Screenwriting in Nollywood: The Screenwriters behind some of your favourite Nigerian movies and TV shows in 2023

Dec 4, 2023

Making a movie is like building a pyramid. Before the world sees the grandeur on the red carpet premiere, countless hands and minds have labored tirelessly behind the scenes to bring the idea to life.

It takes a village and, more often than not, this journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step taken by the screenwriter. This unsung hero lays the first set of bricks to create the foundation for the rest of the towering structure: the screenplay, which is the blueprint of any production. Without it, there is no north star to follow.

Screenwriting is hard anywhere in the world; however, it feels like a really thankless job in Nollywood as very few moviegoers care to know who wrote the movie they enjoyed watching. We take a step towards changing this narrative by celebrating screenwriting in Nollywood.

This piece spotlights the screenwriters behind some of the most impactful movies and TV series that made 2023 memorable for movie lovers.

In no particular order, these are the screenwriters behind some of your favourite Nollywood movies and TV shows released in cinemas and streaming services in 2023.

 

Jade Osiberu (The Trade and Gangs of Lagos)

Jade Osiberu - Screenwriting in Nigeria

Jade Osiberu | The Trade | Gangs of Lagos

Jade Osiberu, serving as both a director and screenwriter on these projects, directly shaped two of the biggest crime dramas from Nollywood in 2023. She collaborated with Kay I. Jegede to co-write Gangs of Lagos.

Gangs of Lagos,” a result of her lucrative deal with Prime Video, showcases her journey from humble beginnings to an enviable filmography that includes titles like “The Trade” and “Brotherhood,” all streaming on Prime Video.

 

Xavier Ighorodje (Shanty Town) – Screenwriting in Nollywood

Xavier Ighorodje Screenwriting in Nigeria

Xavier Ighorodje | Shanty Town

Shanty Town gave us an exciting start to the movie year. Released on Netflix in January 2023, the 6-episode crime drama, portraying a group of courtesans attempting to escape a notorious kingpin’s grasp, thrilled viewers worldwide, effectively setting the mood for the gems to follow later in the year.

Shanty Town is the brainchild of Xavier Ighorodje, a talented screenwriter who has helmed the affairs of the movie writer’s room as Head Writer. Ighorodje has had a good year with many other high-profile releases with writing credits to his name, including Slum King and Anatomy of a Predator

When asked to share a good trait upcoming screenwriters could imbibe to help them hit the pinnacle of their careers, in a chat with Albantsho, Ighorodje said, “Persevere. Learn. Grow. A writer is someone who writes. So leave Twitter and write.” We couldn’t agree more.

 

Bunmi Ajakaiye and Editi Effiong (The Black Book)

Bunmi Ajakaiye and Editi Effiong

Bunmi Ajakaiye and Editi Effiong | “The Black Book”

Director Editi Effiong gave us one of the biggest movies to come out of Nollywood to the world in The Black Book. The action movie that saw a former hitman come out of retirement to find his son’s killer is currently the biggest Netflix Original from Nigeria. The original idea was Editi Effiong’s, but it’s his collaboration with Bunmi Ajakaiye, a renowned filmmaker in her own rights, that helped get the movie’s screenplay set. 

Bunmi Ajakaiye revealed in an Instagram post the kind of effort that was put into getting the script for The Black Book ready. She said that she and Editi Effiong “wrote this masterpiece together on the floor of his office in 2020”. Today, it is a celebrated entry into the Nigerian filmography. 

Bunmi Ajakaiye and Editi Effiong previously collaborated on Up North, a 2018 movie that’s also streaming on Netflix. 

 

CJ ‘Fiery’ Obasi (Mami Wata)

CJ Obasi | Mami Wata

From Sundance to touring various film festivals and theatres around the world, to its homecoming in Nigerian theatres last September, CJ ‘Fiery’ Obasi’s Mami Wata has had a very busy year. Most recently, the fantasy thriller received a Best International Film nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards. With all the buzz and accolades it’s received, it would be disingenuous not to consider Mami Wata as one of the biggest movies out of Nollywood ever.

