Teaching an Old Dog a New Trick: Reviewing Government’s Interventions in the Nollywood Industry
National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC)
PMB 252, Garki-Abuja
What have been the roles of government and its related institutions in the development of the Nigerian film industry and Nollywood that later emerged in the 1990s? Nollywood has received a lot of flaks from the government and from many fronts on its operations, output and the portrayal of the Nigerian culture in its films. The negative perception of the industry made the government to embark on some interventionist measures, ranging from regulatory activities to capacity building, provision of funds and grants and even direct involvement in the filmmaking process. The paper will attempt a review of some of these official governmental measures, pegging it on the experience garnered in the course of the National Council for Arts and Culture’s collaboration with Nollywood on a 3-film project, which took place between 2010 and 2014.
Developments in the Nigerian film industry can be grouped into three stages as enunciated by Hyginus Ekwuazi (Living in the Bondage 5) as follows: the colonial era dominated by the documentary film format; the post independence and post indigenization decree period, dominated by the exhibition of foreign feature films and the post-Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) period which experienced the thriving of the indigenous film industry and this period extends to the present times. According to Ekwuazi, the film format in vogue in the first two periods was the cine film and the home video film was dominant in the third period and still is (6). In the large swath of time covered by these periods in the Nigerian film industry, after taking into account the propensity of the colonial authorities to use the documentary film format to advance the cause of the Empire, governments at all levels in Nigeria, not until very lately, seemed to be unaware of the “economic potentials” of the industry (Okeke 67) and “has been a distant observer, oblivious of the billions of Naira that have been lost,” (Ayakoroma, “Films and the Image Questions” 2). It is a common perception among the practitioners in the film industry that the flurry of recent government interventionist measures in the industry is akin to that of an architect rushing to a building site with a blueprint after the builders and craftsmen have completed the building of the house.
Agreed that the government is coming late in the day to the reality of the cultural and economic capital inherent in the Nigerian film industry and has of recent put in place some measures to help build the capacity of practitioners and inject funds to power quality productions, it should be noted that some agencies of government have all along been established to tangentially participate in the industry and regulate its operations. The existence of this film industry –allied government agencies and corporations, backed by relevant laws and enabling operational documents, should have appropriately awoken the government long before now to its responsibilities in creating the enabling environment for the development of a wholesome film industry in Nigeria. That being not exactly the case in Nigeria has made it imperative for us to review in this paper the roles some key agencies of government have tried to play in supporting, guiding and regulating the Nigerian film industry, with a view to determining the contributions that have been made and the areas of failures that have given rise to an industry that appears formless and self-driven. The recent experience of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) in its somewhat direct intervention in the industry in terms of collaboration with industry players in actual film productions; backed by its somewhat sedate history of regular forays into partnership with theoreticians and practitioners of the industry, will be explored further to highlight the futility of trying to change set trends within the industry from outside it.
The Beginnings of Government Participation in the Film Industry
In the dawn of Nigeria’s emergence as an independent country, the Government began a form of regulation of the then film industry with the enactment of the 1963 Cinematographic Act which mainly centres on “censorship and the conditions under which films can be exhibited in the Federal Territory” (Balogun 17). The Act itself is seen by many, according to Balogun, as a carryover of the colonial era and could not be useful in the development of the film industry (17). To fill up the propaganda imperative of governance as exhibited by the colonial power, at independence, government transformed the inherited colonial film unit into a division under the Federal Ministry of Information, which went ahead to produce 25 documentaries,65 news magazines,390 news items and a few feature films (Balogun 22). The major drawbacks in the operation of this Federal Film Division which has units in all States in the then Federation were bureaucratic bottlenecks and for the fact that most of the productions were not available for widespread exhibition (Balogun 22).
Mention must be made of the National Film Distribution Company (NFDC) established in 1981 and managed by the Federal Department of Culture and which was controversially involved mainly in the importation and the distribution of American films, which was an anomaly as it was expected to promote indigenous films and filmmakers. Balogun gave several instances of how this particular agency of government hampered the exhibition of indigenous films as it controlled access to exhibition places at the National Theatre, Lagos (26-27).
