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The Village Headmaster tapes are missing, Teacher Ogene laments

By Benjamin Njoku
Rested television drama, The Village Headmaster, created and directed by Ambassador Segun Olusola, was an indigenous script built around a cosmopolitan Nigerian village with all shades of characters and mountain -sized egos.

Drawing huge popularity, the TV drama featured Melville Obriango, aka Teacher Ogene, a son of Nembe, Bayesla State in the early 80s. HVP cornered him in the Vanguard office  within the week. In this interview, Obriango appraises Nollywood, why most members of his generation are staying off camera at the moment, amongst other issues raised.

Teacher Ogene of The Village Headmaster was always on shorts with long socks pulled to his knees and a biro stuck in his breast pocket, an admirable character. Why are you off camera these days?

I didn’t deny Nigerians my acting talent on screen… The fact is that we have played our own parts and made our own impacts in the past. We kind of bowed out to create rooms for the younger ones to come on board and do their own bidding.

However, the sorry side of it all is that there is no continuity on the part of both the new and the older generation of actors. Like we did in the past, we leant the art from the likes of Jab Adu, Bassey Okon, Teddy Okoro, Solomon Oyekari and many others.

They were the older actoors that trained us, and we were kind of expecting the new generation of actors to learn to look back  and integrate the older artistes  into the scheme of things as a way of  learning the rope and tricks of the art form. But that never happened.

And it’s like a case of a child telling his father that I’m grown up and would not be subjected to learning anything from him anymore. I think this is what is going on at present. It has affected our sense of history. And to me, it’s a sad development. As I speak with you today, some of the old tapes of The Village Headmaster are no longer in the archives.

It’s a very sad situation in this country. I pity this younger generation because at a point in history, there will be nothing to show  for their creativity. If it happens, then it will roll back to the same situation that  I’m referring to here. We are always in the act of breaking the chain, and this is a sad situation indeed.

Let’s say you have a crowded schedule, or you are no longer given roles in films?
The truth about the whole thing is the fact that the younger actors feel that they have come of age, and really do not think  it’s necessary anymore to learn anything from the experience of the yesteryear actors.

That’s the position of things. The older actors like most of us are no longer considered vibrant enough to be engaged. Suddenly, you now behold  our home videos adorning every nook and cranny of this country.

And you begin to wonder, regarding the characterisation, scripting and the storyline, which really don’t go down well with our culture. I was expecting that the emerging film makers would conduct more  researches into the art of film making in Nigeria, or better still explore the experience of the old hands or consult the archives for direction. But this never happened.

It’s  not because we decided to abandon the profession. No, every seasoned actor would like to be on set all the time.

Our efforts are not appreciated by the new generation. As a result, we have decided to stay off the screen , believing that we have played our own parts. But generally, the larger society still appreciates what we did many years ago. We are not integrated into the scheme of things in the industry.

Moreover, during our days, we didn’t act because we wanted to make so much money which the emerging actors are aspiring to earn today. We acted because the stories were very strong and good. We have great writers in the likes of Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi. Their works are wasting in the archives. Our present day film makers are not thinking of exploring these materials in their films.

The history of this nation is what these great writers have actually put down for us to explore. But while the writers are ignored and their works not appreciated, then the nation is losing so much. The Village Headmaster had a culture, and that was the culture we really explored in our various roles. A lot of people knew that once upon a time, the village heads in  Nigeria started drinking palm-wine with calabash.

To me, this was very fantastic. I preferred drinking palm-wine to the brewed beer, and The Village Headmaster had a lot to offer in terms of what we were, and where we were coming from and as to where we should be going to. So, it isn’t the case of creating rooms for the new generation, rather it is the problem of bad scripts and casting. These scripts are not good enough for some of us. I must confess to you.

What’s wrong with the storylines?

The storylines are not powerful and strong enough. The stories are not part of our culture. You cannot write a script by merely showing business partners plotting to kill themselves; or write a script depicting a rich man who uses his servant brought from the village to make money ritual.

That’s not part of our culture for goodness sake!  We have a very  rich  dynamic cultures from the North to the West, East down to the South-South parts of this  country. Why are we shying away from portraying the good cultures of our people in our films? Again, the lines are not dramatic. They are purely lines of everyday spoken language, and it doesn’t excite anybody again.

At a point, the return of The Village Headmaster was muted. Would you have returned to the screen?
Why not? Of course, I would have returned to the screen

I acted in The Village Headmaster for years. In fact, there’s a plan right now that we should return to the stage live during the forthcoming 50th Independence celebration.
Have you missed anything since you stayed off screen?

Yeah! I really missed a lot. We took acting as part of our lives. Then, we were acting on weekly basis and we enjoyed what we were doing. In fact, the casts later were like a family because we met every week to rehearse and to act. Truly speaking, I miss the screen and I don’t think I can get it back as it were in the time past. If the conditions are ripe, I hope to return to the big screen.


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