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Seven Historical Nigerian Subjects Worth Showing on Film

Although seemingly inconspicuous, Nigeria is a nation with a long, rich, and complex history, full of characters and incidents that are ripe for film adaptation.
June 1, 2023
6:05 am
Nigerian soldiers during the civill war

From ancient warriors to contemporary activists, from wars of independence to efforts for democracy, the nation’s past is rife with tales capable of enthralling audiences nationwide and beyond. These tales highlight the breadth and diversity of Nigeria’s history as well as the numerous struggles and victories that have molded the nation and its people over the centuries.


Here are seven Nigerian figures and events that are especially deserving of being adapted for the big screen.


The Yoruba Civil Wars

A Cain and Abel story

The prosperous realm of the powerful Oyo empire is well-known amongst historians. But many laymen –including the Yorubas– are oblivious of its end and subsequent disintegration into smaller city-states. The conflict –which didn’t occur instantaneously but in a series of bloody and bloodless conflicts colloquially known as the Yoruba civil wars– coincided with the encroachment of the expanding Fulani empire to the north and significantly weakened Oyo’s control over the region. It culminated in the bombardment of Lagos in 1851 and subsequent British annexation in the second half of the 19th century under the pretext of abolishing slavery.


Nollywood can, through the power of cinema, depict how greed and political strife cost the once-powerful Oyo empire its autonomy and how the British exploited it to bring it to its knees –quite reminiscent of modern-day neo-colonialism.


The Ijesha war camp

The Nigerian Civil War

A three-year nightmare

You must be thinking, “Isn’t there plenty of literature on this topic already?”. Well, yes. But like with most things concerning African history, not enough.


You should understand something about the Nigerian civil war and wars in general –it is extensive in both event and scope. And in this case, one would be right to say that enough visual literature is lacking considering how profound and far-reaching the impact was: three million fatalities and millions more displaced coupled with the social aftermaths and ethnic divides it sowed is still felt today.


A Biafran soldier

Moreover, the story potential of this three-year event is boundless. Whether it’s being told from the Nigerian government viewpoint, from the Biafrans or from the Mid-westerners caught in-between, or even from the shell-shocked foreign missionaries, a compelling story will eventually shine through. It can serve as an eye-opener to never-before-seen perspectives, help right the wrongs, and uproot the ethnic hatred sowed by the conflict.


How best to achieve this but through the power of cinema and the clout of Nollywood?


British Conquest of Northern Nigeria

The forgotten conquest

At this point, one would be in the right to assume that Nigerians, and by extension Africans, are tired of seeing the same trope of colonization play out repeatedly in the film –Hollywood, to be specific. But trust me. This is different.


Lord Frederic Lugard

Unlike the stories we’ve all read, heard, and seen of British colonizers being Brits throughout the Southern hinterland, their little game of grab in Northern Nigeria is seldom spoken of, much less depicted visually. It often leaves one doubting whether the cold arms of the Brits ever extended to this region at all.


On the contrary, the British colonization of Northern Nigeria is not merely a chapter in the nation’s history but a significant one at that. The establishment of the Northern Protectorate in 1900 marked the official commencement of the conquest of the territories within what is now Northern and Central Nigeria. Initially drawn to the region’s vast resources – as with everywhere else in British eyes – the colonists faced stiff resistance from the Muslim emirs. Despite this resistance, the latter inevitably succumbed to the former’s superior military and economic firepower allowing it to establish political control through an indirect system.


The British conquest of Northern Nigeria built a legacy of exploitation and economic injustice that Nigeria is still struggling with, and it sowed the seeds of political and religious conflicts that still influence the nation today. This, and more, makes a historical drama on the subject all the more imperative. An engrossing movie on the subject ought to provide light on a difficult and contentious moment in the country’s history, compelling viewers to consider the consequences of colonialism and how they still affect Nigeria and all of Africa.


Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Fela Kuti

The man who weaponized music

The father of Afrobeat needs no introduction.


Fela Anikulapo Kuti is no ordinary man in the eyes of Nigerians. For some, he was a revolutionary. For others, he was an icon. A symbol. A god. Such is the reverence given to this man.


Fela used his genius skills to blend various genres of music, including jazz, funk, and traditional African rhythms, to create his signature sound, Afrobeat. But to restrain him to the confines of music is insulting at best.


