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Nollywood: Growing in Africa, struggling in Nigeria


Time to pay attention to what the industry is saying

By Richard Mammah


Like the Onitsha Market Literature movement that preceded it, Nigeria’s fledgling home-grown film industry, Nollywood, is still not making any strong pretensions overall to excellence at the moment.
Also quite notable too is the fact that though its output is very prolific, and its economic contribution quite muscular, the industry which,according to a recent survey, contributes a colossal $600 million to the Nigerian economy in annual revenues, is like the archetypal prophet, still not very much regarded at home.

In the recent Nigerian national economy rebasing exercise, Nollywood emerged as one of the star surprise performers. But even that showing is still said to be some kind of an understatement of its true and actual worth and capacity. This is because, with the forays that the industry has since made across Africa and the Nigerian and African diaspora, industry watchers are insisting that fresh and more rigorous studies need to be undertaken to properly gauge the worth and weight of the industry.

This is more so when in recent times, the drop in purchasing power and consumption capacity within the typical Nigerian homestead has led to reduced patronage in-country of non-critical essentials as film and film products, leading to a new trend where more films are presently being made for the diaspora market than for local consumption.

Compounding the problems of statisticians’ intent on getting an accurate figure on the worth of the industry would be the essentially bootlegging practices that are now prevalent in the sector.

Tapping into the best of opportunities presently being offered by globalization, the slick entrepreneurs driving the current mode negotiate long-distance with local producers to assemble cast and crew and shoot the movies of their interest. When this is done, they jet into the country pay for the ‘master-copy’ of the production and move on to mass produce in Asia or Europe before releasing the end-product into the Nigerian and African diaspora markets.

Local producers and actors are not very pleased with this practice which pays them very little and also does not guarantee that their home-based fans would even see the productions, but economic realities in contemporary Nigeria are compelling them to live with it.

But even at the best of times also, the lack of essential structure in the industry had equally ensured that but for a very negligible few; players in the sector did not also get the best that was possible.

‘If Nollywood is so buoyant, why are the players dying of hunger, the veteran producer, Gab Okoye, popularly known as Igwe Gabosky had commented when the very flattering report of the rebasing exercise that had been conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that the nation’s entertainment industry is formally now a serious contributor to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic product, GDP.

Hitherto categorized as being part of the informal sector, the finding is one that has continued to attract a wide variety of responses.
Gabosky, who is himself a graduate of Mathematics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, surely knows what he is talking about. As far back as the mid-nineties when the industry was still in its infancy and when many a flick was shot with as little as a million naira, he had sunk a then whooping fifteen million naira to produce the epic, ‘The Battle of Musanga!’

However, just like was to be re-discovered by the duo of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Biyi Bandele-Thomas a few years ago when the latter’s hugely successful literary recreation of the Nigerian Civil War, Half of a Yellow Sun was made into a film, the returns from the project were not encouraging. But it did not deter Gabosky from continuing with efforts to shoot big budget movies in Nollywood.

‘’If Nollywood contributed to the success of the rebased economy, how many of us were factored into the exercise to authenticate it. We know the arena better than outsiders. The truth is that they merely used it as a peg.

‘’If the industry is rich and successful, why are its players so impoverished that some are dying and beg for food and hospital bills? So where did they get their facts from, is it from a mere tally of the volumes of pirated works on display? GDP must be real,’’ he had told the entertainment writer, Austin Fair Nwaulu in an interview.

As far as the Anambra State-born filmmaker is concerned, it is only through good movies and proper distribution that Nollywood can make the expected impact.

‘’That is the only way we can contribute. I have been using all my resources to help in reshaping the industry. But government must get involved in a more visible and transparent manner. Government comes and goes but Nollywood will always be there.

‘’People should ignore the so-called GDP triumph and Nollywood’s connection. It’s a farce and a mere hype. How many of us depend on the earnings from the industry to survive? Some had even gone back to their villages.’’

Although majorly sponsored by individuals, Nollywood, in the words of Gabosky, ‘’is the highest employer of labour in Nigeria and thus deserves real attention and not hype. Like I said earlier, we know ourselves and I can tell you that none of us got invited or consulted during the rebasing programme.’’

‘’If you’re not a filmmaker you can never have and give accurate information about it. If you want to give us an award for doing good movies it’s a different ball game. It’s like an agriculture expert being represented labourers or cattle rearers.’’

Contrary to widely-held views that the industry benefits a lot from government, Igwe Gabosky said that there’s no substance in such a story. ‘’They are only using us for the glamour that trail our profession. These days if their son or daughter want to marry; they’re receiving chieftaincy title or get bereaved they invite us to shore the crowd and dump us till another event. That is all we get from them,’’ he concluded.

Out of Nigeria however, the market dynamics may actually be saying something else. And there is a rash of factors that explain this.

The first is Nigeria’s place and ranking as the most populous state on the African continent. With a fifth of the total population of Africa, the statistical chance is that in gatherings of people within the continent, one of every five is invariably a Nigerian.

The second contributory factor for Nollywood expanding across Africa and the diaspora is the relative economic dynamism and relatively greater sense of economic and travel adventure by Nigerians within and outside the continent. Of course this has come to be accentuated by the nation’s economic and political troubles but the net effect is that in virtually every country in the continent and the world, there are pockets and scores of Nigerians plying their trade and who constitute a first market for the products that nomadic and settled Nollywood film merchants peddle.

A third factor is the low level of development, if not a general dearth of local film industries in many of the countries of Africa. With this, the emergent film products from Nigeria over time get to pass and gain recognition in the market, giving that they are the closest that can be gotten to satisfy the ‘local itch’ at the moment.

A fourth contributory factor is the wisdom displayed by Nigerian players in the industry through their infusion of local content in the form of integrating local actors and linguistic forms from several of the African states where they have found a berth and in which they work.

This has also helped in the further development of the national film industries of those nations and the expansion of collaboration opportunities with the quick-starting Nigerians now serving as partners, advisers and consultants in the film and entertainment industries of the nations in question.

And finally, there is the critical and all-essential youth dynamic. The early acts that opened up Nollywood, in the mould particularly, of young men like Kenneth Nnebue of the Living in Bondage fame and of course, the Ejiro Brothers

So what Nollywood is saying then is very simple: give the youth a chance: you will be shocked what they would achieve! But are Nigeria and Africa listening?

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