The planned commemoration of the Village Headmaster (VHM) at 50 starts in earnest on October 8-11 with a series of activities lined up to mark the memorable event, taking place in Lagos.
On the eve of this memorable event, THISAGE, went in search of some of the surviving cast, crew, and the organisers of the 50th anniversary commemoration. The story is rich, refreshing and engaging. Enjoy:
According to Dr. Dele Osawe, secretary of the planning committee, in a statement, the vintage television drama which was a landmark family programme will be remembered for its role in promoting national unity, integrity and cultural pride.
The Village Headmaster, “Nigeria’s longest running television drama series from 1968 till 1988 was created by late Chief Segun Olusola, but was packaged, produced and directed by Sanya Dosunmu (now His Royal Majesty the Olowu of Owu), who with the cooperation of his friends such as Ted Mukoro, Demola James, Fela Davies, Alex Akinyele, Nelson Olawaye, Alan Aroyewu and others wrote the first 13 episodes of this legendary TV drama programme.
The series was based on, “The Headmaster of Oja Community School is a prime move of cultural evolution.
The Headmaster is a Western-educated and knowledgeable personality. He who is always guiding Kabiyesi and the Chiefs of Oja Society as development sneaks into the village. Amebo, in her rumour transmissions explains the importance of information and communication in a virile society.
Bassey Okon/Okoro depicts queer personality in our society who is to be tolerated and patronized. “The politicians of Oja Village, such as councilor Balogun and Bamishe all believed in our culture and tradition and as a result it is possible for Kabiyesi to put them under control and corruption is equally put under check,” the statement read.
It ran on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA
“Initially produced for the radio in 1958, its format was transformed to audio-visual.
“It had been reported that most of the original works had been lost over the years due to lack of proper archiving system. The best archive for Village Headmaster remains the collective memory of the surviving cast and crew as well as many Nigerians who committed their time to watching this socio-political drama with strong inter-generational relevance.”
Mrs Bimbo Oloyede, a veteran Nigerian journalist and producer, is a Member of the Organizing Committee
As the Chairman of the Planning Committee on the 50th Anniversary Commemoration, what are we to expect?
I am not sure really about that title, but I am working with the committee. Sure, yes.
Why are you commemorating the Village Headmaster?
Why not, why not?. It is a programme that was very popular years ago and people used to rush home to watch it and I know it was rested many years ago but despite that there are many members of the public who have fond memories of the Village Headmaster. And when you consider that it is something that began a long time ago and there are still members of the cast who are still alive and happy to be alive as far as they concerned, it is worth celebrating. That have good memories at a time the programme was popular. You see that it is a celebration of life, a celebration of arts, a celebration of tradition, a celebration of values.
What specifically are we expecting to see at the commemoration?
We are looking at content. We want to discuss that at a round table fashion. We want to look at how drama can be used as a tool for national development. So there would be a round table discussion. We are also looking at having a live performance of the VH. Of course the veterans of the VH that are still alive would be part of it, then some new, younger actors would be part and hopeful those who have made Nollywood popular would be part of it and hopefully there would be a gala night. And at that gala night, the NTA would give out awards to the veterans, the main characters of VH. It would happen in the 8 and 11 of October, 2019 in Lagos.
What happens next.? Any hope of a revival.?
Honestly, I am not in a position to talk about whether there would be a revived or not. I think we should see the kind of reaction and response that we get to the commemoration on the one hand and other hand, you know the programme was brought out by the NTA. So they would be in a better position to say whether it would come back. But I do know that for many people who are part of the VH family, it would be something that would be refreshing for them and it might even revive them to get them back into acting, into the industry.
Mr Olu Okekanye, young Babalawo in VH
I played the role of young Babalawo. When we talk about Village Headmaster, it ran consecutively for twenty years. But I got into it in 1978 when I came from University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) to join University of Lagos Center for Cultural Studies. That was when Dejumo Lewis, who was leaving close to Unilag, saw me and called me to play the role of young babalawo. I was very young then.
Are you a trained actor?
Yes, at the University of Ife theatre. That was in 1968. I was an artist in that axis, that is the University of Ife- Oshogbo theatre school of arts. So I had been acting since then. We were the pioneer students of the theatre arts department in Ife. It is now called dramatic arts department. So I knew the Duro Ladipos, Ogumolas and so on. I was a painter and actor right from the 60s, a complete artist. In fact I was part of those who were seconded from Ife to Lagos to establish the center 1978. I was one of the pioneer actors in that center. Village Headmaster was a once-in-a week thing, so many of us, actors, had other work we were doing at the time. Some of us were bankers, teachers and doctors and so on.
What intrigues you about the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Village Headmaster?
Ah, for anybody that is participating in a jubilee celebration of a project or programme, should be very happy that we are alive to celebrate this commemoration. Some of our colleagues have passed on and in a way we need to celebrate their enormous contributions. So it is my joy to be part of this celebration.
What would you say about acting today compared to when you took part in VH.?