Government set up a committee in 1979 headed by a renowned film maker, Ola Balogun, to review the 1963 Cinematographic Act. The committee, in its report, proposed for the creation of the Nigerian Film Development Board, to among other regulatory functions, “create structures for the funding and development of the Nigerian film production”(Balogun 20). Government in its wisdom, discountenanced the committee’s report and went ahead to establish the Nigerian Film Corporation. To Balogun, there is a marked difference between the Board proposed by the committee and the Corporation established by government as the Corporation is government owned and set up mainly to produce films, while the Board would have been an institution that would operate as an independent entity in the discharge of its regulatory and developmental functions in the film industry (20).
The Nigerian Film Corporation and the Nigerian Film Industry
The 1979 seminar on the film industry in Nigeria, organized by the National Council for Arts and Culture in collaboration with the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, in which discussions were held on the “role film can play in the economic, political and cultural development of a country like Nigeria,” prepared the ground for the establishment of the Nigerian Film Corporation (Ekwuazi, Film in Nigeria 34). The Nigerian Film Corporation was established by Decree No. 6 of 1979 and came into operation in 1982. The Corporation was saddled with a rather omnibus mandate, ranging from film production and distribution, film facilities acquisition and management, establishment and maintenance of a national film archives, provision of financial assistance to players in the industry, researching into matters pertaining to the industry and training of personnel engaged in the industry (Ekwuazi, Film in Nigeria 34). Criticism trailed the establishment of the corporation, mainly from the non-governmental practitioners in the industry like Dr. Ola Balogun who felt government should not be directly involved in the business of film making but rather should create conducive environment for independent film makers to thrive (Ekwuazi, Film in Nigeria 38). Dr. Ola Balogun also railed against the plan of the Corporation to establish a film village in Jos, pointing out that it was a wrong move, as the construction of film villages was never a precursor to the development of a film industry (Balogun 129). This view of Ola Balogun, if extended to the present time, is still relevant as we have seem many a film villages, studios and complexes, such as the one in Tinapa, Calabar, not having any significant bearing on the development of the industry. To Ola Balogun, the basic requirements for a thriving film industry are personnel, funds and outlets for finished products (Balogun 130). These requirements are today still the variables that are determinant of a film industry that is worth its efforts.
The newly established Film Corporation, then operating from Lagos, soon ran into troubled waters a few years into its operation, leading to a panel being set up to review its activities which threw up its ailments to be paucity of funding, lack of specialized manpower and defects in its enabling law (Ekwuazi, Film in Nigeria 40-42). The Corporation did not get over these teething problems until it moved its operation to Jos, where it is presently headquartered. Though the Corporation, since its establishment till date, can be said to have recorded some general and tangential institutional achievements as highlighted by Ekwuazi (Film in Nigeria 42-44), it is clearly apparent that the Nigerian Film Industry of the traditional cine mode of the pioneer independent film makers and the later day Nollywood mutation did not and has not benefitted from the existence of the Corporation. I remember visiting the Corporation and going round its facilities complex in the year 2000 and wondering aloud why our film makers were not taking advantage of the place. Apparently, at some point, our film makers found it cumbersome to process their films using the facilities of the Corporation and when later the industry shifted to the Video format for its production, the technology available at the Corporation production studios became obsolete. With the dynamics of the Nigerian film industry today, it will be interesting to examine in- depth the functionality of the Corporation and its connection or disconnection to the current developments in the industry. The alternative to this is to just consign the Corporation to the class of government agencies who have since lost their relevance but are merely fulfilling the motions of officialdom in relation to their original job schedules.
To Regulate, Classify or Stultify?: Dilemma of the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB).
Censorship of the filmic medium cannot be overlooked in any society and the raison d’être behind the establishment of the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) is given in its information brochure as follows:
Nigeria seeks to protects its young from unsuitable content and as a multi-ethnic developing society, the country also needs to preserve ethnic, racial and religious harmony. It must take into account the sensitivities of all the different groups, cultures who make up the population. With the impact and influence of both Nigeria (sic) movies and the influx of foreign cultural imports, censorship, will continue to play an important role in fostering a morally wholesome and socially cohesive society and safeguard core community values… (2).
