Identity review of the cast of Glo’s Professor Johnbull
In any work of art, characterisation plays a very big role in determining the thematic thrust of the work. And from the way the characters are portrayed, one can easily determine the genre to which the work belongs.
The characters are persons presented in a dramatic work, who are interpreted by readers and viewers alike, as possessing particular moral, intellectual and emotional qualities by inferences from what the persons say, the presentation style and what people say about them. Through this tripod, characters are categorised as being flat or static (never change), round or dynamic (change according to the situation) and type or archetypal (representing an age, epoch, time or class). A good work of art must pay great attention to the casting of its characters so that through them the reading or viewing public will not be lost at placing it where it belongs.
Given the above literary treatise, the TV drama series, Professor Johnbull, sponsored by Globacom, and which in the last 26 weeks, has been beamed to millions of viewers in Nigeria through NTA Network, NTA International on DSTV Channel 251 and NTA on StarTimes on Tuesdays and Fridays, can be said to be a poignant piece – to the extent that it is episodic in structure and satiric in aim.
The sitcom, which has had two full seasons of 13 episodes each, has a cast of 12 regular performers and other regular and irregular cameo appearances by notable artists from Nigeria and Ghana, many of them being brand ambassadors of Globacom, the telecommunications outfit which doubles as the Executive Producer of the sitcom, directed by Tchidi Chikere.
The lead character of the series and from whom it derives its name is Professor Johnbull Eriweagwuagwu Macnwigwe, played by the doyen of Nollywood, Kanayo O. Kanayo. A widower and retired academician, Professor Johnbull lives with his son, (Churchill), daughter (Elizabeth) and housemaid (Caro) in a serene neighbourhood in Enugu, the eastern part of Nigeria, where he, by virtue of his academic and social exposure, becomes the voice and conscience of the people. His house is a melting pot of activities.
In character and mode, the erudite academic becomes the village King Solomon, cast in the form of Jean-Marie Medza, the lead character of Mongo Beti’s Mission to Kala”. The difference between the duo, however, being that while Medza does not attain his academic quest, Johnbull remains an acclaimed scholar and he flouts this through the use of diction laced with pedantic pomposity and grandiloquent embellishment. Not only did he obtain a PhD from a foreign university, he lectured for several years overseas before returning to Nigeria,
From Claimant to Eliza my Daughter and Sorting Things, A Good Flavour, Baby Bomboi and A Single Mistake episodes in season 1 of the series, and Work Men, Oil Wind Fall, Find Me Something, Kitchen on the Run and Speak the Word in Season 2, Professor Johnbull remains the moral conscience of the society, a heroic character, who ensures that he gives to the society the full dosage of his moral prescriptions for acceptable societal behaviour. This trend continues, without exception in all the 36 episodes of the series, where the professor closes each episode with his didactic conclusions.
Closely related to Professor Johnbull in character and mode is his amiable daughter, Elizabeth Ifemyoluchukwu Nwigwe, acted by another popular Nollywood star, Queen Nwokoye. Elizabeth, as a psychology undergraduate, remains all through the two seasons, an acquiescent daughter of Professor Johnbull, agreeing with the professor all the way even when she is not too sure he is right. She is a modern mini replica of her father, the professor- perfectionist. Elizabeth is responsible for picking Caro, the housemaid, off the streets, where she was an orange hawker and bringing her to the house as a maid and devotes time to brushing her up in terms of etiquettes and education. She is compassionate and kind.
Contrastively, Elizabeth’s elder brother, Churchill Ikenga Nwigwe, acted by Jnr. Pope Odonwodo, a mechanical engineering graduate and only son of Professor Johnbull, is an unswerving character, who remains firm, and unchanging in the pursuit of a career in music to the consternation of his father. Churchill is fashionable, a good dresser and very independent minded young man, who wants to make his own money and name. With the constant bickering with his father and the conspiracy of Elizabeth and Caro, the housemaid, Churchill seldom depends on the professor for his needs though he remains a great admirer of his father and sees him as a hero of some sort.
And from the professor’s household comes the ‘mischievous’ housemaid, Caro, played by Mercy Johnson Okojie. An illiterate orange hawker, who became the housemaid of Professor Johnbull, Caro remains the greatest admirer of the scholar, who she calls and refers to as “Professor Sir” whether or not the professor is present. In her rustic state, she adapts to her benefactor’s household and appreciates the fact that they are trying to make her a better person in life. Her immediate role model is Elizabeth and her crush is Olaniyi, the seller of “the best nkwobi east of the Niger.” The more Caro lives with the Macnwigwes, the more she gets wiser and picky of boys like Elizabeth, her mentor.