Despite facing persecution, he used his influence as a tool for social change, becoming a symbol of hope and liberation for millions. Until he died in 1997, he incessantly fought for social justice, often using his long and improvisational songs to explore common themes and express his political views in a poetic and confrontational way.


For an icon who left an indelible mark on the world, it is sad that no movie is dedicated to his life and legacy. A film about Fela Kuti should not only celebrate his life and legacy but also should shed light on the struggles faced by millions of people worldwide fighting for their rights and freedoms. It would be a powerful tribute to a true revolutionary, a man who dared to dream of a better world and never gave up on that vision.


Perhaps Nollywood – and Hollywood too – would love to rethink and give this man the immortalization that befits him.


Usman dan Fodio

Usman Dan Fodio

The tale of a visionary scholar

Southern Nigerians would be forgiven if the name “Usman dan Fodio” doesn’t strike a match or two in their minds. But the reverse is the case for those living up north. The man credited with the spread of Islam in Nigeria is elevated to a god-like status in third areas.


Usman Dan Fodio was a visionary Islamic leader who played a crucial role in shaping the history of Nigeria and, by extension, West Africa. His early 19th-century jihad against the ruling elites of the Hausa kingdoms led to the founding of the Sokoto Caliphate, one of the largest and most powerful states in West Africa.


Dan Fodio’s efforts in transforming the social, cultural, and political landscape of Northern and Central Nigeria, as well as laying the foundation for a new era of Islamic scholarship and governance, cannot go unnoticed. Not that it is – his course has been well documented by historians – but we risk losing the value this great scholar’s name holds. And although debates as to his revered status still linger – as he waged a war that killed and changed tribes permanently – one cannot deny that Dan Fodio’s legacy as a religious leader and political visionary continues to be felt in Nigeria and beyond.


A movie based on Dan Fodio’s story will surely resonate with contemporary audiences because it touches on themes still relevant today: his struggles against tyranny, corruption, and inequality are all too familiar in our modern world. If done right, it can serve as a go-to reference on using visionary leadership as a catalyst for effecting lasting change since this is an attribute that needs to be imbibed by Nigerian leaders.


Queen Elizabeth in Africa

The 1914 Amalgamation

The birth of a nation

Few events in Nigeria’s history are as pivotal as this one.


The 1914 amalgamation birthed the nation of Nigeria as we know it. It saw the joining of two British protectorates, distinct in more ways than one, into a single country – a move purely incentivized by financial motives and not the trope we often hear and read.


At the heart of this story is the character of Lord Frederic Lugard, the man behind the move. He is so infamous in Nigeria that a mere mention of his name can temporarily inject a pause in the insistent ethnic scuffles in Nigeria. A controversial figure within and without, the British colonial officer with a Hungarian-clad mustache is credited with kickstarting the event that made –and marred, by various arguments – Nigeria.


Despite being a significant turning point in the nation’s history and shaping generations to come, the 1914 amalgamation has yet to receive the cinematic treatment it merits.


Surely, it is right that an event as cataclysmic as that grace the silver screen, not only to avoid repeating the mistakes made back then but to give an insight into the thinking of the British colonial officers of the time of their colonies and its people.


Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther

Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther

First African bishop of the Anglican church in 1864

It is no farce to say that Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther is one of the most influential figures in African history.


The child slave-turned-bishop who managed to overcome his adversity and go on to become a pioneering missionary linguist is very familiar with Nigerians. Convinced that translating the Bible into the local languages would help spread Christianity and literacy among the people –as well as help to preserve their cultural heritage– he ventured to translate the texts into Yoruba and other native languages. His greatest achievement –besides his role in abolishing slave trade and spreading Anglicanism in the interior– may be developing a writing system for the Yoruba language, allowing it to be written and printed for the first time.


Mere auditory tales fail to do justice to the tenacity, faith, and knowledge of Samuel Ajayi Crowther. For a man whose legacy continues to be felt today, it is bewildering why no movie centered on him has been conceived yet.


In addition to being an interesting and educational historical drama, a film on Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther would also be a fitting homage to a man whose life and work have had a significant influence on the continent of Africa and the rest of the globe –one that can be achieved through the power of cinema and the clout of Nollywood.


There are other Nigerian historical turning points too numerous to be noted here. In the end, a film on any of them would serve as a reminder of the rich cultural heritage of Nigeria and the continent at large and of the power of storytelling to preserve and celebrate our shared human experiences.


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