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IFATIMEHIN, Olagoke Olorunleke: Nollywood and Cultural Engineering: Towards a National Culture

Nollywood and Cultural Engineering: Towards a National Culture

Olagoke Olorunleke IFATIMEHIN

Department of Theatre and Performing Arts

Bayero University, Kano

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GSM: +234-703-830-7736; +234-805-265-8172


Every nation has its unique collection of values, mores, aspirations and fears. A combination of this culminates into beliefs that shape, define and hold their unique worldviews in place. This essentially reflects itself in the way they relate and do things; their culture. Culture however is a consciously created and communicated sets of behavior transmitted from time immemorial. Certain traditional modes like storytelling, festivals, apprenticeship, parenting, music and songs have been attributed as vehicles for engineering culture. Cultural engineering is a deliberate method of influencing behavior without necessarily appearing to do same. Tales and songs have been created at the service of society to guide behavior and checkmate excesses. There exist in probably all cultures melodramatic stories, fiction or not, for children with subtly laden morals coated to help shape their behavior and make responsible adults of them, hence a better society. This paper examines the potentials of Nollywood as a mechanism for cultural engineering at the service of government. It would analyze how Nollywood could help in burgeoning and strengthening cultures of patriotism, nationhood and love for one’s country.


Every human endeavour is by nature purposeful. Art, like science is engaged for the benefit of man in his society. Art actually developed from man’s attempt at comprehending and apprehending changing situations in his environment by engaging in acts of imitation and supplication. Mostly these acts altered perceptions and happenings in his life and dealings, both with ‘nature’ and with his fellow human beings. Consciously, he evolved stories, in poetry, mimetic art and music, to help analyze, explain, retell, proffer solutions and regulate behavior in his society (Ogunbiyi 3). Their melodramatic composition provided a balance between right and wrong, good and bad, which ultimately helped in stabilizing society. These compositions are laden with so much amusement and entertainment so they do not appear like sermons, but like ‘fun’, art filled with morals.

With the tremendous advancement in technology and thought today, man’s media of ‘evolving’ and showcasing stories have expanded beyond the limited horizon of primitive life. Film has become a modern and dominant means of storytelling and entertainment. As a more technological form of storytelling,

the history of the film is largely an account of directors the world over who, experimenting with the machinery of the inventors, found ways to create entertaining, stimulating pictures for their audiences. Some accepted the medium as they found it, and used it effectively. Some added skill and imagination to make it a more expressive, more affecting art. And some few, the geniuses, perceived within the mechanics of film original ways of handling the camera, fresh methods of combining their shots, new functions for the actor, the settings, the sound track- perceptions that altered the entire course of film creation (Knight 12).

This study does not unnecessarily concern itself with the mechanics, techniques and business of film and film making in Nigeria. Its aim is to analyze the potential power of film in moulding and shaping behavior in society using the Nigerian home video industry, Nollywood as a springboard. The analysis would be to attempt to study the meaning, purpose, or effect of Nollywood as a communication type through the details, messages, innuendoes and implications of the content, subject matter and recurrent themes. It would also propose a conscious and deliberate involvement of government in the making, production and distribution of films coated with messages that would promote its noble purposes. Afterall, “despite the claim that Hollywood is laissez-faire, the government has a long history of direct participation in production…and control” (Curran 28).

There already exists a government body established for the purposes of content control and distribution. The Nigerian Film and Video Censorship Board (NFVCB) was created to serve as the eyes of government in the film industry by regulating content and determining what would reach audiences both locally and internationally. This approach gives more freedom to producers to create content that would then be vetted by government before they are distributed into the public. Though this method may seem to promote more creativity and freedom, it does not necessarily insist on cultural engineering goals. This is why this paper recommends that government take a more active role than just regulation.

Nollywood and its Potentialities

What has come to be known as the Nigerian home video industry, Nollywood started more as a response to mediated cultural imperialism (Ayakoroma 21) and economic determinism (Ekwuazi 135) than as an explosion of creative temper and artistic experimentation through the eye of motion-picture camera. Recently there has been a conscious attempt to ensure great appeal and really aesthetically wealthy films that could compete with other advanced international motion picture. To Adejunmobi, the major achievement of “Nigerian video film is that… it has succeeded in generating an experience that is both African and popular with audiences” (106).