In the 60s and 70s when theatre was booming, acting was really professional. Majority of us went to school of arts. So acting was not a fluke. We were acting because we loved it, because are trained and it is a profession that we chose, that is why many of us are still in it. If we were able to pull this anniversary off and perhaps start another series of VH, you would see the best of acting.
If Village Headmaster was to come back, do you think it would have audience?
Why not? If you have a good product to dish out to the populace, the audience would fall in love with it. When you see the actors in all the series of VH and think of the way they portrayed their character. That is why people still remember names like Oba Eleyimi, Oba Dagbolu, Kokonsari and so on. That is why people still remember Bayo Awala’s production till tomorrow, Jimi Odumosu production till tomorrow, they still remember Tunde Eleyede’s productions till tomorrow because these were good productions which would struck the responsive cords in their audiences.
There is talk of VH staging a coming back. Would you like to be part of the cast?
For now we want to concentrate on the celebration. Definitely, if the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, so desires to bring it back, I would be honoured to be part of the cast.
Mrs Modupe Onabanjo Obaze, alias ‘Mrs Eleyimi’ ‘Mama Adewale’, of Village Headmaster in the second series in 1973.
Mrs Onabanjo- Obaze
How did you become a member of the cast?
I was not recruited as a professional artist. I used to play lawn tennis after work, because I worked in the Federal Ministry of Health at the time, I usually got to the court before other members. We had NPA tennis court, off Bode Thomas, Surulere Area of Lagos State.
There were only three tennis courts then and to serve the large number of players, we adopted a first-come- first-serve regulation.
The first person to come would play with the next person. So I got there on a day and the next guy who came had no choice but to play with me. But he was reluctant. When he saw me, he said Oh, I don’t want to play with a woman. I want o play with a man. And I asked him, who told you I am a woman,? Do you know my name? My name is Mr. Dupe and he said if you are Mr. Dupe, I want to pee here like a man. Come and pee like a man. So I went towards him. I wore a wrap round skirt over my tennis pants, so I went and stood beside him and wanted to take out the skirt.
And other members not playing started shouting, no, no don’t. There was a guest, an NTA staff, who happened to be around, Mr Ilozue. He laughed and asked if I were and actress, you make people laugh. So come NTA, he begged me. I eventually did so with a friend. On that day, Mr Ilozue then told me to join the rehearsal in Village Headmaster after he found out that other drama groups were absent.
Fortunately, Mr Tunde Oloyede was around and he asked if I had a child whom I could bring along visiting Bassey Okon, (JAB ADU) to administer the wrong medicine to my child. I remember telling him for a start that my child was convulsing and told him, see my pickin, him eye dey roll. (Laughter).
For some time in Lagos, people who knew me started calling me, him eye dey roll. Some times I bore the name Mama Adewale as village woman and at other times I exchanged the role with Madam Kofo, until the day the producer auditioned me for the role of Oba’s wife. We recorded a play there and then and out of five I was considered the best. And according to my cousin, Justice Adeoba, the play was an Oscar. That day, Bayo Awala was the emergency babalawo I got to take care of my husband, the Oba
That was how you got the role of Oba Eleyimi’s wife and played it until the programme was rested?
How Would describe Village Headmaster to novice in the theatre or the new generation in Nigeria?
Village Headmaster was the Nigerian Utopia. It was like the ideal that we would have expected Nigeria to be with people taking care of other peoples’ interest: The Oba was honest, trying to follow laid down rules and regulations and his chiefs were orderly and straightforward to ensure law and order prevailed. It was a beautiful thing because every episode taught a life lesson.
How can you explain that?
I must confess that I used some of the role in my domestic life. There a case in point when as Oba Eleyimi’s wife, I approached him for money and he said he didn’t have money. I went and searched his Agbada and I showed him the money I had found in there. In real life, my husband told me he didn’t have money when I asked him for some. I searched his pocket and I found N1,000 and showed him from a distance. He stood up and I ran out and neighbours showed him the shortcut to get me. Later, I gave him the money when we got back home. But when he saw me waling to the studio at a distance he was worried and from that day, he gave me money before I asked.
When you said Village Headmaster was the Nigerian utopia, one could say it some how reflected a more ordered Nigeria than what it is today. If the sitcom were reactivated, would it reflect modern day strife stricken, corruption ridden and insecure country?
We would be examples for younger people to change. It is better for the young to mimic the old: evolution is better than revolution. Members of the cast who are alive still band together. Many of us have played out that community life in Village Headmaster in our real life situations. Many of us act in Nollywood and when some of our producers have adverts to do in the media, they reach out to some of us. If any were sick for example, we rallied round the affected. Every villager is still a member of the village.
We still love each other’s company even though we may sometimes disagree. So life continues. What is true for us is also true for society.
Mr Alaba Ayodele, played the role of Emeka, the journalist in VH
I came in from the 80s. I played several roles like a beautiful headmaster from Jebako Village, then as a police, until I got the permanent role as Emeka, the journalist.
Why did you have to go through those roles, Just to fill in the gaps or because you are not a trained actor?
