How did we lose the golden age of television soap operas in Nigeria?
In the 80s and 90s, long before the advent of new TV shows on VOD (Video on demand) made us forget what local TV was, there were stations like the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) which showcased the best of African family-centric soap operas, some of which still remain popular till this day.
In the 80s, NTA was a behemoth that controlled the minds of many Nigerians. It had many programmes, dramas, and sitcoms that kept Nigerians glued to their television. Some of these TV shows are now firmly woven into our cultural tapestry and have outgrown simply being TV content.
One of these timeless gems was Tales by Moonlight, a kiddies program produced by NTA in 1984 to create local African content which could compete with American TV kiddies shows such as Sesame Street. When it launched in 1984, the show turned out to be a slam hit and it was aimed at promoting African folktales. After a long run, the show fizzled out in the 90s.
During the production of Tales by Moonlight, NTA went on to produce more TV shows like The Village Headmaster, a show regarded as one of the most iconic Nigerian TV series of all time as it ran for 2 decades making it the longest-running series aired on the National Television Authority (NTA).
The soap opera featured greats such as the late Justis Esiri, Dejumo Lewis, Funsho Adeolu, and Enebeli Elebuwa. It focused on topical issues such as "inter-ethnic harmony, problem-solving and intervention in public affairs, health education and family enjoyment".
Following the success of The Village Headmaster, another classic TV show Things Fall Apart, an adaptation of Chinua Achebe's timeless novel followed suit. The lead character Okonkwo was expertly played by none other than Pete Edochie. Other acts in the TV special were the late Sam Loco Efe and Nkem Owoh. Asides from these shows, more quality content that fully showcased African representation such as New Masquerade, Cock Crows at Dawn, Basi, and Company which dished humour to millions of Nigerians alongside their iconic theme songs and unforgettable characters followed.
Some including myself would argue that the best local soap operas on television in Nigeria lasted till the late 90s and early 2000s with shows like Checkmate which aired on television for four years between the years 1991-1994. The show was spellbound for Nigerians who could not wait for the show to air on AIT every Sunday night. Checkmate was created and written by the late Amaka Igwe, and the series told the tale of the aristocratic family Haatrope trying to survive attacks from enemies both inside and outside of the family.
The series mirrored Nigeria’s societal issues such as cultism and polygamy and was regarded as one of the best content of the era in which Nollywood came together. It introduced many actors Ego Boyo, the late Francis Agu, Norbert Young, and the charismatic Richard Mofe Damijo who played the role of Segun Kadiri.
In 1996, Wale Adenuga Productions took over the realms of Tv soap operas on television with another creation titled Papa Ajasco, a comic strip in the 80s which turned out to be very successful. After an initial movie in 1983, Wale Adenuga adapted it for TV in 1996 starring the famous characters, 'Papa Ajasco', 'Mama Ajasco', 'Bobo Ajasco, 'Boy Alinco', 'Miss Pepeiye', 'Pa James' and 'Pa Jimoh'. Heavy on slapstick comedy, Papa Ajasco has continued to make Nigerians laugh for over 20 years.
In the early 2000s, a family drama titled Everyday People was born. The show focused exclusively on the lives of middle-class Nigerians and it featured the late Sam Loco Efe, Carol King, Ify Onwuemene, Seun Soremi, Juliet Martin-Abazie, Ignis Ekwe, and others. The theme song was very famous at the time that every 90s baby could still hum the song to date simply because of the impact that It had on Nigerians across the country.
However, the production of Super Story by TV producer Wale Adenuga, who is also responsible for Papa Ajasco on TV, marked the end of a golden era for Nigerian soap operas. Super Story was produced in a unique format that appealed to the Nigerian audience.
The first season of the show told the story of Suara and Toyin Tomato (played by the brilliant Sola Sobowale). It was highly successful and paved the way for the subsequent seasons: Nnenna, Oh Father! Oh, Daughter! , No pain No Gain, Face of Deceits, and many more. Each season focuses on a different story centered around the lives of middle-class Nigeria.
A very good TV era in Nigeria's history happened in the 1980s and 1990s. During this period, indelible characters were portrayed in riveting and captivating soap operas. Whenever their names were mentioned, these shows brought back memories of the past. Unfortunately, the soap opera culture on Nigerian TV seems to have lost its appeal, with few entertainment programs on TV and those that exist of little entertainment value.
Therefore, the question remains: how did we lose the golden age of television soap operas in Nigeria?