While there have been countless TV dramas, series and soap operas in Nigeria, some have stood the test of time. Some of these TV shows are part of our cultural fabric and are more than TV content.
They represent a huge part of Nigerian TV culture and history. Without them there wouldn’t be anything to watch on our TV screens.
Going through time for the timeless gems, here are the 20 greatest Nigerian TV shows of all time, in no particular order.
1) Checkmate (1991-1994)
For three years Nigerians were held spellbound by the Sunday night soap opera. Created and written by the late Amaka Igwe, Checkmate was the tale of the aristocratic family Haatrope trying to survive attacks from enemies both inside and outside of the family.
The soap opera introduced many to Ego Boyo, the late Francis Agu, Norbert Young and the charismatic Richard Mofe Damijo who played the role of Segun Kadiri. Checkmate also touched on societal issues such as cultism and polygamy too.
2) The Village Headmaster (1968-1988)
The Village Headmaster is one of the most iconic Nigerian TV series of all time. It ran for 2 decades making it the longest-running series aired on the National Television Authority (NTA).
The Village Headmaster which featured greats such as the late Justis Esiri, Dejumo Lewis, Funsho Adeolu, and Enebeli Elebuwa. The TV series focused on topical issues such as “inter-ethnic harmony, problem-solving and intervention in public affairs, health education and family enjoyment” according to The Nation.
3) Things Fall Apart (1987)
This is another classic TV show produced by NTA. In 1987, the television authority adapted the timeless novel written by Chinua Achebe.
The lead character of Okonkwo was played by none other than Pete Edochie. Other acts in the TV special were the late Sam Loco Efe and Nkem Owoh. The NTA adaptation is one of the best moments of the NTA in terms of producing a flawless TV show that has resonated with many generations.
4) Tales by Moonlight (1984-unknown)
This year, NTA produced a kiddies show that would turn out to be a slam hit. Tales by Moonlight was created by the Director of Programmes at NTA, Victoria Ezeokoli. The 30-minute show was meant to counter the popular USA kiddies programme Sesame Street. Tales by Moonlight was aimed at promoting African folktales.
Initially presented by a lady, Jimmy Solanke would later handle the show. The theme song for the show is perhaps one of the most famous in Nigeria. It was recently sampled by pop star Kizz Daniel.
After a long run, the show fizzled out in the 90s. It did, however, come back on the air in the 00s but it was lacking in impact.
5) Super Story (2001-2018)
Super Story is the brainchild of TV producer Wale Adenuga who is also responsible for Papa Ajasco on TV and on print. 18 years running, Super Story is a unique format that has appealed to the Nigerian audience.
The first season of the show told the story of Suara and Toyin Tomato (played by the brilliant Sola Sobowale). The debut season was a hit which has influenced the success of the following seasons.
Each season tells a different story centred around the lives of middle-class Nigeria.
6) Agbara Nla/Ultimate Power (1992/1994)
Mount Zion Film Ministries singlehandedly took Christian TV content and movies to the mainstream. In 1992, it made its mark with the spellbinding Yoruba TV series Agbara Nla.
The runaway success of the spiritually-themed TV show made it produce the English version which was also another hit. Names of characters such as Ayamatanga have gone on to be part of Nigerian pop lingo.
7) New Masquerade (the mid-80s – mid-90s)
Could we call this Nigeria’s greatest sitcom? Perhaps. Another NTA classic, the 30-minute show featured Chief Zebrudaya alias 4:30 played by Chika Okpala, his wife Ovularia (Lizzy Evoeme), late Chief Jegede Shokoya (Claude Eke), Giringori (James Iroha), and Clarus (David Ofor).
The gang of friends, wives and houseboys dished humour to millions of Nigerians every Tuesday night from 8:30 pm – 9:00 pm. The New Masquerade is one of Nigeria’s most beloved TV shows with an iconic theme song and unforgettable characters.
8) Cock Crow At Dawn (early 1980s)
This was a weekly TV series that was aired on NTA. Sponsored by the Union Bank of Africa, Cock Crow at Dawn was meant to increase the awareness of farming as a profitable investment among Nigerians.
It was created and written by former NTA DG, Peter Igho. The theme song was written by Bongos Ikwe. Cock Crow At Dawn was a product of NTA Jos which is responsible for the production of an array of quality TV shows in the 80s.
Cock Crow at Dawn ran for 104 episodes before going off the air.