Acting as Churchill’s side-kick is the ‘philanderer’ of the series, Flash Boy, acted by Stephen Odimgbe. Flash, “the boy with a dash”, is an undergraduate and a classmate of Elizabeth, but he is from a poor home and lives on his own off campus. In the drama series, Flash typifies the youth of today with all his educational challenges, relationship challenges among many issues youths face. He is a show-boy and like Churchill, has a massive talent for music but without financial support. He is also one of the admirers of Elizabeth. Poetic in diction and romantic in appearance, Flash is a lady’s man any day, anytime.
Following on the heels of Flash, is the Waffi (Warri) import to the series, Samson, played by Ogus Baba. In the real sense of picaresque classification, Samson is the picaro of the satire, representing the escapades of an insouciant rascal, who lives by his wits and shows no alteration of character all through the 26 episodes. Described as an ‘adjudicator’ by Johnbull, Samson is the trickster and cowardly hotel room cleaner in Etuk’s hotel. He has silent feelings for Ufoma, his gossip partner, as well as colleague. He speaks with a heavy Warri pidgin, which remains esoteric for others to understand.
Samson’s female counterpart is the pretentious Victorian, Jumoke Janet, acted by Bidemi Kosoko. A ‘prevaricator’ of no mean repute, Jumoke represents the typical city-dwelling undergraduate of today. Self-opinionated and full of vanity personage, her most peculiar characteristic is her inability to walk normally, wriggling her waist in the most provocative and seductive manner. She always catwalks like a person in a mad hurry; little wonder Flash once described her as “the girl who runs when she wants to walk”.
She is greatly challenged by Elizabeth’s personality, which she unsuccessfully tries to copy. Her nemesis in the series is Caro, who always makes fun of her for her unsuccessful copying of Elizabeth’s values.
Cast in the mould of Jumoke is Ufoma (Bimbo Akintola), the Mai Doya’s Urhobo house help. A ‘confusionist’ and village gossip, Ufoma is a busybody per excellence, who talks about everything that happens even when she is not sure of the facts. She also sticks her nose into things that happen in other people’s houses, which she hears Mai Doya say in his telephone conversations to his family. She is the personified ‘Radio without Battery,’ title of episode four of season two of the series. The duo of Ufoma and Samson form the arrowhead for grape vine gossips. She also represents strong feminine values and sees the vanity of Jumoke as baseless. She rebuffs Samson’s love overtures, citing herself as too old for all that, but lusts endlessly after Professor Johnbull.
However, in sharp contrast to her sanctimoniousness, Ufuoma also misses Samson when he stops making passes at her. Her strong point is her ability to be the first to condemn her own irrational actions and blame herself.
The ‘gregarious’ Mai Doya, acted by Funky Mallam, is a northern yam merchant living in the eastern part of the country. He is Hausa, has Hausa accent, but throws in a smattering of Igbo language here and there. Greatly loved by Professor Johnbull, his major customer, who always comes to buy yams with a measuring tape to determine how long each tuber will last in a recessed economic situation, Mai Doya is also the chief supplier of food products to Etuk, the Calabar hotel owner, who runs his business in the neighbourhood. His frankness endears him to the moralist and lead character, Johnbull.
Mai Doya’s ‘enemy’ in the series is the ‘gullible’ restaurateur, Olaniyi (Yomi Fash-Lanso).
Olaniyi is a Yoruba operator of “the nkwobi joint in the East of the Niger’. Easy going, carefree and most eligible suitor of the illiterate housemaid of the Professor, Caro, whom he wants to marry so that she will become the madam of the nkwobi joint, Olaniyi is also hardworking, innocent and unassuming. His greatest hubris is his mortal fear of employing more hands in his business, believing that his overheads will not only increase but run the risk of being defrauded. He is trusting almost to annoying dimensions and he relies on the wisdom of his idol, Professor Johnbull, who patronises his joint with an almost occult loyalty.
Cast in the mould of ‘businessmen’, the closest to Olaniyi is Etuk (Imeh Bishop), a flamboyant Efik businessman and hotel owner, as well as employer of Samson. Etuk, though very ‘cantankerous’ in nature, is an ardent admirer and respecter of Professor Johnbull, whom he ‘deifies’ and hardly takes any decision without consulting. Everything the Prof does is right to him. And he believes that if the erudite professor should marry his sister who lives in the U.S., “the two will born dictionary”, a reference to the professor’s penchant for highfalutin words.
The last member of the cast is Abadnego (Martins Nebo), the ‘sedulous’ gateman of Professor Johnbull. He is the typical Igbo boy ‘hustler,’ who sells recharge cards in front of the professor’s gate with great zeal and persistence. He is greatly loved by the professor for his industry and he too copies the scholar’s moral sense. He represents the symbol of resilience and the spirit of hard work in the series.
Produced by Tchidi Chikere with consultancy services from Richard Mofe Damijo, RMD and the legendary Zebrudayah, Chief Chika Okpala, Professor Johnbull will go down in the annals of arts in Nigeria as an epitome of the age-long truism that arts mirrors society.