No, when you come into the group, they give you the role that was available at that time assigned to you, it was the particular role that was available at the time that you get. Except if the writer wrote for a particular character, and producer had to cast you in that role, that is a different ball game. When you talk about professional artist, you should also remember that there are those who are naturally talented artists: Education helps to sharpen your skills, give you the rudiments and a wider scope.
What is your take about the commemoration?
I think it is quite good. You see, one thing about Nigeria is that we tend to forget our past and that is why we are going through so many problems today. When are you look at situations in the country in the 60s, 70s, the 80s and even up to the 90s compare to what is going on today, you start asking yourself how did we get here. History plays no part in our lives. Anybody who forgets his or her past cannot move on with life well. You must ask and know where you are coming from and know what you need to improve upon. That is not the case in Nigeria. Village Headmaster was one programme that people used to rush home on Sundays to watch. At a time it was changed to Thursdays. Why were people rushing home to watch it? Because it was very entertaining, it very educative and it was correctional of the social goings on in the country. It was a way of feeding back to government the impulse of the people. Village Headmaster was Nigeria. With drama, you can change society. We had programmes like Samaja, Hotel de Jordan and Zebrudaya
There is talk about that it may stage a comeback. Do you think it would be able to attract a new audience from the 65 per cent youthful digital population?
Everything about life is about time and dynamic. Village Headmaster was not a static village. It was a village that developed with time. Soldier comes, soldier goes, but the village remains. So definitely there are some offspring of the village that have travelled abroad and came home and would want to bring in new things. So what we are saying is positive development, so village headmaster has a lot to offer. Even the younger ones who had heard about Village headmaster would be curious enough to want to know about it. And Village Headmaster would interest them because it would be about the past and the present and what we want to project into the future. I had course to ask people what they liked in Village Headmaster and the say it connects them to their towns and villages. Such things made it unique. So it may have more audience because it is a brand.
Julie Cowan. I am not an actor, but I was coopted into the VH family.
You look young. When did you join the cast?
That was in 2017. I am just part of the cast to mark the anniversary.
So you are the bridge to the future because there is talk about a revival of VH?
(Laughter) I had watched it when it ran in the 80s and 90s and I was blown away with it. The VH cast did it for the fun and the love they had for acting. Many who participated left their lucrative jobs for the programme. And they made some impact at least symbolically. Today, we hear of the name Amebo, Gorimapa, (gorigoris), Okoro, they all originated from VH. (Laughter) The programme in each of its series had a story to tell and so much to teach.
What can you say about the commemoration?
I feel proud to be acting along these super heroes. I loved the programme. I am yet to be allotted a role, until the scripts comes out. But I would be willing to play any role just to celebrate these super heroes. They taught seamlessly with their professional delivery of the characters they depicted in the VH.
Pastor Festus Ayo Ogunye, acted in VH first as Teacher Solomon and then as Oroge, a contractor in Oja village
Are you a member of the first cast in 1965?
No, I was brought in 1975 as Teacher Solomon and when the programme was reintroduced as New Village Headmaster in 1978, I got the role of Oroge, the contractor of Oja.
You know in those days VH portrayed happenings in the society and the government of the day. And the programme was used to give solutions to the happening in society to the government. But did they listen? We would not be in the mess we are in today as a country.
How were you able to transit from one character to the other?
That is what is called acting is in my blood. Besides, I read drama in the University of Ibadan and have been acting since in 1968 with Western Nigerian Television Service. Those days, we used to do Tuesday programme called Nigeria Arms Chair Theatre founded by Paul Urika from Rivers state, then in the University of Ibadan
How many members of the New Village Headmasters are you still in contact with today?.
Well, I want to thank God for my life. We have past through many tribulations but God had seen us through them. Many members of the cast have gone, like Oba Eleyimi, Counsellor Balogun, Justice Esiri, who was the Headmaster, Garuba, Sisi Clara, Femi Robinson and some others. But in a village people die, go and come but the village remains.
Did you stay till 1995 when the programme was stopped?
No, I was working with West African Breweries makers of trophy beer at the time and I was transferred to Ibadan as a manager to cover Oyo and Kwara states.
If the programme were revived today would you still participate?
Why not?. Once an actor, always an actor. I am acting now in Yoruba and English films. In fact ,in December last year I acted in a Yoruba film, Kumoja and I went to Idi iroko and acted as an hotelier.
As a trained actor, what would you say about acting today compared at the time of Village Headmaster?
Today they are growing with the times. We have some good actors, currently who are doing fine. Those days we had the likes of Wole Soyinka, Jimi Solanke, Oyelanan, late Wale Ogunyemi who were doing fine, but many of us still acting are doing fine too.
Mr. Yinka Ogundaisi, the troublesome Babaeleron, the Butcher in VH
I joined the cast in 1985. I think the commemoration is to bring the surviving cast and crew together to let the younger generation know where it all started. VH is one of the best Nigeria television programme. The packaging of the programme for possible revival is going on. But it is too early to speculate. When it is settled, getting the cast together would be sorted out.