalism, he remarked that most television and video productions in Nigeria owe a lot to the benchmark set by Village Headmaster.
“Without any fear of contradiction, I can say that what we now know as Nollywood can trace its genesis to The Village Headmaster and much later Cock Crow at Dawn, Mirror in the Sun and others. Village Headmaster was the most watched indigenous piece that was important to behavioural change. In it, Nigerians saw themselves reflected in television. Every viewer saw a bit of himself or herself or his neighbour, son or daughter. It was a reflection of the family and society. As we gather here this evening to celebrate the 50 years of Village Headmaster, let us recall the contribution of those pioneers who have passed on but who are here with us in spirit.”
A minute of applause was observed for the “unforgettable” cast and crew of the Village Headmaster including the late Femi Robinson, Oba Funsho Adeolu, Akin Olasemo, Ted Mukoro and Justus Esiri, among others. To the surprise of many, some of the screen veterans featured in the command performance of the Village Headmaster titled, “No Vacuum”. They are Ibidun Allison as Amebo, Comish Ekiye, Jimi Johnson, Asuquo Ukwak alongside other centre-stage actors such as Chris Iheowa and Jide Alabi who gave a show-stopping performance of the “Hausa man” role.
The dated, yet regal, costumes helped to situate the drama as a traditional piece with themes that are relevant to today’s national discourse. The power tussle in the village of Oja portrayed by the characters replicates the nature of Nigeria’s political system. It was a night of sterling performances from every cast member which moved the DG, NTA, Mohammed to make a direct plea to the production team and relevant authorities.
“I saw a television set for the first time in 1978 in Zaria where I had gone for an interview,” he recalled. “It was black and white and that was significant. The first programme I watched on that television was The Village Headmaster. We need a new Village Headmaster series. Give it to us. How you do it, I don’t know. But I know you can do it. The challenge is yours.”