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Peter Igho: Legend in Nigerian Television History

“Cock Crow at Dawn” was iconic, and it brought a fresh breath to television in Nigeria. Here is the visionary leader who gave life to the idea.
April 24, 2024
10:11 am

In an exclusive interview, TNR had the privilege of sitting down with Peter Igho, the force of excellence in Nigerian television. For over three decades, Igho rode, spurred and reined some of the most iconic classics in the Nigeria’s entertainment landscape.


He ploughed the field from which Nollywood bloomed. This was before the proliferation of private television channels, when the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) was the one eye in our living rooms letting us in the world of immersion and escape from the grind. And at the heart of NTA’s success was a talisman called Peter Igho who brought to life the most unforgettable characters and stories and introduced actors who have defined Nollywood as we have it.


Igho crossed the Rubicon of the studio and brought bright sunshine, rivers, exotic locations into our homes, easily recruiting an entire nation into his resonating episodes.


We met a man restless after retirement, an active golfer enjoying the greens, cherishing family time once sacrificed during his tenure as NTA’s producer and executive producer, still scripting, consulting and nurturing young talents.


“Why not just enjoy your retirement?” you want to ask, and he tells you, “He who rests, because he’s retired, will grow rusty.”


Let’s ride into the sunset with Olorogun Peter Igho and watch in rewind the life and legacy of this remarkable man, his story of passion, and unwavering dedication to the art of storytelling.


Igho with Bongos Igwe

TNR: How did your connection with Bongos Ikwe start?

Peter Igho: When I was in secondary school in Kaduna, Bongos Ikwe had a band called Bongos Ikwe and the Rooftoppers. They were the standing band playing every night on the roof top of Hamdala Hotel. Occasionally you could hear him on radio. We all loved Bongos Ikwe’s music.  I got to know all his songs and even sang them at parties. Years later, in 1975, I became a pioneer staff of NTV Sokoto and was head of the drama department. In many of my productions, I used Bongos Ikwe’s songs.


In 1977, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) was born, and a year later in 1978 a competition was organized among all NTA stations to showcase the oneness of NTA. I wrote, produced and directed the entry from NTA Sokoto titled “Moment of Truth.” One striking segment of the movie was when the child of the lead actress died. How do you capture and show the agony of such a woman who had suffered the pain and ridicule of childlessness for many years? Who when she finally gives birth, because of complications cannot have more children and now loses her child barely six months later?


Most actors I had watched made you laugh when they cried, and I didn’t want that. I wanted the viewers to feel her pain. So I decided to use the elements, thunder and rain, to externalize her turmoil and pain.


When she screamed, “My baby’s dead,” I cut away from her to the outside of her house and introduced heavy rain storm with thunder and lightning. Then you see the husband run out of the house looking for her. He sees her in the garden, sitting in the rain. He runs into the rain and helps her up. You can’t tell her tears from the rain. They’re just two wet bowed characters as he leads her into the house, and then you hear Bongos Ikwe’s song, “What’s gonna be is gonna be / what goes up must come down/ what’s gonna be is gonna be/ and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Everybody who watched that drama actually cried with the character at that point.


That was an award winning TV drama I remember.

Yes, we won the competition nationwide. “Moment of Truth” came first. Of course, that brought great attention to me and the station.


Then, the then Head of State came up with an Agricultural government program – Operation Feed the Nation.


NTA also had in mind to produce an agricultural series. As the producer of the NTA drama competition winning entry, I was invited to NTA headquarters to put together a program to support and promote the government agricultural endeavors. And that was what became the ground breaking “Cock Crow at Dawn” drama series.


I knew immediately that there was no better person to produce the theme and mood music than Bongos Ikwue! So, I convinced my Director, V. Ezeokoli to commission him for the job.


I recall vividly that when we met, and he asked what I wanted him to do I reminded him of a song which he had produced years back. A song called “Lagos”.  One of the objectives of “Cock Crow at Dawn” was to discourage rural urban drift and to encourage people to remain in the rural areas and take up agriculture. The song “Lagos” did that well.


Then I told him the kind of visuals I was going to use for the opening montage of the series – the sun rising, children playing in the stream, happy villagers helping each other in their farms etc – Bongos, the true great artist that he is, came up with a classic! He captured everything I’d told him and more:  “Here the traffic never jams/ don’t cost much to buy some yams/ and the neighbors say hello/ and will try to pull you up from down below/ you can even hear the sound of the cock crow at dawn/ Will he ever get there? / Will he ever make it/ Will he ever hear the sound of the cock crow at dawn?”


The theme song worked well with my main character struggling in the urban area— he’s sacked from his job, his children get into crime, and he asks himself ‘what am I doing in town, when I can go back to my village, go to my family land and take up farming. Where there’s peace and quiet. At least, people look after each other, they’re kind to each other. The theme song was and is still a classic.


