“Ehwoo! Uwadiegu is dead! What can I do without Uwadiegu?” a co-actor in a film titled “Uwadiegu” cried out helplessly in the open compound of their residential quarters to his petrified co-tenants, announcing the sudden death of his brother. He succeeded in raising money and sympathy for his brother, who later rose from death and claimed to have received supernatural powers from God. In the movie, Uwadiegu and his brother live in Lagos as destitutes and fugitives after poisoning their elder brother in the village. They later became affluent through the booming church business, which they funded and managed through deceit with the help of a native doctor who provided juju in return for money. Incidentally, the spirit of their late brother, who began to torment them each day, kills the native doctor. The consequence of their action then became an unending nightmare for them. This is a scene from a typical Nigerian movie which is fast gaining notoriety within and outside the country.
A Principal Officer with the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) said that on a recent trip abroad, when he brought out a white handkerchief from his pocket, the people around him became restive: Nigerian movies have portrayed the use of a handkerchief as a mystical gesture. Though not all Nigerian movies convey negative contents, some of them have been used in defining the self-worth of the Nigerian state. This is so because very many people in Asia, Europe, America, and across Africa, see Nigeria from the binoculars of these movies. From shopping malls in Johannesburg to the streets and slums of Kenya, Liberia, Ghana and Zambia; to the troubled regions of Chad and Sudan and the purdah houses in Niger and Yemen, Nigerian movies have become successful to the extent that thousands of fans rioted in Sierra Leone after Aki and Pawpaw, two popular dwarf-like Nollywood comedians, cancelled a show there in 2003.
Indeed, many residents in Niger Republic know Ibro or Ali Nuhu of the Hausa version of Nollywood more than the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Honourable Aminu Bello Masari, who led a Nigerian delegation with the largest chunk of money and food items into their country when they experienced a life threatening shortage of food.
According to pundits, the successes of Nollywood lies not only in its dramatic scenes but the videos are produced at minimal costs. However, critics in the industry argue that the production of low budget films is a minus not a plus to the industry that has not been able to translate its full potentials into actual sales.
According to Obiora Chukwumba of the NFVCB, the film industry lacks the reservoir to meet up to the professional demands of a population of over 130 million people in Nigeria with the highest TV/VCR penetration in Africa. The Nigerian film industry, in the last 16 years, has recorded tremendous growth and now ranks third in the world. According to the Director General of the NFVCB, Mr. Emeka Mba, the industry turns over billions of dollars and generates millions of jobs annually. Price Waterhouse Coopers, the global entertainment industry journal, estimates that the industry will generate US$600 billion in 2010. “In Nigeria the Leke Alder consulting estimates that the total market potential of the film industry relative to the size of the economy is over N522 billion. Sadly, these potentials in the Nigeria scene do not translate to any manifest economic index in the national economy”, said Mr. Mba.
It is a known fact that Nollywood can add value to a wide range of other sectors of the economy through the creation of demand for products and services. The value chain of movie production is enormous and its economic spin-offs are even much more astounding. The role of the NFVCB in advancing the fortunes of the movie industry and by way of checkmating certain negative contents surpasses that of NAFDAC.
This is because the influence of uncensored movies with negative content is far more damaging to the family institution and the society as a whole than the mere consumption of fake drugs by an individual Nigerian. The BBC Focus on Africa magazine in 2004 reported that some school teachers in Zambia were worried about the amount of time their pupils spent watching films and how Nigerian movies have corrupted their use of English.
One Zambian said his two sons, were heavily influenced by two mischievous child characters called Aki and Pawpaw. “They now talk like Nigerians, they will say ‘yes-o’ instead of ‘yes’ and ‘no-o’ Instead of ‘no'”, the Zambian parent complained. But this alone does not underscore the full weight of the spiritual and moral dilemma many Nigerian films portend to their consumers all over the world. In Kano, the centre of another flourishing arm of Nollywood produced in Hausa, one of Africa’s most widely spoken languages, the state government waded in to checkmate bad content through one of its programmes, A Daidaita Sahu, as well as the state owned censors’ board.
