Vol. XI, Issue 2 (Spring 2004): The Nigerian Film Industry
Peter K. LeMaire
Bernice A. LeMaire
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The prolific output of Nigerian screen
writers and producers is now legendary. Every day at least four or five
videos are produced in Nigeria. We have the pleasure of focusing once
more on Nigerian Cinema in this issue of Africa Update. Included are
two papers by Femi Odugbemi and Tayo Aderinokun, delivered initially
at the 50TH ART STAMPEDE SESSION OF THE COMMITTEE FOR RELEVANT
ART (CORA) held at THE NATIONAL THEATRE, Iganmu, Surulere,
Lagos, Nigeria on Sunday 7TH March 2004.The theme of the Workshop was“Film
as our National Patrimony: What the President Said.”The President
of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo made comments
in his 2004 budget speech on issues related to film and apparently triggered
various discussions on this subject.
We thank him for his valuable contribution
to this issue.
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The size of our population and the diverse cultures within it combined with the raw talents that abound within Nigeria makes the phenomenal growth of the film industry inevitable.
It is heart-warming though to note
that Nigerian movies already dominate TV screens all over West Africa
and going even as far as Central and Southern Africa. There is also
a Western dimension to this export market. According to the Filmmakers
Cooperative of Nigeria, every film in Nigeria has a potential audience
of 15 million people within the country and about 5 million outside.
These statistics may be somewhat conservative considering that half
of West Africa’s 250 million people are Nigerians and according
to the World Bank, slightly over 7 million Nigerians are scattered around
the world, most of them in the developed economies. There is a school
of thought that talks about the rebirth of the film culture in Nigeria.
They claim that like in a horror movie, the infant film market was gruesomely
butchered at the altar of the oil boom together with other sectors of
the economy. The Indigenization Decree of 1972, which sought to transfer
ownership of about 300 cinema houses in the country from their foreign
proprietors to Nigerians did little to help matters. Though this transfer
resulted in the eruption of the latent ingenuity of Nigerian playwrights,
screenwriters, poets, and film producers, the gradual dip in the value
of the naira, combined with lack of finance, marketing support, quality
Edgar Rice Buroughs 1935 film "Sanders of the River" which was partly shot in Nigeria helped in putting Nigeria on the world film map through the participation of late Orlando Martins (1899 – 1985) who acted in the film alongside the American actor Paul Robeson. Orland Martins also featured in "Man from Morocco" and "Black Libel" – his first film, which was never finished but gave him the needed experience. It was however the part of Magole the witch doctor in "Men of Two Worlds" that put him in the public eye. Well before these films, Glover Memorial Hall is on record as having been the first venue to show a film in Nigeria in August 1903. Documentaries on the Queen’s visits to Nigeria, English football matches, Westminster Parliamentary debates, and government-sponsored films on health and education as well as legendary cowboy films soon began dominating our cinemas in the late ‘50s up to independence.
Most of us old enough to remember this
era of the Nigeria society refer to it as the good old ‘50s and
‘60s and it was perfect timing for a love affair between Nigerian
film and Nigerian music. Sadly, we had neither the technology nor the
means to do our own films and had to be satisfied with mostly foreign
fare. Soon vast acres of our urban surroundings became flooded with
wall posters of alien culture in the form of American, Indian, Chinese,
and Japanese films. Our kids caught on to the Kung-fu and Karate culture.
Nigerians began to know more about Bruce Lee, James Bond, and the travails
of the American Indians than they did about the Wole Soyinka-led Mbari
Mbayo culturual group, Hubert Ogunde’s troupe or other socio-cultural
history of Nigeria. Some significant successes were recorded after independence
when for about ten years after the Nigeria civil war, Nigerian
In Western societies, a film’s commercial lifespan would normally begin with a box office or cinema release, then video release, then broadcast on fee-paying television, and finally on public television. Producers and Marketers would then generate the appropriate promotion and publicity to maximize profitability out of each phase. The Nigerian experience with the video culture so far has shown that without piracy, there are huge potentials for making money in the industry. In South Africa, I understand that video distribution usually doubles or triples a movie’s revenues. The video boom is therefore not just a Nigerian phenomenon. Video appears to be the home entertainment mainstay for the world’s developing countries.
