ONE OF THE FIRST FEMALE NTA PRODUCERS
Ms. Debrah Ogazuma is one of the few women producers in the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) in the mid-80s. Ogazuma who produced 52 episodes of a notable programme, Magana Jari, told FLORA ONWUDIWE that after her retirement she explored documentary on women in politics, with special focus on the emergence of women elite in the past.
Explain what you mean when you said drama is didactic…
Indeed, it is that wonderful combination of illusion and the suspension of disbelief, which lures or invites the audience or viewers into a world where they believe that they’re experiencing the dramatic situation playing out in front of them; that makes it easier for a lesson to be imbibed, even from a Brechtian perspective.
Could you give some insight into work background?
I taught English and Fine Arts as an NCE Teacher in my alma mater, St. Faith’s College, Kaduna, from 1970 to 72 after which I read English with a stint in Practical Drama at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria where I graduated in 1975. I taught English with a lot of poetry as an NYSC teacher from 1975 to 76 at the Holy Child Secondary School at Marian Hill, Calabar, following which I began a career in Film and Television production at BCNN’s Radio Television Kaduna (RTK) which later became NTA Kaduna. NTA Kaduna was where I honed my production skills, through in-house training and at Tavistock House, London. Except for a stint as the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry in the old Kwara State from 1984 to 85, I worked with the Nigerian Television Authority Kaduna, the Network Service of National Productions and at NTA Abuja where I voluntarily retired in early 1995. My life beyond NTA began first as the National Coordinator of WAMNET, West Africa Media Network of Women, in the media which was based in five countries of the sub-region and then as an independent producer beginning in 1995. That was the year of the Beijing World Conference on Women. In fact the genesis of WAMNET had everything to do with the Beijing Conference because it was founded primarily to facilitate the effective coverage of the conference and to build a regional network of gender conscious women in the media both in their professional and social development work.
What impact did the programme, Magana Jari Ce, have on its viewers?
Magana Jari Ce gained prominence as it was transmitted on the NTA Network nationwide. However, the larger audience did not realise that it was being directed by a woman. Because of its complexities, even within the drama genre, people just assumed that it was being directed by a man, not minding the credits. Remember this was 1987. However, besides Magana Jari Ce, to the glory of God, those familiar with my work would mention GIZO’s WEB, a children’s magazine programme, coproduced and presented by the children; A Day In The Life Of This Woman, a one off drama which was a plea for the understanding of the life of a working woman executive and the URTNA award For Dela, a story on forced teenage pregnancy and the manipulation of the destinies of women and girls for political gains. As regards the impact of Magana Jari Ce, I’d like to repeat what I said to the writer and Journalist Chidi Ngangah who interviewed me at the time we completed its running: I felt it had created an avenue for actors in the Northern part of the country to show their talents n a -tionwide; it helped to bring part of Hausa literary history, a classic by Abubakar Imam, to national attention and thirdly, I believe the programme introduced a style of production which is essentially subtle without being ineffective, rather than the fast-moving approach as was the case with most network drama at the time.
What led you to becoming a producer?
First, I was very much interested in stories hence my desire to study Literature in English. Growing up as a teenager I had definite views about what was happening around me, and my father, Mr David Baikie Ogazuma, a pioneer senior civil servant of the Northern Nigerian government, encouraged me to express these views in the presence of visitors. I was also drawn to the creative arts which I expressed in school through Fine Arts and in my love and appreciation of Poetry. Looking back, I realise that all of these came to play in my life as a film and television producer. My skills in Fine Arts which I studied both at St Faith’s College under Mrs Mort, our Bishop’s wife who I believe volunteered to teach those of us who wanted to offer it as a school certificate subject and at the Advanced Teachers’ College for my NCE, later enhanced my studio setting skills; my love for literary appreciation influenced my script writing skills and the training I got from my father and other fine teachers who encouraged me to express myself, prepared me to do same with children artistes and grown actors to bring out their best as I direct them in film and television.
What were the challenges?