In July 2005, when Mr. Emeka Mba was appointed Director General of the NFVCB, he designed a project which he called Nigeria In The Movies, a theme project aimed at uplifting the industry profile and the technical quality of the content of Nigerian movies, the project was subject to ensure that Nigerian movies become creditable, believable, viable and profitable. Mba realised that it is the distribution that drives content: “When you have an effective distribution system, the quality of the content increases over time”, he said.
The main thrust of this project pioneered by Mba includes a distribution frame work, media literacy project, international road show and Nollywood interactive. Could this be the stirring of an impending cultural and economic renaissance in the Nigerian film industry? Probably not, as the new distribution framework by NFVCB seems to have raised dust among the stakeholders in the industry. At a press conference held in Lagos, filmakers condemned what they called an attempt to create a monopoly that will put the distribution of movies in the hands of foreign interests.
They said Nollywood is where it is today because of the sweat and ingenuity of some of them. “Where was the Censors’ Board or Mba when we started this business?” one of them vituperated. How can those who may wish to operate nationwide be made to raise N50 million operating fund in bank or insurance bond, or evidence of business worth? For regional operators it is N10 million and presence in at least four states of the region. State operators should have an operating fund of N5 million while local government and community operators must have N1 million and N100,000 respectively. “This is outrageous”, said Mansur Liman, a marketer from Kano who was not part of the press conference in Lagos, yet shared the same sentiments with some of his aggrieved colleagues in the South. ”In the North, we don’t do business like that; many of us don’t know the way to the banks. In fact, we are still not very clear about the requirements of the NFVCB”, he said and added that his grouse against the Board is not that the Board will sell his business to foreign interests but to his fellow southern country men where Mba comes from that seem to be far more enlightened on the new framework. However Mr. Mba insisted that the framework will support taxation drive, create new and better job opportunities, encourage quality and high standard production, encourage mergers by existing marketers and distributors; engage the reformed financial institutions and tremendously impact on the recuperating economy. ”As a national regulatory agency empowered by its enabling laws to control and monitor all motion picture distribution, exhib-ition and marketing, the NFVCB has decided on this initiative of strategic intervention by implementing enforceable standards in the film/movie distribution system”, said Mba, who added that the emerging linsenced distributors will represent the organised business arm of the industry, supplying the bulk of its capital needs, facilitate the emer-gence of core financier(s) and pro-vide the required source and plat-form of business guaranty through which necessary inflow of opera-tional funding to the industry is secured and sustained. “Quality contents and output with ceaseless opportunities for repeated income through distribution of quality work, the framework has in-built incentives for production to focus on fewer quality production that we all could always be proud of”, Mba concluded For Nollywood to get to the next level, to make the Oscars, to make the Cannes etc., “it needs to key into this framework”, said Obiora, who added that the Nigerian movie industry is full of too many small players that lack the capacity and wherewithal to embark on qualit-ative production and extensive dist-ribution hence the NFVCB promised to encourage interaction between producers, distributors and finan-cial institutions to produce high budget films that will be qualitative for the global market and will mount a war against piracy through the new framework of distribution. In the United State of America, for example, Hollywood is used by the state to achieve certain military, economic and foreign policy object-ives.
Therefore, the NFVCB sees the need for strategic engagement to use Nollywood to achieve or promote certain national interests and tourism windows for Nigeria. In the movie “Brave Heart”, Rob Roy and Loch Ness generated about â‚¬15 million extra tourism revenue for Scotland, though the movie was shot in Ireland. So is Bollywood of India, which has promoted tourism destinations. Indeed, movies create new tourism destinations and popular tourism destinations attract movie markers. It is hoped that when Nigerian movies are shot in places like Tinapa in Cross River state, Yankari Game reserve in Bauchi state, etc., it will translate into tourism opportunities for Nigeria in the near future. But whether the NFVCB can achieve all these lofty ideas remains to be seen. At the moment, only a ray of light is on sight in Nollywood.