From all indications, the future of
the Nigerian movie industry is promising. I understand that every day,
about three new low budget movies are released into the market. Each
film is then replicated into about 200,000 video cassettes and distributed
to markets, video clubs and eventually various homes. This process creates
jobs and income for the people involved in the production, distribution
and marketing of the movies. It is only when we change our paradigm
and see film production as big business, that the film industry will
take its rightful position in the economy.
Let me say that the need for partnership between Nigerian banks and the film industry are obvious. We all now know from the American experience that film is big business. As financial intermediaries in the economy, banks have a key role to play in the development of the industry. Banks are interested in helping to build successful businesses out of ideas and if the film industry should open itself up to the same evaluation and analysis that banks subject all their borrowers to, banks would really want to lend to them. With the support of the financial sector, the film industry will certainly rise to prominence.
Before I conclude I have some questions for CORA. These are questions that banks would like to have answers to before supporting the Nigerian film industry:
Bankers usually do not start a banking relationship until after conducting due diligence on the institution of their interest. This usually involves an assessment of need and an analysis of the credit risks involved. This is because they want to be able to determine, to a large extent, the viability of the project they finance. So far, our film industry lacks the structure to provide positive answers to my questions. I am therefore suggesting that the Nigerian film industry become better organized, and start to maintain proper records and accounts, engage the services of auditors and have formal organizational structures. When this is done, banks will find the industry more amenable for support. The banks will also be able to:
One should also ask what the movie industry can do for the financial services industry and by extension, for the country.
* Already, beyond being a ready-made
pipeline for the discovery of young artistic talent, its potential for
generating direct and indirect employment is well known.
We all know that Nigerian home videos are extremely popular with Africans especially Nigerians abroad. Our films have become ready substitutes for western productions. Through these movies Africans are experiencing a cultural connect worldwide, something which foreign movies cannot provide. Recently, South Africa’s satellite TV company Multichoice DSTV introduced its AfricaMagic channel which shows mostly Nigerian movies to its over 1.5 million subscribers in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. With time, this exposure of our film market can only serve to improve the quality of our movies. It can be said that this is another form of cross border trade, which will lead to positive interest in Nigeria, and all the things associated with our country.
So far, our film industry has evolved
naturally, with almost no government involvement or influence. This
is a good thing and I want to appeal to you all that it remains so.
While Government participation is welcome, it should not be allowed
to become a hinderance in any way. Government’s involvement in
business enterprises has been known to generally hamper than assist
In concluding, let me restate that banks need the film industry just as much as the film industry needs the banks. I believe that the film industry can be viable and has all the elements of being sustainable over the long term. Partnership between both sectors is therefore necessary if the movie industry is to achieve its full potentials. The future of this partnership abounds with several opportunities.
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The focus of the stampede today, "Film as National Patrimony: What the President said" would suggest perhaps that my last question, at least as it concerns the movie industry, may no longer be necessary, which in turn frees one’s thinking in terms of suggesting ideas. Of course, in the light of the complexities of our politics, we are accepting that "what the President said" is EXACT to "what the President meant." That said, we must dearly thank Mr. President for at least recognizing that the movie industry in Nigeria, currently run only by private initiative and enterprise, is political valuable and has capacity to contribute strongly to our economic development.
Whatever follows now, the true value of "what the President said" in his 2004 budget speech really lies in our industry’s own ability to seize the moment and the political impetus of the President’s commitment to change the content of our conversation concerning our industry. We now must make the case for our industry in pure economic terms such that government and politicians understand. What the President said is our license to propagate the capacity of the motion picture industry in Nigeria as an engine of economic development. We must speak of its ability to generate employment. We must speak of its ability to foster investment. We must speak of its potential to generate foreign exchange. We must speak of its capability to expand our technological skill and preserve our history and cultural heritage. The creative potential and economic viability of the motion picture industry in Nigeria is huge –In a country of 120 million people and with our diversity of culture and heritage, the industry has capacity to complement the oil sector in earnings. In pure economic terms, our industry, if well organized and properly encouraged can provide employment for thousands of people, generate earnings for small-scale businesses, earn foreign exchange, provide a platform for the positive promotion of the Values of the Nigerian Nation, its cultures and peoples. It can become our biggest megaphone to lift our voice in the comity of nations. The economic capacity of the motion picture industry in a market like Nigeria, and with a potential expanded audience of francophone West Africa, should bestow our profession and by extension its professionals a pride of place and a strong voice in the economic growth and social development of Nigeria.