Since its establishment by Decree No 8 of 1993, the NFVCB has been engaged in its core mandates of regulating film exhibition, film classification and film censorship whenever necessary nationwide. However, there are negative portrayals of the board being an impediment to creativity in the film industry by its sometimes overzealous attempts to over determine the contents of films brought before it for classification (Ayakoroma, Trends 58-70). As a result of this potential of NFVCB to stultify creativity in the industry in their attempt to play the censorship role, there have been calls for it to concentrate more on its classificatory functions (Ayakoroma, Trends 68). While I support this view to an extent, I am of the position that the industry still needs a form of regulation at this stage considering the context within which it operates but that regulation should as much as possible be unobtrusive and should not fetter creativity. The society, in which a work of art is produced, is the ultimate censor and a little allowance must be left for that same society to perform that role. Censorship is a very sensitive issue and censorship authorities are supposed to be gatekeepers positioned to maintain some minimum standards under which artistic products of a society should not sink. Taking their functions beyond that will lead to an overbearing situation of stultifying the normal evolution of creativity.
To support the view that censorship, which in itself subsumes an element of quality control, cannot be totalized in a given body, it may be asked how come many of the poorly produced films circulating in Nigeria got past the NFVCB? While it is accepted that our film industry cannot do without a form of general censorship for now, it will be more productive for the censorship board to see itself as a partner with the various sectors in the industry and devise measures to overcome some fundamental problems in the industry like it did when it instituted the new National Distribution and Exhibition Framework (NDEF) in 2007.The distribution framework, according to Ololade, reporting the then Director-General of NFVCB, was designed to align the video film industry with the other sectors of the national economy (20). Though this framework, which was heralded as the solution to the biggest problem facing the industry, appears to have died in its infancy; it could be revived, corrected and pursued, so that film making can surmount the delimiting problem of piracy and lack of returns on investments.
The Nigerian Copyright Commission and the Problem of Piracy in the Film Industry
The problem of Piracy is as old as the industry itself. Film makers and practitioners have always been working under the spectre of piracy or at its mercy. Even the first generation Nigerian film makers like Herbert Ogunde, Moses Olaiya Adejumo (Baba Sala) and many others suffered the ills of piracy. Herbert Ogunde in a popular fable was said to have protected his films from being pirated by fortifying them with a metaphysical curse against pirate which were relayed for efficacy before each public viewing. Moses Olaiya Adejumo’s (Baba Sala) experience with his film Orun Mooru in the hands of pirates was nearly tragic for him.
The need to check the theft of intellectual property and ensure that creativity is kept profitable necessitated the establishment of the Nigerian Copyright Commission by Decree 47 of 1988. The Decree establishing the Commission stipulates that literary, musical and artistic works, as well as cinematographic films, sound recordings and broadcasts are eligible for copyright protection (Ayakoroma, Trends 76). However, it has been observed that the penalties for the infringement on copyrights as stipulated in the Decree are rather mild and this encourages piracy rather than discourages it (Ayakoroma, Trends 76). The Commission over the years has not been found wanting in the area of designing programmes and carrying out advocacy of different kinds to fight piracy but the mere fact that the problem of piracy has remained the most discomfiting problem militating against the buoyancy of the creative sector suggests something fundamentally wrong with its existence and operations. The problem itself seems to be beyond the grasp of the Commission as the debilitating societal corruption, non-adherence to the law and official collusion in high places have made it virtually impossible to curb barefaced and rampant piracy of the products of the film industry (Ayakoroma, Trends 77-78). Recent experiences of film makers and producers such as Tunde Kelani, Kunle Afolayan, Ayo Makun and several others point that film making as it is practiced today in Nigeria can never be a profitable business except a way is found round the ubiquitous and audacious pirates. That new way is gradually being attempted with film makers already deciding to release their well made films abroad first where there is greater respect and protection for intellectual property before thinking of bringing them for pirates to feast on in the country. This new way may lead us to the situation whereby the best of our film industry will go on exile just as our literature once went on exile from which it is yet to fully return.