Deriving its name as a variant from the American Hollywood and the Indian Bollywood, Nollywood has become a huge sensation both nationally and internationally. It has been noted that

The industry now produces 600 titles a year and according to survey on global cinema carried out by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), and released last year, Nollywood is now the second largest film industry in terms of output after India’s Bollywood. It is also the second largest employer in Nigeria after the government (Ashuntantang 133).

This statistics is largely due to the large following films produced in the industry enjoy among viewers. With its high population of audiences, especially Nigerians, it becomes imperative to guide the content mediated in Nollywood films. The power of film is enormous and given such a ripe and wide audience, its impact can only be better imagined. Ayakoroma has posited that,

Video films act as very potent socialization medium that shapes ideas, styles, attitudes, and cultures of nations, in the sense that it is a giant mirror which reflects the values and ideals of a given society. When properly developed, a film can overcome the limitations of language and other known socio-cultural barriers through its power of visual imagery. Music, colour, and sound in films add value while conveying the same message to audiences of heterogenous cultural backgrounds. Because of this affective quality, videos have the potential of positively influencing and moulding end-users to cultures, ideas and values (23).

It is such power that led to a proliferation of theories like ‘media imperialism’, ‘structural imperialism’, ‘dependency and domination’, ‘cultural synchronization’, ‘electronic colonialism’, ‘communication imperialism’, ‘cultural imperialism’ to underscore the vulnerability and susceptibility of receiving audiences. These theories “describe and explain the way in which large and multinational corporations including the media of developed countries dominated developing countries” (Okhakhu & Ate 12). According to them,

Cultural imperialism is no doubt given accentuation by the media. Manufactured and pressured values are often disseminated through the media and given their ability to arrest attention, efficacy is usually high. The theory presumes a centralized approach to the development and distribution of media products. The thinking here is that, all media products originate from only centre nations that have devious ulterior motives of deliberately wanting to dominate the media of the peripheral nations. This belief is based partly on the view that no peripheral country will ever be able to produce media products of its own (Okhakhu & Ate 13).

Nollywood not only refutes the claim of ‘inability’ but also provides an implosion of such phenomena by generating its own themes and subject matter from the local ingredients that flavor it, from happenings that underline Nigerian issues while underplaying externally mediated agenda. Even when the content appears to be Western oriented, it is only a reflection of such influences as they exist within the Nigerian milieu.

Nollywood and Cultural Engineering

Interrogating the cultural flow in Africa from Europe and the residual power of the media, Ali Mazrui coined the term ‘cultural engineering’. The debate about the role of culture in developmental purposes and exercises took a functional position. It was realized that,

Culture is important for human beings because it provides the necessary designs or models for living, indicating what is considered proper, or moral, or even sane. It provides a body of knowledge and tools by which people adapt to their environments, rules by which they relate to each other, and a veritable storehouse of knowledge, beliefs, and formulae through which humans attempt to understand the universe and their place within it” (Skinner 206).

Cultural engineering therefore is “the deliberate manipulation of cultural factors for purposes of deflecting human habit in the direction of new and perhaps constructive endeavours” (Mazrui xv). This entails that behavior can be guided through a deliberate alteration, not just of media flow, but of content, for specific purposes. Cultural engineering hence can be traced to have started from the storytelling traditions of old, where folkloric characters like the tortoise, the hare, the monkey, the spider, have been used to highlight and guide behavior towards sustaining society.

Since culture is taught and learned, therefore not hereditary, it is considered that the imperialists have mediated their culture into Africa and have shaped Western consciousness on the African continent through modern day neocolonial media use. It becomes imperative to re-guide such consciousness for the purposes of nation building.

