Nollywood decries high taxes that raise the cost of operating a production base in Ghana
On 4 August 2010, the Daily Independent (Lagos) reported that Nigeria's House of Representatives had cause to condemn the imposition of $5,ooo and $1,000 levies on Nigerian film producers and actors/actresses respectively, either operating in Ghana or featured in their films. The reasons for this trend may not be far to seek.
After witnessing phenomenal public acceptance since the release of the epoch-making Nigerian home video, Living In Bondage, back in 1981, Nollywood has been decried by critical observers for several lapses believed to be militating against its structural growth. These include sloppy story lines, lack of technical finesse and depth, dearth of state-of-the art equipment as well as the recycling of popular faces.
Some other obvious constraints include the lack of government infrastructural support and inadequate private sector funding. Add these to the criminal challenge of piracy, which the government is yet to fight frontally, and the pitiable plight of film producers becomes clearer. That a world-renowned film maker like Tunde Kelani has had to threaten to relocate out of Nigeria because his recent movie, Arugba, has been massively pirated is disheartening. Yet, the Nigerian film industry is a potential gold mine that, properly developed, could rival crude oil in revenue generation.
In spite of these institutional problems, Nollywood has recorded a remarkable impact in terms of employment generation and social re-engineering. It is currently widely regarded as the world's second largest in quantity. Many of the industry's exquisite works, including Afolayan's The Figurine, have won prestigious awards within and outside our shores. The journalist cannot but salute the typical Nigerian courage and resilience exhibited so far, in the face of all odds. But there has always been a growing concern from relevant stakeholders for Nollywood to re-invent itself.
It was in the film makers' bid to expand their business in the West African sub-region and create a more global distribution network that they reached out to their Ghanaian counterparts. According to Paul Obazele, President of the Association of Movie Producers (AMP) in Nigeria, the average film maker desires a profitable foray into new markets, as shown in the global spread of American (Hollywood) and Indian (Bollywood) films. The move was also in tandem with the goals of the ECOWAS treaty on free trade. In using Ghanaian actors and actresses, Nollywood succeeded in making stars out of some of the artistes like Jackie Appiah, Nadia Buari, Van Vicker and Majid Michel, who were hitherto unknown faces.
Within the short span of five years such actors became hugely popular with Nigerian movie fans. Coincidentally, this came at a time when the likes of Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Ekehinde, Ramsey Nouah and Pete Edochie had been sidelined for some years by Nigerian film producers, sometimes replaced by the Ghanaian stars.
In this light, The Daily Independent considers the Ghanaian film makers' decision to impose stiff levies on their Nigerian counterparts as ungrateful. It is also a breach of the spirit of the ECOWAS free trade agreement. To extort such fees from Nigerian movie producers and insist that they (Ghana's film makers) will not market Nollywood films except they feature Ghanaian actors will not promote the cordial relationship existing between the two countries.
While the right of the Ghanaian authorities to fix levies or taxes, within that country's legal framework, is acknowledged, it should not be projected as plain xenophobia. The Daily Independent’s journalist says this against the backdrop of similar complaints from other Nigerian entrepreneurs in Ghana that they are being made to pay exorbitant fees to register and operate their businesses.
In the end, these discriminatory practices against Nigerians in some neighbouring countries only challenge the Nigerian government, financial institutions and venture capitalists to take another look at repositioning Nollywood. Infrastructural deficits here in Nigeria imply, for instance, that a Ghanaian film maker, enjoying steady electric power supply, will spend far less to produce a film than his Nigerian colleague, who must rely on self-generated power at a prohibitive cost. There is need for the stakeholders - from the Ministries of Information, Culture and Tourism, Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) and the AMP - to jointly fashion out a viable way forward.
In this era of re-branding Nigeria, what role should the movie industry play? How do we tackle the growing menace of piracy in order to guarantee good return on investment? In what ways should the private sector come in so that adequate financing on favourable terms, similar to the government's N150 billion stimulus package to the manufacturing sector, is made available to Nollywood's entrepreneurs? How do we upgrade the quality of the industry's technical equipment to reduce capital flight to South Africa with more stable infrastructure?
Nigeria has the right calibre of film makers to take Nollywood to the next level. It is time to supply the missing link by exercising the required political will and providing the right infrastructural support, so that less endowed countries no longer take us for a ride.