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ODUNZE, Josephine Awele: Dance as Vehicle for Promoting Nigeria’s Cultural Diplomacy: The Nollywood Experience

Dance as Vehicle for Promoting Nigeria’s Cultural Diplomacy: The Nollywood Experience

Josephine Awele ODUNZE

Delta State Council for Arts and Culture

Asaba, Delta State


GSM: +234-803-885-3837


Nollywood as a Nigerian film industry features various Nigerian cultures and beliefs in a more concise way. The industry has come to stay since it is now internationally recognized and can run side by side with the likes of Hollywood and Bollywood. Having exploded into a booming industry in the late '90s, pushed foreign media off the shelves, it is now an industry that is marketed all over Africa and the rest of the world. The use of English, rather than the local languages, expanded the market; and aggressive marketing through the use of posters, trailers, and television advertising also played a vital role in Nollywood's success. Thus, this work aims at exploring the possible role dance has played in Nollywood in promoting the cultural diplomacy objectives of the countryand this will inspire renewed efforts and greater commitment amongst relevant institutions and individuals saddled with the business of Nollywood as well as the implementation of Nigeria’s cultural diplomacy objectives. Dance in its entirety also shows the actual life of a community, and thus projects Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage to the world. The work will employ historical and literary methodologies, review relevant literatures and videos. It concludes that dance is a veritable instrument in propagating Nigeria’s cultural diplomacy on the platform of Nollywood.


Dance in Nollywood as a viable vehicle for projecting the Nigeria’s image in the international community is an issue that must be given serious attention. Nollywood has come to stay and has become a familiar lexicon on the lips of Nigerians and the outside world. Therefore whatever the film industry churns out must be able to represent the Nigerian ideals and way of life in its entirety. If therefore the Nollywood activities have the ability to define and redefine Nigerian culture, it is naturally expected to project the good image of Nigeria to the outside world as that is conspicuously her singular objective. National image remains a crucial issue in any nations’ quest for growth and development. Therefore all agencies associated with image laundering must do so with all sincerity of purpose. Nigeria has always been known as the giant of Africa and d centre peace of Africa’s foreign policy but the recent and lingering level of crimes, criminal acts, spate of killing, kidnapping, corruption by high ranking government officials has placed Nigeria on the list of volatile and unsafe areas for investors and all forms of foreign exchange transactions. All these anomalies have culminated in the dwindling nature of growth in Nigeria and have also negatively affected Nigerians in the Diaspora. But since Nollywood is an industry that reaches out to the world, it behoves on the practitioners to churn out positive issues and cultures of Nigeria to the outside world. Nollywood has come to stay since it is now internationally recognized and can run side by side with the likes of Hollywood and Bollywood. Nollywood, having exploded into a booming industry in the late '90s, pushed foreign media off the shelves. It is now an industry marketed all over Africa and the rest of the world. The use of English rather than the local languages expanded the market and aggressive marketing using posters, trailers, and television advertising also played a role in Nollywood's success. Cultural diplomacy is seen as one of the greatest tools of achieving national objectives and if well practiced, cultural diplomacy can go a long way to change the wrong perception of Nigeria to the outside world. Dance in its entirety also shows the actual life of a community, and thus projects Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage to the world. It is therefore against this background that this paper examines the Nigerian film industry’s use of Dance as a vehicle for cultural diplomacy.

Dance as Entertainment

Dance in culture is a living experience, which every member of a cultural group regards as a birthright. According to Peggy Harper,

What Sociologists refer to as ethnic dance expresses a way of life: the beliefs attitude and habits of people living within a homogeneous community.... In this context, the dance is as familiar to the audience as it is to the performers; in some instance, the spectators participate formally or spontaneously in the performance, and in all cases, they are there to ensure that the dance is performed as traditionally required (219).

The symbolisms of dance must not only aim at evoking emotions, but must be culturally relevant to be understood. Dance movements and expressions tell specific stories. If these stories are based on the life and beliefs of the community from which the dance emanates, members of the community will be watching to see how effectively the dance has interpreted their feelings and expectation. The consideration may not be on the finer aspect of dance, but on the effectiveness of the mode of interpretation. The criteria for evaluating and analysing creative dance is different from culture to culture. It is therefore important that a dance must be seen and assessed within the cultural context (Lo-Bamijoko 176).