To build the nation, therefore, Mazrui posits that the African media should tilt their operational ideologies to capture cultural engineering in terms of indigenizing what is foreign; idealizing what is indigenous; nationalizing what is sectional; emphasizing what is African; emphasizing national unity; fighting imperialism and neocolonialism; resurrecting forgotten glories of African unity and culture and attempting a good coverage of local realities (Jegede 77-8). This responsibility lies on Nollywood. Nollywood ought to create a culture that would aid such noble attitudes among Nigerians for sustainable development and nation building.

There is no doubt that culture has a profound influence on all aspects of behavior, determining how individuals perceive and interpret phenomena globally as well as a tool for cultural diplomacy. It has therefore become necessary that all major players in the Nigerian video film industry understand their role as cultural ambassadors and contribute their quota towards building a positive image for the country through films. It means stakeholders in the industry, such as script writers, producers, directors, costumiers, actors, editors, and so on, need to always ensure that they approach their productions with a sense of patriotism (Ayakoroma 23).

Though there has been a shift from the motif of the wicked mother-in-law, the evil co-wife, desperados in search of wealth through ritual and other fetish means, the naïve househelp, lovers threatened by culture and social class, the unfaithful wife, the faithless husband, the widow and her in-laws, and the wannabes and been-tos, which dominated the industry for a long time, and in fact to a large extent defined what Nollywood is, there is an urgent need to deliberately tilt the focus of Nollywood to nobler nationalist goals. There is the need to make Nollywood an instrument of cultural engineering since cultural engineering is the “deliberate political effort to channel behavior in the direction, that maximizes national objectives, particularly matters of national integration, demands the notion of culture as interventionist rather than a passive agent…” (Okilagwe 58).

Nigeria is a multi-cultural society with over two hundred ethnic nationalities. In order to convert this heterogeneous entity into a truly united nation, government need to take advantage of the popular medium Nollywood has become. Nigerians watch and appreciate the content of Nollywood films no matter its incongruity. If stories of our heroes past are creatively brought alive and crafted in a manner that would inspire and invoke nationalist spirits among citizens, the country would surely be the better for it, and government would take credit as always. More significantly, a national culture would begin to emerge.

The intervention of government should deliberately insist on content that mostly promote nationalist virtues. Already, “Nollywood films are popular in Nigeria because they have indigenous content and address issues relevant to a mass audience” (Ebewo 47). If this indigenous content would be deliberately engineered to create a culture of patriotism and nation building attributes, Nollywood would be a potent tool for the government in institutionalizing a national culture derived from both regionally upheld values to national laws and cultural mores.

Nollywood would then shape behavior of Nigerians in a manner that would inspire peace, harmony, tolerance, respect, unity and industry, thus enriching the social and economic dispositions of Nigeria and Nigerians. Instead of overdependence on government for jobs and security, government can engage Nollywood to encourage self sustenance and entrepreneurship among Nigerians.

Nollywood had developed a structural archetype of melodramatic outcomes, an interplay of good and evil, with good triumphing over evil in the end. In like manner, culturally engineered films could be showcased within such archetypes, presenting the glories of right behaviour over the consequences of irresponsible manners. 

Nollywood films exist in the English expression and other indigenous languages like Yoruba, Hausa and Ibo, and pidgin. Though Nigerian films of the English expression spring from certain locales and culture, they attempt to reach national and international audiences. Those that are pidginised or rendered in local dialects target immediate audiences but subtitles are deployed to give them national and international appeal. Government can take advantage of these media of languages readily used by Nollywood to orchestrate grassroots development and change.

There is, of course, the need to project an image of purposefulness and determination of Nigeria as a nation committed to development and growth, sincerity and honesty, openness and secularity to the international community.  This is essential because

the perception of Nigeria as a country and its people by the international community had become worrisome thereby affecting its economy and foreign relations. Thus sobriquets such as 419ers, drug couriers, smugglers, money launderers, human traffickers, sex hawkers, ritualists, and so on, have been associated with Nigerians (Ayakoroma 23).