Now, if "what the President said" is "what the President meant" I guess we can presume that he already now accepts this premise. So to the question what next? That I presume is the point of having this discussion at all. I thought this through with a bit of wishful thinking. I visualized myself with the President with him asking the very question "what shall I do?" Given Mr. President’s familiarity with the Holy Bible,I would say that the state of the Motion Picture Industry in Nigeria reminds one of Prophet Ezekiel’s spiritual flight into the "Valley of dry bones." I suggest that the dry bones spiritually represented not so much decline and desolation but a metaphor of missed opportunities. It was imagery, not of the end of what once was, but a lamentation of what could have been. When Eagles, equipped to fly in glorious altitudes, nestle happily with chickens and ducks, we have come spiritually to the valley of dry bones. When potential is huge and achievement is not, we live in the valley of dry bones. That is why the question that arose in context, from the Prophet’s spiritual understanding, was "will the bones rise again?"
Yes, the motion picture industry in Nigeria today lies curled up in the valley of dry bones. There is potential. There is huge potential given the evidence of the activity in the home-video industry and given the huge audience available, and given the rich history of filmmaking in this country, there is potential. Let me be clear: Filmmaking should not, and cannot, be a government activity. Creativity does not thrive in a civil service environment. Government cannot make movies, but government can create the atmosphere for movie-making to be fulfilling, rewarding, elevating and economically empowering both for the moviemaker and for "the rest of us." So, first point – for the President to mean what he said, Government must shift its paradigm from LEGISLATING the movie industry to PROMOTING the movie industry. To do that, Mr. President needs a true measure of sober assessment of the industry as it is. The metaphor of Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones works well here, because if you look around the industry, you will pick up dry bone after dry bone in our wasteland of missed opportunities.
There is the dry bone of poor content. Thanks to the Home-Video industry’s penchant for fecundity, we are now internationally recognized for our QUANTITY but not for quality. The spectacle of unprecedented international media attention lately received by the movie industry here just seems focused on sheer volume and the unfathomable speed with which our videos are churned out. Buried inside all the attention is the disturbing snicker and innuendos on the very poor quality and standards of these productions. Truth is, to find economic reward for this sector particularly in the international arena, we must refocus international attention by proving the fact that we have talented professionals with viable ideas and a winning creative vision. That is why I am cautious to celebrate the media barrage and various invitations to international film festivals many of our Producers are getting today. The recent Berlin Film Festival focused on Nigeria’s Home-Video industry. That is good news. But then it also convened workshops with subjects such as "How to make a movie in 10 days – the Nigerian experience." That, my friends, is bad news. We must critically examine content. Poor content of course is directly related to poor professionalism. Too many folks are wielding cameras like Saddam’s famed Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Government therefore must therefore encourage professionalism by encouraging training. Funding training should be government’s first and most important intervention in the industry. I will therefore suggest to Mr. President to seriously consider providing statutory budgetary funding for institutions that provide specialized skills for our movie-makers such as the Nigerian Film Institute in Jos and the ITPAN Training School in Gbagada, Lagos.
There is the dry bone of project funding. Movie-making is seriously capital intensive. It requires a lot of money to put a movie together and regardless of how powerful a creative idea may be, in film making, in the end money talks. That is why the home-video industry today is controlled by the marketers who function as the Executive Producers. I personally have no problem with marketers who function as Executive Producers. In fact we must be grateful because as it were they are the only ones willing to invest their money in the uncertain terrain of the movie business. Banks will not. Government has not. But they do. My worry however is that their investment is formularized in such a way as to provide no opportunity for emergent practitioners. Their intervention is controlled to recoup investment by only doing stories that are guaranteed to sell a predetermined number of copies if a certain so and so actor is used and a certain so and so Director produces.
