Not many know that the Olowu of Owu is a veteran broadcaster and TV producer who reigned in those days at NTA. He was one of those good old hands at NTA during which he produced the epic programme “THE VILLAGE HEADMASTER,” written by the late Segun Olusola.
Not long ago, Kabiyesi told City People the story of how he packaged the programme and changed the face of TV programing in Nigeria. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Tell us how you put together the Village Headmaster programme years back.
I know most people don’t know this. I was the one who started the village Headmaster as its Producer/Director. I was recruited in 1972 from England I was then working for an English stage company. They invited me to work. One man who was a great mover of television in Nigeria, Dr. Christopher Kolade asked me to come and work for him on Television. And I am glad that I was given that opportunity I took it and came home and discovered that the Nigerian Television was broadcasting 4 hours a day from 7,8,9,10,11pm. Television never started in Nigeria as daytime television. No. we used to broadcast for 4 to 5 hours a day. Showing foreign films for 75% of the time. And showing news programme for 15% and special programmes, announcements, news coverage of social activities 10% of the time. That’s all. That’s Television for you. You can watch Hawai O5, James Bond, for hours on end. When I came, the director of TV said we want you to change the face of television. I had been in town for about 2 weeks. I was very excited about watching television to see what is going on. And I felt that was what was going on. 75% British or American jamboree cowboy films. That’s all. 15% was News that must show the President of Nigeria at least 15% of his wife and 25% of his children.
I said “Oga now I understand why you asked me to come. But you must tell me and help me with how do I change this thing without being sacked. How do I survive.” He said, “just go and do what you want to do.” I said: “You know what I will love to achieve? I will love to achieve a situation where we cannot see more than 5% of airtime showing foreign faces.” He said, sure. “Sure. I agree with you. That was Kolade. He was bent on turning things around and I was determined too. In fact, I was ready to go back to England then if they had sacked me.
It’s a long story. There were many people in the station who didn’t like my face. That will be demanding a lot of their attention and it will make them sweat.
So, I called a meeting and I told my team we’ve got to show Nigeria on Nigerian television. I am not employed here to come and show England and America on Nigerian Television. I said it is as clear as that. I told them they have employed me especially to come and do that; some people clapped, some people hissed, some people kept quiet including the most senior people there (I won’t mention names). Some said “look Sanya, its good to have all these ideas but we have problems in Nigeria.
You cannot do drama because there are no professional actors, and there are no professional television or film scriptwriters and there is no money. They went on and on. I said, “why did the boss ask me to change the face of television programming when he knows there is no money to do it.”
Then I went home, I slept and I weighed every angle, every possibility I discussed with my late wife and I sought the opinion of my children at that time. They were grownups aged 12 and 14. They opposed me as I have never been opposed before in my life. My wife said, “what you are determined to do, that you have come here to do is what you should do. Listen to this children ooo. Their thinking is reflective of where they are coming from.
So I was strengthened. Then, I went to one of my colleagues who is now late and I asked him, how they have managed up to that point and he said we sweat a lot. You need to go and buy a lot of handkerchiefs even to do what we are doing.
To start doing all the crazy ideas you are thinking about, I will advise you to think twice. It’s like saying don’t bother yourself. But I was challenged by Kolade, my Oga.
He said I should not listen to anybody I should just go and do whatever I want to do. Nobody is stopping you. I said ok. I ordered all the files of programmes they had done in the past. 8 years of starting Television Nigeria.
I decided that I will start with drama. There were 2 options-one is the Ogunde’s and co. I will follow with music like that of Bobby Benson, Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey. Fela was just coming up. I thought I could create 4 programmes in Music Drama, I thought I would work with Ogunde, Moses Olaiya, Ade Love, Oya Adejobi. At least we can have 2 local plays every day, that would take at least 3 hours of broadcasting every day at least that will be a change I called for the file and I saw an idea written on a page of a paper describing 4 characters living in a village, a school and a headmaster. I said that! This is it. At the end of the 4 short paragraphs describing the village headmaster, I saw the name of late Segun Olusola.
