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APAKAMA, Lucy Mgbengasha: Nollywood and Cultural Re-Orientation: Promoting Igbo Cultural Values through Films

Nollywood and Cultural Re-Orientation: Promoting Igbo Cultural Values through Films

Lucy Mgbengasha APAKAMA, PhD

Department of Nigerian Languages & Linguistics

Alvan Ikoku University of Education

Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria



Cultural reorientation as a fresh orientation, a changed set of attitudes, beliefs or an inclination to think, feel or act is a way that is culturally determined, only means that cultural orientation is already present. This paper reviews the stance of Nollywood in this great role of cultural reorientation. The use of films is particularly in focus. What is the present state of our cultural values, what affected the norms and values, what is the way forward? Finally, what can Nollywood do to place our cultural values on a good footing? Some already existing films with cultural background in relation to Igbo culture will be used as examples. The writer has an Igbo bias and will make use of personal experiences and observations.


Nollywood has become a household name in Nigeria. Asked what it means since what the writer heard from early days was Hollywood, the answer is: “it is made in Nigeria.” What more can one seek to find with a body whose name implies the existence of “cultural re-orientation?” Cultural re-orientation, as a fresh orientation, is to feel and act in a way that is culturally determined. The name Nollywood, Nigeria based, reiterates the essence of cultural re-orientation since its basic rule is to define the basis of differences among cultures such as self identity and interpersonal relationships. Nollywood has therefore introduced a fresh orientation, a changed set of attitudes and beliefs. This only indicates that an integrated set of attitudes and beliefs already existed. From Hollywood to Nollywood therefore seems like changing direction in a lost zone and this is commendable.

            Culture is an all-embracing word, encompassing a given way of the life of a people; for example, their language, their religion, their technology, beliefs, likes and dislikes; their moral values and everything. Ralph Linton, as quoted by Uchendu, sees culture as “man made aspects of our social, environment, including the ideas and symbols we use. Uchendu notes that culture is more than just a heritage or a historical product, “more than the expression of man’s mode of living, something that individuals in a society must undergo as a kind of fate or rites of passage” (22).

            Every culture embodies the separate but related spheres which are universals, alternatives and specialties. Cultural universals are open to all and shared by every culture bearer. To be competent in a culture invariably means sharing its cultural universals. Cultural alternatives are various cultural institutions provided by a culture to satisfy a given cultural end while cultural specialties are institutions for specialized training whose membership may be voluntary or ascribed. This simply means that no individual can master every aspect of one’s culture since, some parts must be learned and at this point the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) comes to mind; an example of cultural specialty.

            Culture is lived and learned, but one thing is very important in the process of transmitting culture from generation to generation. This important thing is language, a most important means of communication. In this paper, Igbo language, a language spoken in the Eastern part of Nigeria by the Igbo people is in focus; a language plagued by the threat of extinction (Apakama page?); a culture bearer of the Igbo people. Language comes to mind at this point for its role in Nollywood and cultural re-orientation. A people who are in the middle of their language going into extinction need to be called back and prodded to action.

This Igbo language is needed to teach the upcoming generation the rudiments of the Igbo culture. Children learn primarily from their fore-bearers, the past of the adults is been usually the future of each new generation. When this is properly done, the blue print of culture is essentially complete and cannot be challenged by any intruding culture.          

            It is also noted that both children and adults learn from their contemporaries. For the children, the outside influence may be great, since they look forward to the prevailing model at hand. This may not augur well with the people and may be noted as rebellion, indiscipline, lack of moral values and children of nowadays with displeasure by the shaking of the head mostly by elders. The Igbo believe that, “a widely travelled child is more intelligent than the grey haired person (an elderly person).” This can only apply in certain conditions. Parents may learn from their children but most times, it is difficult to achieve especially to the Igbo who insist that “what the old person sits down to see, a young child even on top of an Iroko tree may not see it.” This is only to justify their inability to accept the fact that age does not mean wisdom and that change is constant.

