By McPhilips Nwachukwu
The dinner last week with top shots of the nation’s movie industry, Nollywood at the high profile Eko Le Merridian at the instance of Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Strategy, Research and Documentation, Oronto Douglas again, brought to the front burner the commitment and seriousness of the President in evolving another viable sustainable program capable of delivering Nigeria from the paralysis of mono product dependent economy.
The dinner attended by notable screen brands including pioneer names like; Eddie Ugboma, Olu Jacobs, Zack Orji, Peter Edochie, Mahmoud Ali Balogun, Zik Zulu Okafor, Segun Arinze, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Lilian Ama Aluko, Genevive Nnaji, Ini Edo, Stephanie Okereke and Ralp Nwadike among others, also further revealed the scope of those, who are qualified to access the fund as well as the challenges that the artistes have had to face in accessing the fund.
Originally believed to be a fund meant for Nollywood practitioners, Douglas used the opportunity provided by the Dinner to inform the artists and Senior journalists that the fund was meant for the entire entertainment industry, which by implication accommodates the interest of all artistes or practitioners in the entertainment trade including music and stand up comedy.
Talking over dinner, Douglas spotting on green T- shirt with Good luck Nigeria boldly imprinted on it told the gathering that the dinner was arranged impromptu to bring stakeholders together to brain storm again on how to move the sector forward.
Coming on the heels of well received Presidential gesture of whooping $200,000,000 Special Entertainment fund donation on the occasion of Silver Bird 30th year anniversary last year, the Senior Special Assistant told the Artists that President Jonathan is not a mere pretender, who would come out to play to the gallery by making such public donation.
Addressing the movie stars, Douglas thanked them for responding to his request for a meeting at a very short notice stressing that “ it is a measure of your commitment to the industry and your patriotism to your father land that made you turn in at a very short notice.
“As laughter merchants, you don’t have to relent because you are vital to the country. If Africa is going to stand up and be counted, it is going to be Nigeria; and this would be through the arts; especially the performing arts.”
Describing the evening as “an evening of sharing of a cup of wine”, the President’s spokesperson at the dinner explained that the Presidency understands the problems of piracy and funding as some of the greatest challenges facing the fast rising industry and gave government’s promise to bring the threatening malice under serious check.
Continuing Douglas told the artists that just like “ America uses Hollywood to evangelize America’s story that Nigeria also, need to use the entertainment industry to evangelize the glory of the country. We need to tell our stories by ourselves about what needs to be done to ensure that Nigeria remains as a united nation.”
Regarding the $200,000000 Special Entertainment fund promised by the President, SSA Douglas told the audience that before leaving Abuja for Lagos that he had a consultation with the Minister of Finance, Olusegun Aganga, who according to him, promised that bankable proposals would soon be looked into, for possible disbursement of fund. He also revealed that the fund has already been sourced from Africa Development Bank(ADB) and lodged with Bank of Industry, which would manage the fund after an Advisory Board has been put in place.
According to Douglas, the President as a follow up to his public pronouncement has also had a formal meeting with artists stake holders regarding the processes of accessing the fund.
This revelation coming from the SSA attracted vicious reactions from actors and actresses some of who complained that they were not party to the meeting.
Rising in anger, President of Artistes Guild of Nigeria (AGN), Segun Arinze called on the President to make the issue an all involving one arguing that, “ We should not use man know man, but merit in inviting people to such meetings.”
Speaking one after the other, the artistes pleaded with Federal Government to have the long standing draft of Motion Pictures Practitioners Council of Nigeria(MPPICON) passed into law. Also requested from the government was a ban to be put on video clubs and street hawking of video films in the country.
According to these artists, the existence of a regulatory body in the form of MPPICOM would go a long way in curbing the excesses of miscreants, whose activities jeopardise the growth of the sector.
Douglas, while addressing the artists also revealed that the money promised the Entertainment industry is already in the custody of Bank of Industry(BOI) waiting to be disbursed to them on completion of due application procedures.
He however reveled that no artists has been able to access the fund because the few that made attempts could not provide properly written proposals.
But Stephanie Okereke was quick to respond to that allegation when she averred that “We need to be protected in this industry. Laws are not enforced. Why go to Lagos Business School to access the money Mr President promised? Association of Movie Producers(AMP) can act as guarantor for producers who want fund to make films.”
Going by the revelation of that evening, it became practically clear that the Nollywood as an artiste body is a divided house. What each individual said would be interpreted to mean an individual opinion. After Douglas’s presentation, it was traditionally expected that a spokesperson would rise up to respond on behalf of the group. But rather than do that, each artist spoke according to the convictions of his own mind.
While all the issues raised by each speaker was very germane for the growth of the sector, it would have been better, if the whole ideas were articulated as a collective response through one spokes person.
It was perhaps for this division that notable actor, Kanayo Kanayo called on Federal Government to henceforth ”deal with the highly cerebral members of the artistes, who understand the need and interest of the industry and forget about those artists, who masquerade themselves as representatives of the people.”
Kanayo’s argument got the support of culture landscapist and Sunday Editor of the Guardian, Jahman Anikulapo, who also reiterated the need for a guild for every association as a platform to realising association’s goals. Apparently referring to the scope of beneficiaries of the fund revealed by Douglas, Anikulapo re- emphasised the need for the approval of Endowment Fund for the Arts from which artistes from all hues can access fund to aid his creativity.
Another noticeable snag at the dinner was the absence of notable actors, actresses and producers as well as other movie colleagues from the Yoruba and the Hausa film industries. The absence of representatives of this sectors further heightened the fear as to whether the so called Special Entertainment Fund is only for Nollywood artistes.