Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nollywood at 20 and Nigeria’s entertainment industry

Congratulations to all Nigerian thespians, playwrights, producers, directors, costumiers, scriptwriters, musicians, set-designers, location managers, dancers, choreographers, cameramen and women, photographers, editors, marketers, financiers and all other professionals who are involved in film-making in the country.  From November 2 – 27, 2013, Nigeria’s movie industry, better known as Nollywood, is set to celebrate its two decades of existence with pomp. Lots of interesting activities have been lined up to mark the twentieth anniversary celebrations. These include a grand awards night, a charity novelty football match, special master class sessions for practitioners, coaching clinics for Nigerian youths and upcoming motion picture practitioners, special charity-support activities, among others.
I appreciate the artistry, resilience, and conscientiousness of Nollywood practitioners. From nothing, they have made the Nigerian film industry a global brand so much so that in 20 years, Nollywood is rated third best world over coming after the United States of America’s Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. I had a taste of the popularity of Nigeria’s films and artistes in Ghana in 2008 when I was a short term international election observer with The Carter Centre.   At the Bekwai constituency in the Kumasi Region where I observed the December 28, presidential run-off, it was a pleasant surprise as some of the poll officials, having noticed that I am from Nigeria, warmed up to me and told me that they love our actors and actresses. Names of screen divas such as Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Genevive Nnaji, Ini Edo and actors such as Nkem Owoh (Osuofia), Desmond Elliot and Ramsey Nouah were mentioned.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria movie professionals have contributed immensely to national development. Apart from offering employment to several thousands of people along the value chain, Nollywood has helped to foster national unity as people from different ethnic, religious and cultural background work together in making good films for our entertainment. The country’s film industry has also helped to project and promote Nigerian cultures and values. Nigerian names, food, attires, dance, tourist centres, architectural designs, music, and general lifestyles have been locally and internationally promoted via our film industry. The Nigerian movie industry has also done a lot of image laundry for the country. Our films, movies and artistes have won numerous prestigious national and international awards among which is the Africa Movie Academy Awards. Our actors and actresses have also had the opportunity to showcase their talents in other countries in Europe, America and Africa. Our films have provided an unrivalled means of relaxation. Films with comedy slants have helped to reduce stress by offering comic reliefs.
Nigerian actors and actresses have also been able to demonstrate their resourcefulness and versatility by their ability to play multiple roles in the industry. Some are artistes, masters of ceremonies, directors and producers all rolled into one. Some such as Elliot, Owoh, Jalade-Ekeinde, Tonto Dike, Segun Arinze, the late Hubert Ogunde and a host of others have also proved that they are equally good musicians.
Even though stage plays as well as television and radio dramas predate the advent of the movie industry, it is sad that stage plays have been relegated to the background. I used to go to the University of Ibadan Theatre Arts Hall, Cultural Centre at Mokola and Obisesan Hall  in Dugbe,  Ibadan to watch stage plays by the UNIBADAN Performing Company where the likes of Becky Musa, the late Sam Loco Efe and Clarion Chukwura used to hold sway. Stage plays are no longer fashionable because it is not as financially rewarding to the artistes as featuring in movies. Even when the likes of Chief Eddie Ugbomah, Adeyemi Afolayan (Ade Love), Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala), and the late Ogunde pioneered filmmaking in the early 80s, we had to go to cinemas to watch them. It was thereafter that home videos came and people could then purchase the VHS tape and later Compact Discs to watch. The advent of home videos coupled with the high level of insecurity has made the cinema culture to also go comatose.
Among the challenges facing Nigeria’s film industry are inadequate funding as many of the filmmakers have to depend on private individuals to finance their projects. These financiers dictate both the storyline as well as the artistes to feature; piracy (illegal or unauthorised duplication and sales of intellectual properties e.g. films. A handful of powerful individuals at the Alaba International Market in Lagos are notorious for this); lack of an umbrella structure for the industry; inadequate training  and exposure of filmmakers on how to use modern technology to perfect their acts;  advent of cable or satellite television stations which take delight in showing films produced thereby making it unnecessary for individuals to buy personal copies; substandard production aftermath of low budget; market glut as a result of too many releases at the same time; weak legal framework and enforcement by the regulators (in spite of the establishment of the National Film and Video Censors Board, some films whose contents are unethical, immoral, or culturally insensitive are found in the market when they ought to be banned.
Like the film industry, the wider entertainment industry in the country follows the same narrative.  Nigerian musicians have done the country proud both locally and internationally. Nigeria’s brand of music such as Afrobeat, Highlife, Reggae, Rap, Hip-Hop (Nigerian version) and traditional genres such as Juju, FujiApala, Awurebe, Were, Waka, Sakara, Dundun and Sekere, Bolojo, Ewi, all have international appeal with many of the exponents travelling abroad to perform at international music festivals as well as for Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Some Nigerian musicians such as Femi Anikulapo Kuti and King Sunny Ade have also been nominated for Grammy, the most influential music award in the world, though they did not win. However, Nigerian musicians in the Diaspora such as Sade Adu and Seal have won the Grammies. About seven Nigerian musicians are among the richest top 10 in Africa in the Channel O and Forbes list recently released for 2013. There are now many talent hunt shows supported by the private sector such as the MTN Project Fame, Nigerian Idol, Glo X Factor, Multina Dancehall, etc. These are no mean achievements.  The comedy sub-set of Nigeria’s entertainment industry has also grown big with many of our comedians and comediennes now organising shows both within and outside Nigeria as well as running personal television comedy shows.  It is heartwarming that Nigerian artistes have been found worthy by the Nigerian telecommunication industry as brand ambassadors.
As with the filmmakers, Nigerian musicians and comedians face similar challenges such as their intellectual properties being pirated or used without licence, sub-standard production, funding constraint, and lack of self-censorship. Some of Nigerian artistes are fond of lewd songs and jokes. Women particularly are greatly mistreated both in their songs and promotional videos. Some of our comedians and comediennes promote  stereotypes. For instance, Warri, a prominent town in Delta State usually has its inhabitants projected as lawless, careless and uncouth people. This is wrong.
About the funding challenge faced by the entertainment industry, the Federal Government has stepped in to offer a lifeline to the artistes. In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan promised a $200m soft loan to the filmmakers. Various bureaucratic bottlenecks however hampered the disbursement of the bail-out. At a dinner held with top Nollywood practitioners in Lagos to celebrate Nollywood’s 20th anniversary on March 2, 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan announced a N3bn grant to support the motion picture industry. He also launched a programme known as “Project Nollywood,” which he said would help to support the key components of the industry’s value chain through a dedicated grant. At the same event, the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio, also endowed the “Goodluck Jonathan Prize for Best Producer, Actor and Actresses”, worth N50m. It remains to be seen if these lifelines will be accessible and put to good use by the theatre practitioners. The different unions in the industry also need to float an endowment fund to assist some of their members facing health challenges. However, 20 hearty cheers to Nollywood, do keep the flag flying.