Igho recognized for accomplishment

 You made the main character Bello suffer a lot in town. Someone in a bus steals his pay off salary and many more woes. And you also made the village frustrating when he decides to go back. Why?

Very true. To have Bello decide to leave town with his family for the village the viewers must be convinced that the problems were too many and that was the best decision. So the many problems we threw at him and his family. Some have asked why we had a main character with Bello’s background: somebody who just finished secondary school, who was working in a low job in a factory, who lived in a face me, I face you compound, who’s dealing with issues like ‘who steal my firewood?’ ‘Who carry my water?’ Take a bus to and from work, didn’t even own a bicycle.


It was a deliberate significant choice. If we had a rich man or a retired top civil servant who decides to take up farming and succeeds, most Nigerians would say it’s because he has the resources and connections. Hence our choice of a main character like Bello who most Nigerians could identify with. His situation and problems are what they experience in their lives.  And when he said, ‘Look, look, look, for my sanity and for the safety of my family, let me go back to the village,’ the viewers understand and agree.


But we didn’t make it easy for him. That’s why the theme song asks the question, “Will he ever get there? / Will he ever make it?” We didn’t make it easy for him, otherwise it will not be realistic. The realism is that nothing good is easy and that’s why when he gets to the village, there’s an Uncle Gaga waiting for him. That’s the crises and conflict we must have for good drama and realism. Bello and his family must work hard, surmount many problems to hear ‘the sound of the Cock Crow at Dawn.’


That was a fantastic memory and a great series. Was television your first love?

No. When I graduated from University in 1972, and I was teaching in Bida Teachers’ College, in the then North West State, I produced a dance drama called, “Ogaga’s Heart.” I like to use the names of people around, especially names that you cannot place within a single tribal context. I use names from any part of the country, so you don’t tag the characters with tribal links.


Igho with Kate Henshaw

Bello is the lead character in “Cock Crow at Dawn.” Does this apply?

Yes. There are Bellos in the north, there are Bellos in the south. The name of the character Zemaye, was one of my colleagues in the NTA, but you can’t say if it’s a northern or middle belt name. Ene. Of course, there are Enes in the north and south. I choose names deliberately. Nothing happens by accident in my productions.


Sokoto is where you became a star. One would have thought Sokoto was so off the track. I believe you grew up in Jos.

I was born in Jos, yes. My father was a tin miner in Jos. Most of my family still live in Jos up till today.  After primary school, I went to a secondary school in Kaduna. After Kaduna, I got into the University of Ibadan to study English Literature and Drama and History. I took part in a lot of departmental plays, and we had Wole Soyinka, Adedeji and Adenugba as lecturers.


I love music as you can tell already. I was in a band in Kaduna and, when I got to UI, I formed a band. Somebody heard me singing and said,

‘You can play Aladdin in Aladdin and the Magic Lamp.’

I was Aladdin. So I came from that background.


I was employed by the Federal Public Service Commission as an education officer and posted to the North West State which comprised the northern states of Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Niger at that time. And when I got to Sokoto, they posted me to Bida to teach in the teachers’ college. And while I was there, I just didn’t want to sit in the class and teach. I put together the students, formed a drama group, and I wrote “Ogaga’s Heart”— a musical dance drama which we performed using Nupe music and dance. Everybody loved it. When the principal saw it, he said, ‘We can’t let it die here.’


So we went to Minna, Kaduna and Sokoto to perform. The governor heard about it, and we had a command performance for the governor. And the governor said, ‘This is what we’re going to enter for the drama festival coming up in 1974.’


The national cultural festival had been going on for a long time. There were twelve states then. At the end of the day, three states were the winners: Mid-West, South East state and North West state. My production was the North West entry. So we went back to Sokoto in a blaze of glory. This was in 1974.


The very next year, the state government started a television station in Sokoto called NTV Sokoto and the director who started it invited me to be part of the pioneer staff. Growing up in Jos with the cinema and all that, I wanted to be part of that experience.


My brothers said, ‘There’s no money there.’


We argued and argued. My father had to intervene.


He said, ‘Let him be. There may not be money there but some day that name, Peter Igho, will open more doors than money can. He was quite prophetic in that.


Igho with Richard Mofe Damijo

You’re one of the first producers to move out of the studio. Was it because of poor studio facilities?

I’m credited with taking drama out of the studio. NTV Sokoto studio was a store converted for television, with low roof. Not enough height to put big studio lights. We had to make do with standing lamps. And even then, we did better than most stations in terms of lighting.


Because I grew up watching movies shot mostly on location – English, American and Indian movies – I wasn’t satisfied with the constraints of the studio.


