Chief Eleyinmi (Oba Funsho Adeolu) is dead

Culled from the Nigerian Guardian Newspaper . Editorial of Thursday 11th September 2008.

The Alaye of Ode Remo, Oba Funsho Adeolu, Sataloye II, died recently in a London hospital. He would have been 77 in December. We condole with the people of Ode Remo, Ogun State, and the cast and audience of Village Headmaster, the popular but now rested television series which captured the imagination of the public in the early 70s and 80s, and in which the late Oba Adeolu was one of the leading and memorable actors.

Oba Adeolu was well-known for his inimitable role as Chief Eleyinmi in Village Headmaster; he will be remembered for the creativity, the panache and the wit that he consistently brought to bear on the interpretation of his role, and for his love of the arts. Village Headmaster created by the then NTA Lagos Director, Segun Olusola, later Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, was peopled by actors and actresses of exceptional talent who, individually and together, brought life to their respective fictional roles under production conditions that tested to the limit, the creativity of all who took part in the project and, even more so, their improvisational ability.

The television series ran at a time when directors had to make do with the most basic material resources available. Much more than raw talent was required from every member of the cast. It is a credit to the Village Headmaster team that everyone lived up to their respective challenges with the result that, for the many years that it featured, Village Headmaster achieved a must-watch status for an audience that cut across all ages and classes.

Morally clean and genuinely entertaining yet didactic on the issues of personal and community life the play was the authentic family sitcom. It offered a truthful portrayal of life in an archetypal Nigerian village, with emphasis on double entendre, Nigeria’s cultural richness and the diversity of its people.

Oba Adeolu as Eleyinmi was in a class of his own; Village Headmaster was superbly enriched by Chief Nicodemus Ologbenla Eleyinmi, second in command to the Oloja of Oja, and as he would never let the chance go to declare “the Chief Justice of Oja Customary Court”. The late traditional ruler also acted in film productions, including Things Fall Apart and Out of Africa. But without doubt, he was in his best elements as Eleyinmi. It is no wonder that he has been rightly described as ‘a colossus of the drama genre and cultural icon’ by the government of Ogun State.

The late Oba Adeolu studied at the Ahmadu Bello University and the London School of Journalism and worked at various times at King’s College Lagos as a teacher, Texaco Nigeria Limited as Area Manager, and Rank Xerox Nigeria Limited as Training Manager. He also had a stint as sports commentator with the Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation from where he moved on to set up the sports department at Television House. In 1977, he went into private business in the line of Public Relations, Advertising and Film Production. He was crowned the Alaye of Ode Remo in 1990; he became a Justice of Peace in 1991. In 1997, he received the national honour, Officer of the Order of Niger (OON).

Village Headmaster was one of several locally produced television programmes that ranked high in both entertainment and educational values while they lasted. In the 70s and 80s, examples of such programmes which indicated the vibrancy of the local television industry and the richness of local creative talent included Icheoku, Hotel de Jordan, The Masquerades, Cock Crow at Dawn, Samanja, Jagua, Mirror in the Sun, and Behind the Clouds. However, there is now a regrettable decline in the production of such genuinely indigenous television series and an increasing over-dependence on imported television content.

This imbalance in programming has implications for information flow and the integrity of television programming in Nigeria, but the National Broadcasting Commission, the regulatory agency has been negligent in enforcing the rules. At the moment, Nigerian television viewers are hooked on imported soap opera, from everywhere else including Latin America, aired liberally on Nigerian television.

Oba Funso Adeolu’s performance as television actor and the impact of programmes such as the Village Headmaster attest to the need to provide more support for the development of local content and ensure balance in television programming. As a traditional ruler, Oba Adeolu attracted attention to his home-town of Ode Remo and used both his influence and goodwill for the benefit of the community in terms of development and the maintenance of peace and stability. He is the third member of the Village Headmaster cast to die in recent times, the other two being Joe Layode (Teacher Garuba) and Oba Wole Amele (Councillor Balogun) who also ruled as theAlara Aromoko of Ekiti

The fondness with which members of The Village Headmaster cast and other actors in the television series of old continue to be remembered by the Nigerian public should provide useful lessons for the present generation of Nigerian artistes, particularly members of Nollywood, Nigeria’s local movie industry.