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A Nigerian Comic Series Builds on History

A Nigerian Comic Series Builds on History

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A Nigerian Comic Series Builds on History
Queen Amina from Panaramic Entertainment's Okiojo's Chronicles.

Until the early 2000s, Tunji Anjorin, cofounder and editor-in-chief of Panaramic Entertainment, was not aware that Nigeria had up to 250 ethnicities. But as with many in his generation who grew up questioning the halfhearted histories they were taught, his was a national problem. “In our house we didn’t talk much about history, except maybe as a result of a trending topic, which led to a once in a blue moon discussion, and we were only taught the summarized version in school,” he tells me via email. “I realized our history was not sensationalized in the media like that of other cultures.” As a child, he was an avid reader of comics, spending hours in imagined worlds, and so the realization that his real world was not as full as he thought sent him on a search.

In 2007, Anjorin met Oriteme Banigo. Educated in America, Banigo came from a culture of better historical awareness, and with an idea to start a media company. Their interaction led them to cofound Panaramic Entertainment. With Banigo’s enthusiasm for history and Anjorin’s love for comics, “Oriteme posed the idea, we should create a historical comic book series,” Anjorin says.

Their company’s flagship title, Okiojo’s Chronicles, dedicates an issue to a story about an ethnicity in Nigeria. (“Okiojo” means “all-knowing man” in Itsekiri.) Its eight comics so far have told stories of seven out of Nigeria’s 36 states, including those of the Benin Empire (Edo), Oduduwa (Osun), Queen Amina (Kaduna), the Nri Kingdom (Anambra), Eyo (Lagos), Mary Slessor (Cross River), and King Jaja (Rivers). It is a diverse supply of historical and cultural knowledge to the younger, comic-reading generation.

A Nigerian Comic Series Builds on History
Mary Slessor from Okiojo’s Chronicles.

The series’ writer Adeniyi Adeniji also grew up reading his older brother’s comic books and became fascinated with the Spider Man films. In creating storylines for Okiojo’s Chronicles, he finds takes inspiration from the material. “Many of these people were individuals who rose up against the natural order of their times and achieved great things in the face of adversity,” he tells me via email. “They weren’t afraid to stand up for what they believed in and I think that’s a lesson that present and future generations can learn from.” Writing the stories, for him, is a mission to “take our diverse culture back to its roots.”

In depicting character development, Adeniji stuck mainly with historical records, but there was an unforeseen problem. “Some of the figures from our history don’t have accurate or clear-cut accounts of what really happened,” he explains. “Stories like 1897: The Fall of Benin and Jaja of Opobo were easier to write because there were detailed records. But with Queen Amina and Oduduwa, I had to take a little creative license. I mean, when you have conflicting records of whether Amina really held the title of Queen or where and when she died, you have to choose the version that fits best or simply skit the surface so you’re not disseminating false information. For Oduduwa, which reads more like a folklore story involving gods and the creation of the earth, I think creative license is necessary. But these stories are interesting enough on their own without anyone trying to make them more interesting.”

With a country of hundreds of culturally-rich ethnicities and thousands of interesting stories, how do they decide which story to tell from each ethnicity? “It comes from a representation viewpoint,” Anjorin says. “We think about how this ethnic group’s story propagates their history and culture from a universally relatable standpoint, in tandem with the stories of other ethnic groups. When we thought of developing an Igbo story, it came down to [between] the Aba women’s protest and the story we eventually chose, Nri Kingdom: The Origin of the Igbo. We chose the origin story as not a lot of people know about it.”

A Nigerian Comic Series Builds on History
Nri Kingdom: The Origin of the Igbo from Okiojo’s Chronicles.

It takes three and a half months to develop one comic book. Despite a 2008 grant of $1,500 from Northeastern University, Banigo’s alma mater, Panaramic’s plan to release one comic per quarter, a timeline of 62 years for 250 ethnicities, has been affected by market forces. “It’s not a sustainable business model for Okiojo’s Chronicles,” Anjorin says. “However, with funding to scale up production and our mastery of content creation, we are positioned to develop content much quicker, thus we wouldn’t need 62 years to complete them.”  In 2015, Panaramic reached a sponsorship and distribution partnership with 9mobile’s youthcentric package Cliqlite, enabling direct sales to schools and comic bookstores in Lagos, Abuja, and Kaduna. The comics are also available for download on its website and social media platforms.

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A Nigerian Comic Series Builds on History
Mowalola Ogunlesi. Photo by Joyce NG.

Also at work had been political forces. Two years after Okiojo’s Chronicles launched, the problem that Anjorin had growing up became officialized: the Nigerian government made the controversial decision, in 2009, to remove History from the secondary school curriculum, subsuming it under Social Studies. “We were thinking who thought this up? How did they all agree and let it happen?” Anjorin says. “We decided to stick to our plan. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, as creating something new never is, but we also knew we wouldn’t stop.” The implementation was rescinded in 2018.

A Nigerian Comic Series Builds on History
Jaja of Opobo from Okiojo’s Chronicles.

The utilization of entertainment as pride-building peaked in the 2018 film Black Panther; that and Beyonce’s 2019 album The Lion King: The Gift have fanned a red-hot Black-African consciousness not seen before; but what Beyonce and Marvel were only just discovering, Panaramic had detailed for a decade. In addition to Omoboy, a title about a teenager who turns himself into electricity, the company is developing an exciting Pan African series that includes the stories of Shaka the Zulu of South Africa and Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

Panaramic is intentional in using history for nation-building. “For decades there has been a widening generational gap in the mental development of the Nigerian child, leading to a generation unaware of our country’s legacy,” Anjorin says. “As ethnic dissonance is a root cause for a lot of Nigeria’s issues and creating value depends on addressing human emotions, Okiojo’s Chronicles gives valuable insight into other ethnicities’ inner worlds and ideals, acting as an instrument of national integration.” For Banigo, Okiojo’s Chronicles might even “set an example for other African countries who have similar challenges to do the same.”

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