9 Must-Read Nigerian Books Adapted into Movies

We have curated a list of Nigerian literary texts, in no order of importance, that have managed to make their way to the movie industry.

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Tunde Kelani
Tunde Kelani
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The relationship between film and literature has always been a good topic of discourse for any literary related discussion. It is an interesting conversation for the academia and movie enthusiasts. We have seen several great books adapted into great movies. Is it The Godfather by Mario Puzo we should talk about or The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje? These are examples of books we have seen turned into movies. This essay is going to focus on the influx of literature texts into the Nigerian movie industry in the last thirty years.

We have curated a list of Nigerian literary texts, in no order of importance, that have managed to make their way to the movie industry. It might interest you to know that the ace movie director, Tunde Kelani, has the most movies adapted from books in the list. No movie director in Nigeria, and perhaps the sub-Saharan Africa comes close to Tunde Kelani in this niche. From partnering with the writer, Akinwumi Isola, on many of his movie projects to adapting works by other writers, Kelani has definitely carved a niche for himself in the adaptation of books into movies. Other movie directors in this list include Biyi Bandele and Kunle Afolayan.

Some of the books in this curated list are written by Akinwumi Isola, Bayo Adebowale, Abimbola Egbokhare, Femi Osofisan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Wole Soyinka. This list is not an inexhaustible list. There are several others we might not have mentioned here.

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#1 Efunsetan Aniwura by Akinwumi Isola

The first on our list of Nigerian books that have been adapted into movies is Efunsetan Aniwura, Iyalode Ibadan by Akinwumi Isola. The historical play which was published in 1970 tells the story of the cruelty of Efunsetan Aniwura, the second Iyalode of Ibadan, towards her horde of slaves. The book was originally written in Yoruba by Akinwumi Isola. It was later on translated into the English Language by Pamela J. Olubunmi Smith in 2006.

Efunsetan Aniwura
Efunsetan Aniwura

In 2005, the book was adapted into a movie of the same title and directed by Tunde Kelani. The movie spotted a star-studded cast which includes Iyabo Ogunsola, Saidi Balogun, Kareem Adepoju, Deji Aderemi, Kola Oyewo, and several others.

#2 O Le Ku by Akinwumi Isola

O Le Ku is another prominent literary text on our list. Like Efunsetan Aniwura, the novel was written in Yoruba by the same author. O Le Ku is a romantic novel by Akinwumi Isola that follows the story of Ajani, a final year university student, who finds himself in a love quadrangle with three women (Asake, Lola, and Sade) from whom he has to pick his life partner. The novel was published by Oxford University Press in 1974.

O Le Ku Movie Poster
O Le Ku Movie Poster

The novel was adapted into a movie with the same title in 1997 by the ace filmmaker, Tunde Kelani. The cast for this movie includes Yemi Shodimu, Feyikemi Abodunrin, Pauline Dike, Omolola Amusan, Lere Paimo, and Kola Oyewo. This makes it two for Akinwumi Isola and Tunde Kelani on our nine list of must-read Nigerian books adapted into movies.

#3 The Virgin by Bayo Adebowale

Bayo Adebowale is a familiar name for people of my generation who studied Literature-in-English for their Senior Secondary School Examination (SSCE). His novel, Lonely Days, was one of the two African prose texts Literature students studied for WASSCE, NECOSSCE and their equivalents in anglophone West Africa. I, for one, read his Out of His Mind, for my BECE exams.

Adebowale is, however, popular for some other reason. It is for his first novel, The Virgin, which was later adapted into a movie. The novel follows the story of Awero, a young woman living in the village of Orita in South-West Nigeria during the colonial era. She is deflowered by a man she trusts but she is unable to tell anyone because of the shame this Yoruba society places on a woman being deflowered before her wedding night. Virginity is considered a thing of feminine pride in this society. Now, she must choose a suitor, all the while agonising about her secret being discovered on her wedding night.

The Virgin by Bayo Adebowale
The Virgin by Bayo Adebowale

This interesting communal novel, which was published in 1985, would later be adapted into a movie titled The Narrow Path in 2006. Guess who directed the movie? It is none other than your favourite, Tunde Kelani. Some of the actors and actresses that featured in The Narrow Path are Sola Asedeko, Segun Adefila, Ayo Badmus, Seyi Fasuyi, Khabirat Kafidipe, Joke Muyiwa, and Bukky Wright.

The Narrow Path
The Narrow Path

The movie is one of my favourites on the list. I first came across it as a teenager in secondary school. Then, my Yoruba teacher at The Wings Schools, Iwo had arranged for my class and a few other classes in the school to watch the movie in the school hall to learn a thing or the other about Yoruba traditional marriage. The sound track of the movie was done by Beautiful Nubia. I had gone on to watch the movie and listen to the sound track, Ikoko Akufo (Lamentation for a Broken Pot), several times, and each time, the feeling remained the same.

#4 Dazzling Mirage by Abimbola Egbokhare

The next on our list is Dazzling Mirage by Abimbola Egbokhare, published in 2007. The novel tells the story of Funmiwo, a young woman living with sickle cell anemia, which constantly interferes with her work and love life. It depicts the stigma associated with the disease, and the challenges she faces in finding love.

