Forty seven years after the first indigenous film adaptation (book to screen) was produced, which hoisted the cinematic flag of the golden era at full mast, it is lugubrious to note that film adaptation continues to plod on at a snail pace in the labyrinth of film productions. The concept of film adaptation is not alien to Hollywood and Bollywood; in fact both film industries have long embraced the lucrative concept. Based on records from Box Office Mojo, film adaptations such as “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy grossed over $2.9 billion worldwide, “Harry Potter” installments ($7.9 billion), “Jurassic Park” ($1,029.2 billion), “The Jungle Book” ($966.6 million), “Titanic” ($2.18 billion), “The Da Vinci code” ($758.2million), “The Chronicles of Narnia: The lion, the witch & the wardrobe” ($745 Million) among others, have made it a desirable path for production companies to walk on.

Despite the plethora of original works that have been made in Bollywood, film adaptation still has a firm footing therein; “Omkara” (based on Shakespeare’s “Othello”), “Devdas” (adapted from Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel of same title), “Sarkar” (based on the novel “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo), “Aisha” (adapted from “Emma” by Jane Austen), “Slumdog Millionaire” (“Q & A” novel by Vikas Swarup), “3 Idiots” (“Five Point Someone” by iconic novelist Chetan Bhagat), “Airlift” (True life story about the evacuation of Indians during Iraq’s invasion in Kuwait), and the box office shattering film “Dangal” (an incredible true life story of a man who trains his daughters to wrestle and turns them into champions for the country). For clarity, film adaptation is not limited to books (literary and non-literary), it includes remakes of films, historical sources, news, articles. Literature, particularly the prose genre (novels) happens to be the common source of adaptation.

The emergence of Nollywood in the 90s’ paved the way for the commercial production of home videos. Besides original works, a good number of home videos during the video boom era were adaptations, in this case, remakes of Hollywood films. However, our film archives reveal a series of literary adaptations within our shores, but let’s see how both are inter-twined. The first novel in the Yoruba language was in 1930 by Isaac B. Thomas “Itan Emi Segilola Eleyinjueje, Elegberun Oko Laiye”, while the first novel in Igbo was “Omenuko” in 1933 by Pita Nwana. Also D.O. Fagunwa’s “Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale” (1938) according to Isola, is arguably the most popular literary work written in Yoruba. It was translated into English in 1968 by Wole Soyinka as “The Forest of a Thousand Daemons”. Real indigenous literature in English was pioneered by Amos Tutuola via his work “The Palmwine Drinkard” published by Faber in London in 1952. His other works, “My life in the Bush of Ghosts (1952) and “The Feather Woman of the Jungle” (1962) are not as popular as his debut work. The emergence of Chinua Achebe and his colleagues, Wole Soyinka, Gabriel Okara, T.M. Aluko, Christopher Okigbo, John Pepper Clark, Cyprian Ekwensi, all first generation writers from 1940s to 60s, addressed African problems and redefined Nigerian literature. African writer series also thrived with the likes of Flora Nwapa’s “Efuru” and Buchi Emecheta’s “The Joys of Motherhood”.

The film industry had also budded with film exhibitors eagerly screening foreign films to the Nigerian audience.

After the release of “The Sons of Africa” (Lebanese/Nigerian production) and “Golden Women” by Federal Films Ltd – established by Segun Olusola, which was a far cry from the expectations of Nigerians – Francis Oladele decided it was time for Nigerians to have a feel of the first independent feature film. He formed Calpenny Nigeria Ltd (with the support of North Americans from California, Pennsylvania and New York (hence Cal-Pen-Ny) in 1970, and produced the film adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s 1965 play “Kongi’s Harvest.” It was directed by American Ossie Davies with Soyinka playing the lead role. Spurred on by this feat, Calpenny Nigeria LTD teamed up with Cine 3 (Germany) and Niagram (USA) to produce “Bull frog in the Sun.” It was directed by Hans-Juergen Pohland. “Bull Frog in the Sun” was an adaptation of the combined books of Chinua Achebe; “Things Fall Apart” (1958) and “No longer at Ease” (1960). According to Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike, both Princess Toro (Uganda) and Senegalese British actor Johnny Sekka starred therein.

Let’s not forget that “Culture iIn Transition” (1963) infused a shortened version of Soyinka’s stage play “The Strong Breed” which was directed by Bart Lawrence. The Yoruba travelling theatre (Alarinjo theatre) with the likes of Hubert Ogunde soon realized the potential filmmaking presented, as opposed to only stage performances, and subsequently adapted plays to films. Notable filmmakers during the cine film era include Ola Balogun, Francis Oladele, Ladi Ladebo, Adeyemi Afolayan and Eddie Ugbomah.

In 1976, “Shehu Umar” – one of the five stories selected by the British colonial administration in a literary competition in 1933 – was adapted by Adamu Halilu; and in 1977, Ola Balogun produced “Bisi Daughter of the River” adapted from the play of the same title, which starred Patricia Ngozi Ebigwei (stage name – Patti Boulaye), who became the face of LUX beauty soap in the UK and Nigeria for five years. Ola Balogun had, prior to this time, produced short documentary films such as “One Nigeria” (1969), “Fire in the Afternoon” (’71) and “Thunder God” (’71).

In 1978, Ola Balogun, alongside Ade Afolayan, adapted Adebayo Faleti’s novel “Ija Ominira” (“Fight for Freedom”), and in 1979, Ola Balogun worked with Hubert Ogunde and adapted his play “AIYE” (“The World”) into a film. Ola Balogun also directed the film adaptation of Baba Sala’s (Moses Olaiya Adejumo’s) plays and produced “Orun Mo Orun” (“Heaven is Hot”) in 1982.

Let’s take a leap into Kannywood, the Hausa movie industry in northern Nigeria which produces movies in the Hausa language. This industry is largely influenced by Hausa literature. Hausa novels were revived in the 80s by young folks and the rise in literacy, stemming from basic education and computer technology. Kano was the hub, and certain bookshops rode the wave be also being publishers. Radio programmes broadcast readings of manuscripts and books. Popular novelists were female such as Lubabatu ya’u Babura, Saliha Abubakar Zana, Nafisa Muda Lawan with listeners/readers largely being female and children. Authors Associations, Clubs and Readers Associations emerged to strengthen the reading base.

“Turmin Danya” (1990) by Ibrahim Mandawari was the first successful Hausa home video; drama groups also made videos which were aired on TV. Following the successful screenings of the literary adaptations of “In da so da Kauna” (’93) written by Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, and “Tsuntsu Mai Wayo” (94) written by Bala Anas Babinlata, other authors saw the huge potential that adaptation of their works could bring. And thus, many book-to-screen adaptations have been produced in Kannywood alongside remakes of Bollywood movies. “Yusuf.M.Adamu” deals extensively on the subject of film adaptation in Kannywood.

In southern Nigeria, following the success of “Living in bondage” by Ken Nnebue, the home video industry which birthed Nollywood, boomed. Home videos were a combination of original works and churned out remakes of Hollywood movies. The resurgence of modern cinemas in the country in the new millennium has seen the production bar being raised, but in comparison to original works, film adaptations continue to take the back stage.


There have been charlatan remakes of Hollywood movies by Nollywood and Kannywood filmmakers. Literary adaptations (besides Kannywood) and other film adaptation sources, remain at a minimal level in Nollywood. Below, within the Scribd window, is a full list of film adaptations in Nigeria, which also includes TV adaptations (note it’s best viewed on larger screens; but if you aren’t able to see the Scribd window in full, click here):

Augusta Okon is a lawyer, author, film critic and publicist based in Lagos Nigeria.