Meanwhile, it is apparent that the existing copyright law is overdue for review to correct the gaps in it and bring it up to modern trends in the enforcement of copyright laws. The Commission has not been too effective nor efficient in its public enlightenment and education efforts because as it had not developed a very robust partnership with its stakeholders. There are obvious gaps between the Commission and its stakeholders who have lost confidence in its efficacy to curb the menace of piracy. The Commission itself has been complaining perennially of funding being the bane of its ineffectual operations. The Commission needs to improve on its relationship with its stakeholders, the people who are supposed to benefit from its activities, by creating more creative platforms for interactions and receiving feedbacks over its activities. Public enlightenment programmes should be directed first at these stakeholders before the general public. The stakeholders should also be factored into making inputs into these public enlightenment programmes before they are designed and executed. Documentaries, drama, radio adverts, television programmes, robust enlightenment workshops with stakeholders sector by sector(eg Authors, musicians, filmmakers, academic institutions, examination bodies, etc.) are tools that can further be explored for public enlightenment campaigns. Additional ideas and suggestions can be mined from interactions with stakeholders. When last did the commission research the trends of piracy and plagiarism in all sectors as they affect its stakeholders? Authors, filmmakers etc cry every day of the adverse effect of piracy on their creativity, what has been the response of the Commission to this? The Commission needs to introduce some innovations into its operations and adopt international best practices. The Commission also needs to aggressively publicise its efforts and achievements so that people will know they are at least doing something to fight piracy.
The National Council for Arts and Culture’s Romance with the Film Industry
Not many players in the film industry are aware that the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), going by the contents of Decree No. 3 of 1975 setting it up and as amended by Decree No. 5 of 1987, is mandated to participate in the film industry by being given the charge “to promote the development of music, traditional dancing, drama, opera, cinema, film, photography, folklore, oral tradition, literature, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, town planning and general arts, woodwork, embroidery, weaving and similar crafts (15). In its early years, NCAC took seriously its omnibus mandate which justified its involvement in setting the tone for the establishment of the Nigerian film Corporation through the seminar it held in 1979 on culture and the film industry as indicated earlier on in this paper. The proceedings from that seminar were later published in 1979 into the definitive book on the early years of the Nigerian film industry with the title The Development and Growth of the Film Industry in Nigeria, edited by Alfred E. Opubor and Onuora E. Nwunedi. In 1987, a similar seminar was also held which led to NCAC supporting the publication of the book, Cinema in Nigeria by Francoise Balogun, the wife of the renowned pioneer filmmaker, Ola Balogun.
In 1992, NCAC in collaboration with the British Film College, London, successfully produced and launched in Abuja and Lagos, the film Kasar Mu Ce (This Land is Ours) by Sadiq Tafawa Balewa. In the late 1990s to the beginning of the year 2000, NCAC entered into a tripartite arrangement with an Indian film production company, Biplab Moitra, and the Nigerian Film Corporation to produce a feature film Zainobe, based on both Cyprian Ekwensi’s An African Night Entertainment and John Tafida’s Jiki Magayi (which was more or less the original tale in Hausa language on which Ekwensi’s book was alleged to have been derived). In the said tripartite agreement, Biplab Moitra was to provide some basic funding and foreign technical equipment and expertise; Nigerian Film Corporation was to provide some local technical equipment, support and do the post production while NCAC was to provide the script (screenplay),source for the cast, locations and manage the personnel and administrative requirements for the production. As the Secretary of the in-house committee set up by NCAC to manage the tripartite collaboration, I was privy to the unceasing interest of the Indian film production company to get the project started; the copyright entanglement the project got into with the estate of the late John Tafida and the then living Cyprian Ekwensi which was never fully resolved and the demise of the project with the last effort being a meeting in which Nigerian Film Corporation was handed over the screenplay (done jointly by renowned filmmaker, Adamu Halilu and scriptwriter, Bello Sule),in order to determine the required local technical equipments for the production. Shortly after this meeting, NCAC experienced a change at its helm and that saw to the final death of the project after some years of its gasping under stifling bureaucracy.
