My Reflections on Nigerian Movie Industry


COUNTERPOINT By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Last weekend, we unveiled our latest intervention in the form of an e-book on the largest global community or marketplace, the world wide web (aka internet). Friends and followers showed heartwarming support and encouragement in kind words and assurances of picking copies off the online publisher’s bookshop.

Today, we have elected to formally introduce the force behind the publication in sentiments expressed in its ‘description’, and also extract some portions of the book for a sneak preview.

“‘Reflections on Nigerian Movie Industry: Salute to Pioneering Creativity and Perseverance’ is an offspring of more than three decades of interrogating the Nigerian entertainment industries as a journalist. The initial prod was inspired by what I had heard generally in my reportorial experience; and was further supported by the sentiment which cropped up at the CORA/NEC Mini Series (a colloquium for the 80th birthday of the venerable journalist and entertainment maestro, Pa Benson Idonijie, in 2016). It is summed thus: the younger generations kept lamenting the total absence of reputable data, catalogues, original stories of Nigerian entertainment figures, past and present. The very few available were written by foreigners, with all their predictable prejudices wrapped in good intentions.

As a preliminary foothold, I have therefore selected a few of the magnificent gems (now revised, updated and improved to over 50 persons) whose contributions to the growth, sustenance and projection of Nigerian dramatic space, have led us to where we are today – a globally recognized industry proudly self-styled Nollywood, to the infernal chagrin of puritans. Let’s reflect….

Distinguished as black Africa’s first television producer, Olusola created the apogee of his career, The Village Headmaster over 50 years ago (in 2009), barely four years after he joined broadcasting (radio) in 1955. This incredibly hilarious nationwide situational comedy/drama ran for over 30 years….

In 1959, with the great excitement at the advent of television in Africa, and at just 24 years old, Olusola joined the WNTV as a producer. Dogged almost to the fringe of fanaticism on the quest to project indigenous TV productions, Olusola was once queried for insisting on producing an all-Nigerian programme – thereby ‘wasting’ a princely sum of 75 pound sterling on local thespians!

Throughout the 80’s until his demise, the former ambassador to Ethiopia (1987 to 1992) became the centerfold of Nigeria’s “moving” art, spreading his colossal shoulders for new generations of practitioners to lean on, and drawing elemental directions. What a way to live!

A very unusual personality. His biographers claimed he was born June, 1937, while a yearbook (Media World, 1994; Wale Alabi and Tosin Ajirire) puts his birthday at Sept. 22, 1936. However, one thing is Incontestable about Moses Olaiya Oluwasanya Adejumo; he is the Baba Sala – Nigeria’s answer to America’s Charley Chaplin. Moses Olaiya, the comic icon developed as a wild seed: germinating with luxuriant gusto into many branches; producing colourful fruits. Still in Obokun High School, llesa – now State of Osun (1954 – 1957), he took to magic. He was so successful that one of his early apprentices was Moshood Abiola Folorunso (yes, that’s late Professor Peller)!

…With consistent hits in all his creative endeavours, Moses Olaiya beat himself roundly when he won a local competition which fetched him a one year contract to feature monthly on the first TV in Africa (WNTV). In January 1966, Baba Sala stepped on TV – the first drama troupe. Seventeen years after, with no more hills to conquer, Baba Sala stepped out of TV – a folk hero, a national icon (M.O.N in 1978) and plunged into celluloid. Of course, with a resounding splash.

Orun Mooru (1982), Aare Agbaye (1985), Mosebolotan (1986), Agba Man (1989) and Obe Gbigbona (1990) set off Baba Sala as Nigeria’s most enduring dramatist and the bungling man who taught Nigerians how to laugh at their foibles and inadequacies. [He died October 7, 2018].

Postscript: Early part of 2021 has witnessed robust arguments and disputations that suggest that Baba Sala might indeed be one of the strongest figures to accord the contentious title of the original ‘proponent’ of capturing Nigerian dramatic plots on video (VHS) format. (Details later).

This businessman has a soul and a passion – a style and the heart to live his fantasy. What else is creativity? In 1991, when all else were stuck with the gore and grizzle being heaped on us via Asian video “Tigers” and American battlers, Kenneth Nnebue (56) called a group of Yoruba theatre artistes and knocked out a “Video film” from them called Ina Ote (Rage of Conspiracy). Since that pioneering effort, Ken has produced or bankrolled over 20 others – all in Yoruba language!

Though, Nnebue has been variously credited as the foremost pioneer of the Nigerian drama in video format, my candid investigation lays the honour somewhere else (for the first video that can be called Nigerian drama was produced and distributed to a limited bemused audience in 1989 by a younger untrained producer-actor, or some other reputable contender – with the help of hindsight placing it in 1988).

History will no doubt escort Kenneth Nnebue for his pioneering and, incredibly, his popularizing efforts of the video product (especially in the Yoruba lore).

More importantly, Nnebue later delved into his own mother-tongue and uprooted a storm – arguably, the best known Nigerian video (shot in Igbo) and possibly the biggest, Living In Bondage, in 1992! The pioneering work was directed by Chris Obi Rapu, co-written/produced by Kenneth Nnebue & Okechukwu Ogunjiofor…

His ticket to fame is not that he was the director of the ground-making home video (Living In Bondage) that many believe was the foundation of today’s Nollywood. Gentleman Chris Obi-Rapu is a consummate television and movie technocrat who mid-wifed some of the best-known television productions of the ’80s and ’90s (New Masquerade, for one). He was the elusive ‘Vic Mordi’ of the Video world while still a senior producer with the national network, NTA.
To add meat to this soup, here are further facts as dug out by my friend and poet, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu in a 2018 article (The Week):

‘According to Obi-Rapu, “What made the Nigeria home video industry take off was the input from Okey Ogunjiofor and my direction. Nobody had wanted to do anything in Igbo or Yoruba among television producers around then because they felt it was degrading. There had been some shootings of Yoruba and Igbo videos. Mike Orihedimma recorded Igbo home videos in Onitsha, while NEK (Kenneth Nnebue) was recording and marketing Yoruba videos in Lagos. They were poorly produced and hardly ever directed….””
Now that you have a foretaste of the pudding, feel free to get a copy – and leave me your candid review.
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