Coming of Age in Nigerian Moviemaking

The 1970s signalled the beginning of indigenous efforts in Nigerian filmmaking. Francis Oladele made Kongi’s Harvest written by Wole Soyinka in 1971 and soon after that, Ola Balogun made Alpha in Paris. Balogun later followed with other works like Amadi, Ajani Ogun, Money Power and others films, while Jab Adu made Bisi, Daughter of the River Goddess and Ladele made The Eye of Life, which was never completed.

While Oladale and Balogun may be regarded as the pioneers of filmmaking in Nigeria, it was Hubert Ogunde who convincingly demonstrated that Yoruba films could become a popular entertainment art form. His Aiye, Jaiyesinmi, Aropin n’tenia and Ayanmo remain the Yoruba classics in filmmaking. The Ogunde phenomenon helped to strengthen and expand earlier experiments by Adeyemi Afolayan who had collaborated with Ola Balogun on Ajani Ogun and Ija Ominira. Ogunde also pointed the way to the likes of Moses Olaiya, Isola Ogunsola, Awada Kerikeri Organisation and a few other Yoruba travelling theatre practitioners who quickly embraced the screen as an alternative means of projecting their stage arts. Ladi Ladebo, Eddie Ugboma, Sanya Dosumu and Sadiq Balewa are other notable filmmakers who contributed to this revolution.

Looking back however, the revolution seems to have turned out to be still born. Nearly thirty years after the first feature films were made, worthwhile full-length feature films made in Nigeria by Nigerians can almost be counted on ten fingers. The continual lament on the lips of Nigerian filmmakers is the scourge of an ailing economy. To make matters worse, the government’s main effort in assisting the growth of Nigerian filmmaking was grossly misdirected. The siting of the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) in Jos, far away from the Osogbo, Ibadan, Ososa and Lagos axis which was home to the then budding Nigerian filmmakers, was a debacle. It was the government pandering to the film industry that produced feeble attempts resulting in such monumental failures as The Black President in which one person acted, produced, directed etc.

When in 1989 Ken Nnebue, a trader of Igbo origin brought his entrepreneurial instincts to bear on the vestiges of the Yoruba alarinjo (travelling theatre) he was indeed starting another Nigerian moviemaking revolution. Before Nnebue, Muyideen Aromire had earlier made Ekun in VHS format, but it was Nnebue’s Aje ni Iya mi that opened the floodgates for home video production in Nigeria. Most of the formally trained Nigerian filmmakers sniggered at these efforts in the beginning, but the Igbo entrepreneur was undaunted. Nnebue’s revolution caught on as the likes of Aromire demonstrated great virility in churning out works that later became recognized as a little more than exercises in boredom for the viewers.

However, the dearth of alternative entertainment, the increasing penetration of domestic video cassette recorders in Nigerian homes and the quest for quick money continued to fuel the video revolution while the school of formally trained filmmakers were still waiting for the opportunity to make films on celluloid. Of course they had reasons to be hopeful. Not too long before then, Tunde Alabi-Hundeyin’s weekly production of Tellydrama on OGTV had become very popular and his episodic screen presentation of D.O. Faguwa’s Ireke Onibudo brought him to the attention of Benton Films. Benton’s celluloid rehash of Ireke Onibudo, under the directorial eyes of Tunde Alabi-Hudeyin, was a huge success and indeed a further pointer to the possibilities of locally produced films. Further more, Tunde Kelani, having left NTA, had successfully made Iwa on celluloid and had contributed to Ireke Onibudo, Kanakana, Papa Ajasco and a host of other films. Other formally trained filmmakers like Femi Aloba, a sound specialist, were also getting some opportunities to contribute on various film projects. However, none of these hopeful filmmakers ever expected the depths into which military recklessness would throw the Nigerian economy.

Nnebue, having acquired confidence from his tango with Yoruba theatre artists, sought to widen his market. He therefore dumped Yoruba productions, turning to productions in English. He has never looked back since. Instead, his confidence has been bolstered by the Ejiro and Amata brothers, Amaka Igwe, Opa Williams and a host of others who have turned what started as a play thing into a veritable industry worth millions of Naira.

As time went on, more Igbo traders began to see the potentials of the fledgling industry and finance trickled in from various quarters to fund English and Igbo movies. While the Igbo producers sought to improve the quality of their productions by increasing production budgets, their Yoruba brothers held back, trying to increase profit by reducing expenditure.