By Emmanuel Ukudolo
At 20, the motion pictures industry in Nigeria branded Nollywood would definitely not pass as a toddler: It has been able to survive trying times and indeed blossomed into a full grown industry surpassing the expectations of even the best known critic. Like a child’s play, it has evolved over a period, right from the era of Ken Nnebue’s “Living in Bondage”, and it has succeeded in asserting itself as the leading film-making nation in Africa and the third largest in the world, ranking after Hollywood (United Sates) and Bollywood (India). “It turns over billions of dollars and generates millions of jobs annually” says former Director-General, National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) Mr. Emeka Mba. Ironically, this development has taken place with very little or no input from government.
In Nigeria, Leke Alder Consulting estimates that the total market potential of the film industry relative to the size of the economy is now over N522 billion from US1.9 million(N250 million) in 1994, while PricewaterhouseCoopers, estimates that the industry would generate US$600 billion in the year 2010. Ironically, productions have been largely executed with digital cameras unlike the celluloid format, which has become the template for defining quality worldwide. Nevertheless, practitioners have through this homegrown format attained their number three rating globally and a subject of meticulous inquisition by many.
Available records from the NFVCB indicate that about 10,440 have been churned out locallyin the last 16 years, some in English, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Efik, Urhobo, Ishan and other minority languages. Through these works, filmmakers explored subjects ranging from violence, rituals, authentic traditional stories, folktales and socio-political satires.Nollywood, like her counterpart in India and the US is believed by experts to survive on tripods ranging from robust producers and production outfits, level-headed directors, disciplined actors, well organised marketing /distribution networks and finance.
By 2004, there were seven production studios, 37 video viewing centres, 2,196 video clubs, 65 distributors, 263 retailers and five cinema halls according to records available at the NFVCB. But way back in 1997, then President of Film Exhibitors Association of Nigeria (FEAN), Alhaji Mustapha Apanishile told our reporter that there are 86 cinema halls in Lagos alone.
With all these structures in place the industry seems to be set to attain the greatest heights in the annuals of filmmaking. But one of the problems confronting the industry has to do with the themes explored by practitioners, some of which have contributed in further adulteration of the already dented image of Nigeria in the committee of nations. Former DG of the NFVCB, Mrs. Rosaline Odeh underscored this fact when she declared at a stakeholders’ conference that the film industry which many have denigrated has gained local and international recognition, adding “we should be very careful with the way we use the film medium which is very potent to portray the image of our great country. I appeal to every one to support and compliment government’s effort in trying to prove to the world that Nigeria has good and positive things to offer and not all Nigerians are corrupt and bad”, she said.
Her views would have filtered in among some class of producers and directors, but certainly not the marketers/distributors who have financially driven the industry to this level. For the marketers, who have actually doubled as filmmakers, the consumers would always call the shot in the absence of a demonstrable government commitment to the industry which analysts believe has earned the nation more recognition than any other sector. Some practitioners have also deemed it fit to excuse the marketers, arguing that it is difficult to divorce the culture of Nigeria from violence and rituals.
Enebeli Elebuwa, a reputable practitioner of the motion pictures industry averred that rituals are part of most festivals and ceremonies in the villages.
“I have seen people from different villages doing all kinds of rituals”, he said. Chidi Mokeme, another practitioner sees nothing wrong in rituals but attributes the urge for offensive theme to zeal among marketers to maximize profit.
For a very long time, independent producers were at loggerheads with the marketers whom they allege to be the brain behind pirated video works. To set matters right, the independent filmmakers floated Filmmakers Cooperative (FCON) through which it acquired a piece of land at Babs Animashaun Extension, Surulere, Lagos, and erected FCON Market in 2003.
“Membership base of the association include numerous small and medium scale businesses including start-ups, thus making it the biggest single business block in motion picture, culture, entertainment and allied arts in the country”, Dr. Don Pedro Obaseki, then FCON President said, adding “the filmmakers cooperative is moving forward with a dynamic and aggressive marketing and growth plan with affiliated distributors and wholesalers across the nation”, he had affirmed. The cooperative, he observed is a vendor poised to serve customers as a trusted ally, providing them with the loyalty of a business partner and the economics of an outside vendor.
The banks and the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) were touted as partners in the project. The intention of FCON, Obaseki said was to use the network of these organisations to drive sales of films. While that of the banks, notably, the United Bank of Africa (UBA) failed to materialized, hiccups in accounting procedures and logistics allegedly thwarted what would have been one of the finest network for film distribution in the country. For an industry that seemed to have been saddled with some of the best intellects, there seemed to be no end to brainstorming in the quest to get out of the problem of distribution which has become a nightmare to reputable practitioners like Amaka Igwe.
Igwe contemplated a Local Government Area model, through which, the local governments would serve as outlets for film distribution. But it all ended at the planning stage. It was followed by the concept of marketing films through Video Kiosk conceived by Obaseki to mass-market entertainment materials including films. It was a mobile market expected to attend to customers once the phone number set aside is dialed, Obaseki said adding that “Video Kiosk will reach the interior”. But while this experiment was ongoing, the NFVCB came out with a frame work for film distribution which some filmmakers hoped would solve the problem and enhance their earning capacity.