Between 4th and 14th December, 2010, NCAC held a series of workshops in Lagos, Enugu and Abuja on capacity building on film production in conjunction with Nollywood Travel Market Ltd., a conglomeration of core trade groups in the Nollywood industry. The national workshop focused mainly on cinematography, editing, costume and makeup, and scripting. The workshops were organized with the aim of engaging professionals in the industry and impacting on them skills that would lead to an improvement of the quality of films produced and marketed in Nigeria. According to the NCAC, as stated in the programme brochure of the opening ceremony of the workshop series in Lagos, Nigeria, the idea of the workshop was muted at the December, 2009 NCAC Honours Lecture which focused on the Nollywood industry and which was delivered by Hyginus Ekwuazi with the title “The Nigerian Home Video Industry: Living in the Bondage of Wealth Creation.” It was stated in the aforementioned brochure that:
the consensus of the day was the need for a systemic mediation towards correcting the identified flaws as well as well as boosting capacity delivery and technical finishing of Nollywood productions (3).
The workshops’ beneficiaries at the three centres were drawn from the existing guilds in the industry and the various sessions were facilitated by renowned experts in the industry.
After the workshop series, the collaborative project entered into a second phase of actual productions of three films supposedly to emanate from the three centres where the workshops held (Lagos, Enugu and Abuja) and to account for the cultural diversity of the country. It was at this phase of the project that the in-house committee set up by the NCAC to manage the project, which I was part of, encountered the real face of the Nollywood industry. The committee had high hopes, following the successful delivery of the workshops, of helping to midwife the production of model films that can fit into the “new Nollywood,” frame that was then emerging (Haynes 53). The Nollywood collaborators on the project were asked to submit the scripts of the proposed 3 films and what were provided did not meet up with the expectation of the committee in so many areas. What the committee saw were blueprints for the production of the usual drivels and common fare from Nollywood. Directive for a general re-write of the scripts and the engagement of a consultant by the committee to help that process was stone walled. It was apparent that Nollywood productions operated and still operates on an existing template which was difficult to amend or breach. The Committee’s review of the available budget, the time frame, quality of the cast and crew and actual participation in the shoot of one of the films, clearly revealed why it is difficult to expect anything grand from the usual Nollywood productions. After a lot of contentious back and forth between the committee and its Nollywood collaborators, preview copies of the films (The Twin Rivers, The Torn Garments and Onome) were made available and which the committee in its honest estimation, could not have said to have met its initial expectations at the beginning of the project. The whole experience, from the perspective of the committee, which is still on-going for NCAC four years on, is like trying to teach an industry already set on its ways and means a different way of doing things; more like teaching an old dog a new trick. This experience may have been at the back of the mind of NCAC as it states in its recent publication, an information brochure on its 40th Anniversary, that:
the prospects of the film industry to project a national culture, become an effective tool of cultural diplomacy and contribute immensely to national economic growth have only been limited and betrayed by the orientation of the practitioners themselves who have sacrificed quality for quantity as well as the nature of the industry which is almost bereft of standards and restrictions (16).
The Nigerian Film Industry and the Policy Environment
Ekwuazi identified two policies of government as very germane to the development of the film industry which are The Mass Communication Policy of 1987 and the Cultural Policy of 1988 (Ekwuazi, Film in Nigeria 45). Ekwuazi further identified two basic problems with the policies, that they are “too sectoral and too uncoordinated” and may therefore not be properly implemented (48). I disagree with the aspect of the policies been sectoral as they cannot be otherwise as there are many sectors to the issues at stake and different agencies of government must be given roles to play in executing a given policy. What is hardly arguable is the fact that policies are hardly well thought out with implementation in mind by the drafters and the government. For example, Balogun declared in 1987 that, “the Nigerian film industry will take off for good only when the genuine cultural policy comes into existence in Nigeria” (86). A Cultural Policy for Nigeria was promulgated in 1988 with sub section 8.5 devoted to provisions that are meant to engender positive developments in the film industry, but what has been the impact of that policy on the industry that has developed since that time till now? There is also a Film Policy reviewed in 2006 which calls for the construction of a community cinema in each of the 774 local government councils in Nigeria but which has not been implemented (Haynes 70).
