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The decay of a regulator

By ZIK  OKAFOR
NOLLOYWOOD is in tatters. And perhaps heading to irredeemable self destruction. A movie now has part one to eight. Each of these parts sometimes are less than 15 minutes. The pictures are blurred. Stories are disjointed or no stories at all. Decency, values we cherish have been thrown to the dogs. Nudity reigns. You don’t have to be an actress to sloppily flaunt your nakedness. That is the new acting.

Respected professionals, icons of the industry, men and women who witnessed the motion picture revolution about 20 years ago, now sit in their homes wondering how Nollywood got to this low point. Movies are now released uncensored; what was unthinkable less than three years ago. Yet, that is the tragic reality today.

But this prognosis was actually foretold. For about two years now the police of Nollywood movies, the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) has been at large, silent, evasive and perhaps elusive. One of the oldest and most respectable directors in Nollywood, distressed by the crass nudity and poor quality of movies being churned out today, asked, “What is going on my brother. Does the Censors Board still exist? How did these films see the light of day?” As if resigning to fate, he added, “I wonder if I will ever make films again”.

The hard truth is that the NFVCB seems to have lost control. A whole lot of these nude films are also imported from Ghana. In the good old days, the Censors Board mounted a stiff check point that stymied any hope of such movies assaulting the decency of Nigerian homes. This was the reason for which the NFVCB was created by Decree (now Act) No 85 of 1993.

Even the British imperialists appreciated the powerful influence of movies and so as far back as 1933, it set up the Board of Film Censors in Nigeria to check those movies that might be laced with some ideas that could trigger rebellion among its colonies.

The Censors Board therefore ought to be at alert at all times, its staff must be nimble with razor sharp eyes and mental strength for the purpose of diligent monitoring of movies on our shelves, censorship and classification of films, in addition to playing a role in the development and growth of the movie industry in Nigeria.
Tragically, with the NFVCB today, we cannot see its vision. No direction. No drive. The only sound is silence.

The genesis of the decay
Until about two years ago, Emeka Mba, now Director General (DG) of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) stood astride the NFVCB. He was a young man. Ideas sizzled in him. He organised seminars, workshops and roadshows. He confronted impunity in the industry; decimated the tendency of some mushroom producers to release movies uncensored, took on cinema owners that defy NFVCB rules, tackled the issues of poor production and foul language and patois that debase our values.

Mba was not always right. Some of his ideas and indeed actions might not have worked out as he would have liked. He admitted some errors too. It was human. But his mind was perpetually on creative odyssey; NFVCB officials were everywhere and incalcitrant producers had an astringent taste of the law. There was serious respect, if not fear, of the NFVCB, by producers of naked women and sloppy movies.

But all that changed about two years ago as Mba took a bow. Patricia Bala, a quiet lady of worrisome reticence took over. Now, Nollywood is a place where a regulator need not only talk but must bark where necessary. Bala did neither. She is quiet, silent, and practically elusive.

For someone who has been in NFVCB for over 10 years, you cannot understand why this Director General from Plateau state does not seem to want to interact with the industry. For almost two years that she was DG in acting capacity, not once did NFVCB organise a forum to meet with the industry or press. Now a substantive DG, the story is sadly the same.

With the DG neither heard nor seen, Nollywood prodigals went wacky. Films are released without visiting NFVCB and contents are ludicrous. “How is it that you guys don’t go to Censors Board any more”, you asked. Hear this. “You are still living in the past bros. Go to Censors Board to do what?”, one young producer quipped without any iota of regret. “That time don pass abeg. All the money they collect from us, wetin dem take am do”, another added in pigin lingo. These were simply sad commentaries on the abyssmal decay of NFVCB. But that is not all.

Needless but endless trips to foreign film festivals
Every year, NFVCB gets about N1.6 billion government subvention. Added to this is another sum of about N500 million from movie censorship and levies from cinema houses, video rental premises and so on. Part of this income is supposed to be ploughed back into the industry towards development and growth. This is not done. Not at all.

Today, NFVCB spends a chunk of this fund on trips to foreign film festivals, sometimes over six of such trips in a year. And for each trip, Bala, as DG, goes with at least six to eight staff of her agency. Now you compare. Roseline Odeh, Mba’s predecessor attended about one or two festivals in a year. She would go with one staff of NFVCB and then sponsor one movie producer.

And she would enjoin the producer to write his report on the festival and present same to the producers association. Mba sponsored about two staff and a producer and sometimes two producers.
Today, if you go to any major film festival around the world; you would most likely see Nigeria’s massive stand at the festival and of course a cluster of NFVCB officials.

At the premiere of Half of a Yellow Sun in Canada recently, NFVCB led by Bala had more than 10 officials. Their mission? To give a talk on Cinema. And ridiculously, inside the hall for this talk, 95 percent of the scanty audience were Nigerians from Nigeria, people that have listened to this now boring subject matter again and again. In succinct terms, it was sheer waste of tax payers money; a jaunty ride for NFVCB.

This is even more soul pricking for a Nollywood practitioner because the industry holds over 20 Film Festivals and Awards yearly and Bala, whether in an acting capacity or as substantive DG, has not attended any of them.
Never seen and never heard, the NFVCB now look moribund. Prodigal producers are having a field day. The guilds and associations in Nollywood tried the little they could to check the excesses of some of these producers, but without the backing of the law, without the much awaited Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria, their efforts at best have yielded only lame results.

And so, Nollywood stands still on a darkening plain. Credible professionals freeze in a wilderness of pain. No zing to push. No zest from the pictures they see. No inspiration. Their watch dog, the only authority that can check this descent into the abyss of chaos, the NFVCB seems to have gone on French leave. They had no choice but to switch off their cameras.

But NFVCB must wake up from its comatose state, it must reinvigorate itself and save Nollywood, this authentic Nigerian brand, from the present blinking hope and grotesque presentation of her movies.
*Mr. Okafor, AMP president, wrote from Lagos.


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