November 28, 2022

Drama in Nigeria dates to pre-colonial years when local troupes would put on shows at the village squares. However, in the 1940s, filmmakers like Ola Balogun, Hubert Ogunde, and Jab Adu started to create structures like the Ogunde Theatre in 1945. By the 1960s, they had begun to shoot films on celluloid, and the film industry continued to grow. In 2002, New York Times journalist Norimitsu Onishi coined the term ‘Nollywood’, immediately bringing a multi-million-dollar- industry to life. However, scholars and industry experts believe that Chris Obi Rapu’s ‘Living in Bondage’ is the first film to birth Nollywood as we know it today.
In those days, VHS were the order of the day, and later, DVDs. As the markets of Upper Iweka, Onitsha, and Idumota boomed, Nollywood films became a staple across Africa, with a high demand for locally produced films in other regions of the continent.
However, as the movies developed legs to run, so did the stars featured in them. Soon people like Yemi Solade, Clarion Chukwura, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade, Ramsey Nouah, Shan George, Tony Umez, and more became famous across the continent. Films like Glamour Girls, Abuja Connection, Blackberry Babes, Diamond Ring, Rihanna and Beyonce, and End of the Wicked were blockbusters in every meaning of the word at the time.
But the industry needed more. It needed structures that the markets and unions were unable to provide, and piracy was waging a grim war against Nollywood and winning. By 2006, there were already firm ‘first-generation’ Nollywood stars. That same year, Kunle Afolayan made history and became the first director to show his film ‘Irapada’ in modernday cinemas. He repeated the same feat in 2009 when ‘Figurine’ premiered in cinemas and earned over 30 million Naira at the Box Office, a feat at the time. However, with the growing popularity of cinema, several first-generation Nollywood stars started to go on long hiatuses. Stars like Clarion Chukwura became less active, and others like Yemi Solade started to shoot more Yoruba-speaking films than English.
The emergence of cinema and acceptance of Nollywood films as bankable projects breathed new life into Nollywood and began a new era of cinematic excellence – the industry we have today. Still, as a people that appreciate history and culture, even those who have been on a hiatus since before the 2010s are still firmly planted in the minds of fans and inspire a strong nostalgic experience for viewers. Some of the many who took breaks started to make comebacks towards the mid to end of the 2010s. Several stars like Sola Sobowale, Clarion Chukwura, Shan George, Bob Manuel-Udokwu and more are back and better with the benefit of years of seasoning.
In Africa Magic’s latest series, Covenant and Itura, old Nollywood has carved yet another niche. Yemi Solade took on the role of King Jagungbade, the benevolent king of the fictional land of Ibaokuta in Itura and showed fans why he was one of the biggest stars of the 2000s. Covenant gathers more Nollywood royalty to deliver fantastic performances in their different roles. Clarion Chukwura plays Nkechi Ijimakinde alongside another ‘OG’, Antar Laniyan, who plays her husband, the formidable ex-Governor Kane Ijimakinde (MKI). Together, they lead the Ijimakinde dynasty, the most revered among others in Lagos.
They are a political family looking to dominate the whole country, one family member at a time, and if all else fails, one rolled head at a time. The other leading families in the series also have old Nollywood actors leading them. Funsho Adeolu, star of the Nollywood TV sitcom ‘Family Ties’, plays Gboyega James Gbadamosi (GJG), MKI’s arch-rival and the current governor of Lagos state. His family is embroiled with the Ijimakindes. Yet, there is no love lost between them. Nonso Odogwu, who stole hearts playing Swanta’s dad on ‘Just The Two of Us’ in the 2010s, is also in Covenant playing a completely different role as ‘Olorogun Ortega Erhu’. In this series, he is anything but the sweet dad many Gen Zs grew up watching. His character is a senator that wields great power, but he is also a rapist, deceitful, ruthless whore.
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