9) Papa Ajasco (1996-present)
This another creation of Wale Adenuga. Papa Ajasco was initially a comic strip in the 80s which turned out to be very successful. After an initial movie in 1983, Wale Adenuga adapted it for TV in 1996 starring the famous characters, ‘Papa Ajasco’, ‘Mama Ajasco’, ‘Bobo Ajasco’, ‘Boy Alinco’, ‘Miss Pepeiye’, ‘Pa James’ and ‘Pa Jimoh’.
Heavy on slapstick comedy, Papa Ajasco has continued to make Nigerians laugh for over 20 years.
10 Koto Orun (90s)
In the 90s, this Yekini Ajileye produced TV series was a must watch for anyone in the South-West. It was a Sunday night delight.
The series dwelt on the battle between evil and good forces in a village set in precolonial times. With engaging characters and compelling plots, Koto Orun is one of the best TV series that Nigeria has ever produced.
11) Mirror In The Sun (1984-1986)
With 52 episodes, Mirror In The Sun influenced several other soap operas in Nigeria.
The soap opera was written and produced by Lola Fani-Kayode in conjunction with Cinekraft Ltd. It aired every Sunday on NTA. The theme of Mirror In The Sun revolved around middle-class Nigerians and the satire of upper-class Nigerians. This theme would be prominent in subsequent Nigerian soap operas.
The series featured actors like Larry Williams, Barbara Soky, Clarion Chukwura and Enebeli Elebuwa.
12) Fortunes (1993-1994)
A sensational soap opera that was hinged on the formula of highlighting the lives and times of the rich juxtaposed with middle and lower class Nigerians, Fortunes was big as it came.
Later renamed Mega Fortunes, the soap opera introduced Nigerians to a set of future legendary actors, Liz Benson, Ramsey Nouah, Pat Attah, Regina Askia and others.
Unfortunately, Fortunes wasn’t on air longer but its short run was memorable.
13) Ripples (1988-1993)
The soap opera produced by the Sheikh of Nollywood, Zeb Ejiro was a hit in its day and ran for 5 years interrupted.
Even though Patrick Doyle who played the role of Melvin Dehinde-Phillips left the show controversially, it didn’t stop the momentum of the show.
Ripples also gave a little girl by the name of Genvieve Nnaji her first TV role.
14) Everyday People (early 2000s)
The brainchild of media entrepreneur, Everyday People focused exclusively on the lives of middle-class Nigerians. The movie featured the late Sam Loco Efe, Carol King, Ify Onwuemene, Seun Soremi, Juliet Martin-Abazie, Ignis Ekwe and others.
The theme song was very famous.
15) Basi and Company (1986-1990)
Written and produced by Ken Saro Wiwa, Basi and Company aired on NTA. Filmed in Enugu state, the TV series touched on corruption and African folklore.
The comedy series starred Albert Egbe, Zulu Adigwe, Aso Douglas, Lasa Amoro and was rested after 150 episodes.
16) Icheoku (80s)
If you watch a comedy skit of a translator wrongly interpreting the words of a speaker, the format most likely came from the TV series Icheoku. The comedy series that ran in the 1980s, featured a court translator who made a mess of interpreting the words of a British judge to locals.
The comedic format is still used by many Nigerian comedians till today.
17) Fuji House of Commotion (200s)
An offshoot of Checkmate, the Amaka Igwe directed and produced comedy series hilariously portrayed the unique experience of living inside a polygamous home.
The comedic brilliance of Kunle Bamtefa, Ngozi Nwosu, and the supporting cast made this series one of the greatest comedies on Nigerian TV.
18) Samanja (1973-late 80s)
The hilarious comedy show started off regionally in 1973 in NTA Kaduna and also on Radio Kaduna. It’s soaring popularity got it a slot on national airtime.
Its format was changed to accommodate a larger audience. The language of the show changed from Hausa to pidgin. Set in a military barracks, veteran actor Usman Baba Pategi played the role of Sgt Samanja- a funny soldier with several rib-cracking antics.
19) Palace (1998)
Probably the last true great soap opera that aired on terrestrial TV, Palace was no different from the structure of soap operas- a portrayal of a wealthy family alongside everyday Nigerians with love as a running theme.
What it did bring to the table was elegance and opulence richly produced by Tunji Bamishigbin and Ralph Nwadike. Starring Liz Benson, Foluke Daramola and others, it was an essential soap opera to watch back in the day.
20) I Need to Know (1997-2002)
Starring Nigerian A-list actress Funke Akindele, the TV series was an educative show sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund.
The TV series dwelt on the lives of seven secondary school students dealing with life in their teenage years. HIV/AIDS, and teenage pregnancy were strong themes in the show.
The very popular theme song was done by Kalamashaka. For young people, I Need To Know was a TV series dedicated to them.