I started using the news camera, they had a cine camera. The cine camera was 8mm. I’ll use their cine camera to shoot one or two minutes outside and integrate it into the body of the studio material. Slowly but surely, I moved drama outside the studio.


When I was brought to Lagos to shoot “Cock Crow at Dawn,” I shot all of it on location. “Cock Crow” was the first ever drama series shot entirely on location. I shot on 16mm film, sent it to London for processing because we didn’t have film processing laboratories here. One or two would have been edited in Port Harcourt.


But because they were not working, nobody used them. I’d just shoot ‘blindly’ and send to London. Then they’d send me a report that the quality is good. When I get to London, I’ll do the editing: picture editing first, then I’d go to the sound editor to lay on the soundtrack and all that.


It was very tedious hard work, but very professional. That’s why the quality of “Cock Crow at Dawn,” even today, still stands out as one of the best in audio and technical quality. “Cockcrow at Dawn” was the first in so many ways.


When the first portable video cameras came out, NTA Director General, Vincent Maduka, sent my camera man and I to London to be trained on how to use the camera.


I shot the first thirteen episodes on film and the rest on video. So “Cock Crow at Dawn” was the first ever drama series of the NTA shot entirely on location.


It was again one of the first to get corporate sponsorship, which was UBA at that time. It was the first ever drama series with its own dedicated music and equipment. When we were in Sokoto, if you wanted to shoot in the studio, you’d book your time, book your vehicle, and so on. Until you’re allocated time in the studio to shoot, you’d queue because other people are using the studio and all that. But with “Cock Crow,” everything I needed was given to me. I didn’t share with anybody else. I had my full complement of equipment and vehicles and camp.


We have to go back to the scene that drew attention to you, the emotional rain scene in Sokoto. Did you call in a rain maker?

(Laughter). That was one of the magic of “Moment of Truth” and one of what made it win. As I said earlier, I used the rain and thunder to externalize the lady’s pain and turmoil. I was however shooting in Sokoto in the dry season. ‘Where do we get the rain?’ This was 1978.  Even my crew were asking, ‘How are you going to achieve your rain?’


I didn’t tell them. When the day came, I’d planned with the fire brigade to send me two of their vans. When they came, I positioned them and told them “when I say, ‘Action’, I want you to lift your hoses, point them up on top of the house and let both streams meet up there.” The two, one on the left, one on the right, did just that. And I had my rain. In post-production, I laid on the soundtrack of the thunder and lighting and that was my storm.  I threw in Bongos Ikwe’s, “What’s gonna be..”


Now, there are easier ways to do it. But in 1978, it was an incredibly innovative feat. All this was possible because I had a great team, cast and crew, very supportive supervisors and Sokoto was truly home.


There’s a Hausa proverb that says the chick that will grow up to be a cock, no matter the storm, no matter the trouble, it will grow up to be a cock.


Comment on the Vincent Maduka factor in NTA.

Engr. Maduka?



I have mentioned the great supervisors and bosses we had in Sokoto – Dele Angulu, Joseph Babatunde Angulu, Bello Tunau, Kere Ahmed. They were more than just bosses; they encouraged and inspired us to express our creativity and talent in an environment in which we operated as one big family. No wonder Sokoto became the birth place of so many outstanding producers and productions.


When I was moved to NTA headquarters in Lagos, I came face to face with the Pioneer Director General of NTA, Vincent Maduka. I think in the end, looking at everything that happened then and after, Maduka was God sent. He has an amazingly bright mind. His knowledge base is powerful. He’s the one who inspired all of us at the Network level. He showed belief in what we were capable of, and we worked hard to impress him. We wanted to make sure, in his time, so much success came to the NTA through him. And “Cock Crow at Dawn” is one of his bright ideas.


Though an engineer, he provided inspiration for everybody— the news people, the program people, and for me, especially.


He had said, ‘NTA cannot stand out and achieve much if all they did were run of the mill programs. That NTA must invest in major productions. At least one major production every year.’


And so, under him, they came up with the idea of what they called Program Projects. Every year the NTA would invest money and resources into producing a major project. The first one they did, NTA Program Project One, was a documentary series called “Portrait of a Culture,” which was produced by Eddy Iroh and Oyinsan. I think they did about five or six episodes and couldn’t continue.


“Cock Crow at Dawn” was Program Project Two.  Because of the popularity of “Moment of Truth,” they realized Nigerians loved drama. Maduka was the one who gave the inspiration.



In NTA, many people I remember call you Baba. Were you the oldest man?

No, I wasn’t. Tunde Kuboye and his wife had the Baba Awards, and they gave me Baba Producer Award at that time; so, “Baba” kind of stuck. All my staff, even those older than me. Out of respect, admiration and all that.


