By Ishola Balogun
Wale Adenuga, MFR, 65, is the chairman of Wale Adenuga Production, WAP; a former cartoonist/publisher, and currently a TV series producer, Super story, Nnena and friends, This Life among others. Before the growth of the film industry, Adenuga had released the celluloid movie Papa Ajasco, which was based on the main character in Ikebe Super, in 1983. Papa Ajasco made history as the first English comedy in an industry which had been dominated by Yoruba productions.
Then a film version of Binta, re-entitled ‘Binta My Daughter’ was released in 1995. A year later, the television series Papa Ajasco (formerly The Ajasco Family) was aired on Nigerian television for the viewing pleasure of Nigerians. With the burning desire to provide qualitative education, Adenuga and his wife Ehiwenma founded Binta International School in Lagos. He also opened the Pencil Film and Television Institute (PEFTI) now a leading institute in the art of film production, directing, and Cinematography.
Adenuga who has won several awards including Best Producer, Best Script Writer, Best Director, Best Television Drama and Best Socially Relevant Television Production, in this interview with Showtime Celebrity says a few younger actors and actresses have hijacked the Nollywood, revealing why he and other senior Yoruba film-makers will not be part of Nollywood. Excerpts:
How would you describe the entertainment industry with particular reference to film and soap opera?
The industry has been doing very well. Both the film sector and the soap opera have their respective challenges though. The greatest challenge of any producer right now is the high cost of television airtime. You go the extra mile to look for money to produce your programme which costs several millions of naira and when you get to any of the TV stations, they will ask you to pay millions of naira. By the time you produce about thirteen episodes, you are already broke.
So, having exhausted all you have on production, you will then be faced with the challenge of airtime. They will ask you to pay over N1million for 30minutes. For one hour programme, you have to pay about N2.5million to put it on air. That is why some producers become frustrated and so, stop showing their programmes on TV stations. They rather want to sell their programmes to satellite stations outside the country.
Now, for film producers, one of their challenges is piracy. But it is very unfortunate allowing the problem to degenerate to this level. In proffering a solution, we have to look at the root cause of the problem. Like in treating an ailment, a medical doctor will want to look at the medical history of the patient. Historically, Nigeria film industry started on celluloid.
In other words, we call it cinema films. Films were produced specifically for the cinema. You will remember the Ogundes, the Ola Baloguns, I also produced a film in 1983, Papa Ajasco on celluloid. Then, there was nothing like piracy because the technology was not advanced. You project e pictures and collect your money. There was no piracy. After the devaluation of naira, this made the production of celluloid film a bit difficult, so the film industry took a dive.
By 1992, Nigerians devised another method called videography by use of televised camera. It was a cheap way of making films since we could no longer afford the celluloid thing. The evolution of the system was by Aromire producing films like Ekun. That was when Nollywood started. It is part of our film history which started in 1992. You know they celebrated 20th anniversary a couple of years back. But the first film that was shot and made so much noise was Living in Bondage.
It was not the first video film but the first popular video film in terms of sales and commercial viability. Before this period, foreign films were in the market in VHS. Those days, many of all those foreign films we were buying were pirated copies. The same marketers that were pirating the foreign films later delved into pirating Nigerian films and since then, we have by, ommision and commission, legalised the illegality.
Again, all over the world, any production that is cheap can be easily pirated. As long as producers still shoot with this DVD, they will pirate it, it is just a matter of copying it by any means and rolling it out.
“What then is the solution?
The countries that started this before us like the India, America, and others, are not shooting straight into home videos. They started with films and cinema product. It is after showing their films at cinemas and after adequately making their money, they would put it into video for homes and televisions. Even if it later becomes pirated, they do not bother and dissipate energy on it because they would have made money.
“But there are cases of piracy even immediately it is first shown at the cinema?
Yes, I know, but that is on exceptional cases and that can be easily dealt with. One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch. You will always find some extreme cases, just as we know that there is no perfect situation.
“What do you think government should do to stem the tide of piracy?
Government should provide enabling environment for making it difficult for those who want to reap where they did not sow. Government can build cinema houses at every local government, where people can go to relax and watch films. I am not talking about the expensive ones like the Galleria where even ice-cream is close to a N1000. Cinema houses should be so close to the people that you just take a light walk there to watch films. So, by this, if a producer produces his film, all he needs is to take it to the cinema houses across the state, close to the people and show it.
Again, government can support the producers by banning the sale of home videos for six months or one year within which the producers can show their new films at the cinemas across the country. Indians and Americans film producers do not produce films every month like we do here. They may not even produce a film in a year. Yet they are more recognised than Nigeria when it comes to film-making and entertainment.
When they produce, it is always a quality production that will appeal to people all over the world. Our own films and video cannot qualify for awards except where they accept videos, yet we roll out films every time. Although, our producers have started producing high grade videos that can pass for cinemas but a lot still need to be done to improve the quality.
You have to use high grade and special cameras much like celluloid of those days. Films like ‘Five Days in Atlanta’, ‘October 1’ among others are high grade products. Kunle Afolayan said his film cost him N150 million. It is not the usual one. The DVD we produce in Nigeria cannot be shown in cinema houses because if you put them on the projector, the picture will fade.
Don’t you think the cinema culture has died in Nigeria?
No! The cinema culture has not died. People are still wiling to watch films especially if they are in their neighbourhood and quite affordable. The few cinema houses we have are not ideal for our people. They are for the elites. You don’t expect people living in Mushin and Ajegunle to troop to Apapa or VI to watch films. Apart from the cost of getting to the Galleria, popcorn and ice-cream are too expensive. The class of cinema houses I am talking about are not for the elites. It will be so close to the people and will be affordable.
