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INYANG, Ofonime: The Role of Nollywood and the Creative Arts in Environmental Communication and Education: Some Suggestions For Nigerian Policy Makers

The Role of Nollywood and the Creative Arts in Environmental Communication and Education: Some Suggestions For Nigerian Policy Makers

Ofonime INYANG, PhD

Department of Theatre Arts

University of Uyo

PMB 1017, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State


Though the role and impact of the media in sustainable development communication have been orchestrated by scholars for years yet the actual integration of its dynamics into policy and major interventions remains very minimal. What this produces is increase challenges in achieving all round impact especially in developing countries. With a rising global energy challenge and the threats posed by climate change, the requirement for increase innovation, skills and perceptions from a multidisciplinary context becomes most imperative. While existing effort focus more on new technology and greener means of energy extraction, the challenge of educating ordinary people on what role they can play in climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability in Africa has to shift and refocus on the engagement of emerging communication platforms and creative media. The issues of the environment, sustainable energy and environmental challenges like climate change currently residing in highly scientific lexicon, beyond the reach of a large percentage of the society, must be brought closer to the ordinary people using a communication apparatus that they are familiar with. Attention to the strategic need for environmental communication and education initiative with a diffusive and multi-utilitarian capacity to inform and impact people, especially non-literate, rural dwellers for active involvement in environmental protection, conservation and mitigation of eco-threatening activities in our societies should begin to receive ample attention from our policy makers given the increase tempo of eco-threatening disasters like flooding and mudslides in different parts of the country. The critical imperative of an environmental communication and education initiative that emphasises environmental sustainability and renewable energy, with indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) input should inform policy making on environment and development in the country. This paper articulates the possibilities of conceptualising and implementing a creative media intervention and platforms of community education targeting energy issues and climate change in rural communities of Nigeria using Nollywood and the creative arts in Nigeria.


The environment is witnessing serious disturbances arising out of imbalances and dislocations on geophysical and spatial templates. In no other time has the world been thrown into various expressions of natural angst than now as disaster is almost synonymous with existence (IIED 24). It is more or less located in the reality of recent natural history all over the world. The global distribution of disaster or natural crisis is already commanding serious attention. From hurricane Katrina in Atlanta  (USA), the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico, the earthquake in Haiti, the floods in South Africa, Pakistan, Thailand, Nigeria, the tsunami of Fukushima (Japan), and the accompanying nuclear radiation, the volcanic eruption in Iceland and Chile, the drought and famine in Somalia, to the recent extreme snow and cold scare in Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the tsunami in Mexico, the world is daily confronted with disaster and there seem to be no end in sight. The frequency of these natural disruptions and the fact that some of them take place in well planned cities and nations with ample capacity for disaster management leaves more worries for people who live in developing countries. Developing countries have been identified as zones where more environmental problems will take place because of the strong interplay of population, poverty and socio-economic inequalities (IIED 26).

More than this, issues like climate change is envisaged to affect more ordinary people in developing countries than the industrialised zones. While climate change is gradually heading towards the direction of most issues of significant global concern like HIV/AIDS, in top position on the agenda of international conferences and talk-shops, what will become the fate of ordinary rural people in Africa who experience the problem of climate change on a daily basis?  While Africa is a notable continent of immense natural resources yet it also faces lots of challenges. Also, most African countries parade massive coastal locations and these coastal sites are potential eruption points. Nigeria itself parades many of such coastal sites especially in the already environmentally challenged Niger Delta region. Who can predict when the sea will become angry and spew out volumes of water in an uncontrollable display of natural angst? We should not wait until it happens and turn t o a global “crisis” before a step is taken to intervene. Growing population instigated by rapid urbanization and massive encroachment in natural forest for agriculture and industrialization will continue to affect the world especially as globalization increasingly abolishes natural boundaries (UNEP, 49). The fall out of this will be continuous degradation in the environment and natural resource depletion. The need to reflect on this and find a measure of mitigation should rightly concern everyone as natural resources becomes increasingly maligned and pushed to the limits. As already established, one of the greatest challenges facing humanity is environmental degradation, including deforestation, desertification, water and air pollution, and climate change. Environmental degradation increases the vulnerability of the societies it affects and contributes to scarcity of resources (Safe Environment 56).

            The various dimensions of environmental disasters highlighted above are also known to be way beyond human understanding. Many have even occurred without recourse to early signs and warnings. Some completely beat scientific predictability and therefore unpreventable (Okafor, Hassan & Doyin-Hassan 103). Much as it is generally acknowledged that the natural environment can act in very unpredictable terms, there is also increasing evidence of human influence on the global climate through emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other ecosystem-threatening activities (IPCC 55). Greenhouse gas is one of a variety of gases that when released into the atmosphere negatively saturates the environment with destructive materials that trap heat, cause “greenhouse effect” and therefore activates global warming (EPA 27).