Finely wrought policies, promulgated with fanfare, are never the problem in Nigeria. In most of the policies, including those are supposed to positively engender developments in the film industry, articulation of ideas are concepts are stated without specific strategies given towards the actual implementation of the said policies. It is either policies are made without the possible realistic implementations of such being taken into consideration and even where that is done, the policies get eventually defeated in the field by the ever present problem of funding.
The Cultural Policy of Nigeria, promulgated in 1988,has undergone several reviews which has not been followed through because the policy itself has not been able to articulate an appropriate funding mechanism or get the suggested funding imperative past through the approving authorities.
Recent government funding initiatives to support Nollywood by the erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan government through the $200 million Entertainment Industries Intervention Fund (EIIF) to be managed by NEXIM Bank and Bank of Industry and the N3 billion naira grant to Nollywood on Project ACT (Project Advancing Creativity and Technology in Nollywood) ,managed by Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Federal Ministry of Finance and other agencies of government are commendable. However, the initiatives have been trailed with criticism by the players in the industry that are supposed to derive benefits from them. There has been criticism over the bureaucratic bottlenecks that have made it difficult for the $200 million fund to be accessed. Even at that many renowned film makers have picked holes on the possibility of realizing the objectives behind the fund. In his conversation with renowned Nigerian filmmakers Tunde Kelani, Emem Isong and Bond Emeruwa, Connor Ryan variously reported them arguing against the fund, opining that government should rather put money in building infrastructure that would help the industry rather than giving out loans that cannot be repaid given the prevailing low return on investment in the industry (181-182). On the second fund meant for capacity building, these experienced practitioners were of the view that capacity without the right infrastructure will not work and that that the country is deficient in institutions to go to for capacity building and that those who have newly improved capacity cannot break their way into the industry as presently constituted (182-183). If these be the thought of veterans in the field about these supposedly new radical government initiatives, then government must properly re-assess the roles it can actually play in the industry and stop being deluded about the possibilities of its direct involvement in shaping the industry.
From the review that has been made in the foregoing, it can be deduced that the government from its initial apathy in engaging directly with the film industry, went ahead to set up a rash of agencies and promulgated policies to intervene in moulding developments in the industry. Of late, realizing the cultural and economic capital inherent in the industry, government has decided to plough money into it, propelled by the erroneous conclusion that funding is the magic that will make the industry achieve its maximum potentials. From our analysis, the following realisations could be the harbinger of real progress in the film industry:
- Government and its agencies cannot be directly involved in the production of films but should rather concentrate on the provision of basic infrastructure that will help the industry to thrive. If government agencies, such as the Nigerian Film Corporation, must be involved in film production, they should stick to documentaries and other model productions that could be widely showcased through television stations.
- There is the need to streamline all government agencies mandated with dealing with the film industry and I share Ekwuazi’s proposal that the Nigerian Film Corporation should be merged with the National Film and Video Censors Board and the National Film Institute with the NTA TV College (Ekwuazi, Living in the Bondage 29).
- The various film interventionist funds government has made available should all be warehoused, not under a separate film fund as being advocated in some quarters, but under the National Endowment Fund for the Arts in which such creative industry directed funds could be better managed for the real growth of professional practitioners in the industry.
- There is nowhere in the world where government is in total control of the film industry except in a totalitarian State. The industry is largely private sector driven and the extension of government’s credit and funds with a view to assist the industry to produce the kind of films government will be happy with is a fruitless exercise. Therefore, government should allow the industry to grow as determined by the market forces of people’s taste and the economic variables surrounding productions.
- The various government policies and enabling laws already in place meant to impact on the industry need to be reviewed with a view to making them implementable by aligning them with current realities and developments in the industry.
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