“But that may not be entirely government’s responsibility, I think the private sector has more to do in that direction.
Yes! I agree but government has to provide the enabling environment and set out the rules. With the high level of piracy too, no private sector also wants to build a cinema hall because the film you want to show has been pirated the day it comes out.
Again, government has to bring a sterner punishment to discourage the crime. Unfortunately, we are still going with the old law which stipulates a fine of N50,000 which any pirate can afford. We need to review the law. The NCC that is empowered to fight this scourge in one of national dailies says they cannot fight piracy. So, who else will fight piracy. In any case, that is a good news to pirates.
“You said our laws are not punishing the pirates enough, what sterner measures would you advocate?
Serious and severe punishment of course. For people who want to reap where they did not sow, no punishment is too high. To pirate somebody’s work; either music, book, film or any other work if you say 20 years imprisonment, it is not too much. It has to be a law that will discourage the act.
In Indonesia they publicize the punishment for drug peddling and warn people of the death penalty because it was killing their people and destroying their economy. So, if you engage in it you already know the consequence. So, it falls on us to identify what is militating against our progress and nip it in the bud by apportioning appropriate punishment. Piracy is a very serious evil that must be destroyed.
“Drawing inference from the Ogunde and Baba Sala’s bitter stories on piracy and many on the contemporary practitioners including Kunle Afolayan, why didn’t the practitioners themselves nip it in the bud? Is it naivety or that the problem has defied solution?
That brings us back to the basic problem facing this industry. We are not structured. It has always been my idea that we come together to form an umbrella body. Other professional bodies like the NMA,NGE, NBA among others are strong and able to manage the affairs of their members and check their excesses because they are united. The film industry in Nigeria has no such body.
The Hausa are doing their own under Kannywood, the Igbo are doing their own under Nollywood and the Yoruba under Yorubawood or whatever. Even within these groups, we still have in-fighting and misunderstanding over leadership.
No national umbrella. If we had a national body, the war against piracy would have taken a more robust dimension. Aside the recent marching to Alausa, the national body would have taken it upon itself to champion the cause.
“What about the Nigerian Guild of Actors?
Is it a Guild that its members cut across Nigeria or one that is only one section of the country? Things cannot go on that way. We need national guild that comprises of practitioners from all sections of the country. We can have Guild of Actors and Guild of Directors that are truly national and there will be inter-connectivity. The Guild of Marketers can now say if your film does not get the approval of Guilds of Actors and Directors, we will not sell.
This will check any bad product. This way, there will be sanity. Each guild can also determine their rules to bring about unity, quality films and progress. Now everybody is a film producer and some will even do pornography and it will get into the market. It is so bad that we don’t even have association of film-makers. If Buhari wants to meet with doctors now, he will get them through the NMA.
Government also doesn’t know that Nollywood is for the Igbo actors and therefore, the few largesse from government goes to the Igbo actors depending on who knows who. This came out to the open during the last election. Nigeria film industry has been hijacked by about six popular actors, two males and four females.
They are the ones we saw at Aso Rock during the election collecting money on behalf of the industry, but for their individual pockets. They have no followership. They deceived the government saying they will ‘settle’ some actors to vote for Jonathan which was not true. Many of them did not even have PVC, hence they did not vote. So, out of anger, other actors now voted for the other party. There is no truly national guild.
Why are the Yoruba actors not under the Nollywood?
The reason is that when somebody claims he founded Nollywood, Oga Bello and of course I cannot be part of that. You were alive in 1983 when I produced my first film when Emeka Ike and his Nollywood people were still in school. They started their own film-making in 1992 and they are claiming that 1992 was the beginning of film-making in Nigeria.
Would you then call me a member of Nollywood? Bello made Omo-Orukan in 1980s. Will Bello now come under Nollywood formed by somebody who began his career in 1992? Emeka Ike started in 1992 and in one of his interviews I read, he said he founded Nollywood. So, would I belong to such industry founded by Emeka Ike who was born when I was making films? Or will Ogunde of blessed memory consider Emeka Ike as his own pioneer?
Young boys and girls have pocketed Nollywood and sent veteran actors into forced retirement. These old actors are now living in abject poverty due to inactivity. Some of them facing avoidable deaths. But you see, there is nothing bad in adopting Nollywood as name for Nigeria film industry, what I expected was that when you are telling the story of that Nollywood, it behooves on you to say it started in 1950s, giving credence to those who started it before you.
I can’t be part of a Nollywood started by Emeka Ike because I was making films before he was born. I can’t consider him as my pioneer. That is why Yoruba and Hausa are not part of it. Go and ask Muazu in the North who has been making films since God knows when, will Emeka Ike be his pioneer? They defined Nollywood as product of 1992. It suggests that those who have been making films before 1992 are not part of Nollywood. That to me is a dangerous claim.
“What is the way out now in order to foster unity and development of the industry?
The urgent formation of a National body of film-makers is important now. We can set up national guild which will include producers, directors, make-up artists, editors, actors, production managers, set designers, location managers among others. All these guilds will elect the president of the overall association of film-makers.
The national executive will then be able to work with government at all levels and corporate bodies on issues affecting the industry like piracy and funding. The body will also take care of quality control. The government should also institutionalize funding plan for the industry where film-makers would be able to access loans, grants or other forms of financial aids.