Produced by Oge Obasi and written and directed by CJ Obasi, Mami Wata tells the story of a village whose harmony is threatened by outside elements. Two sisters rise up to fight to save their people and restore the glory of a mermaid goddess to the land.

Mami Wata is set to represent Nigeria in the coveted Best International Feature Film category at the 96th Academy Awards. If officially nominated by the Academy, it’ll make history as the first Nigerian movie to make it that far on the prestigious world stage. Even better when it wins.  We’re really rooting for this movie. Go, Mami Wata!

 

Tunde Babalola (Ijogbon) – Screenwriting in Nollywood

Tunde Babalola - Screenwriting in Nollywood

Tunde Babalola | Ijogbon

Filmmaker Kunle Afolyan joined forces with Tunde Babalola, his long-time collaborator, to pen the script for his latest feature film, Ijogbon. Ijogbon relies heavily on the Yoruba language and culture to tell a homely story filled with moral lessons for the viewer, like most of their projects together. They sure do know their target audience and Ijogbon is another home run for these two. 

Tunde Babalola’s frequent collaboration with Kunle Afolayan has given us many hits in the past; some of them are October 1 (2014), The CEO (2016), Mokalik (2019), and Citation (2020). The Meeting (2012), Last Flight to Abuja (2012), and La Femme Anjola (2021) are some of the other movies Tunde Babalola has written include

 

Femi Adebayo and Tijani Adebayo (Jagun Jagun)

Adebayo Tijani and Femi Adebayo Jagun Jagun Screenwriting in Nigeria

Adebayo Tijani and Femi Adebayo | Jagun Jagun

The Yoruba arm of Nollywood has been on an upward rise in recent years and one man partly responsible for this resurgence is Femi Adebayo. Known for his comedic chops, Femi Adebayo has come a long way from his days of starring in Jelili and other slapstick comedic roles to helming the affairs of international hits that showcase the beauty of the Yoruba culture to the international community. 

Tijani and Femi Adebayo are both sons of talented Nollywood actor Adebayo Salami (popularly known as Oga Bello). The year 2023 saw the brothers collaborate once again after the success of their 2022 hit film King of Thieves (Ageshinkole). Jagun Jagun, a movie about a young man who encounters the wrath of a maniacal warlord, was scripted by the Adebayo brothers. The movie received critical acclaim and performed commercially well on the Netflix leaderboard. There are currently hushed conversations about a potential sequel but nothing has been officially confirmed yet.

 

Biodun Stephen (Sista and Big Love)

Biodun Stephen screenwriting in Nigeria

Biodun Stephen | Sista | Big Love

Biodun Stephen is one filmmaker who has been a constant source of light in a sea of darkness that can sometimes feel overwhelming. For some years now, this filmmaker, who works as a screenwriter, director, and producer, has made some of the most endearing movies to come out of the industry. Think Introducing the Kujus (2020) and Breaded Life (2021) and you know what Biodun Stephen brings to the Nigerian movie industry. 

2023 was no different for this talented filmmaker as Sistà and Big Love, two films she wrote, made airwaves. Sistà debuted on Prime Video and trended for weeks, sparking discussions all over the internet and in person among friends. Big Love also enjoyed rave reviews from moviegoers and critics upon its premiere in cinemas and eventual release on Prime Video.

 

Dolapo Adigun and Niyi Akinmolayan (House of Secrets and Mikolo)

Dolapo Adigun and Niyi Akinmolayan (House of Secrets and Mikolo)

Dolapo Adigun and Niyi Akinmolayan (House of Secrets and Mikolo)

Not many movie studios in Nigeria are breaking boundaries like Anthill Studios is doing. The creative team at Anthill Studios, led by Niyi Akinmolayan, keeps pushing the envelope of what’s possible and achievable from Nollywood, which directly led to the release of two of their most ambitious movies to date – House of Secrets and Mikolo.