There were challenges. First was the challenge of having to quickly prove, right from start, that I was as capable as any other producer, male or female. In my graduating year at the Ahmadu Bello University, I took a course in Practical Drama which prepared me to understand the world of theatre production, directing and interpreting; the passion, the colours, the language or meaning of plays in order to give your own interpretation. In television and film, the interpretation now had to include the language and meaning of shots etc. for whatever impact that you envisage. Overcoming that challenge was similar to my experience as a rather young NCE teacher, just a few years older than my students. I had to quickly demonstrate my competence in the subjects I was teaching, so that I and the students could move ahead to the realm of the joy of knowledge. There was the challenge of generating programme ideas; the search for the right artistes to interpret those ideas and of course, the challenge of meeting deadlines. In those early days every programme was live and studio based including dramas such as SAMANJA and CASE FILE, a courtroom drama. It was only in the Film Unit where I actually started my career in NTV Kaduna as a script writer, that you had the luxury of field location shoot; time to edit and other post production inputs. We gradually started inserting short film clips into studio based productions. They were heady days!
Which corporate body bankrolled Magana Jari Ce?
MAGANA JARI CE was first transmitted on the Sunday 8 to 9 pm belt which had featured popular dramas like VILLAGE HEADMASTER and MIRROR IN THE SUN. These programmes were sponsored by corporate bodies like PZ and Lever Brothers. We had a break in production midway which gave us time to prepare more episodes and when we came back on air, this time on Wednesdays, Bank of the North sustained the sponsorship of MAGANA until the programme came to an end at the 52nd episode.
You were among the few women in NTA when it was about the only TV station before the proliferation of other stations; could you recall the start of Magana Jari Ce?
As a staff of the NTA I was assigned the programme early in 1987, about a year after serving in the old Kwara State Government and a few months after the birth of my son, Sembene. NTA, having successfully transmitted its production of Chinua Achebe’s THINGS FALL APART, embarked on the production of Abubakar Imam’s MAGANA JARI CE, in line with its resolve to bring to a nationwide audience, the rich literary culture of Nigeria on its Network Service. The complex nature of the production meant that I had to swing into action, giving it my all. It was very taxing for the family and myself but as a trained NTA producer/director I, and other members of the production crew, worked in the laid down culture of always meeting the deadline. My indefatigable crew of Bashir Sule, Ibrahim Buba, Abdul Ibrahim (whom you could always count on to give you the most demanding camera angle and movement) Abdullahi Nuhu, Oladapo Yusuf, Yusuf Usman, Harvey Ahmeh, Yahaya Mohammed and Shuaibu Nda Adama who worked in the background as the technical director, all knew that full well. The programme had to be flown to Lagos to be on air at the scheduled time and we were all conscious that the undivided attention and standard expectations of our thirty million viewers must be met.
Who were the notable actors of major roles?
There was Ibrahim Abba Gana, of blessed memory, who played the role of the powerfully wicked and politically wily Waziri. Ibrahim Abba Gana gave an equally powerful performance even away from our Kaduna locations at the NTA Kano studio and at a carefully arranged set on the grounds of Kano Orthopaedic Hospital where he was nursing a broken hip he sustained in a ghastly road accident in the middle of productions. Kasimu Yero, sadly also late, played a few minor but significant roles in the early episodes of MAGANA but his versatility as a performing maestro came to fore in his role as the visiting King of Sirika to Garun Gabas in Part 2 where he brought his parrot Hazik to a storytelling competition with the resident parrot who had now been turbaned Waziri of the Kingdom of Garun Gabas. Ibrahim Buba whose intensity of performance in his role as Prince Musa of Garun Gabas, and whose sustained zeal and constant threatening to join his father, King Abdurahaman, away at the battle front, could only be wisely delayed by the nightly stories of Aku the parrot. Ibrahim is now the CEO of Newage Communications. Ruth Sankey, whose superb performance as the crafty Old Woman and that of Mohammed Sabo as Barakai, both accomplices of the wicked Waziri, brought home to the audience the intrinsic suffering of the oppressed even in such roles in real life. The winning duo of Victor Bagaiya and James Sarki gave a studied and fine performance in their roles as the Dishonest Tailor and the Smart Blind Man in the story Battle of Wits and several other MAGANA hits. Mainasara Idris who was already well known in his role as C.O in the popular SAMANJA series brought a natural dignity to the role of Sarki in a number of the stories. He is now a real life Sarki in Funtua. Mention must also be made of the ace broadcaster, Ahmed Aminu, whose authoritative voice was used in a whimsical manner to convey all the nuances needed to keep Prince Musa away from battle and the Waziri’s trap. I must mention actors like Peter Badejo, Jenkeri Okwori, Salihu Bappa, John Illah and Ahmed Yerima from the ABU axis whose professionalism eased the work of the director, deepened the understanding of the roles they played and brought delight to the audience. I mustn’t forget the uniquely created role played by the late and much loved Rabi Musa Ibrahim, as the sister and confidant of Prince Musa.