Under the frame work, intending film distributors and exhibitors are expected to pay a non-refundable fee of N20,000 for would-be operators at the national level, N15,000 for regional operators, N10,000 for state, N5,000 and N1000 for those desiring to operate at Local Government community level respectively. However, once license is granted, a distributor is expected to pay a license fee ranging from N500,000 to N5000 depending on the scale of distribution to be embarked upon. Besides, intending national distributors must have a share capital of N5 million, N 3million for regional distributors and N2 million for all other class of distributors, while intending exhibitors would pay license fees ranging from N300,000(national) to N5000(community level). This amount however excludes payment for premises acquired for the purpose of exhibition with limits placed at N150,000 for major cinemas, N100,000 for medium, N80,000 for small scale cinemas and N15,000 for viewing centres.
The actually amount attached to each of the category was the bone of contention between the board and the marketers who view the initiative as rather exploitative based on attitude of government to the industry for more than a decade. That model was shut down by stakeholders and did not materialize till date.
Former President Association of Film and Video Recorders and Marketers of Nigeria (AFVRMN), Mr. Emmanuel Nsikaku puts the facts in perspective. “We are not against the reform as long as it has a human face. It is like asking an actor who is not a graduate to go get a degree in 45 days. No matter how rich you are, it is not possible for one to fulfill their proposition. They are just trying to act a script before they leave office,” he said. Chairman Coalition of Association of Nigeria Film/Video Producers, Marketers and Distributors (CANFVPMD) Mrs. Ibidun Ibitola also repudiated the reforms describing it as discriminatory, unpatriotic, impracticable and unconstitutional. For her, the action of the board contravenes the tenets of due process adding that the framework would engender monopoly. But renowned filmmaker, Chief Eddie Ugbomah believes frame work will work and wonders why some people should be making noise about a scheme that is yet to be experimented. Gab Okoye, Chairman Gabosky Films averred that the new initiative is geared towards strengthening activities of movie-making in Nigeria to conform with global practices and ultimately integrate the Nigeria movie industry with the organized private sector.
This not withstanding, the marketers do not see any reason why government that has paid lip service to the industry should be thinking of reaping so much from it. Those funding the industry have been the marketers. “You can hardly access funds from the banks apart from overdraft”, Obaseki said adding that the banks do not see any reason for investing in scripts. Pundits are saying that the only time government showed some level of commitment to the industry was the release of the 100 million Film Fund through the former Information Minister, Chief Chukwuemeka Chikelu allegedly squandered without the knowledge of key players in the industry.
“I think the President (referring to Olusegun Obasanjo) has done something wonderful and it will be so disappointing if at the end of the day the President fails to achieve what he wants with that N100 million”, Mr. Zeb Ejiro, a pioneer filmmaker said of the money and wondered how such amount of money could be released without leaving any impact on the industry. Very close to the last general elections, President Goodluck Jonathan graciously announced the donation of $200 million film intervention fund, which the likes of Zeb Ejiro said no filmmaker has been able to access.However, the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC), a government organ has been the major beneficiary of that first intervention from government at the expense of private individuals without whom, experts believe there would not be an industry.
“From the first N100million government gave our parent ministry (the Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation) to support the (film) industry in 2004, the corporation got about 51% percent of the money”, MD, NFC Afolabi Adesanya said in an interview. Besides that, what followed are promises. President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration through Adesanya promised to set up a N5billion Film Fund. “When established, it would enable film producers make quality films which would compete “favorably internationally,” Adesanya said. The NFC, analysts believe is obviously referring to international festival where laurels have eluded Nigeria for producing films using the home grown video format. But the colour laboratory one of the primary assets of the NFC set up in 1979 with N500 million to process celluloid films for the likes of Chief Eddie Ugbomah, Ladi Ladebo and the few who still patronize the format has since become moribund. “The lab in its present state is incapable of processing films on celluloid”, Ugbomah noted.
The likes of Femi Lasode and Jetta Amata and Ladebo who have defied the odds to make films using that format in recent times have to travel out to process the films. Although filmmakers have advanced from using miniature cameras to the very recent High Definition Digital Camera (HDD), production studios have not been able to match these developments. Besides Studio Tinapa in Rivers State, standard studios as you would have in Hollywood and in South Africa remains elusive. Till date, films have been churned out in the absence of any film village. This is happening even after the Federal Government through Chikelu made a show about the possibility of setting up a N500 million film village in Lagos. Otumba Gbenga Daniel, former Governor of Ogun State also indicated interest in setting up a film village in Ososa.The only ray of hope seems to be coming from Jos, the Plateau State capital.
“We are looking at the possibilities of establishing film villages. We are going to open one in Jos, Plateau State. It would be a place where you can put up production structures because it has entire film production facilities. You can control the production perfectly. It is not a new concept. It is a variation of the old studio format. You can take your entire cast/crew there; do your production, feed them, have a time-out, and when you are through, you knockdown the set and go, and other productions will come later and use the facilities too”, Adesanya said.