House of Secrets was co-written by Dolapo Adigun and Niyi Akinmolayan. It’s a noir film that tells the story of a sheltered woman’s past which comes back to haunt her when she’s thrown in jail for being an accomplice to her spy lover. The story is set against the backdrop of Nigeria’s democracy and using its monochrome setting and two time periods, tells a remarkable story. 

Mikolo, written and directed by Niyi Akinmolayan, sees Anthill Studios tell a fantastical story that is proudly Nigerian, something that once felt impossible. 

It’s been a really good year for Anthill Studios and we have Dolapo Adigun and Niyi Akinmolayan to thank for their contributions towards penning screenplays that are largely unforgettable.

 

Emmanuel Mang Eme (Gold) – Screenwriting in Nollywood

Emmanuel Mang Eme emerged as the winner of the sophomore of the Albantsho Prize for Screenwriting at the 2023 Annual Film Mischief, organized by The Film Rats Club, for his short film Gold. A talented screenwriter and director, Emmanuel Eme is slowly but steadily building an enviable filmography that’s sure to make him a household name soon. A look at the synopsis of the movie birthed from his award-winning screenplay gives us an idea of the kind of filmmaker he is: The joy of a family seeing the Super Eagles of Nigeria win “Gold” against big teams in Atlanta ’96 Olympics despite the odds stacked against them would seem like the long-awaited hope that the country needs.

Emmanuel is indeed one to watch out for in the coming years.

 

Babatunde Apalowo (All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White)

Babatunde Apalowo (All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White)

Babatunde Apalowo (All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White)

Babatunde Apalowo dared to do something only a few before he have: to tell a queer Nigerian story. 

All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White tells the story of Bambino and Bawa meeting in Lagos and hitting it off immediately. During their long trips around the city, they develop a deep affection for each other. But in a society that considers homosexuality taboo, they feel the pressure of social norms.

All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White had a successful festival run. There’s still some work to be done with bringing the film over here to be accessible by the locals. The sad truth is that that may never happen, as cinema outlets and streaming services play within the confines of the local laws here in Nigeria. Yet, the sheer fact that such a brazen tale exists from a Nigerian in 2023 is a commendable feat. 

 

Ebuka Njoku (Yahoo+– Screenwriting in Nollywood

Ebuka Njoku (Yahoo+)

Ebuka Njoku | Yahoo+

Yahoo+ first debuted in cinemas across Nigeria in 2022, but it wasn’t until its 2023 addition to Netflix that the filmmaker and his movie got the wider audience it deserves. Ebuka Njoku, who doubles as both the screenwriter and director of Yahoo+ has crafted a movie that does so much with so little. It’s a low-budget movie, but it doesn’t let that deter it from being an exposé on the true happenings behind its subject matter at a time as imperative as the one we’re currently living in. Ebuka Njoku made that happen, and I can’t wait to see what he does with a bigger budget in the near future.

This review discusses how Yahoo+ shines brightly like a diamond and should be given a chance despite its shortcomings.

 

BB Sasore (Breath of Life)

BB Sasore is the creative force behind Breath of Life, a story about a former clergyman who loses his faith and recovers it decades later when a houseboy comes into his life.

Thanks to Sasore’s vision as screenwriter and director, Breath of Life weaves a captivating narrative that leaves a lasting impact, easily making it one of the best Nollywood movies of 2023. Sasore stands out as a leading and accomplished writer. His work on “Breath of Life” showcases his exceptional talent, offering audiences a cinematic experience that goes beyond the ordinary. It’s undoubtedly a must-watch, adding a unique touch to the landscape of contemporary storytelling.

Previous works by BB Sasore include the 2017 action-comedy Banana Island Ghost and 2018’s faith-drama God Calling.

 

 

At the heart of every movie is a story, and the screenwriter is the architect, shaping narratives that resonate and captivate. As we celebrate the creative brilliance of these minds, let us continue to appreciate the profound impact of screenwriting in Nollywood. The screenplay, often the unsung hero, is the silent force driving the magic on our screens. Here’s to the storytellers, the architects of dreams, and the guardians of Nollywood’s cinematic legacy. May their pens continue to weave tales that enchant and endure.

 

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