            The cultural agony of the Igbo is deep rooted. They battle with the world of nature which is imposed on them and the world of culture which is man-made. They equally battle with the influence of foreign culture on their already established way of life. The relationship with foreign or other cultures has been in the front burner. Bode Osanyin agrees with the warning of the editorial of the Record of 21st May, 1904, which is still very much applicable to the present predicament in Africa thus:

The attempt to develop Africa or European lines can only end in failure. It is like rearing a bird in a cage with the result of… gradual pining away which end in death…. The African if he must progress must go on his own lines, he must not suffer himself to be pushed suddenly from the twilight of a civilization which has its roots and the first impulse deep in the past of a thousand years. The glare will blind or tend to reduce him to a bickering idol (176).

The above can stand as a solid advice to Nollywood, to look inwards, use the language of the people, Igbo for example to deliver their messages. Ogu S. Enemaku looks at the term ethics as having to do with the dialogue of right and wrong in human behaviour: “It deals with how human beings ought to behave and address reasons for the propriety of certain behaviours and impropriety of others (70). This is part of the culture. While it is advisable to stick to our culture and cultural values, there is a great need for us to move along with the trend of things in time and space. Nollywood can chose a suitable past, marry it to the present, find a compromise and present it to the world in films. The Igbo should not stick to mundane and tradition which inflict injuries to people rather than provide succour for its populace. The killing of twins for example is unheard of. Somebody like the writer (a twin) should have been in the land of our ancestors. Thanks to the influence of a foreign culture. The gender based domination of males and other ills against females are now being look into, widowhood practices, obnoxious dealings mated out to people are now in the open.

            In as much as the society screams about moral sanctity and moral values, there still exists the perpetration of ills. Nollywood is in the business of exposing these ills. It is a candid advice to use the Igbo culture properly. The language can be used with sub-titling in English Language. This is so because certain concepts may be too difficult to achieve using a foreign language.

            Films have long been recognized as a powerful instrument of mass education, sensitization, mobilization and preservation of cultural values. The Igbo language and culture can therefore be promoted through films. This paper will not be concerned with the analysis of the content of films in relation to the study of Theatre Arts as a course, kinds of films nor attempt to deal with professional areas meant for core theatre artists. Such areas as film history, film production, film direction, film editing and so on. It concerns itself only with Nollywood and re-orientation with emphasis on Igbo cultural values being placed on a good footing. To achieve peace and national security, cultural values must be revisited and a proper re-orientation is hereby advocated. This is a plea to promote culture through films.

Cultural Values

Igbo people have their own cultural values just like any other people. Cultural values may differ from place to place, by and large meeting points exist among all the cultures of the world. A few examples are presented here just as a glimpse into a sea of knowledge into which Nollywood can tap and films are produced using the Igbo language. Sam Uzochukwu notes:

Ochichi onyekwuoucheya di n’obara ndi Igbo n’oge gboo ma na ugbua… O bughi naani out onye ga-ekwu ihe ga-emetuta oha dum… O bu nke a ka e ji ekwu ‘Igbo enweeze’ (Igbo language), simply translated into English language thus: Democracy runs in the veins of the Igbo people, in the olden days and today… one person does not determine what happens to all… It is for this reason that it is said Igbo does not have king (18).

            The Igbo democracy happens to be one type of leadership which the colonial masters did not understand. And who blames them, when they were all in all? They had the knife and the yam. If they want, they cut a piece of yam and give you (A translated Igbo proverb). Beating or throwing down of one’s parents remains the greatest abomination and it attracts the wrath of both human beings and the gods of the land as well as that of the Supreme God Himself. Live animals for example a cock or hen or goat and clear apologies are demanded before reconciliation can be effected. Obienyem notes that taking a woman as a wife without paying the bride price and performing the required marriage ceremonies is regarded as a taboo. This taboo is visited with many serious sanctions during life and at death such as ostracism, nullification and so on.

