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COVID-19: 250,000 jobs at stake in creative industry

By Jude Martins
20 May 2020   |   4:01 am
The creative industry in Nigeria is perhaps, the least considered when the nation’s economy is analyzed, with so much focus given to oil and gas, finance, manufacturing...

National troupe in performance

The creative industry in Nigeria is perhaps, the least considered when the nation’s economy is analyzed, with so much focus given to oil and gas, finance, manufacturing, telecommunications, agriculture, etc. Little wonder why the impact of the global pandemic on the industry is hardly recognized in important discussions. One may argue that the industry isn’t financially at par with the above-mentioned sectors in terms of revenue, hence its justified relegation. But the real questions should be; “has it enjoyed equal funding?”, “what percentage of the nation’s young population is employed by the sector?” Ironically, the creative industry boasts of enormous potentials that can provide permanent solutions to the nation’s unemployment challenges, with less investment when compared to other sectors.

Interestingly, with the almost non-existent financial support, or better put – “inadequate funding”, it keeps beaming hope to the younger generation and placing the country on the good side of the news on global stages. From cinematic films to music, stage plays, comedy, etc; whenever the Western media decides to portray the good side of Nigeria, the creative industry always shapes the narrative.

Discussing the various opportunities it provides may probably be a better fit for another article, but at the moment, the most urgent need is for authorities to understand the capacity of social infrastructure being neglected by not prioritizing the Nigerian creative industry in its plans to reopen the economy.

According to a report recently published on CNBC, scientists have predicted that it would take about 2 years to roll out vaccines for the disease, some other experts speculate that it may take 5 years. With no guarantee on the exact period of time needed to get a permanent remedy, the world has come to the point where it is certain that we have just discovered the newest addition to our long list of existing terminal ailments; a list which includes diseases such as HIV/AIDS and cancer. The only difference would be that COVID-19 is asymptotic, which makes its spread easy. Thus, extra caution must be driven by a functional public health system while individuals adapt to health-conscious living. On the other hand, if news emanating from Madagascar is anything to hold on to, then the disease may just be in the class of the likes of malaria and typhoid. Considering these facts, the reopening of the nation’s economy is inevitable and must not be delayed any longer, especially with the surrounding circumstances of public welfare not being the same as what is currently obtainable in Europe and America, from where our leadership has drawn their inspiration in handling the pandemic.

The creative industry in its multi-faceted structure has been heavily hit by the effect of this pandemic. For instance, the cinema sector which directly employs over 5,000 workers (of which 75% are youths between ages 18 to 25) has been shut down since the third week of March. Consequently, employees have been furloughed, losing their means of livelihood for the second month in a row. Indirectly, the services of dependent businesses such as retail vendors, logistic companies, film distributors, auxiliary services (security men, gardeners, housekeepers, etc), have all been suspended; a work-force estimated at 4,000 persons.

Silhouette images of film practitioners on location

Looking at film production, there is a huge backlog of projects that have been suspended because of the lockdown. Nollywood is reputed to be the second-largest film industry in the world in terms of the number of films produced annually. An average of 50 films is produced weekly across the country, employing the services of approximately 100 persons per project, which include actors, directors, producers, sound engineers, DOPs, costume designers, line producers, welfare coordinators, editors, continuity supervisors, etc; which estimates about 5000 jobs lost every week since the lockdown began, averaging at 40,000 jobs in the past 8 weeks.

For music, events and comedy, the case is not any different. Several shows have been suspended to curtail the spread of the virus. As much as that can be considered a very effective step taken by the government. It is important not to forget that artists, comedians, event planners, bouncers, graphic designers, sound engineers, disc jockeys, ushers, caterers, online ticket persons, red carpet hosts, studio staff, band members, etc, have all been jobless afterward. Events around the country create an average of 40,000 jobs weekly. Those in the know estimate the general loss in revenue from the creative industry at about 20 billion naira, with approximately 250,000 jobs at stake, in the past 2 months.

It is pertinent to recognize the ardent efforts of our health workers who have been at the frontline of this battle and the sleepless nights suffered by government officials who have been tasked to bring the rampage to a halt. So far, their impact on the situation is undeniably perceptible. However, since we have ascertained that restarting the economy is the way forward, there is no better wisdom at this time than to give priority to establishments who have come up with a solid plan on how to run their businesses while maintaining the best possible precautionary measures to limit the spread of the disease.

It is not okay to assume that because certain businesses are footfall-dependent, they should be considered a weakness to the progress made in preventing the spread and hence, non-viable in the reopening process. Recently, the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria (CEAN) in conjunction with the Film and Motion Pictures Distributors Association of Nigeria (FDAN), through the social media platforms of their members, have consistently rolled out information on how they intend to manage social distancing in cinemas, as well as provide adequate resources to help in the prevention while they run their businesses. Some of the measures communicated include; limiting seating capacity of auditoriums by 50% to allow for spaced seating, mandatory admittance of only customers with face masks, ensuring the use of temperature checks and sanitizers, structured standing spaces on foyers, prioritized online ticket sales, to mention a few. So, are we saying that open markets are better structured and equipped to limit the spread of the virus than cinemas would? Isn’t it more profitable to allow cinemas the opportunity to save the livelihoods of their staff who are mostly young adults, while the government monitors processes to ensure effectiveness than to have them wallow in hunger and resort to all kinds of evil devices? If the government can allow construction workers on their open fields, are we saying that actors, directors and other film professionals who would work in regulated spaces would be more exposed to the virus?

Certainly, someone in authority has to do more thinking than assuming. While they are at that, let us not forget that every day that passes without work for that young professional doesn’t just reduce the amount of money in his/her pocket, it draws he/she deeper into the well of idleness; and what do they say about idle minds?

Martins is communications officer, Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria, Group Communications Officer, Filmhouse Group.