Dance as Communication.

Communication is the transfer of information, feelings or messages from a source to a receiver (Peretomode 226). According to Jane Olomu, “Communication therefore provides the necessary medium between members of a society since they receive close and continuous interaction with one another through communication to get things done and people understood” (Ugolo 33).

Effective communication occurs when the sender and receiver are involved. In all societies, dance is an expression of social organization in that it differentiates and defines the roles of individuals, the sexes and groups within the society, social units, such as age groups, express their identity and cohesions of social significance and celebration. Dance expresses the economic and social life of a community. These dances are used to celebrate seasonal festivals related to the occupational cycle of that community. Communication has always been important to African communities because it enhances progress and group cohesion.

Cultural Diplomacy as an Ideal

Cultural diplomacy is the art of winning hearts and minds of others by attracting them through cultural activities and exchanges that include (arts, beliefs, ways of life, and customs). Cultural Diplomacy provides the meeting point between culture and policy. It seeks to propagate a positive image towards a better mutual understanding. Cultural Diplomacy is the preferred alternative to the conventional Diplomacy with emphasis on military might, political leverage, and economic power. This is so because it encourages dialogue and value sharing. It is multi-dimensional, comprising public diplomacy, information management, and relationship building ( Hagher 172).

Cultural diplomacy respects the traditional communication requirement of listeners vs Speakers. This entails that while the other person is speaking, others should listen. In dance terms, this means while the other party is presenting her performance, the other party watches and thinks about the intricacies. After the presentations, dialogue is opened where comparisms and analysis are made. This brings out possible areas of cooperation between nations. Sometimes, this dialogue is held with the aid of an interpreter. This logically leads to cultural exchanges. Cultural Exchanges thus plays a critical role on the cultural diplomacy of a government. It seeks to develop cultural understanding between citizens of different countries.

Any actor, from a government official to a common citizen, becomes a facilitator of cultural exchange, when he/she comes into contact with a person from a different cultural background. The exchange does not have to be large to be profound, as mutual understanding often requires time to develop. It also does not need to be through a specific medium in a specific place, for cultural exchange can take place via a variety of vehicles including arts, sports, literature as well as formal academic discussions and educational exchange programmes.

Cultural diplomacy can seemingly provide a powerful range of benefits to a government and a country. According to Mitchell, it can raise a state’s profile, contribute to nation branding, advance core interests, connect with elite, mass and Diaspora audiences, provide powerful opportunities for racial minorities, religious groups, and linguistic groups to show their culture, and can benefit students and others studying overseas (110).

For cultural diplomacy to reach its full potential, however, a change in how the practice is conceived and implemented is required. Political control over cultural content should be removed, cultural diplomacy’s role in nation branding should be expanded, and cultural diplomacy should be regarded as a tool for achieving national domestic objectives, especially those associated with national social cohesion (Melissen 33).

Cultural diplomacy of the type practiced by official entities usually reflects official policy and presents an image of a state which meets government policy objectives. Certainly, cultural diplomacy as constructed by an official entity tends to emphasize the positive. Politicians invariably regard cultural diplomacy to be at its best when showing the positive aspects of a state. They and the population at large, like to see a state’s finest cultural achievements shown abroad – its best orchestras, ballets, and bullfights. Politicians in particular are less likely to view the practice as an opportunity to show the state ‘warts and all’, and in particular to show cultural manifestations which run counter to, or are critical of, official government policy. As always, it is not completely clear-cut: countries frequently undertake cultural diplomacy activities (with the support of politicians), which provide insights into a country’s politics or society which may not necessarily be welcomed or applauded by either audiences or politicians. Many countries, for example, stage film festivals abroad, and it is usual for these government-sponsored festivals to incorporate films dealing with problematic aspects of society.

Given this inherent impetus to show through cultural diplomacy positive aspects of a state and eschew content critical of official government policy, should responsibility for cultural diplomacy be transferred to independent entities in order to allow full and honest cultural expression? For cultural diplomacy to reach its full potential, it would benefit from a better understanding of its place within nation branding. A national brand must involve a plan setting out how a country can position itself in the world, and those policies, innovations and investments the country needs to undertake to earn the image it feels it wants and desires. This is the hard part of nation branding, in which cultural diplomacy brings about domestic national compliance with a country’s image abroad: a country becomes what it claims to be, because it wants to ensure that its image is based on facts rather than illusion. It wants to deserve its reputation, and “walk the talk” (Melissen 36).