            Respect and sanctity of life is never compromised. Emphasis on lineal continuity, mutual dependency and transparent living are emphasized. Definition of achievements in social rather than self in encouraged, intense religiosity, caring and sharing within kinship groups are encouraged. Everybody has access to opportunity without guaranteeing absolute equality, hospitality and a live and let live attitude to life, are encouraged. These cultural values and norms, however, palatable they may sound, have had their fair share of outside influence. Christianity, mostly in Igboland, influenced them. Emenanjo Nwanolue notes:

Ufodu ndi fada ka na-akoto omenaala na evueme ndi Igbo site na ha kwenyere na karizima. Ndi uka ufodu bu ndi akurumaka maobu ndi uwenzaruala, o kachasi ndi ahundi nwe ha bundi mbaozona asi na asusu Igbo abughi asusu e ji eme anointin. N’ihi ya naani bekee ka a na-asun’ ulouka (Igbo Language) (35).

Simply translated into English language means,

Some reverend fathers are still looking down on the culture and institutions of the Igbo simply because they believe in charisma…. Some churches those who clap hands or long robe wearers especially those founded by foreigners say that the Igbo language cannot be used for anointing. This results in the use of the English language alone in their churches.

            Christianity was tolerated because the people were taught that new gods may be acquired if the existing ones fail. When the Igbo insist on ‘no good burial no claim to the man’s wealth’, an emphasis on the duty other than rights, it is seen as being wicked. The Igbo belief that what is done here can be reaped in the life hereafter. All these cultural values and norms despite their laudable presence still face challenges. Morally objectionable practices including sexual abuse and promiscuity, bribing, corruption, perversion of the course of justice, fraud, violence, insecurity and other related ills still stare us in the face. In the same vein, Enemaku notes:

It is apparent that the verbal proclamation about the importance of enabling moral values are not backed by morally upright actions. The gap between moral proclamations and moral… of the larger society creates a fertile ground for the flowering of practices that are morally wrong, which find expressions in the home videos (77).

            Cultural change as a dynamic process implies among other things, choice making in society, adaptation of forms, institutions and ideas. Margaret Mead sees this challenge of choice as, “a commitment, at individual or whole culture level to one of the three possible styles of life” (23). It all depends on choice and what to do with the choice, whether positive or negative action. A positive reaction to life is always advocated.

The Gods in Igbo Religious Life

Traditional Igbo, like their counterparts in other parts of the world, are actually aware of the distinction between the physically living (men and women of flesh and blood who constitute the actual visible community), and ancestral spirits and other super-sensible beings, who belong to the invisible order (Ejizu). The Igbo believe in the existence of a supreme being (Chukwu) who created everything that exists and set everything in its place. Chukwu (God’s) power is constantly sought in oral prayers. The Igbo have an absolute dependence on Chukwu (God), for people’s continued existence and welfare.

            Belief in many gods is practiced among the traditional Igbo. This does not mean that all deities are of equal importance and power to the people (Okere). In the same vein, Onwu notes:

Although a lot of local variations exist in names, categories and details of belief in and worships of these divinities, a number of them are believed to be major divinities and are widely acknowledged. These include: Anyanwu (the sun god), Igwekaala (the sky god), Ala (Earth goddess), and Amadioha/kamalu (the god of thunder and lightning) and Agwunsi (god of divination and healing) (15).

            Apart from the major divinities, there are also many other deities which are noticed in different communities. For instance, ‘ofoitu’ in Mbaise, ‘Ebumiri’ of Umunumu in Mbano, ‘Oha Mmiri’ of Oguta, ‘Otakwu’ of Obazu, ‘Eziakwu’ of Njaba, and ‘Ala Ogbaga’ of Mbaise. These divinities play different roles in the maintenance of peaceful co-existence in the Igbo world. The Igbo revere them and look forward to protection and good judgment for communal living in the Igbo world.

