Nollywood Hardtalk | 16 September 2011 03:28 CET


Taiwo Ajai-Lycett/ Winds Against My Soul

Taiwo Ajai-Lycett/ Winds Against My Soul

As the Nigerian nation sends Christy Esssien-Igbokwe to eternal home, one cannot help but call to mind the words of James Iroha, the originator of the now rested sitcom “New Masquerade” who also rose to fame playing the hilarious role of Gringory –a funny house help from the Cross River / Akwa Ibom axis in Nigeria. “I had just closed from work at the Nigerian Television Authority Aba, and I was driving home; while in traffic I saw this young lady arguing with an orange seller; the lady had in real life every single treat I have been looking for in the new character that will join the cast of “new masquerade”. I did not wait for a second prompting before I got her onboard “the new masquerade” crew.” The forgone are words of James Iroha on how he discovered the lady of songs.

The simple narrative above captures the entry of one of Nigeria's finest entertainer into the world of music and movies. If anyone other than divine providence deserves the accolade for the discovery of the phenomenon Christy Igbokwe, it is Ben Iroha. If you think that is the pinnacle of his creativity then you are dead wrong, because he is the sole originator of Nigeria's earliest and timeless sit-com “New Masquerade” for years he toiled and gave his best ensuring every Nigerian returned home to quality entertainment on television after the day's hard labor.

Today what is the fate of Ben Iroha , his “New Masquerade,” and fellow cast of the TV show. If you have not heard, Gregory as he is fondly called by admirers and fans is critically ill and is fast losing his sight. Gregory is not alone in that helpless situation. Davis Offor (Clarus), his long time friend and fellow humor merchant is also on the sick bed losing his sight, in fact Clarus was the first to fall ill. The TV sit-come is dead and buried for lack of corporate sponsorship . Permit me to point out that, New Masquerade is not the only program that has suffered premature death over poor corporate backing.

If you are in your mid twenties and you grew up in Nigeria, you just need to reflect for only a minute and the titles will come rushing out of your memories, “Cock crow at Dawn”, Winds Against My Soul “After the storm”, “Behind the cloud”, “Mega Fortunes”, “Checkmate” Bello's Way, “Ripples” .. The list is endless; they are all rested and the producers who invested their personal fortunes to produce these programs that churned out the finest talent that formed the core of Nollywood have closed shops.

The death of these programs is not the only thing that is heartbreaking, the frequent media releases that announce and celebrate the huge amount of money spent on importing foreign programmes, such as Mexican soaps to Nigeria is unbearable. To say the least, the feeling was nothing short of anger when I picked a newspaper and flipped to an entertainment page, were two headlines appeared side by side. The first story talked of two Nigerian showbiz legends-Gregory and Clarus dying in penury. The second one was celebrating the fact that Acess Bank, a Nigerian bank had paid a foreign television company in hard currency to acquire the right to use one of it's popular comic character for a child savings promo. What an irony.

The intention is perfect, children love their child hero, Dora and using her as the face of this marketing drive will help build our tomorrow billionaires. But then, we must always remember, that the people who created this comic and other programs that corporate Nigeria eagerly buy into, have countries of origin and they received support in the form of grants, loans and sponsorship in other to build these programs to an enviable heights. they can't resist. If the foreigners had abandonned theirs, what will corporate Nigeria turn to, today? Have we also forgotten that each time we pay foreigners to acquire rights for their television show we are encouraging capital flight? Oh! I see,
Nigerian programmess do not have global appeal. I will like to borrow the words of Obi Asika, CEO Storm Records, he says you can not go global without going local. So, lets face it peeps, that your global show you are rooting for, is a local show in another man's land.
It is really unpardonable to see stakeholders in corporate Nigeria doing all they can to satisfy their children's preference for foreign programs, pretending to forget that these same local content providers are the ones who satisfied their desires to be entertained when they were young, but suddenly the home grown industry is no longer good enough. Shameful.

Permit me to say that it is outright foolishness and huge financial loss not to support and invest in home grown content producers. An investment in a good television programme guarantees generational profit margins. Have any doubt? You can easily clear them by checking the financial records of successful TV shows. If the Coronation Street, Sesame Street, “The young and the Restless” etc, have entertained Britons and Americans for years, why can't Nigerian's stories be the same.

At this point we cannot help but salute the generosity of Globacom, a telecommunication giant for its unrivalled support to the Nigerian entertainment industry. But like Oliver twist, we crave for more. We will like to say, a generation that turns it's back on its past, has lost its future. These ailing veterans, our living libraries and epitomes of the Nigerian creative ingenuity, need a lifeline. It won't be out of place to finance and recreate these classic television shows by way of applying new technology and bring these men back to relevance, make them feel appreciated and give this generation a chance to know who entertained the older generation. That way, we can heal the wounds of the past and begin the process of creating history for our creative industry.

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