He affirmed that the project would be executed in partnership with the private sector. “The Film City that is to be built in Plateau state is not going to be executed by government alone. In fact, our equity participation is five percent, so it is not a government thing. We only draw up the guidelines and involve the necessary participants and stakeholders. We need a professional environment to work with necessary facilities such as hotels, restaurants, relaxation centres and locations for your cast and crew. So the film village is where everything is in place. You are not invading anybody’s privacy in the film village. The committee set up for this is not there to convince government to build film villages but to package guidelines for proper control and coordinated production and practice. The need for post production, outdoor relaxation and other production facilities and services are what informed this”.
However, when Chikelu made the pronouncement, it was perceived by practitioners as the beginning of recognition of by government who had all the while made repeated calls to practitioners to organised themselves into guilds to facilitate assistance. The Association of Movie Producers (AMP) and Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) had been the only rallying point for motion picture practitioners. Some of those that came on board at a later stage were Directors Guild of Nigeria (DGN), Script Writers Guild (SWG), Motion Pictures Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPPCON) and others representing cinematographers, marketers and make up artistes, etc.
Analysts are convinced that the progress so far recorded among the guilds by way of organisation, discipline and care among practitioners is based on recognition that no guild could function without involving others. Some artistes have also been at the receiving end of this symbiotic romance. They include Genevive Naji, Jim Iyk, Ramsey Noah, Omotola-Jelade Ekeinde, Richard Mofe Damijo, etc allegedly blacklisted by marketers for unacceptable behaviors, forcing some, notably, Naji and Ekeinde to switch to music and comedy.“We have not blacklisted them; we only withdrew patronage from them”, Nsikaku said at a forum in Lagos. But not all the artistes seemed to have learned from this wave of discipline that swept across the industry. Ini Edo, who emerged toast of producers after the ban on Naji and others became the next target, and was booted out for alleged nauseating behaviour.
Some of those lucky to escape the hammer from marketers have become victims of one form of scandal or the other. First was Anita Hogan whose nude photographs allegedly found their ways to the internet. She denied the scandal, only for her to consummate marriage with her lover, Ted Mark allegedly featured beside the nude actress on the net. Next was Hassanat Taiwo Akinwande (Wumi) who was jailed for drug trafficking and many others. Ninety-six wraps of cocaine was allegedly found in her bowel at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. Though not peculiar to Nollywood, these scandals are however beyond the regulatory frame work put in place by government. Act 85 of 1993, established the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) to regulate cinematographic matters in the country using laid down guidelines.
Any film or video work forwarded to the board for censorship is by the guidelines expected to have educational or entertainment value, promote Nigerian culture, unity and interest; must not undermine national security, induce or reinforce corruption of private or public morality. In addition, such a film must be seen as unlikely to encourage or glorify the use of violence and expose the people of African heritage to ridicule or contempt. Such works most not be seen to encourage illegal or criminal acts, racial, religious, ethnic discrimination or conflict and must be excused from blasphemy and obscenity.From the modest Lagos office where it started operation in the early 1990s, the board now has offices in Ibadan, Port Harcourt and Lagos with Abuja as headquarter. Experts say that in the performance of its function, the board has on a number of occasions found it very difficult dealing with issues relating to obscenity beyond films submitted to it for censorship and classification. Pornographic films are commonplace in Nigerian streets, even after the board had in 2006 vowed to cleanse the street of these materials. The board has also worked in consonance with Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) to fight the menace of piracy. Immediate past Director General, NCC, Mr. Adebambo Adewopo is of the view that the Copyright Video Rental Regulation of 1999 was meant to check the excesses of video rental businesses and offer right owners a credible means of remuneration for commercial rental of their works and more importantly to address the issue of piracy from the standpoint of distribution of movie products. “But the current situation where right owners are not remunerated for the exploitation of their works by the numerous users including video rental outlets is not acceptable and must be addressed decisively”, he had vowed since the menace of piracy has accounted for the colossal loss of revenue to filmmakers.
While advancement has been made in some areas within the sector, the major problem confronting the industry so far has been the use of foul language, low audio, poor picture quality, lack of research, poor subtitling and incomplete storylines among others. Apart from cost which seems to be pushing filmmakers away from the celluloid format, its peculiar techniques many analysts feel, could have been another hurdle some practitioners are reluctant to cross.
But Adesanya believes that all of this can be achieved through training. “All you need to do is to go to film school to learn, and the same thing goes for video. It is not enough to say I can operate a sewing machine therefore I am a tailor. What about the operating principles? How to cut the cloth, sew and whip the edges after cutting and all that. It is not just the difference in the cost. What about the aesthetic values and the final products? Therefore, in camera operation, it is not only about seeing through the view finder, but also ensuring the sound quality, and every other thing involved because the danger with the video is that the operators are only left with a single system’, he said.