Rather than resist the use of indigenous culture, because such culture may look old-fashioned and lacking in sophistication, the culture of indigenous people should be celebrated and form an important element of a balanced cultural diplomacy programme. Cultural diplomacy can work towards achieving national domestic goals, and the practice should be used more effectively for this purpose. It can contribute to improving the esteem of minority groups and enhance national confidence and national social cohesion.

The Nollywood Experience

The development of Nollywood (Nigeria movie industry) dates back to the colonial era. Proper film production in Nigeria was piloted by the likes of Ogunde Hubert and Balogun Ola in the 1960s. This portrayed the Yoruba filmmakers as the pace setter in the film industry. The Yoruba ethnic group is one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria (Akinkurolere page?).

Suffice to say that, Nollywood is ranked the second largest film industry in the world, after Bollywood. The Nollywood films locally outsell foreign ones and are also appreciated all over the world (Akpabio page?). It was actually the success of the blockbuster, Kenneth Nnebue’s Living in Bondage that brought Nollywood into limelight in 1992. The fact is that records show that over seven hundred and fifty thousand copies have been sold further strengthens the argument that Nollywood enjoys international acceptability.

Thus, it is along this reasoning that Adesanya posits that, “Nollywood’s appeal has reached far and beyond Nigeria, and its films are watched all over Africa and beyond. Multichoice a cable television business offers channels, devoted to Nigeria films” (page?). In Nigeria, films are channelled through language, and since language has intrinsic relationship with culture, films, therefore reflect the culture of the people in the physical context or country. The enormous roles of films can never be over emphasized in Nigeria, the roles range from being a popular source of entertainment to a powerful method for educating or indoctrinating citizens. No wonder, Dipio points out that,

although set in a particular context, and meant to cater for domestic needs. Nigerian film has become popular diet in video studios and living rooms of many African countries, and beyond. It has traversed national borders to become a money making business” (page?).

From his view, the context reflection and economic benefits of Nigeria film are highly stressed.

Dance as Tool for Cultural Diplomacy in Nollywood

This paper will be analyzing two Nollywood dance films in the context of the foregoing discourse. These are Sabina Makosa by Nickson Production Limited and I Will Take My Chances, an Emem Isong and Ini Edo Production.

Synopsis of Sabina Makosa

The elders having purportedly boycotted a meeting with the chief priest for a traditional dance ceremony of the community later found the chief priest dead. The wife of the chief priest in anger places a curse on whoever plays any music or dances on a day set aside for elders/chief priest meeting. This law was disobeyed by Sabina’s father and became mad. He died few days later and was thrown into the river unburied. This angered Sabina who has been away in Congo. She returns with the aim of upturning the tenets of the traditional beliefs of her community and seducing the men with her MAKOSA dance and beer parlour business which she managed with her daughter Sesenyo.

Critical Analysis

This film, Sabina Makosa cannot serve as a cultural piece or diplomatic tool for Nigeria since it contrasts with our culture. First and foremost, it contrasts with the content of the film. And a Nigerian dance can also be used to achieve whatever purpose the Congolese dance was meant to. It is like having “the voice of Jacob and the skin of Esau.” Dance like used in this play is too minute an issue to distract a matter of life and death being faced by the community. You see Sabina and Sese Nyo try to seduce the police that came to arrest them, the King, the chief priest and the elders with their lustful dance. This can also be achieved by using some of our dances that depict the feminity of a woman.

Synopsis of I Will Take My Chances

A young graduate of Dance from an American university returns home to practice his discipline. He is discouraged by some of the people he meets on his way to actualizing his dreams, he refuses to be distracted and goes ahead to find a way out. He decides to drop the western dance steps for the African/Nigerian dances. Who then will bell the cat, how and where does he start from? No one but Idara the Village girl Possessed by the spirit of d desired dance steps can help. But she is torn between her duty as the next priestess and loyalty to her dancer lover.