We went on to produce about seventy-eight episodes of “Cock Crow at Dawn”.  I was taken to Lagos to supervise network productions. There was the director of programs and what they called National Television Production Centre (NTPC), and National Production Centre, (NPC). They were in charge of just production. And we had an MD. I was the general manager appointed under that DG. So I supervised all the network programs produced at the network level. And that’s how come all programs at that time bore my name. I had two managers working under me— Jimmy Atte and Dauda Abari.


Most of the network programs at that time, I either produced or supervised their production as executive producer. That happened to be the golden era of network programs.


We did the “Balamilla Show” and shot that in Kaduna. We did documentaries as well. We did food basket.


We decided to bring local productions to the network. So we brought over “Village Headmaster,” “Samaja” and “Masquerade” to the network and assigned producers at the network level. That’s how “New Village Headmaster,” “New Samanja,” “New Masquerade” were produced at the network level.


I met a young lady who was very brilliant, and I watched one of her rehearsals and invited her to NTA. That was Lola Fani-Kayode with “Mirror in The Sun.” We got a camp for them where they produced “Mirror in the Sun” and used the same camp for “Village Headmaster.” I had a camp in Kaduna for the production of “Samanja” and later “Magana Jari ce” and we had one in Enugu where we had Chris Obi Rapu to direct and Chika Okpala producing. It was a very rich production time, and I was lucky I had a strong team of loyal and creative hardworking people working with me.


Of course I was supervised by the Director of programs, Ezeokoli, Patrick Ityohegh, Abdulrahaman Micika, Idi Jibrin, Bayo Sanda. We worked as a robust team.


You inspired a lot of people. Apart from your biological children – Tony Igho, who’s into Special Effects and Animation, Tosin Igho, who’s into music and directing movies – a lot of people see you as their baba (father). Can you mention a few of the most outstanding?

We’ve inspired a lot of people, we gave opportunities to so many with all those programs, “New Village Headmaster,” “New Samanja,” “New Masquerade,” and “Mirror in the Sun.”


I recall that when they brought back “New Village Headmaster,” I had to convince one of my peers in school to play the village headmaster. That was Justus Esiri and that was his first major outing in Nigeria. When I was doing “Cock Crow at Dawn,” a couple who had been interviewed on the BBC met me when I was editing a series at a place called Roger Cherrills in London, West End. The couple came to see me and that was Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva, who later became his wife. I’d long admired him as an actor in movies. And so when I saw him, I was amazed. We had lunch and he told me what he was doing in the UK and said he wanted to come back home. So there was the program, “Second Chance”— similar to “Mind Your Language.” We invited him as principal of the school and Joke Silva as one of the students in the class.


Another major one is Pete Edochie. When I read Things Fall Apart in secondary school, he was two years ahead of me. I went straight to him in his class and said, ‘Sir, I just read Things Fall Apart. As I was reading the book, I was just thinking of you. Everything about you— the way you walk, the way you talk, your entire carriage— makes it easy to visualize Okonkwo.’


He laughed.


Years later, when we were going to produce “Things Fall Apart,” we went to Enugu with the cameraman in a helicopter, flew around to select locations and we stopped in Nsukka to see Chinua Achebe.


The helicopter landed and we went to his house and said we came to say hello to him. And he was very happy that we came to pay him a visit.


When I returned to Lagos, the director had started shooting with somebody else as Okonkwo. I had to stop the production because I knew who Okonkwo should be. So I drove straight to his house and spoke to him in Hausa.


‘Remember I told you in school that you’re Okonkwo. Come and play your role.’


That was how Pete Edochie got the role of Okonkwo in “Things Fall Apart.” I could go on and on about all of them.


I heard Jide Kosoko making a big statement about you.

He made that statement in a general sense, that I inspired and supported many generations of people in the Industry and opened the path for Nollywood to grow. There were opportunities for all of them who later became the energy of Nollywood.


Let’s go back to Jos. Jos is where you learned the language of cinema, though not a formal setting. Give us an insight into how that happened.

If you recall I told you I grew up in Jos in the cinemas. In those days, of course, there was no television. Not even radio. It was just the cinema houses and growing up in Jos, there were movies in the mornings, afternoons, evenings and at nights.  Going on errands for our parents, we end up going to watch a movie. Whether in the afternoon or evening.


Most of the movies at that time were Indian films. Before the Indian films, there were the English films, American films, the Tarzan series, Captain America, Davy Crockett. Those were the movies that we saw growing up as children.


So, even though we were young, we learned the language of movie images. Growing up in that cinema environment, I’d come to understand what each picture connotes and that helped me years later when I saw them doing my film. The powerful image of each shot, what it’s supposed to do. How it should be. So there was no formal training. I just grew up in the cinema and I grew up liking and wanting to be part of that experience. That’s what the doors of television opened for me later.


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