            The Igbo believe in the ancestors and constant interaction between the world of the spirit and the world of the living. The Igbo believe that, “the more man can control nature and the force, the more he is able to enjoy protection, longevity, progress, success and peace with God, the divinities and the ancestors” (Onwu 16).

Igbo Cultural Values Presence in Nollywood Films

Some examples of Nollywood films are presented here just to buttress the point that Igbo presence abound in films and where possible, the Igbo language should play a major role. This does not mean that the Igbo language is totally missing. Recently, the DSTV MultiChoice Cable TV introduced an Igbo Channel ‘159’ where films in Igbo language are shown. It is a welcome development, Nollywood and DSTV must be commended for this giant stride.

            The film, Making War, features two traditional rulers Igwe Emeka and Igwe Ikechukwu. From their names, one could easily make out the Igbo bias of the film. It started with the traditional rulers of the state gathering to rule on a land dispute between the two Igwe and their communities. They ruled in favour of Igwe Ikechukwu from Umuduru while Igwe Emeka was asked to surrender. Igwe Emeka exhibited an Igbo cultural life when he asked the favoured Igwe to tell him why there should be so many ‘Ogbo’ trees in a place where Umuduru was claiming. “Juo kwaase,” … “Ask questions,” he exclaimed.

            The dispute raged, Igwe Ikechukwu ruled according to the tenets of the Igbo ways of rulership, the democratic method while Igwe Emeka was very high handed, ruled with only notorious guards and warriors. Never had any regard for the elders of the land and his wife was relegated to the background. He had too many palace harlots, an unseen setting in any Igbo palace. He sent his body guards to go and destroy farmlands and set them ablaze – a taboo in Igbo cultural life. When he was reminded that his father died, his elder brother lived briefly as the Igwe, he found it funny.

            His house keeper Mgbo went and made a deal with Igwe Ikechukwu promising to help pull his foul mouthed Igwe Emeka down. He fall for the trap when the elders visited him to advise him on an impending doom waiting for him, should he go ahead with the oath. He insulted them instead, and bribed the elders from Igwe Ikechukwu’s community to work with him. The bribed elders promise to help him frame Igwe Ikechukwu up.

            Mgbo, the house keeper/jester, heard Igwe Emeka’s wife complaining about wife battery but her husband saw it as mere family matter. He bluntly told the wife. I paid your bride price and you are one of my tools is,’ part of what the gender equality frowns at. His ill manners were termed matrimonial right.

            At last the oath was administered and the brutal king lost. He went to another Dibia to break the oath. There he learnt the truth about what Mgbo did and the whereabouts of his wife. He was meant to know that he laughed at Mgbo when he opted to help him. ‘How can a man with one hand help me?’ Igwe Emeka cried and knew that he was fooled. The guards planned to go and kill the Dibia who made himself invisible – an Igbo belief.

            Igwe Emeka summoned his elders for the first time and addressed them as, ‘my noble elders, second to none. He lied… I need your advice.’ They replied him with mooning, a taboo and a wish of back luck in Igbo tradition. He went to do as agreed. At the boundaries of the two communities he was asked to call Igwe Ikechukwu, “Lord” and kiss his feet. He made a move as if to comply but changed his mind. As he turned to go, he ran into the sword of one of his guards. The Dibia screamed. His wife had her freedom, Mgbo was rewarded, an Igwe elect was chosen, the bribed elders asked for forgiveness and peace returned to the land once more.

            Another example is Anulika: The Smelling Princess. Anulika was a princess who had powers but had a spell cast on her. She became so smelly that people ran away from her. It was her healing powers that drew her nearer to a family in the film who harboured her until the end evil spell was destroyed by a stronger super woman who fought for the both of them. The younger king in this film was referred to as king while her father was still alive. Most of the key characters had supernatural powers in the plan.