It was his idea. I said beautiful. I was getting my programmes together to change the face of Television but the 1st shock I got was from Segun Olusola himself. He said Sanya you are going into this programme. You remember Lijadu. You remember Wole Soyinka, you remember yourself.
They have all grown old. Then, number 2 you won’t find writers to unite the episodes and I don’t want to do this programme as a single programme drama.
I said I agree with you 100% but I don’t agree with all the difficulties you posed.
I then decided I will be doing my work from home. So, I chose his idea, Village Headmaster and labored for about a week to really write it in television language. They are is ideas not mine but I will rewrite them the television way. He just wrote it as a dramatist, drama for the stage. They had in fact, played the Village Headmaster on the screen and had dumped it for more than 6 years.
In one week I turned it into Television drama language I broke it down. By the time I finished, I had about 20 pages of describing the Village Headmaster as a series. In fact, I decided that we would show Village Headmaster every day. And he remembered he was acting controller of programmes. And I told Christopher Kolade that we were going to have a drama programme that will run every day. He said that is good, go ahead. Segun Olusola said I have warned Sanya. We knew ourselves. I have told him this will not work. That is the controller of programmes speaking. They had not even defined my position. What am I at the television station? I was so frustrated at that time that I even thought I will just abandon them. But I decided that I will not abandon the idea. So, I got to work. They didn’t give me an office which means they were expecting that I will go back. When I thought about it, all I thought was no, I shouldn’t go back. Even if they sack me, I would not go.
I started writing the episodic ideas. In 2 weeks, I had written 1,000 episodic ideas. In other words, ideas that I can give to a playwright and say Mr. A did this, Mr. B did that, this happened, that happened. This is the end. I have been trained at BBC. If I wrote 1,000 episodic ideas, if you have 100 episodic ideas in BBC they will turn your idea into a series. Then I called the next meeting of 4 of us and said to them, this is what you said is impossible abi?
You said I won’t find writers. If I have put down 1,000 episodic ideas if I was not doing anything else I can write 1 episode a week and put it into full-fledge television drama language. They said well ok.
But the man who holds the money, the cash was Segun Olusola, who had told me it is impossible. That is surprising because he was a highly talented dramatist. That really thrilled me but I realized that it may be because he has not had the kind of experience that I have had, not the same training. So he can think and talk the way he likes. So, I wrote the first 3 episodes – full drama for television.
So, I went to Kolade’s office to ask him, how much time do you have? I want to talk to you. He asked me, how much time do you want? I said if I can get just 1 hour, talking to you. He said I can give you one hour on the condition that you will persuade me in 30 minutes. Then I can give you 1 hour. That man is the most thorough administrator that I have met in my life.
I was determined that in 30 minutes I must persuade him. In 30 minutes I was through, I told him all I wanted to tell him. He said nooo you can continue. You can go on. You can go on for another 30 minutes if you want one and a half hours I will give. Then, I knew he had been caught. I told him No. All I want now is for you to give me the go-ahead to produce a pilot episode. He said ok, go do an episode but then don’t let it be longer than 30 minutes. I said why not 1 hour? He said no, 30 minutes. He then explained that if you have to engage people for 1 hour, you have to pay them double.
I think he told Segun Olusola. Olusola now asked me, Sanya where are you going to get the writers? Where are you going to get the actors and actresses? What money will you pay them? He upset me. So, I decided I know what I will do. I decided that even if I was going to use my money I would do that. Or I will go and borrow money from the bank, I will produce one episode, and I am going to give this unconverted opponent of mine the credit I will put create by Segun Olusola. Then I got the shocker of my life of a Television studio, the Nigerian version. It is the most discouraging, the most archaic television camera, sound equipment. I have never seen anything like that before. It was like trying to write with your finger without a pen. I started praying. I was brought up as a Christian and I believe if you pray and ask God for help He will help you.