In a capitalist economy, they have every right to do so. But that approach while economically rewarding, is short-sighted in terms of regenerating the industry with new ideas and new practitioners and breaking new markets in demography etc. I have problems with the fact that Emergent movie-makers have no structure to provide a financial springboard for them to work. So in my opinion, Mr. President needs to look at how we create a funding structure for movies particularly for emergent storytellers. If I may offer a thought in that direction: Can government not create a special release for the SMIE funds kept away by so many banks to be available to filmmakers?? Because a movie, if well made can be a lifetime property, the banks can along with their 30% ownership, also hold copyright until the money is made back. And given that SMIE rules offer a five-year break-even period, there’s ample time to recoup investment if the project is undertaken with boldness and vision for impact internationally.
Finally, there is the dry bone of poor distribution. Currently, traders and non-professionals dominate the informal distribution structures while exhibition theatres are practically non-existent. I don’t really worry about a lack of exhibition theatres because quite a lot of movies made in developed countries do now go straight to DVD and video. And in fact I realize even if government were to build theatres now, there are issues of re-energizing the theatre-going culture in Nigeria aside of course issues of personal security on our roads at night.
The distribution issue for me surround
the absence of credible data or numbers on our industry. No one seems
to have any hard numbers on how
So, can government begin by commissioning a full and thorough data on what we really have and where the opportunities lie? There is a need for the government to truly understand the dynamics of the home video industry. It is absolutely imperative that the government understands the industrial bases that require strategic input necessary for an economically empowered film industry. It may be wise to take a look at the model used in South Africa with the South African Film and Video Foundation. Instead of a Censors Board, can we have a Film and Video Promotions Board? Can that Board have departments that deal with providing funding information and opportunities to movie-makers? Can it have departments that collect hard data and provide export promotion support for filmmakers?
The creation of an effective export promotion facility for the industry will be the key to foreign exchange inflow into the economy. Now that the industry is experiencing international interest it is imperative that an effective promotion structure is put in place so are to further strengthen the profit index of the industry as it relates to the national economy.
Can it have departments that promote training and professionalism?
Can it have departments that focus on revenue generation? Governments of successful film industries like the United States of America have a revolving structure aimed at ensuring revenue generation from films. Part of these formulae is the creation of a pay per view system that ensures that viewers are billed for films they want to see on televisions, cables, etc. A truly professional formula will ultimately yield returns for government.
Can it have departments that enforce piracy laws so that our practitioners can be free of fear of losing the just economic reward of their creative property?
Please understand that I am not looking for government to create yet another bureaucratic hold on the industry. Such a commission or Board should not be a hindrance if, as I said when we started, a paradigm shift from legislation to promotion is the foundation of government’s intervention.
To end I must return to where my conversation with Mr. President began…the valley of dry bones. The biggest dry bone in our industry’s wasteland of opportunities now is one for which we all have shared a responsibility. It is the bone of a lack of vision. Without a vision the people perish… The word 'perish' in the original Hebrew does not actually mean physical death. It means that people go naked and are impoverished. But one does not need to understand Hebrew to see that this is exactly the state of our industry today. It is impoverished because our professionals are working but they are not making a living. It is impoverished because the profile of a Producer in Nigeria is no higher than that of the artisan at least in the corridors of economic and political influence.
We can round up the usual suspects if we desire to play the blame game. Government is not supportive, the banks won’t give us loans, the industry itself is fragmented by egomaniacs and politics…blah, blah, blah…
But it behooves us all to define a vision of a powerful and economically rewarding industry and draw a roadmap to it. Cooperative industry bodies and associations and regulatory organs like the Nigeria Film Corporation, Censors Board etc are bus-stops on that map. They should rightly be supported. In a democratic environment however, opportunity exists for us to elevate the platform of our agitation and take the vision to the seat of influence and power.
The true capacity to act boldly to
actualize our vision lies in how seriously we push our agenda politically.
We need the motion picture industry taken seriously in Aso Rock and
in the Senate and the House of Assembly in Abuja. We need Ministers
and Governors and Commissioners who will not only know our business
and recognize its economic potential, we need industry professionals
who will attain political office and make the case by influencing directly
legislation and instruments that will spur the industry’s growth.