            The writer had these questions as to ask after watching the film: What qualities should a princess have? What does cast a spell mean in Igbo culture? What causes body odour medically? And so on.

            There were modern houses in the film but never a mention of a hospital. The presence of ghosts, calamity in the community with their stream turning red, already prepared meal and harvested crops disappeared. The people concluded that somebody was actually casting a spell on them. Mazi Udah was accused of causing the problem in the village because be accepted a stranger into his house, an indication of Igbo hospitality. It was the healing of Olamma that made her feel that she owed Anulika one, for one good turn deserves another. There are Igbo language sentences. Some with standard Igbo like “Nsogbuadi,” meaning, “there is trouble.” There is mention of “Nju” leaf, a leaf believed to cause confusion for anybody it touched in the forest. There is also the case of Engligbo. For example, “wuo ya bleach ka o di fair” meaning, “pour bleach on her, to become fair in complexion. This indicates the influx of foreign language into Igbo land. Anulika: The Smelling Princess part two saw her to victory. They had facial marks indicating that it has taken a long time when this story happened but the presence of step tiles on the roof made a mockery of the Igbo village affair and what the film stands for. This on the other hand may portray what the Igbo people love as houses, modern ones.

Another example of Nollywood film is The Seed of the Land. In this film, an Igwe was supposed to be dead when actually, he was in coma. His next in command ‘Onowu’ advised the son, the Prince to preserve the corpse until preparations are made. The preparations include the provision of human head, not more than two weeks old twins, including their mother. The Onowu makes plan to get those things because the ascendency to the throne depends on who provisions. A pregnant woman in the neighbouring community was pregnant with twins and so she becomes the target and finally she and her babies, even her husband died while defending his family. Her mother in law sacrificed herself to the gods. The young Prince with the help of their family doctor escaped with his mother, the sister and his sick father. It was observed that Onowu poisoned the King but he survived.

Onowu’s reasons for the takeover includes, the young Prince not being old enough to rule, he has stayed away from the country for far too long and must have lost touch with tradition, so he had no leadership culture only that it was his birthright. Onowu committed so many atrocities: he killed his own daughter, twins, their mother and a man. When the king returned, Onowu was rewarded with horrible ill health, a reward for the taboo he committed. The moral of the film is summarized by the background music:

ajo obi ajoka

anya ukwu adighi mma

anya ukwu ajokanu

o na-eduba na njo       

Simply translated into English language;

Wickedness is very wrong

Greed is very wrong also

Greed is very wrong

It leads to sin

Emma-Owums Owuamalam provides a glimpse into another film thus:

Frame Up by Giant Productions Limited shows how Diala, the politician, tried to organize his campaign for election as governor even when he was unpopular at home. Diala’s Achilles heel was the option A4 which was an electoral policy to authenticate candidature form ward/local government (grass roots) level.


Nollywood has produced so many films including those in Igbo language. The names, background, stories and cultural values exhibited in the films can help the viewer to understand where it came from. Igbo language is used or interjected and some proverbs, idioms, anecdotes and all are transliterated. Owums Owuamalam, aptly describes the idea that says ‘the status of the lover boy and his personality can be totally assessed with the type of house he lives in and the class of car he drives’ Owuamalam goes further to say ‘...the video format gives better appreciation value of his environment in real life colours with limited dynamic movements…’ (56).

Discussing new trends in Nigerian theater practice and video drama challenge, Duruaku says, The rash of home video, conveyed with the twin drives of unemployment and a society numbered by the drumbeat for cultural re-orientation, anti west and fear of foreign culture domination has smiled at erstwhile ‘idle’ Nigerian actor (130).

