By Benjamin Njoku
As Nigeria marks its 57th Independence anniversary tomorrow, tales of woes and despair are bound to rent the air. This is because every sector of the nation’s economy is busy taking stock of how it has fared, especially in the past threei years of President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government. And for the entertainment sector, the story is not different.
Though the present administration has made series of efforts to create an enabling environment for the industry to thrive, the truth remains that the entertainment sector is largely self-funded and private sector driven. The administration came into office, riding on the crest of its change mantra to confront the monster that has long undermined the growth of the industry.
It made a lot of promises that have remained work in progress. First, the government showed more concern about structuring the movie industry in particular, for easy regulation than splashing billions of naira on the stakeholders, which was the bargaining power of the previous administration. It also promised to save the country’s entertainment industry from pirates. In the area of tackling the menace of piracy, the administration has recorded significant breakthrough, through the regulatory body, National Film and Videos Censors Board, NFVCB, which set up a national task force, collaborating with its sister agency, NCC and the Nigeria Police to clamp down on movie pirates.
The effort, though, laudable, having led to the arrest of three notorious pirates in Lagos, is still a work in progress. Many believe there is more to be done in the area of tackling copyright infringement in the country. However, while stakeholders applaud the government for taking the bold steps to arrest the ugly trend, they also urge the present administration to enact the copyright laws, and endeavour to prosecute offenders as well as corrupt officers if the monster must be eliminated totally in the society. We are yet to see that done.
MOPICON Bill palaver
Recall that overtime, the government has engaged the stakeholders in the creative sector, having acknowledged the potentials of Nollywood as a money-spinning industry that could help boost the Nigerian economy. But in most cases, the interactive sessions have yielded no meaningful results. It’s still fresh in our memories, when last year, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, inaugurated a 28-member committee for the review of the moribund Motion Picture Practitioners Council,MOPICON, before presenting it as an executive bill to the National Assembly for passage into law.
After several sittings, and holding of town hall meetings, the committee has since submitted its report to the government, but nothing has come out of it as there are counter-allegations that some insiders doctored the document, leading to its suspension by the minister. But in the wake of the foregoing, the apex regulatory body, Nigerian Film Corporation, NFC, quickly replaced it with the proposed Nigerian Film Commission Bill which is currently before the National Assembly.
The film commission bill, according to NFC, would provide an enabling environment for the development and growth of the motion picture industry in the country, to continue to grapple with inadequate funding. But the stakeholders kicked against the bill, on the ground that the regulatory body “did not carry the industry along.” Till date, the bill has not seen the light of the day. Recently, also, the Nigerian Film Corporation, Nigerian Copyright Commission, Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board and the National Broadcasting Commission, jointly endorsed the establishment of the National Film Development Fund to tackle the lack of funding for film production activities. It’s yet to be implemented.
Recording significant growth
Notwithstanding the pitfalls, the entertainment industry has witnessed real growth in the past one year. This is a result of the active involvement of both the government and private sector in growing the industry. Only recently, the government released about N420.2 million to the movie industry to improve and support aspiring practitioners.
Also, another boost for the industry was the government’s decision to give a tax break for the creative industry. The gesture, which was in fulfillment of the promise made by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, represented by the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, at the opening of the Creative Industry Financing Conference in Lagos, to grant the industry ‘Pioneer Status’ was greeted with excitement on the part of the stakeholders who described it as a ‘welcome development.’ But one doubts if the policy has been fully implemented.
However, in the past one year, government has concentrated on creating an enduring structure for the industry rather than splashing money on its stars. A pointer to this claim was the Creative Industry Financing Conference, which held in Lagos, between July 17 and 18, and had in attendance major stakeholders within and outside the shores of the country. The confab, geared towards taking the industry into “a golden era of smooth access to short and long-term financing, world-class management as well as local and international distribution was an eye-opener for the stakeholders as they realized how much lack of access to financing is stunting the growth of the creative industry.
The confab, however, was a follow up to the landmark National Summit on Culture and Tourism, which was organized last year in Abuja, by the Ministry of Culture and Information to chart a new path for the industry. Whether the recommendations arising from the conference have been implemented is yet to be seen. But one thing is certain, and it’s the genuine intention of the present administration to make the entertainment industry an alternative to ‘oil’ in the country.
The minister of Culture and Information once declared that “government cannot afford to take the creative industry with levity, as it had become the cash cow for many other nations.”
Box office records
While production has been very slow this year, following the prevailing gloomy economy, there are indications that Nigerian movies are doing well in the box office. Last year, about 50 Nollywood movies grossed an amazing N1 billion in the box office.
CEO of FilmOne Distribution, Moses Babatope was quoted as saying the figure represented nearly 30 per cent of the N3.5 billion generated from 28 cinemas across the country, including movies from Hollywood and around the world.
Films like ‘The Wedding Party’, ‘A Trip to Jamaica, and Wives on Strike, Okafor’s Law, The CEO, 93 Days, and ’76 all shattered records. From all indications, the industry has not fared badly in the last one year. It has been growing from strength to strength with the government providing direction, which has been lacking in the industry over the years. And one can only but acknowledge the pioneering role the present government has been playing in repositioning the industry for a better performance. Yet, some stakeholders still believe that there is much to be achieved if the government would sustain its growing interest in the industry.
In the words of Alex Eyengho, former ANCOP president, “The government should have a clear plan to further deepen Nollywood’s global presence through mounting Nigerian pavilion at major international film festivals and also, grow our local film festivals, in addition to ratifying and domesticating all relevant WIPO treaties signed since the early 90s. We should also go into immediate co-production treaty arrangement with other film nations. This way, we shall rule the world.”