ENTERTAINING OUR CHILDREN ON NIGERIAN TELEVISION
Growing up in Lagos-Nigeria as a child around the 1980s and early 1990s was without doubt a very eventful and memorable period. While our parents and other grownups back then spent their time pondering and worrying about the drowning economy, value of the naira, new price of bread and petrol or the next military coup, some of us were busy enjoying our childhood.
As children, our routine was streamlined from Mondays to Fridays; go to school early in the morning, close from school in the afternoon, get home around 3pm, put on the television, stumble upon rainbow colour lines with background music and wait for NTA to start its programming by 4pm. Once the national anthem starts playing, we all rush to the telly and for the next two to three hours, we stay glued to our television set. Weekend television programming was also somewhat exciting especially on Sunday evenings when we look forward to watching ‘Tales by moonlight’ and by 8pm, the latest Nigerian soap opera would air. All television and radio stations were owned by government up until sometime in the early 1990s when private stations began to emerge.
The Nigerian television authority of yester years unlike what obtains today, succeeded in developing and broadcasting good quality children television programmes, both local and foreign. There was a healthy balance between the local and foreign content that we were exposed to, and most children television programmes of those days ensured that education and ‘morality’ were consistent themes in almost all episodes and seasons. I still remember many stories from ‘tales by moonlight’ whose moral lessons are still with me even now that I’ve got my own children. As it were, the foreign kiddies’ programme was basically used to meet our educational and entertainment needs while the local ones took care of our moral education with some entertainment.
Even though the quality of puppets and Muppets used on foreign kiddies shows outclassed our locally made ones, we still embraced both and learnt effectively from them. I remember a certain local puppet TV character called ‘Kunkuru’ but can’t seem to recall the story line.
From the mid 1990s up till this present day, things began to go really wrong. The advent of private television stations instead of complementing the existing local content in children’s programming by government owned stations, actually killed it. These private stations began to import and broadcast old worn out kiddies’ programmes, television shows that enjoyed very poor ratings from their countries of origin. A lot of garbage was now being fed to many Nigerian children, as it’s still being done today.
The Nigerian writers and crafts people who were skilled in producing local children’s television entertainment were left to evaporate into the labour market. Some stayed on and tried to reclaim their lost glory but till this day, they have failed woefully in igniting the sort of impact they once had on us when we were kids.
The introduction and expansion of Cable / Satellite television even compounded the whole situation, as we now had foreign television stations which offered twenty four hours kiddies programming and unlike most private Nigerian stations which aired old worn out programmes, these foreign satellite stations aired the very latest. Today, if you walk into any primary school in Nigerian urban centres, you’ll most likely bump into kids talking about Ben 10, Dora the explorer, Barney, Teletubbies and the list goes on. You are most likely not going to hear about any local Nigerian children’s programme.
Unfortunately, whenever you do hear these children mention anything Nigerian, that would be when they are singing D’banj’s ‘Oliver Twist’ or ‘Kurukere’, songs that are clearly very inappropriate for their age. During my time, you would’ve also heard us as kids talk about foreign kiddies shows such as Sesame street,Voltron or Fraggle rock but on Monday mornings, you’ll be sure to hear us talk about last Sunday evenings stories on ‘tales by moonlight’. On a not too pleasant note, you would also catch us scaring ourselves silly with the Abiku’s and Willy Willy ghost stories.
Today, lots of Nigerian parents are not fully satisfied with the way their children are turning out. Yes, we can blame the falling standards of education in Nigeria but be rest assured that a lot of children learn more from television than from the classroom. We have unknowingly disorientated many of our children by exposing them solely to foreign characters and cultures through television, when they grow older, some of them find it difficult behaving in an appropriate traditional African manner. They end up wanting to become like the ‘oyinbo’ children they grew up watching. This state of confusion is sometimes responsible for the prevalent waywardness amongst many Nigerian children.
In fairness, many local television stations are presently trying to improve on their local content for children’s programming. A lot of Private stations have developed many kiddies’ programmes but my problem with some of them is that the types of children often used in the production of these programmes appear to be strictly ‘aje bota pikins’ from private schools. Also, the theme(s) of their shows do not really appeal to Nigerian children of all classes. Unlike the Nigerian children television characters of those days who could pass for the kids next door. What we see sometimes are wealthy looking ‘Agric’ children seen playing video games, visiting exotic locations, using expensive toys and discussing issues that do not concern a Nigerian child from a low income family, attending a public school.
Recently the Nigerian television authority began airing a localized version of the very popular Sesame street, ours being called Sesame square. It’s not a bad move but how about giving it a truly Nigerian or African feel? How about merging Sesame square with, again ‘tales by moonlight’ such that the Muppet or Puppet characters from sesame square are used to visually illustrate morally sound Nigerian stories coming from ‘Aunty Story teller’? I’m just saying!
There’s nothing wrong in exposing our children to the best of kiddies’ entertainment that the world has to offer, but we must not allow them to become oblivious to our own healthy cultural norms and mannerisms. A balanced combination of local and foreign children’s television programmes will certainly educate, entertain and bring out the best from any normal Nigerian child.
In a standard scenario, Nigerian children entertainment practitioners should put on their thinking caps and come up with more creative ways of engaging Nigerian children over the air waves. Such a move should also attract huge financial benefits to the producers, if well harnessed. After all, American Kiddies sensation-Barney is worth over $200million, money made from merchandising, kiddies’ adverts, endorsements, promos etc.
Surely, in today’s Nigeria creating a popular Nigerian television character for Nigerian children should attract the interest of Nigerian companies involved in products directly or indirectly related to children, right? WRONG.
A young Nigerian animator-Mr Adamu Waziri has since created a Nigerian children’s cartoon show called Bino & Fino, it’s presently being aired in South Africa and the United Kingdom. But guess what? Mr Waziri has been struggling to air his Nigerian Kiddies cartoon show on Nigerian TV stations. Why? Most Nigerian TV stations are asking him to pay or buy air time on their respective stations, and major Nigerian corporate sponsors are still not forth-coming.
Many big Nigerian corporate organisations would rather spend millions of Naira in engaging foreign children’s cartoon characters, be it a lost Hispanic child or a drunken purple dinosaur.