What were your aspirations while growing up?
I was your typical bookworm as a child and in my teenage years, so the love of the written word which later translated into the visualisation of words, thoughts moods went through a gradual process. I started out as a teacher, which I loved, then I migrated to television which to me was a further creative and less didactic form of teaching, only now I was communicating with a wider audience and utilising my love for Fine Arts.
What was the content value of MAGANA Jari Ce?
The most striking was the community and universal values inherent in each of the stories told by these parrots: The main parrot Aku, later known as Waziri Aku, Hazik, the failed visiting parrot and Fasih (voiced by the late and beloved Oche Ogiri Little- for whose voice we had to drive all the way from Kaduna to his location at Adesoye College, Offa) the young parrot who was learning the art of storytelling from its father Waziri Aku. The values of integrity, honour, hard work, valor, kindness, generosity, respect for elders and the community, honesty, loyalty, wisdom, knowledge, love and the likes were beautifully brought out in Abubakar Imam’s stories. You shot a documentary, Will the Eagle Soar, and what is the message to the women in politics? The documentary is a-10 episode television documentary of one hour duration each. Its content includes the making of the Nigerian woman politician which features the history of Nigerian women activism; the role of the founding mothers of modern politics such as Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Margaret Ekpo, Gambo Sawaba, Ladi Shehu and the emergence of women politicians and women in public life. Historians such as Prof. Bolanle Awe and Prof. Felicia Ogunsheye, the first Secretary General of National Council of Women Societies, top social scientists and a host of active women and men in politics, academics and the civil society helped us to analyse these issues and many others. Such issues as the political and party minefields; laws that create the enabling environment; pitfalls at the local government, state and national assemblies; the place of women in the civil service and agencies; keeping faith with constituency needs; building a support base at the constituency with traditional rulers, women and youth, financial institution and legislative caucuses and the series finally ended with the need to empower women and girls. Even the title of the series portrayed these.
Does ‘Will the Eagle Soar’ have a grip of what the documentary was intended for?
On a network Current affairs programme, not long after we came back from the Beijing World Conference on Women, Professor Felicia Ekejiuba of blessed memory, the Sub-Regional Advisor of UNIFEM (now known as UN Women), gave the analogy of the participation participation of women and men in governance as that of two wings needed by a bird to fly. That analogy stuck in my mind. When I was fashioning out the proposal it came easily to my mind that our national symbol being an eagle, Nigeria is supposed to soar and if we are to soar we would need equal participation of the men and women of the populace. Anything less will lead to lopsidedness and a ‘bird’ with a lopsided wing cannot even fly let alone soar! The question then for Nigeria is, will we ever soar? Are we ready to put in place all the things necessary for this to happen? Once you start on that trend of thought you also have to include other forms of marginalisation in governance that inhibit the robust growth of the nation.
With an increased number of women in politics, what effect would have on them?
Our women are not docile but I fear that with the repeated and unrelenting marginalization of women in the system, they may be getting rather discouraged. The percentage of women legislators is too low and rather demoralizing! For the documentary to have the desired impact, there is a need to take it to the participatory stage in the various zones of the country. The Ministry of Women Affairs which facilitated the MDG office sponsorship of the documentary series, had envisaged such. This will assist women and other participants to imbibe and possibly run with the message of the series. We need to have a ground swell of young girls, right from secondary school level through tertiary institutions and early career stage, who are aware of the pitfalls that women must be prepared against throughout these stages to develop strategic skills and increase the number of women in governance. Episodes 9 and 10 titled “The song of the Girl Child” dwells on this. It examines even the marginalisation which takes place in election in Student Union politics.
What are your fond memories as a producer?
There were truly enjoyable times that I shared with my colleagues first at BCNN’s Radio Television Kaduna and throughout my NTA period. I must pay tribute to Martha Kande Audu, whom we all called ‘Sis.’ As the first woman producer, she took first, Jennifer Ejembi, then me and others like Lucy Shaguy under her wing. She was indescribably kind and loving to us and we could do no wrong. She was also an excellent director. She passed on a few years ago and we miss her. I recall also fond memories of working with the children on our programme Gizo’s Web and 9 to 14. These children assisted in producing and presenting their programmes in very creative ways and I am glad to meet them today as Aeronautic Engineers, Professional Builders, CEOs of communications companies and the like. My current project is for children and young people.