Z is for Zebrudaya

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If you are a Nigerian of a certain age; or in possession of a mild to formidable memory; or merely stricken by the notorious malady, nostalgia without recall, you know Chief Zebrudaya—even more, you love him.

Chief Zebrudaya—or the man who plays him, Chief Chika Okpala—visited the Federal Palace venue of Lights, Camera, Africa!!! Handed a microphone after the screening of In-law Trouble, an episode from The Masquerade, the comedy series he led for years, he sang the programme’s earliest theme song.

The Masquerade was the televisual translation of a radio programme, James Iroha’s In A Lighter Mood created and developed to help eastern survivors of the Civil War cope with the war’s aftermath. Faced with no food, no money, no work—‘we don’t talk about school’—the broadcasters thought up In A Lighter Mood based on a singular idea: “If somebody can caricature how you are during the day” maybe you’ll be happy.

In 1974, television returned to Enugu and the In A Lighter Mood became The Masquerade, with James Iroha retaining his role as writer. On radio, the central character was voiced by four actors. For television Chika Okpala, then in his twenties, was selected—with the aid of makeup—to play Chief Zebrudaya Okorigwe alias 4:30. The programme later became New Masquerade at which point, Chika Okpala was producer.

Keeping with the theme Legacy, Life House brought the actor to speak about his life about which little is known. As the man may be used to by now, Chief Zebrudaya upstaged Chief Chika.

Filmmaker Tam Fiofori, a spring chicken no more, sought the origin of ‘4:30’ in that famously long name. Here’s the answer:
In an early episode of the programme, presumably in its radio days, Zebrudaya (or ZB as his wife Ovularia called him) challenged some men to a drinking contest to last from 4:30pm to 4:30 am, his friend Jegede Shokoya included. The competition got drunk before midnight while Zebrudaya continued till the next day. And so the moniker was born.

Chief Chika Okpala explained how his alter ego had performed the drinking feat: before the contest he poured Schweppes’ Bitter Lemon, a white soda drink popular at the time, into his container.

A member of the audience wanted to know if extant copies of the programme remain. They were erased when the Nigerian Television Authority in dire financial straits erased the old Masquerade tapes to record newer programmes. “No storage, no preservation. Very unfortunate.” Eevn with most of its cast dead, Chief Chika expressed optimism at the possibility of the programme resurrecting for one last run, “We can come back in a new way if the Masquerade head is still alive.

“Before I die off”.