THE PUBLIC SPHERE with Chido Nwakanma

 Please Google “Rituals in Nollywood movies”, dear reader. I did so to commence this article, and a list of YouTube movies hit me. Their titles had rituals as a staple: 2022 Royal Rituals, Back-to-Back Rituals, complete moviesand Journey of Rituals, Season 1 and Pant Ritual Season 1.

Other titles included The Devil’s Brotherhood 1& 2, Devil’s Minister 1&2. My Ghost Sister Came to Protect Me from Evil, Dirty Demons 1-8, Sent by Lucifer, Billionaire Sugar Daddies, and 7 Days to Die.

Nollywood and the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, engaged in a short-lived spat in February 2022 over the growing spate of ritual killings by young people. Mohammed and officialdom point to the role of Nollywood as a promoter and instigator. Nollywood disagrees vehemently and conversely blames high government officials for the desultory state of the nation, including the practice of rituals by young people.

Then, silence followed. Both parties have gone into their shells. I urge them to please engage the matter more seriously.

A Conversation on Nollywood

 Alhaji Lai Mohammed has touched on a significant issue deserving of more severe deliberation and interrogation than the exchange of brickbats in newspaper interviews. Nollywood is so critical and contributory to the Nigerian narrative that it deserves an entire conversation. It is time for the Nigerian National Conversation on Nollywood.

The minister and Nollywood players exchanged between February 21 and 24. Mohammed told the Daily Trust newspapers. “Many have also blamed Nollywood for featuring money rituals in some of its movies, saying this has negatively influenced the vulnerable youth. To mitigate this, I have directed the National Film and Video Censors Board, the body set up to regulate the film and video industry in Nigeria, to consider this issue while censoring and classifying films and videos.

“I have also directed NFVCB to engage with stakeholders in the film industry to express the concerns of the government and Nigerians on the need to eschew money ritual content in their movies.”

Players’ Riposte

Players in the industry quickly offered a comeback, as reported by Vanguard and other platforms. They declined responsibility for the growing incidence of bad manners verging on ritualism by young people. Comrade Alex Eyengho, is Board of Trustees Chairman, Association of Nollywood Core Producers (ANCOP). , said directing filmmakers to stop making films on ritual killings is akin to requiring journalists not to write about them in the print and electronic media. Eyengho urged the Federal Government to move beyond “laughable directives” and tackle ritualists, scammers (yahoo, yahoo), kidnapping, armed robbery, and corruption.

Eyengho added, “Assuming but without conceding that the government was right in this military-like directive, it is a clear admittance of failure of the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) currently under the leadership of Alhaji Adedayo Thomas. It’s not performing its statutory functions as a Federal Government agency regarding appropriate classifications and censorships of motion picture contents…

“To the best of my knowledge, filmmakers don’t make films to promote rituals. Rather, filmmakers make films to condemn the incessant ritual killings in Nigeria. Ritual killings are not the making or creation of filmmakers. We only bring the sad narrative to the front burner in a manner that makes it serve as a deterrent to those bent on engaging in the heinous crime. The Federal Government and National Assembly should stop advertising their crass ignorance in the public space”.

Misplaced priorities?

On his own, gyration master and former majority leader of Anambra House of Assembly, Tony OneWeek, slammed the government. “Instead of funding the business, the federal government now wants to gag the writers.”

Famous actor and producer Paul Obazele described the directive as ‘shameful’. “How about the activities and the extravagant lifestyle of the political class? Nollywood also influenced it?”

Notable film director, Lancelot Imasuen, accused the federal government of misplaced priorities. “What are the indices that gave the government that conclusion? Why? How did we get where we are today? When did Nollywood become the problem of bad governance, bad roads and the reason for the economic downturn? The Nigerian film industry has always portrayed what is wrong with the country and proffering solutions”.

Nollywood has, since the 90s, assumed the status of cultural ambassador of Nigeria. I gained instant recognition in the market at Kampala, Uganda, for wearing my Nigerian caftan during a visit in 2004. People walked up to me to call me Okonkwo and enquire about Nigeria. A year earlier, in Cairo, Egypt, the young people remembered Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, Emmanuel Amuneke, and our other soccer stars.

A spur for growth

Nollywood is a part of the creative economy that has grown globally. Mukhisa Kitugi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), noted in its Creative Economy Outlook 2018.

“The creative economy is recognized as a significant sector and a meaningful contributor to national gross domestic product. It spurred innovation and knowledge transfer across sectors of the economy and is a critical sector to foster inclusive development. The creative economy has both commercial and cultural value. Acknowledgement of this dual worth has led governments worldwide to expand and develop their creative economies as part of economic diversification strategies and efforts to stimulate economic growth, prosperity, and well-being. Within it, the creative industries generate income through trade and intellectual property rights, and create new opportunities, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises”.

In a recent report, closer home, UNESCO noted in Focus on the Film and Audiovisual industry in Africa: Structural reforms and digital transitions for diversity the growing influence of the film sector. Nollywood and Nigeria play prominently. It noted “the massive inspirational success of Nollywood as the spur for the growth.

Nigeria produces 2,500 films annually. Ghana follows with 600, Kenya and Tanzania do 500 each per annum and Uganda 200 films annually. Mo Abudu’s The Wedding Party was the box-office hit with revenues of $1.5m.

The “inspirational success of Nollywood” attracts many players and foreign direct investment. Nigerian studio FilmOne raised $1m from Huaha (China) and Empire (South Africa). AfreximBank has put down a $500M facility to support Creative Industries.

Nollywood as Mirror

Nollywood is both a creative and commercial phenomenon. Its creativity speaks to our stories, culture, values, and reputation. How do we want our people and the world to see us?

It is salutary that the Federal Ministry of Information is finally interested in jumpstarting this conversation about and with Nollywood. There are several regulatory models they can follow. They can look at the template of the National Communication Commission, the regulatory agency of the successful telecommunications revolution. NCC regularly holds sessions with industry players and consumers to discuss various aspects of the industry. Policies and frameworks are the results of stakeholder consultations and not diktats.

I urge the Information and Culture Ministry to design a framework for a Nigerian National Conversation with and about Nollywood. The stories they tell are critical and reflect on us. Informed citizens must be part of the conversation as input.

Published on Brandfit.

Also published on https://www.brandfit.com.ng/2022/03/21/time-for-a-national-conversation-on-nollywood/