So, I sent a copy of the script to both of them. And I am telling you, the next morning Segun Olusola called me Sanya, where are you? Where are you having lunch today? I smiled. I told him I usually don’t have lunch. Even up till today, I don’t have lunch. I said that he suddenly became a friend.
I went to Baba Ogunde. He said yes, a gentleman from where? I said from Television in Victoria Island. He said get out. Go away from here. I said No Sir. I have come to tell you about how you brought me up. He said did I bring you up? What is your name? Who are you? I said I am Sanya Dosumu. He said I have never met anybody like that before in my life. So, I told him about my life for 1 week under my mother’s tutelage concerning him, Ogunde. I said Baba I suffered because of you?
He laughed. He spoke in Ijebu dialect. He said where are you from? I said I am from Abeokuta. He said how did he now meet me to the extent that he punished me so much, I told him, he punished me indirectly.
I now told him the story of when he came to show Awero at Centenary Hall, Abeokuta. I don’t know where I got Sisi (5 pence) and I went to the hall to watch the play and they took (toro) from me to enter and kept the remaining half in my pocket. When I got home later that night at 11 pm. my mum asked me where I was coming from, I told her the truth. She shouted Ahh! You want to become a useless person. You want to join those entertainment people. She pronounced it entertainot. I suffered. She beat me well. She abused me. I told Ogunde he was laughing. He went to call 2 of his wives to come and listen. I saw he was enjoying my story. He now told me how they had decided not to have anything to do with Nigerian TV because there are no professionals there. He said they are not trained. He now asked me where did they train me. I said BBC Television. I told him how Christopher Kolade recommended me to BBC for training. I told him I have a degree in drama and that right now I am doing a play for a movie stage company in Slough Square in London. He said haa! I said yes. I have completed it. I have produced it but I quickly came home to come and see our local television. He was shocked. He said you mean you are back here in Nigeria and you now work with the TV station. Haa! They will mess you up. They are not serious people at all. He advised me to leave the TV station with its Hawaii 5 foreign films. I said No Sir. I am a Nigerian I want to improve things.
I told Ogunde all I went through. He now said I should go and sit down and wait for him that he needs to think about it. By the time he came back to me he said he will go back to TV because of me. I now told him my plan. 1 hour with Ogunde every week he will just give us one of his plays and I will screen it and put it on TV. I now told him my plans for Duro Ladipo. He said he will get me all the big names in theatre. But he said he still has to study me for a while to see if I am a serious person.
I was happy. That was how we started. Segun Olusola now asked me again. He said how will you get writers I said I will do it myself. He said it will be tedious. He recommended 3 people to me. He said they are journalists but they can write. I now invited them for the 1st meeting. I gave them ideas and asked them to go and write out plays from them. The excitement was serious. By the end of 2nd week, they had finished writing the plays and put in their own extra inputs.
Within a month, I started sleeping in the television house to get the cameramen and soundmen to do the correct things. The 1st episode was not good I wept. I showed it to Kolade. He looked at it and said this is good. This is Nigerian. This is drama. We understand it. He said forget about what you call the poor quality of the recording. That is the best you can get under these circumstances. I now told him Baba Ogunde is coming to the studio next week, he shouted. He could not believe it. He said you are joking. Ogunde came I recorded. I went to Victor Olaiya, Bobby Benson, by the end of the week, I had gotten about 8 solid hours of Television broadcasting increasing 2 series.
That was how Kolade suspended all foreign programmes for 1 week. He said it was a test. That was how we started. The following week, a lot of women came out wanting to act. Women began to chase me to put them on TV. That was how we started. The cameramen used to make fun of me. They will call me the London man, the BBC man. They suddenly became friendly. Everybody wanted to work with me as a cameraman.
The success never stopped. Even after I left television I was still producing Village Headmaster and still training people on how to do it. For about 8 years, Village Headmaster kept going on, kept showing for about 8 years. It kept ruling the air. Those were the best years of my life. The lesson there is never to give up.