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CORA was formed in June 1991 to nurture
discourse on the state and quality of our artistic and cultural productions.
Since then it has held 49 editions of its quarterly Stampede, through
which it has touched on virtually
* That potentials of the marketing
and distribution prospects of he sector are being undermined by the
reluctance of practitioners to stretch their dreams beyond the traditional
means of distribution. This is undermining the potentials of the sector
to assert itself as a credible alternative to oil as revenue earner
for the practitioners and the nation.
*That the CORA should facilitate the constitution of a neutral body of eminent artists of diverse disciplines to look into the various points of departure and disagreement among the various bodies towards a meaningful resolution of such identified crises. This it is hoped would create a convivial atmosphere for dialogue on how to tackle the pressing matter of evolving strategies to sanitize the sector.
*That the proposal for the emergence
of a Film Practitioners Council is a laudable one therefore all efforts
should be geared towards its realization. To do this the various conceptions,
perceptions and positions of the various stakeholders should be harmonized
to facilitate the emergence of the said council;
* Ensure that contents of films are
sufficiently cleaned up to avoid themes and materials capable of projecting
wrong impressions about the culture and people of Nigeria;
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Chancellor Keto understood the historical significance of the African situation and used Africa-centered epistemology and methodology to document and interpret the histories and cultures of Africa. His now classic book The Africa-Centered Perspective of History: An Introduction provides a critical guide to the study of African history. His 1991 book has gone through many editions and reprints.
Chancellor Keto was a great humanist and “pluriversalist”. He abhorred all forms of hegemony and imperialism. He fought a valiant fight against them. And yet he deeply remained committed to the coexistence of all peoples fully aware of and in ownership of their respective time and place.
Chancellor Keto was a great teacher and storyteller in the tradition of the African halla or griot. His lectures were skillfully interwoven with proverbs and stories drawn from rich and long histories and cultures of Africa. Keto drew from the histories of the Mossis in West Africa or the Aksumites of the Horn of Africa or the Zulus of his beloved South Africa or the Taharkas of Ancient Nubia or the Ramses of Ancient Egypt. He always emphasized contexts and meanings, holistic approaches and sound interpretations of African realities.
Chancellor Keto was a gifted storyteller. His stories were sweet and remained in the ears even long after they were initially told. We all remember him for his story of the limping antelope that outsmarted its hunter. The hunter prematurely concluded that the limping antelope would succumb. He followed the antelope for miles only to discover that it regained its strength and managed to escape.
Chancellor Keto also told and retold the story of the lion that wanted to narrate its own story, for it was tired of being misrepresented or silenced by the hunter.
Chancellor Keto supervised my Ph.D.
dissertation in the Department of African American Studies at Temple
University in the early 1990s. I also had a chance to teach at the Department
with him. He was an exemplary and student-centered advisor. He encouraged
me to probe deeply in the ancient histories of Ethiopia. It was under
his supervision that I was able to
In April 2002, I traveled to Pretoria, South Africa to attend the inauguration of Dr. Keto as the Vice Chancellor of Vista University. There were several ceremonies and celebrations at his inauguration. The one that I cherished the most was the ceremony held in his beautiful home garden where we all sat in a circle. Chancellor Keto was sitting in the midst of us decked in his Xhosa's costume. His family relations and praise singers showered him with blessings and praise songs. He was quiet but very happy. I thought that was the most memorable moment. From his characteristic pleasant smile of approval, I read his sense of relief and the closing of the long and arduous chapter of struggle.
Chancellor Keto had several opportunities to change his citizenship when he was in exile in the United States. But he deeply loved his beloved South Africa, even in its darkest apartheid moments. He held onto his South African passport, fought for the rights of all South Africans and, eventually and triumphantly returned home.
Chancellor Keto is immortal, for he left us an intellectual legacy that will enlighten many generations to come. He will always be remembered for his seminal work Vision and Time: Historical Perspective of an Africa-Centered Paradigm. I am confident that his students will keep his memory alive.
'If you do not know where you are or where you have been, you cannot know where you are going...And, if you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there.' Dr. Keto's favorite saying from West Africa.
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