The problems of environmental degradation and the imbalances in natural order are assuming threatening dimensions because human beings have done very little or nothing to enhance the safety of the earth, the very source of his livelihood. Man inordinately pursues development, completely blind to the cry of the earth for care and friendship. Though development and progress are desirable, they must be in harmony with the requirement of maintaining a proper ecological balance of nature. Natural resources are the bounty of nature and should be utilized in a gainful and un-wasteful manner (Ahmad 2). The picture of environmental degradation painted above is currently very visible in the Nigerian society where a combination of poverty, ignorance and commercial ambitions have driven the environment to alarming devastation.

While noting that environmental issues top the agenda of current global concern (Akpabio 10; IPCC 2; UNEP 14), however a successful response to this crisis depends on the adoption of a multi-disciplinary approach and purposeful communication strategies must be identified that will persuade consumers (of natural resources) to engage in more environmentally-friendly actions (Obermiller 55; Waisbord 18). This is where environmental communication becomes most imperative. Environmental communication campaigns are varied, multi-faceted, highly planned, and strategically assembled media designed to increase awareness, inform, or change behaviour in target audiences (Melkote 20; Berrigan 17; Monroe, Day & Grieser 30; Mefalopolous 29).

Environmental Communication through Nollywood and the Creative Arts

Nollywood and the creative arts can become very useful in the crusade for environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation. They meet these criteria as a creative and strategic communication device capable of use in development advocacy. The creative arts’ role in the society, especially in activating development discourse and behaviour change emerges out of its potential for effective communal education (Kerr 19; Nda 20; Sloman 42). Education in any context requires participation, instruction, attention and impartation of knowledge or information. The theatre, dance, musical and filmic arts provides this in the most creative and dynamic way. It mobilizes people through its productions to engage with various issues including development challenges, creating both a dialogue platform as well as participatory opportunities for ordinary people to take part in enacting “their story”. It commands attention through entertainment while creating a didactic template via its communication. This communication not only aims to sensitize but it also conscientizes the people who receive it (Desai 71).

The application of the techniques of theatre for development to tackle the environmental problems of African communities, especially those cut off from access to mainstream media, can be further boosted by the integration of a strong medium with mass appeal such as Nollywood in the crusade for environmental sustainability. Doing this will only extend the boundaries of public perception of the challenges of climate change and its implication on sustainable development; it will also accelerate the extent of its impact in development advocacy, job creation and even commercial profitability. It is envisaged to raise more awareness and challenges on the workability of this mode of communication. With its integrative approach to mass communication and mobilization, combining Nollywood and theatre for development as tools of environmental communication is trusted to break the usual barriers that exist in communication situation involving mainstream media and the ordinary people because of the reliance on the “top-bottom” methodology. The challenge of development in current times is not really about threats that problems in areas like environment pose, but is more about the availability of the knowledge of the problem and how human behaviour can be adjusted to adopt sustainable practices. Calabrese et al examines this situation and arrives at the conclusion that:

Although the effect of knowledge is not inclusive, there have been several studies suggesting that knowledge plays an important role in enhancing the environmental attitude and behaviour relationship by providing individuals with the ability to better formulate alternate views and present arguments to support their beliefs and behaviours. Antecedent factors such as social structural variables and socialization influences have been associated with value orientation, attitudes and environmental behaviours (4).

Community media which is also called theatre for development is a natural facility in knowledge marketing and behaviour modification communication  and does not only allow but also facilitate the participation of members of the community in both the produced content and the content producing organization (Carpentier, Lie & Servaes 6). Environmental sustainability is a people’s enhancing initiative and thrives best on community involvement process and so also requires a people-led and community-based communication approaches (Banda 82). Theatre for development is therefore a natural complementary partner in progress. This paper’s sub-aim is to examine that symbiotic relationship as an alternative media practice as well as situate the merits of incorporating Nollywood, a massive structure of popular entertainment that currently enjoys wide acceptability within and beyond the boundaries of Nigeria.

Nollywood and Theatre for Environmental Sustainability

Film and the various creative arts have developed steadily and rapidly in Africa for many years. Their contributions to global understanding of the continent is well established in various scholarly investigations, however, theatre has been very instrumental in development activity for many years now through its applied praxis or what is popularly referred to as theatre for development (TfD) (Epskamp 19; Mda 93; Nicholson 25). In this many years of operation, surprisingly, not much has been done in the area of theatre and environmental sustainability especially in Africa (Takem 20). This is not to say that the field is completely bereft of activities. There are so far few cited cases of theatre for development intervention projects on environment, available in formal scholarly documentation, compared to the other thematic areas especially HIV/AIDS in Africa. Notable applied theatre interventions themed around environment includes Bole Botake’s Bamendankwe Environmental Theatre Project, which dealt with the conservation of natural forest reserves in Cameroon (Takem 25); The Dream Boat Project, which canvassed for tree planting by children in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria; and Ubong Nda’s facilitated Ikot Ayan Itam Theatre Project, which focused on erosion control, protection of farm areas from abuses and preservation of cultural sites in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria (Nda 10) and the Ntak Inyang Environmental Communication Project (Inyang & Ebewo 46).

