BY BENJAMIN NJOKU
“I want to let everybody know that I will be supporting and voting for President Goodluck Jonathan. I am making this decision because he has affected my immediate constituency which is Nollywood more than any president in the history of Nigeria.”
This statement by actress Rita Dominic before the presidential election that produced General Muhammadu Buhari as the President-Elect, summed up the feelings of thousands of Nollywood practitioners and other stakeholders of the nation’s creative industry that backed President Goodluck Jonathan’s shattered re-election campaign.
Nollywood practitioners remain one class of Nigerians that will not forget in a hurry Mr. President’s magnanimity and patronage of the industry.
Since 2013, the industry has enjoyed robust relationship with the outgoing President after he hosted the operators to a dinner, at the State House, Marina, Lagos, an outing that brought him close to the industry than ever.
During that historic dinner, the President splashed N3 billion to help turnaround the industry, which has been heavily criticized for low content quality.
He assured the practitioners that his administration would continue to give ‘N’ollywood every possible support and assistance to take the Nigerian movie industry to even greater heights of success. “Apparently, to some of the operators, Jonathan remains the only Nigerian President in history who has demonstrated genuine support for the industry. In 2010, the president announced a revolving loan scheme of $200 million which he called Intervention Fund for the country’s entertainment industry.
Although, the fund was initially plagued by complaints of inaccessibility, the likes of London returnee, Kene Mrakpu of FilmHouse, and USA-based Nigerian film maker, Mr. Tony Abulu were among the industry operators that benefitted from the fund. The president later explained that only N766 million of the loan had been disbursed by NEXIM and the Bank of Industry, adding that “I have asked them to redouble their efforts in assisting the industry to access loans.”
While the industry operators are still talking about the intervention fund, the president recently established a presidential intervention scheme to improve the technical and professional capacity in the value chain of the Nigerian movie industry. Tagged ‘Project ACT Nollywood, this new initiative is reportedly designed to address pressing challenges of poor distribution system and menace of piracy, which are stunting the growth of the Nigerian movie industry.
It would be recalled, however, that early this year, Jonathan held a closed-door meeting with major players in the indsutry, in Lagos. The outcome of that meeting was the launch of N2 billion Innovation Distribution Fund,IDF, aimed at improving the distribution of audio-visual content, cutting down on piracy, and protect intellectual property in the industry. The idea, is to properly reward those who put their efforts into film productions.
As explained by the Special Adviser, Media to CME, Paul C. Nwabuikwu, “IDF is targeted at businesses that operate or plan to operate in the film distribution space. This is with the sole aim of making pirated Nollywood movies unattractive to consumers and experts.’ Interestingly, since the federal government announced the new loan scheme, different departments of the industry have been consulting frantically with their members on how to benefit from the fund.
It’s also on record that time without number, the president donated millions of naria to facilitate the treatments of some of the ailing Nollywood stars. One of the beneficiaries of this gesture was the President of the Scriptwriters Guild of Nigeria, Chike Bryan, who last year was diagnosed with kidney failure and needed a transplant in India. Jonathan was said to have donated the sum of N10 million for Bryan’s treatment abroad.
Call the president, a friend of Nollywood, and you may not be wrong. On numerous occasions, the president has dined and wine, with the industry operators. Just before the presidential election, he met with Nollywood stars and other entertainers at the event tagged “the Showbiz Interactive Session with Mr. President,” where the entertainers openly declared their support for Jonathan’s re-election bid as they did in 2011, when he was first contesting for the presidency.
Also, the industry operators will not forget in a hurry the political appointments that Jonathan gave to their colleagues. He has equally conferred national awards on some of them. Veteran actor, Kanayo O Kanayo is one of the beneficiaries of these appointments. The prolific actor was made a board member of the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Studies.
Though KOK, as he is fondly called, has long been romancing President Jonathan’s administration before his appointmen. Legendary music star, Onyeka Onwenu, is another star that benefitted from this gesture. She was appointed as the Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of the National Centre for Women Development, Abuja. Those who were given national awards included, Genevieve Nnaji(MFR), Stephanie Okekere(MON), Osita Iheme(MON), Olu Jacobs(MFR) among others.
His patronage, support for the industry
Meanwhile, it is certain that Nollywood practitioners are going to miss Jonathan’s patronage and support for the industry. But after his exit on May 29, the question on the lips of many practitioners is whether Buhari will be willing to sustain the flourishing relationship?
As noted by the sacked President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, AGN, Ibinabo Fiberesima who once led a delegate of industry operators to meet Jonathan in Abuja, the President has made an indelible impact on the industry. According to her, “He sets up a $200 million loan scheme residing with bank of Industry and Nexim bank, already accessible to numerous stakeholders, building big screens, DVD/CD replicating plants…
Through Project Act initiative, 240 practitioners have benefited in skill enhancement trainings in the US, India, UK, South Africa and Nigeria respectively. I am one of the beneficiaries.
Also, he approved film production grant of an average of N7million to 120 film producers and directors. I am also a beneficiary of this project. In addition, he provided N2 billion through project Act for the development of Nigerian film distribution among others. No Nigerian president has demonstrated such huge love, respect, and support for the creative sector.”
Collaborating Ibinabo’s views, veteran actor, Bruno Iwuoha was quoted as saying that “ What President Goodluck Jonathan has done for Nollywood is unprecedented. He has made Nollywood the best through his monetary support but only God knows how the money has been managed.”
Playboy actor, Ramsey Nouah, equally revealed that his decision to endorse Jonathan’s re-election was informed by the impressive support the present administration has rendered to the industry. “I’ve been in this industry for 25 years, no government ever spoken about my industry like this one. He gave us audience, he listened to us, he gave several grants to help the industry, he sent so many of the practitioners outside to big film schools … he’s giving money for distribution-so for all these reasons,” Nouah asserted.
Jonathan, Buhari, tore the industry apart
But despite all these claims, Nollywood stars apparently were divided in their decision to support Jonathan’s re-election campaign. While some support Mr. President, many others looked the other way. Recall that top actress Foluke Daramola and renowned critic, Charles Novia, threw shades at each other over their choice of candidates for the 2015 elections. “Alan Poza” producer had allegedly said 99% of Nigerian entertainers were behind Goodluck Jonathan; an assertion Foluke didn’t subscribe to.
The actress reportedly replied: ‘You are obviously wrong with that. Maybe that’s a figment of your imagination. You can’t make collective statement on behalf of everyone. On the contrary, many of us voluntarily support Buhari. In the time of OBJ we knew how he favoured artistes, even without him giving us a dime but in GEJ’s time, all of us are being wooed by appointments, money and recognition in Aso Rock.
A lot of us feel we need someone that would teach us how to fish, not one that would always give us fish. True value can never be bought with money. So, Mr. Charles Novia, don’t make a collective statement because people like us that have values don’t take it lightly.’
Movie stars misplacing priorities
Notwithstanding the foregoing, industry watchers have repeatedly frowned at the new trend where actors and actresses have become part of the crowd hired or rented by political parties to political rallies in Nigeria is worrisome to the stability of the industry.
Lamenting the ugly development, Jerry Uhuo, an Abuja-based Public Affairs Analyst, once stated that “It is common these days to see actors and actresses in Presidential and governorship or even National Assembly campaign rallies rented through their leaders, some even on their own lobby for recognition and with some amount of money jump to campaign podium to endorse and show support to politicians yet without any concrete reason such support is given other than that money has exchanged hand.
It is a sad story today that our “celebrities” appear to have lost focus, lost creativity, determination and perseverance in their areas of calling.”