Nigeria: Concerning Project Nollywood

Investment

Media reports of internal wrangling and in-fighting in Nollywood over the planned N3bn federal government grant to the entertainment industry are disheartening and indeed innocuous; as it raises fundamental questions over the integrity of the intervention fund; intended to offer Nollywood, the opportunity to put its house in order for a re-launch. President Goodluck Jonathan went beyond lip service to take the long overdue step of providing funds to leverage Nigeria’s fledgling home video industry with a N3bn grant for a special program tagged Project Nollywood. Against the background of its global impact and recognition, as well as its ambassadorial role in projecting Nigeria, Nollywood needs all the encouragement it can get in order to expand and improve.

But the envisaged rebirth of Nollywood will remain a mirage if industry stakeholders do not quickly put their house in order, by ending the factional and other squabbles wracking the industry. Except this is done, and done quickly and decisively, the presidential intervention could actually signal the demise of Nollywood. This is because a misguided scramble for dominance by the various guilds, or even renewed leadership tussles based on wrong notions about what the intervention fund is all about, may spell doom just when a bright light appeared at the end of the tunnel. This must not be allowed to happen.

The media has been awashed with reports of a cabal within the industry hatching sinister plots to divest the funds from the purposes for which it is intended. Top actresses, Stephanie Okereke, said to be a lynch pin in the plot has denied any wrongdoing and threatened legal action against those making baseless allegations against her. Although it is difficult to untangle the issues involved from the melee of allegations and counter-allegations, what is clear is that, there seems to be a concerted effort to circumvent the laid-down procedures for management of the fund. In response, the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) has raised the alarm that the fund has become the target of some star actors who want to invest it in their personal businesses, to the detriment of other actors, especially young, upcoming stars.

The AGN stands commended for standing up to the machinations of special interests within the movie industry. The grant is expected to be divided into three areas: production, distribution and training; and in the wake of alleged clandestine moves by the major film producers to divert the funds, the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) has been requested to exercise oversight over the fund, which has created a lot of excitement in the industry. At about 20 years of age, Nollywood can be said to have come of age. The grant falls within the administration’s planned assistance to a sector that is expected to generate considerable income to the nation while providing employment to many. Without any doubt, it is today our nation’s most widely acknowledged cultural export and one that has become a marketing point for certain aspects of African fashion and fashion accessories.

Nollywood big wigs must relate to the announced funds and the envisaged improvements in the sector with every sense of responsibility; rather than start salivating that the time has come for individuals and groups to fight over “Ghana Must Go” bags of cash and haul away as many as they can. Government officials who will be in charge of disbursement should not see this as another slush fund for abusive patronage and self-enrichment. Many experts have attested that Nollywood has the capacity to create hundreds of thousands of jobs across such industry skill areas as set design, make-up, prop design and management, film directing and much more. With this financial intervention, more schools and facilities for editing and post-production skills can be established to expand and improve opportunities for development and expansion. There should also be some investment in proper writing and script conference skills, as well as professional self-management training for actors and actresses.

Besides, the time has come for Nollywood to have its own Movie Production Village. Nollywood stakeholders should design some means of providing revolving funds out of the government largesse, for credible actors to facilitate the birthing of many brilliant projects and ideas that have been held back for years because of the limited means of their creators. This is the time to improve content, weed out the quacks and charlatans and re-profile the technical quality of film production and take Nigeria to where the rest of the world is in the industry.

The N3bn intervention fund also offers the various regulatory agencies in the sector the opportunity to pull themselves together for a re-launch. Anti-piracy and intellectual property protection measures should now be driven with contemporary tools of information and communication technology, as obtains elsewhere. Insurance and artistes’ rights issues, including contract guarantees and the creative independence of directors can now be taken up within a framework of ethics and professionalism.

The President should be commended for having the presence of mind to leverage this sector and for keeping his word on a pledge he made Nollywood. It is now time for the industry stakeholders to justify the confidence so robustly demonstrated by showing Nigerians and the world that a new day has come for Nollywood. The AGN must face up to the critical problems besetting the industry and not engage in barefaced exercises in self-indulgence. The fund is not about the privileges of self-seeking stakeholders. To assume this mindset is to misunderstand the goal of the fund; whose management demands practical collaboration between all stakeholders in an atmosphere devoid of mutual suspicion and distrust. The world is watching…