When you hear that Donald Tombia wrote or headed the writing team for a movie or series, you can instantly expect suspense, intrigue, and a well-put-together story devoid of plot holes. However, the brilliant writer has only been writing screenplays for five years.
He set a five-year goal before moving to screenwriting and decided to quit if he didn’t hit the mark. It is safe to say that fans can expect more brilliance from him as he has matched his goals, and some may even say he surpassed them.
Donald has always had a keen mind for creation. As an only child, he often got lost in his imagination, creating alternate universes and worlds. He was an artist in every sense of the word – learning different soft skills like drawing. However, when it was time to pick a field of study, he found himself in the sciences.
After studying Electrical Electronics Engineering at Igbinedion University and getting his masters in Forensic Computing and Cyber Security from the University of Bradford, it was only logical that he would build an illustrious career in cybersecurity. However, the art lover in him begged to be let out, and he found it difficult to find fulfilment despite making a lot of money. So, he never let his artsy side die.
He started a prose blog, Sleeick Stories, in 2011. The origin story is quirky, but no one tells it better than the originator. “While looking for a job after finishing my Masters in 2011, I started sending out daily devotionals on my BlackBerry.
It got a lot of traction. I would explain the scripture in a unique way representing everyday life, and it used to be short. I remember a friend reaching out to me to encourage me to keep the devotionals on a blog so I could always refer to them. In my computer-only blog, the devotional was three lines. I knew I couldn’t put it out like that, so I made it longer. The first one I tried to make longer became a story.”
He ran that blog successfully for three years until it affected his income in 2014. He had gotten a job that helped him earn a lot. But, the blog was a distraction, especially after he received a promotion to manager that year. In his words, that decision made him weep.
He said, “At some point, I couldn’t keep it up. So, I decided to shut it down. But when I did, I wept. I sobbed like a baby.”
That strong reaction was his first indication that storytelling might be more important than working with computers. The break didn’t last long. He resumed blogging short stories in 2015 with Sleeick Tales. He describes the moves as “his spirit always seeking fuller expression. It was a soul-deep satisfaction to create a story from scratch.”
In 2017, he decided he needed more ways to tell stories, especially one that could be manifested visually. Spurred by his friend and fellow writer, Xavier Ighoroje, he took a class with the Head of Production, West Africa, MultiChoice, Victor Sanchez Aghaowa, on screenwriting. Then, in 2018, he took award-winning filmmaker Chris Ihidero’s Story-Story workshop.
He started writing on Africa Magic’s Ajoche in 2018. Donald describes the days between 2017 and 2018 as his pressure cooker year. He kept his tech job and would work on it during official time, pack it up right after closing time and immerse himself in learning about writing.
At this point, he was sleeping in his office, pulling daily all-nighters, and consuming as much knowledge as possible about writing for TV or screen.
“I call what I did ‘the weight of my time’. Between 2017 and 2018, I will go to the office and work till 5 or 6 pm. Everybody goes home, and I stay in the office, working. By this time, I’d switch from tech to storytelling and writing by reading and watching videos all night.
I had a bathroom in my office, so I’d shower between 4 and 5 am. When my colleagues return by 8 am, I’d wake up, brush my teeth, and start the day. You can’t keep that kind of routine for a while and not stand out,” he said.
By December 2018, he decided to completely give up working in tech and focus squarely on creating stories for the big screen. At the time, he had just finished working on Ajoche. He met Tunde Aladese, who introduced him to Nkiru Njoku, the head writer for Tinsel.
He began writing on the highly acclaimed series in 2019 and continued well into 2021. Interestingly, as he moved to full-time writing in 2018, Donald whetted his appetite for multi-dimensional storytelling by working with Revolutionary Comics. Still, his time on Tinsel was all the motivation he needed to dive headfirst into screenwriting.
It was inconvenient to move from tech. Donald shared, “For the longest time, my parents didn’t understand what I was doing. It was tough around me because I had a family, but that was also one of the major propellers. I did not want to regret my decision five years after leaving my job.
So, I had five years to get to a point of Mastery where I’m commanding the type of money I would have if I remained in tech. These things were driving me. So, it was not enough for me to be a good writer. I needed to be the billionaire creative. I sent out emails to different people, pitching myself.
By 2019, I started writing for Tinsel, and my family started understanding what I was doing.”
Later, in 2019, the former techie leapt from writing for a TV series to writing his first feature film, Strain. Uduak-Obong Patrick directed the film, while Benjamin Abejide Adeniran, through whom Donald had gotten the chance to work on the project, produced it alongside Oluwatoyin Adewumi. The film won the Best International Film 2020 award at the Urban Film Festival in Miami, USA, and the 2021 Best Screenplay Film at the 2021 edition of The African Film Festival (TAFF).
2019 would come to be a defining year in Donald’s screenwriting career. That year, he wrote four other films, three of which have been released and received high commendations. His YouTube project, The Philosophy Of Death, produced by Lilian Afegbai and released in January 2023, now has over 157,700 views.
He also wrote Shanty Town alongside Xavier Ighorodje that year. The film clinched 11 nominations at the 9th Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards. Donald also wrote ‘Introducing The Kujus’ that same year. After its November 2020 release, it received four nominations at the AMVCAs, for which its only win was for ‘Best Writer in a Movie or TV Series’.
Every year since 2019, Donald has gotten writer credits in various series. He was the Story Editor for Enakhe in 2020 and one of the writers and later Story Editor for Dilemma in 2021. He wrote Covenant in 2022, and the show received numerous praises from viewers via social media.
His YouTube series for Ndani TV, AfroCity, also premiered in 2020. Donald wrote the second season, which has over 113,000 cumulative views.
He has writing credits on two of the latest TV series on Africa Magic. He is one of the brilliant minds behind the highly-acclaimed Slum King. Produced by Chichi Nworah and directed by Dimeji Ajibola, the story follows young Edafe and his traumatising life story to become the Slum King, MAJE. The series has received high praise from MultiChoice executives, film critics and actors alike for its brilliant storytelling. It airs every Sunday on Africa Magic Showcase (DStv ch. 151) at 8 pm.
Meanwhile, Masquerades of Aniedo has viewers spellbound with its intricate story about a village boy, Muna, who is determined to earn his community’s respect by becoming the Great Masquerade of Aniedo. The show airs every weekday at 8 pm on Africa Magic Showcase.
Interestingly, Donald’s film, ‘Big Book of Lies’, produced for Accelerate TV, also airs every Thursday at 9 pm on Africa Magic Showcase (DStv ch. 151).
He shared about the shows, “I have Slum King and Masquerades of Aniedo on air right now. They cannot be any more different.
Slum King is a gritty story that begs people to die. This is the story we are telling – slum, drugs. However, the Masquerades of Aniedo is set in a quiet community. The people dying are crucial in the story’s trajectory. The stories determine what gets to happen.”
As expected, the writer is already working on some projects that will be released in 2024. Still, he is allowing himself to enjoy watching his work on TV, being deliberate about interacting with the different show’s fans and basking in the glow that he met and surpassed his initial five-year target.
But that doesn’t mean he is resting on his laurels. Donald Tombia has big dreams and will not rest until he sees each one come to fruition.
“The next phase for me would be pivoting into producing my work. I want to be happy. I want to be worshipped as a God and king because that’s storytelling – you’re creating. I want the celebration, worship, lauding, accolades, and flowers. Give the people who have created the shows you love their flowers because it brings people together. That’s what I mean by worship.”