Much can still be done in this intervention area especially in Nigeria when considering the topicality and relevance of environmental and climate change discourse in the society today and coupled with the increase tempo of natural disasters such as the recent case of massive flooding in different parts of country. Though the strength and widespread acceptability of Nollywood films could also be explored for environmental communication yet this sadly is not considered in the country. Whereas most countries of the developing world especially the United States of America centre-stage their environmental protection advocacy campaigns using Hollywood, the reverse is the case in Nigeria. Mbajiorgu observes this vacuum even in the face of a global upsurge in “great movies and novels on the subject” (6). Given that environmental change is considered as the biggest headache of the present world. The massive somersault in environmental behaviour occasioned by climate change and visible disruptions in earthly realms as communities in different parts of the world keep being confronted with colossal flooding, mudslides, tsunamis, cyclones, hurricanes, earthquakes, draughts among other environmental concerns is already boiling the temperature of the world.

            Climate change for example is already considered a key issue of global concern hence its high profile agenda in key global leadership gathering including the 17th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 17) in Durban South Africa. While the conference drew participation from all over the world to discuss ways of tackling the problem of climate change, development researchers and pundits in the field of environmental advocacy are already worried that Africa is yet to confront the problem of environmental degradation and climate change using creative and multidisciplinary approaches. Writing in The Star newspaper of Tuesday, 11th October, 2011, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s minister for international relations observes that:

Here in Africa, we have all seen the helplessness of humanity when confronted by nature’s destructive power as evidenced in Somalia…We have also seen the changing weather patterns affecting Nigeria and Benin, where floods have wreaked havoc. Here at home, we have experienced some of the coldest winters on record throughout the country, including changing rainfall patterns in the Eastern Cape. These climatic challenges certainly have an impact on our way of life and on our ability to feed our societies (11).

The lean base of development communication intervention in the area of environment and especially using a people-friendly apparatus like theatre for development techniques necessitates action and the absence or minimal engagement of the Nollywood and the other creative agencies should rightly elicit concern. This to a great extent clearly indicates a lack of focus by policy makers in developing societies including in Nigeria. This paper is a response in that direction as it emerges from the theatre for environmental sustainability intervention workshops embarked upon by this researcher in rural farming communities of South-South Nigeria as part of his doctoral research. The workshop addressed the problem of water pollution, deforestation and soil erosion crisis in rural farming and fishing settlements of Akwa Ibom State in South-South Nigeria. Motivated by preliminary findings which indicated that these problems have reached threatening dimensions and require urgent intervention, the researcher collaborated with the staff and students of the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Uyo to initiate this campaign between 2011 and 2013. The findings of that empirically-driven initiative are recorded in a thesis available online through the Tshwane University of Technology open access library (http://encore.tut.ac.za/iii/cpro/app/pdf).

 Some Suggestions for Nigerian Policy Makers

As Nigeria enters a new season in her democratic experience marked by the emergence of a new government and the election of fresh officers into the legislative institutions of the country, the need to draw their attention to issues of urgent global significance and domestic implication becomes necessary. Though many Nigerians retain lots of reservations about the willingness and commitment of elected legislators to settle down to serious business beyond pecuniary and political interest, the critical imperative of drawing their attention to issues that concerns the environment becomes increasingly imminent given the loudly touted “change” agenda of the current government. Environmental issues are typically framed within public discourse as problems that require empirical information and technological solutions. This paradigm holds not only scientific but also philosophical assumptions, most importantly that the real world is the one described by natural science, the world of scientific realism. In this worldview, all other disciplines (such as ethics, the qualitative social sciences, and politics and policy) are assimilated as “tools in the toolbox” used to solve the problems previously defined by Western science. The intensity of current environmental crises – especially global climate destabilization – energizes this focus on practical problem-solving and on technological and policy solutions within existing institutional, economic, and political frameworks. However, this approach fails to recognize that the humanistic disciplines, including philosophy, literature, and the arts, both construct and express knowledge of nature that exceeds the bounds of problem-solving and the ontology of scientific realism. Further, claims about nature that appeal to the authority of Western science, though masked as objective, are frequently deployed to undergird ideological constructions about race, class, gender, and nation; the authority to make claims about nature is inseparable from political power.