The novel was adapted into a 2014 award-winning Nigerian drama film of the same name that features a cast that includes Kemi Lala Akindoju, Kunle Afolayan, Seun Akindele, Khabirat Kafidipe, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, and Aderounmu Adejumoke. The movie, like the first three on this list, was directed yet again by Tunde Kelani.

Dazzling Mirage
Dazzling Mirage

#5 Ma’ami by Femi Osofisan

Ma’ami is another interesting read on the list. The novella tells the story of a young boy, simply identified as “My little husband” or “My son,” raised by a resilient single mother in the midst of penury. In 2021, I remember picking The Best of Times, authored by Femi Osofisan under the pen name of Okinba Launko, on a shelf at the OAU Bookshop because it combines three novellas, Ma’ami with Kolera Kolej and Cordelia which are equally interesting reads too. Apart from its simple language, what made reading Ma’ami even more unique was because I had watched its 2011 movie adaptation, directed by Tunde Kelani, several years before I bought the book. So, reading the novella, it felt as if I was listening to the words and visualising the actions of Funke Akindele who played the role of the single mother in the movie.

Maami Movie Poster
Maami Movie Poster

The only points of divergence between the book and the movie lie in the director’s choice of nostalgia and flashbacks in the telling of the story. Kelani also ensures the character development of the son. He gives him a name and an identity. The son, who now is identified as Kashimawo (played by Wole Ojo and Ayomide Abatti), has risen to international stardom in an English football club, Arsenal. He has returned home to sort out his personal issues from his past, especially with his estranged ritualist father, before he decides to represent Nigeria in the World cup. Memories of his childhood and the hardships his mother endured for him to have a life to be proud of come flooding as he beams a torchlight on his past.

#6 Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) is a historical fiction novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that tells the story of the Nigerian Civil War through the perspective of multiple characters. The film adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun was released in 2013 and directed by Biyi Bandele. The movie stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandiwe Newton, and Anika Noni Rose.

Half of a Yellow Sun
Half of a Yellow Sun

#7 Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka

If you ever have the cause to study African drama at the university level, you might come across Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman. The play, which was first published in 1975, is based on a real incident that happened in 1946 in colonial Nigeria in which the horseman of the Alaafin is prevented from committing ritual suicide by the colonial authorities. Elesin, the king’s horseman, is expected to commit ritual suicide following the death of the Alaafin to ease the passage of the deceased king in the afterlife. He is, however, distracted by his fleshly desires which allows Simon Pilkings, the district officer, to wade into a culture he doesn’t understand to stop Elesin’s suicide.

Elesin Oba, The King's Horseman
Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman

After years of being acted on stage, the play was finally adapted into the film “Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman” by the filmmaker cum writer, Biyi Bandele and was released on Netflix in 2022. The cast of “Elesin Oba” includes Odunlade Adekola, Shaffy Bello, Olawale ‘Brymo’ Olofooro, Deyemi Okanlawon, Jide Kosoko, and Omowunmi Dada.

#8 Who’s Afraid of Solarin? by Femi Osofisan

Who’s Afraid of Solarin? is a play written by Femi Osofisan in honour of Dr. Tai Solarin, the former Public Complaints Commissioner for the Western State of Nigeria. The play is an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector. It satirises the corruption prevalent in Nigerian society at the time. In the play, a rogue traveller is mistaken for the feared Public Complaints Commisioner, Solarin, by the corrupt officials of the Local Government Council. He exploits this misconception to enrich his pocket until the genuine Commissioner arrives.

Yeepa, Solarin nbo
Yeepa, Solarin nbo

Tunde Kelani has since taken Who’s Afraid of Solarin? from just a play read and acted on stage to a filmed comedic play titled “Yeepa!” rendered in Yoruba. The film has a talented cast which includes Bayo Bankole, Ropo Ewenla, Ebun Oloyede, Joke Muyiwa, Ayo Mogaji, and Kayode Olaiya.

#9 Swallow by Sefi Atta

Like Ma’ami, I had seen Swallow movie before reading the novel. I saw the movie when it was released on Netflix in 2021 and read the novel in the first month of 2024. I had an almost similar experience reading Sefi Atta’s Swallow like I did with Femi Osofisan’s Ma’ami. This Sefi Atta’s novel revolves around Tolani and her roommate Rose, both staff of the Federal Community Bank, who are struggling to make ends meet in the 1980s during Buhari/Idiagbon military government. After Rose is fired from her job, her drug smuggler of a boyfriend convinces her to smuggle drugs. She tries to persuade Tolani to do the same. At first, Tolani contemplates drug trafficking but couldn’t proceed with it in the long run. Rose, on the other hand, dies of the hard drugs she had ingested, before she can leave Nigeria. Tolani goes to her hometown to lay low and think of starting over.

Swallow by Sefi Atta
Swallow by Sefi Atta

The film was directed by the versatile actor and filmmaker, Kunle Afolayan. The cast of “Swallow” includes Niyola, Ijeoma Grace Agu, Deyemi Okanlawon, Mercy Aigbe, Kelvin Ikeduba, and Eniola Badmus.

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