If movies produced with deliberate cultural engineering intentions are distributed, views about Nigeria would inadvertently be modified to reflect the new content showcased in Nollywood. Nollywood already enjoys a global following. Babson Ajibade has reported that,

What started out as a national visual practice more than two decades ago has gained a transnational coloration brought on by an expanding diasporic spectatorship. In terms of circulation, the video film does not just move from one African migrant to another: video stores in Western cities and many Internet sites sell them in virtual marketplaces (264).

With a global audience, content should be deliberately engineered to cover both domestic and international needs in the promotion of a national culture that is saleable all over the world. This would not only boost an enviable Nigerian sense of identity but would also turn Nigeria into a beehive of investments and development.

Engineering a national culture is quintessential to all facets of Nigerian life. Attitudinal change is important in ensuring sustainable development. Nollywood should not only be employed in shaping a national consciousness on ideal virtues. It should also be used to promote national identity through dressing and greetings. One from the many cultures in Nigeria could be used as our national dress like they have in Ghana, or a new manner of greeting be developed that would respect all existing ones.

There is of course the danger of misapplying the exercise of cultural engineering. Cultural imperialism, for instance, is seen as an effect of cultural engineering that only further attempted to dominate people and eviscerate their indigenous cultures. Governments around the world have subverted their people and created docile populations through imperialist use of cultural engineering. So, whatever rings false and unoriginal to the people would be strongly rejected. Cultural engineering by methodology operates in a way that makes people take up responsibilities and attitudes as if it is on their own accord rather than as if they are being forced.

The call for government to intervene in the ‘business’ of film-making is largely for its proper use and good of the country and not for the purposes of subjugation and exploitation. The proposal therefore is for a government that is genuinely interested in generating noble nationalist ideals that would further invoke the spirit of unity, peace and progress, as the Nigerian national coat of arms aspires.

Nollywood has developed almost entirely on its own, without funding from government. It is a largely private enterprise. This status presents a rather difficult task for government, if it is to insist on the content that should define an industry essentially driven by mostly financial gain. This is even more difficult as government is hardly part of its history. But a determined government is expected to chart a course where there would exist a synergy that would be mutually beneficial to the business and the new function that Nollywood ought take if a national culture is to be achieved.

Nollywood presents a channel for nationalizing local virtues and indigenizing global values. Human rights, which are universally upheld, could be presented through local motifs to ensure that citizens domesticate the essence such rights stand for. Love for one’s country could also be showcased in Nollywood films for citizens flung all around the world. When cultural engineering is successfully applied in Nollywood, Nigerians in diaspora, who are building other nations’ economies would gladly return home to make their country great collectively.


As the “most powerful of Nigerian cultural forms” (Haynes 73), Nollywood possesses immeasurable potency and potentialities in the proliferation and promotion of a Nigerian national culture that would fertilize the seeds of development and true nationhood.  However, this paper recommends that the Nigerian government should deliberate wade into the industry in order to determine, and shape the content that gets consumed by audiences both nationally and worldwide. Only content that promote Nigerian ideals should entertain the mass audiences that view Nigerian home video films.

Culture is transmitted daily, either consciously or unconsciously. In today’s world, there exist several platforms for the transmission of all kinds of culture, hence the necessity for cultural engineering practices guided by government to promote indigenous values and national identity while protecting same from foreign interferences and imperialism. This practice is anticipated to create a national culture that would further create active citizens engaged in the development of a stable and progressive Nigerian nation.

Culture cannot be completely barricaded from influences. As man is always developing relationships and open to new thoughts and ideas, so also is his culture and influences abound in such relationships. These influences reveal themselves in processes of acculturation and enculturation through which cultures flow and clash in several directions over the media and other communication outposts on an outrageously immeasurable quantum that it becomes quite difficult to grasp the state of a particular culture at a time. What cultural engineering through Nollywood can help achieve is a strong conviction on strategically engineered culture deeply enshrined enough to withstand external pressures towards its contrariness.

Nollywood is a rich cultural engineering tool that could be converted either for imperialism or for development. It is the belief of this paper that if government should engage this medium in promoting noble nationalistic goals and objectives, it would birth a culture that would be nationally rewarding to itself and its citizenry, both at home and in the Diaspora.

Works Cited

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