Paul Obazele, in an Interview with Helen Paul on Jara Cable TV programme, has this to say: “Our movies are full of borrowed culture for example: Nigerian girls are made to go naked, Nigerian girls ‘No go’ naked now. There is lack of professionalism.” Our cultural values can actually be transmitted through films; a peep into the future can also be made. Archaic life styles, poverty, prostitution, barbarism, savagery and choice of wealth and opulence over good morals are revisited. Good is rewarded while evil is condemned. Igwe Emeka in Making War, though young and widely travelled, did not understand fully when he became what Emenanjo describes thus:

Eze Onyeagwalam, Gini ga eme na Nkemdiiche… Ha na-akuzi na onye naani ya kwu maobu onye chere na nke ya zuuru ya no n’oghom. Onye ahu aghotabeghi maobu na o choghi ighota na: onye naani ya kwu, odudu na-atagbu ya (8).

Simply translated into English language thus:

King knows all, what can happen and mine is different…. They teach that whoever stands alone or things that he/she has enough is in a disadvantage. That person that stands alone is eaten by tsetse fly.

The status of our Igbo culture is begging for salvaging and solution, with Igbo language as a medium, orientation can also embrace a re-orientation.

Recommendations and Conclusion

A good look at Nollywood and cultural re-orientation has come to stay. A society where wealth is deified, other heinous crimes against humanity, tolerated or excused, cannot be a solid foundation for an ethical structure. Nollywood in this case can help to restructure the society.

Nollywood is involved in education, entertainment and enlightenment. They have brought to limelight the culture of the people and evil is condemned. Our culture should be projected and foreign cultures played down on. For instance, the foreign religion should not always dominate our films.

Igbo philosophies of life should be revived, the good ones projected and the evil ones played down on. Nobody should remain static, change is inevitable. Chinyere Ohu Aniche suggests that we have ‘IGBOWOOD’ someday (41).

Tourism should be encouraged; one does not have to stay at a place to imagine that all others are static. Film production should include a clean study of the culture that is in focus.

Nigerian videos film has transformed into a national a national art, creating its own version of the world and attracting the serious attention of the public and the government (Okome 82). Agents of government and film producers seen to be more interested in the monetary gain and not what the film teaches or the language used, should retrace their steps.

The Nollywood films provide a cultural anchor for those abroad. It forms the link between Nigerians, transnational community and the homeland. The dark corners and various fallacies about our peoples past can be illuminated. This is capable of evolving anybody’s admiration or sympathy. It should be noted that the place one stands technologically at present is predicted on where his predecessors once were and one’s pedestal of today is bound to condition the future. A strong call for the use of Igbo language in Nollywood and re-orientation is captured by Inno U. Nwadike thus:

A lost language is a lost tribe

A lost tribe is a lost culture

A lost culture is a lost civilization

A lost civilization is invaluable knowledge lost…

The whole vast achieves of knowledge and expertise… will be consigned to oblivion (52).

Works Cited

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Chikere, Tchidi (Director). Making War 1. Screenplay: Chinedu Collins Ezenwa. Producer: Chinedu Collins Ezenwa. English & Igbo. VCD - 72mins. Company: P. Collins & Associates Ltd, 2013.

Chukwujimbe, Godfrey Chibuike (Director). Seed of the Land 1 & 2. Screenplay: David Oluwaseun Odumnyiwa. English & Igbo. VCD - 46mins. Company: O. G. Best International Ltd, 2015.

Okonkwo, Nonso Ekene (Director). Anulika 1. Screenplay:Nonso Ekene Okonkwo. English & Igbo. VCD - 75mins. Company: O. Gabby Innovations Ltd, 2014.

Bio Data

Lucy Mgbengasha APAKAMA, PhD studied in Alvan Ikoku University of Education, Owerri, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Abia State University, Uturu and Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. She holds a PhD in African Culture and Civilization, with emphasis on Igbo Cultural Studies. She is currently a Chief Lecturer and the Director of Admissions at Alvan Ikoku University of Education, Owerri. She has attended several conferences, both national and international, where she presented papers, mainly based on cultural studies. She has published ten text books, twenty journal papers and two chapters in books. She writes for newspapers and magazines and promotes Igbo language on radio and television. She is married and blessed with children.