Underlying this default position of the natural sciences is the unexamined assumption that environmental problems are encountered independently of any context, values, history, or disciplinary biases.  Humanities scholars in the emerging fields of ecocriticism, environmental art, environmental philosophy, and related areas of inquiry vigorously challenge this assumption, arguing that our environmental problems are inescapably ethical, historical, and political. The very definitions of environmental problems at any given moment are a function of human ideas and negotiations that have a particular cultural location and history and that reflect specific concepts of ethical responsibility and justice. Consequently, the methods of the natural sciences, although necessary for meeting our environmental challenges, cannot replace the interpretive, critical, and artistic methods of the humanities. The emergence of the “environmental humanities,” as a multidisciplinary site of convergence within academic scholarship, responds to this need.

This clearly signposts the fact that there are immense prospects in tackling the issues of environmental degradation especially climate change in Nigerian rural communities using communication approaches already common to the people. In my various workshops in rural communities of South-South Nigeria such as Esuk Ewang/Ibaka, Ituk Mbang and Ntak Inyang, the catalytic role of environmental communication initiatives using people-led participatory activities and anchored on existing indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) not only produced sustained commitment from participants but also creatively revealed the “power” of local idioms in development communication.

            Apart from raising the needed awareness about the targeted environmental problems such as water pollution, soil erosion and deforestation it further facilitated environmental sustainability consciousness, boosted environmental education and social welfare, generated new thinking on development intervention using theatre, centre-stage theatre as a culture-led medium of development and also explored the plausibility and the possibility of employing alternative media in rural communication. Should this therefore not suggest that there is an urgent need to re-contextualise environmental information dissemination in Nigeria? Is this not pointing to the need to shift from the massive investment in loud advocacy on the conventional and mainstream media channels of radio, television, newspaper to focus on a more proactive, engaging, penetration of communities especially interior rural farming communities cut off from access to modernity with development communication programmes driven by local needs, ideas, strategies of execution?

            The prospects of integrating the film media in environmental communication is strongly advanced in this paper and Nigerian policy makers are implored to begin to look inwards for solutions to our development challenges. It is already clear that the influence of film and Nollywood in particular is ubiquitous, even in the rural areas. Based on this context, there are open possibilities for engaging film platforms such as video and animation in development communications in local contexts. From my experience while conducting research in the rural communities, villagers often assumed we were there to make a film and were very excited about our arrival. There was visible indication of the excitement to participate in film or to watch film. This signified the potential of motivating community members to be involved in a development communication initiative based on the engagement of the film medium. Such development films could also be taken to other locations with similar problems without recourse to worrying about the logistics of physical intervention in the communities. The promise of solar power and the advances in digital media present several prospects for creative and adaptable community intervention without having to worry about energy provision.

            Again, policy makers have the choice to begin to redirect the funds for environmental information dissemination to environmental humanities practitioners, filmmakers and other cultural workers who are capable of creating a bridge for science and humanities to partner together to solve this global challenge. In addition to the benefits above, a theatre for development project that targets environmental information dissemination is a timely response to an issue of current global concern. The challenges of environmental preservation are not an issue that should only be “talked” about in big conferences. It must be engaged in practical ways. Theatre, film and the creative arts are most reliable in initiating that level of engagement because of their practice-led orientation. Creating an arena of open participation in dealing with the issues of environmental degradation in rural communities is also trusted to provide focus on other development challenges that the communities may be facing but which are yet to be noticed. Development activities of this nature often provide a platform for deeper engagement on other levels.


The paper explored the role of Nollywood and the creative arts in environmental communication and education and arrives at the conclusion that there are immense prospects in its employment as a media for development tool. With an established pedigree of success in development advocacy covering diverse thematic areas, in different countries of the world, theatre for development is well positioned to treat the issues of environmental sustainability, producing positive outcomes in the process.

It is also the position of this paper that the lean base of intervention in the environment field can be changed with the institution of more intervention projects as this is trusted to foster development in the society. Following examples from earlier concepts of liberating education and communication, the paper advances the significance and relevance of indigenous knowledge systems in development programmes and strongly recommends this in African countries. This is premised on the understanding that development that comes from within or endogenous development is more sustainable than what is imported and handed out.

Nollywood is a home-grown and driven creative enterprise that has already positioned Nigeria in the global space as an artistically productive and emerging cinematic culture. What Nollywood has done for the image of the country can be expanded to cover direct intervention in development advocacy given its domestic profile and reach. This paper therefore strongly advances the need to create a platform of strategic communication that does not only tap from the creative arts in the country but that aggressively employs the instrumentality of Nollywood productions in sending out messages, in the various languages and dialects of Nigeria, that will drive awareness about the environment, climate change and the roles that citizens of the country can play and mitigating environmental problems.


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