Critical Analysis

Here we see the love for one’s culture playing out. I.K. is commissioned to do a big dance project by a multinational company. All the contemporary dances he packaged was rejected. It has to be a Nigerian dance or nothing. We see the western dance played down in a Nigerian setting. We see the appealing cultural display of Swange dance from the middle belt, Fulani dance from Northern part, Bata dance from the Western part of Nigeria, Atilogu dance from the Eastern part and Ekombi dance from the South-South. This dance project is all encompassing having covered all the geo political zones in Nigeria. This is a kind of film that shows the cultural background of Nigeria in its entirety and also speaks volume of our peaceful coexistence. It is a complete project that speaks for itself. It needs no interpreter in any part of the world to tell where its story. These are the kind of films that should be released to other part of the world. It shows our culture speaks peace and our environment is friendly to foreigners. It also encourages international trade and missions.

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Nollywood film has the power to make or mar Nigeria’s image. Research has shown that cultural diplomacy is a strong word in the world lexicon and whatever represents it is treated as classified information. Therefore, we must at every point in time as the mirror of Nigeria, churn out the right stories to identify with the world scene. It is also proved that Nollywood films has the potentials to go round the globe in just few days after the release of a film into the market, we have no choice but to get it right during the re production and production stages, because a battered image will take decades to be corrected. The power of a cultural performance to connect should not be underestimated. In the modern world, in which the messages of states disseminated through public diplomacy are sometimes viewed with suspicion, and the declared values and ideas of state frequently bear little resemblance to state’s foreign policy actions, cultural diplomacy can help overcome the gap. We must strife always to preserve promote, propagate and launder the right images about our dear country Nigeria. Furthermore, cultural diplomacy can give substance to efforts by politicians and others to improve national social cohesion.

Works Cited

Adesanya, F. I. “Nollywood: A Success Story.” Retrieved from http://www.filmblog.com

Akinkurolere, Susan. “Revisiting the National Policy on Education on the Need for Introducing Bilingual Medium of Instruction in Nigerian Schools.” Ondo Journal of Arts & Social Sciences (OJASS), X(1), 2011: 1-9.

Akpabio, E. “Attitude of Audience Members to Nollywood Films.” Journal of African Studies, 16(1) , 2007: 90-100.

Dipio, D. “Religion in Nigerian Home Video Films.” Westminster Paper in Communication and Culture, 4(1), 2007: 65-82.

Fafiolu, Gloria O. “Nollywood: A Viable Vehicle of Public Diplomacy in Nigeria.” Department of Mass Communication, Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria.

Hagher, Iyorwuese. “The Importance of Culture and Cultural Diplomacy in the Foreign Policy of Nigeria.” A Paper Presented at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, Berlin, 2011.

Hockings, B. “Rethinking the ‘New’ Public Diplomacy.” In Jan Mellissan (Ed.), The New Public Diplomacy: Soft Power in International Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005.

Ibie, N. “How Video Films Developed in Nigeria.” Retrieved from http://www.nollywood.net

Melissen, Jan. “The New Public Diplomacy: Between Theory and Practice.The New Public Diplomacy: Soft Power in International Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005: 3-27.

“Public Diplomacy” (2011). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/public-diplomacy

Soft Power in International Relations. Palgrave: Macmillan pp. 28-46.

Ugolo, Chris. Perspectives in Nigerian Dance Studies. Ibadan: Caltop Publications (Nig) Ltd, 2007.

Yerima, Ahmed, Rasaki Ojo Bakare, & Arnold Udoka. Critical Perspectives on Dance in Nigeria. Ibadan: Kraft Books Ltd, 2006.


I’ll Take My Chances. Dir. Desmond Elliot & Emem Isong. Perf. Ini Edo, Sam Loco Efe, Jide Kosoko, Bryan Okwara, Biola Williams, Ashley Clarke. Royal Arts Academy, 2009.

Sabina Makosa. Dir. MacCollins Chidebe. Perf. Nwankwo Nick, Emeka Titus, Chinyere Wilfred, Chioma Chukwuka Akpota, Zulu Adigwe. Nickson Production Ltd, 2015.


Josephine Awele ODUNZE read Theatre Arts at the Delta State University, Abraka, graduating with a second class honours (upper) division. This was followed with a Masters degree from the same department and University, specialising in choreography. A member of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Dance Guild of Nigeria (GOND), and Radio, Television and Theatre Arts Workers Union (RATTAWU), she has been the official choreographer of the Delta State Council for Arts and Culture, Asaba, from 2011 till date and has worked with some renowned choreographers and theatre directors in Nigeria.