Basi and Company

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Basi and Company
Genre Sitcom
Created by Ken Saro-Wiwa
Written by Ken Saro-Wiwa, Tekena Harry-McDonald, Bob Ejike[1]
Directed by Uzorma Onungwa
Starring Albert Egbe (1985-1987)
Zulu Adigwe (1988-1990)
Aso Douglas
Lasa Amoro
Theme music composer Eji Oyewole (1985-1988)
Zulu Adigwe (1988-1990)
Country of origin Nigeria
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 150
Production
Running time 30 mins
Release
Original network NTA
Original release 1985 – 1990

Basi and Company, also known as Mr. B, was a Nigerian sitcom which ran from 1985 -1990 on NTA, and was later syndicated to stations across Africa. Written and produced by Ken Saro-Wiwa and filmed in Enugu,[2] the show derived inspiration from African folklore, and lampooned widespread corruption in oil-rich Nigeria while highlighting its consequences. To date, it remains one of Africa's most watched comedy programmes, with an estimated thirty million viewers during its peak.[3][4]

Plot[edit]

Set in a pre-419 era, the main character Basi - popularly known as Mr. B - is a young man who dreams of becoming a millionaire by tricking wealthy individuals with his hare-brained schemes; his motto is "To be a millionaire, think like a millionaire!". Arriving in Lagos where he believes "the streets are paved with gold", he promptly moves into a dingy room owned by an equally greedy landlady simply known as Madam, a woman who believes that all problems can be solved with money, hence her catchphrase "It's a matter of cash!". Despite living on her property for a considerably long time, Basi refuses to pay his rent. This angers Madam, who unsuccessfully attempts to evict him in nearly every episode. Basi infuriates her further by moving in his dimwitted sidekick Alali without her permission. During their tenure in the room, the duo approach Madam with their deceitful plans in a bid to extract money out of her and hide in their room at other times in order to avoid paying the rent which they can hardly afford.

Basi's other counterpart is Dandy, a cunning man who runs an badly maintained bar on the street. With the help of his friend Boy Josco, the two often try to copy Basi's get-rich-quick scams, again with little or no success. Segi, a beautiful but devious young lady who also lives nearby, is also a rival. Their fraudulent and somewhat ridiculous plans include peddling real estate on the moon, rigging the lottery, adding their names to government payrolls despite being unemployed, persuading radio station to buy fake radio licenses, and forging WAEC results for unsuccessful candidates.[5][6]

Cast[edit]

Actor Character Role Catchphrases[7]
Albert Egbe (Basi #1),[8]
Zulu Adigwe (Basi #2)
Basi Popularly known as "Mr. B", his main aim in life is becoming a millionaire without actually working hard. In nearly all episodes he is seen wearing a bright red t-shirt with the inscription Mr. B Says To Be A Millionaire... in front, and on the back ...Think Like A Millionaire. Despite living in his landlady's house for the whole series, he has never paid his rent. To be a millionaire, think like a millionaire!; Holy Moses!
Aso Ikpo-Douglas (as Aso Douglas) Madam Occasionally described as "Madam the Madam" (Her real name is never revealed), she is fond of flaunting her wealth, and is a proud member of the women-only American Dollar Club. Equally greedy as her tenant, she is often the victim of Basi's pranks. She is fond of enormous head-ties which she wears in nearly every episode Come in if you're handsome and rich; It's a matter of cash!
Tekena Harry-McDonald Alali Also known as Al, he is a malnourished young man who Basi had met at a motor park before inviting him to stay in his room. He takes orders from Mr. B, but is seldom allowed to express his own opinion. I'm hungry, Mr. B!
Lasa Amoro Dandy Also described as "Dandy Dandy", he is the owner of a bar, but seldom has any customers as he never maintains his establishment which is almost in ruins. Like Basi, he believes in quick money without the extra graft. In almost every episode he is seen wearing a bowler and bow-tie Hell, I should have known that!; Can I have a piece of the action?
Emmanuel Okutuate Josco A homeless man who lives in a shack under Eko Bridge, he is often seen with a cigarette in his mouth and hanging in Dandy's bar. He assists Dandy in attempting to foil Basi's plans to become richer than his friend.
Affiong Usani (Segi #1),
Ethel Ekpe (Segi #2),
Mildred Iweka (Segi #3),
Timi Zuofa (Segi #4)
Segi Often described as "The Lady with the Beautiful Eyeballs", Segi - short for Segilola - is a beautiful lady who is friends with Dandy, and the love interest of almost all the male characters. Although sensible, she is also vain and devious. Ciao!

Following a dispute with creator Saro-Wiwa, Albert Egbe left the series and was replaced by stage actor Zulu Adigwe, despite not bearing a close resemblance to the original actor. The new Mr. B was re-invented as a guitar-strumming layabout who often composed songs about his get-rich-quick schemes. Four different actresses have played the part of Segi, including 700 Club Nigeria presenter Ethel Ekpe.[9]

Among the show's more successful alumni was Mildred Iweka who had a starring role as Ada Okeke in Nigerian soap Checkmate. Zulu Adigwe was Professor Edem in the pilot episode before he was replaced by Nobert Young.

Reactions[edit]

Former Minister of Information and Culture Tony Momoh praised the use of standard English on the show, as opposed to Nigerian Pidgin which remains dominant on television and has been blamed for the poor command of standard English in the country, despite its status as an English-speaking nation, leading to low scores in WAEC and JAMB English examinations. Similarly, Roy Jibromah, a marketing manager for Saro-Wiwa's production company claimed that "children sit glued to the television, with bad English poured down them for four hours a day, [and] they end up with substandard English". Saro-Wiwa stated in an interview in 1987: "We should go for proper English so we can relate to the rest of the world...one reason Basi is so popular is that young people are using it to learn English".

The series was also popular among women who tried to keep up with fashion trends set by the two female characters - Madam and Segi - who often wore traditional African outfits. Aso Douglas, who played Madam and acted as the show's costumer, was famed for her larger-than-life head-ties. However, Douglas told an interview that while she was grateful for the response she received from Nigerian women, she worried that they may be missing the moral lessons of the show[10]

Merchandise and spin-offs[edit]

Following the success of Basi and Company, the original cast went on tour across Nigeria. Saro-Wiwa also published a series of books based on the series, including Basi and Company: A Modern African Folktale (1987),[11] Mr. B Again (1989),[12] Segi Finds the Radio (1991),[13] and Mr. B's Mattress (1992),[14] as well as a dramatised version of the book Mr. B: Four Television Plays.[15] Zulu Adigwe released an album under Polygram Nigeria as Mr. B, and the main single became the new theme tune of the series before it was cancelled in 1990.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bob Ejike
  2. ^ 1995: Ken Saro-Wiwa
  3. ^ Ken Saro-Wiwa: A writer, the sacrifice
  4. ^ The Perils of Activism
  5. ^ 30 Million Nigerians Are Laughing At Themselves
  6. ^ Dying For Oil
  7. ^ How Nollywood Kills Nigerian Television
  8. ^ Africine
  9. ^ 700 Club - Nigeria
  10. ^ 30 Million Nigerians Are Laughing At Themselves
  11. ^ Basi and Company: A Modern African Folktale ISBN 978-1-870716-00-0
  12. ^ Mr. B Again
  13. ^ Segi Finds the Radio
  14. ^ Mr. B's Mattress
  15. ^ Four Television Plays ISBN 978-1-870716-03-1
  16. ^ How Ken Saro Wiwa changed my life - Zulu Adigwe, veteran actor