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How empowerment of Nollywood can lift dwindling economy

By Yinka Ogundaisi
17 February 2015   |   11:00 pm
THE Nigeria’s movie industry ails seriously; lying prostate and haemorrhaging! This means that it is at present inactive as a result of the profuse bleeding from its internal injuries. When a patient suffers from internal bleeding, the ailment is usually not known or visible to the outsiders.    That precisely is the situation with the…


THE Nigeria’s movie industry ails seriously; lying prostate and haemorrhaging! This means that it is at present inactive as a result of the profuse bleeding from its internal injuries. When a patient suffers from internal bleeding, the ailment is usually not known or visible to the outsiders. 

  That precisely is the situation with the industry. To the unwary onlookers, the industry appears to be riding the crest of stupendous success but that in the technical term of the trade is no more than a photo trick.

  Next to agriculture, the industry today is the largest employer of labour but given that it is largely unregulated and invariably taken as another platform for constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of expression, it has over time attracted the influx of those that saw it as an avenue of escape from their grinding poverty.

  They had in due course learnt the rudiments of the trade and now have nowhere else to go because their acquired skills can only make them relevant and functional only within the industry.

  The professionals, old and new, formally and informally trained that constitute the upper echelon are equally stuck because their identities, basis of relevance and livelihoods are inextricably tied to the industry. All over the world, Nigerians are the only people, who when pushed to the wall, do not surge forward. Rather they make the wall gives way for them! This axiom attests to the legendary capacity of Nigerians to find their ways out of a corner no matter how tight! The ingenuity; hallmark of an average Nigerian, shaped the resolve of the various practitioners to have worked out different strategies to survive and because they continue to keep their heads above water, outsiders believe that all is still well with the industry.

  Reality on the ground differs significantly! The professionals in the upper echelon now contending with dwindling incomes from their works have gathered resourceful group of youngsters around them and a thriving industry has been created packaging glamorous events around their biographies, birthdays and longevity in the industry.

  To augment their earnings are the formal and informal public relations jobs they occasionally get to handle for their luckier friends in the private sector and governments. They are also into productions of documentaries, advertisements jingles and TV contents.   

  The middle and lower levels cadres have perfected sycophancy into an art, eagerly serving as the lackeys of the elite controlling productions and distribution to guarantee them the crumbs from the masters’ table as they are now regularly included in their productions, the pittance they receive notwithstanding!

  The glitz and glamour of the industry continue to ensure constant fresh inflows of ladies aiming for their share of the industry’s stardom. They provide the new source of funding for almost all the new productions outside the traditional marketing elite investments.

  In passing, let it be quickly noted that this is not limited to Nigeria but the peculiarity of our situation embodies the tragedy of our case as distinct from what obtains in other climes. Whereas the systems in both the Hollywood and Bollywood incorporate and require all such stardom-seeking entrants to adhere to certain modicum of professional ethics, Nigeria has no system at all, which is why we are daily confronted with storylines so banal and pedestrian; they offend all sensibilities since they are all about ego-pumping of the financiers.

  And finally, the sudden realization of the corporate world to the crowd-pulling power of the stars have created a new source of employment for the top actors as solo comic acts and or corporate events’ anchors. All these taken together give the impression of a flourishing industry, contrary to the sad reality on the ground.

  Having written reams of papers on the situation, I am minded to keep my counsels but two new developments have now forced my hands to intervene again. First is the continuous downward spiral of the oil prices; the mainstay of the economy which dictates that government urgently seeks alternative revenue earner for the country. The other is the submission of Dr. Joseph Okwu Nnanna, the Deputy Central Bank Governor at his clearance session at the Senate. As an alternative revenue earner to oil, the choice of the entertainment industry is automatic since the recent expanded economic revaluation of the country was largely attributed to it.

  Therefore it is not so much to pamper the stakeholders but rather the need to commence the salvaging of the threatened future of the country that government now needs to immediately put in place policy to arrest the drift of the industry, revitalize and strengthen it.

  The major problem is the lack of auditable distribution structure which besides aligning the industry with the global best practices will also link it up with the local organized private sector as the most effective way to secure structured access to working capital for the practitioners to practice their trade. Of the three development banks owned by the federal government; Bank of Industry (BOI), Nigeria Export Import bank (NEXIM) and Bank of Agriculture, I will focus on NEXIM for the job of assisting the entertainment industry out of its present morass on account of the bank’s exclusive mandate to develop the Nigerian entertainment and creative products as exportable goods. Right now, the products cannot be gainfully exported because they don’t have requisite industry quality, real protection and they cannot have the needed protection unless and until there is an internal and manifestly auditable distribution structure. What is at stake now is not another intervention fund or grants but a decisive policy that will see the bank directly working with the stakeholders to implant and entrench the structure.

  Nigeria, Africa most populous country is not a small nation with 36 states and 774 constitutionally-listed local governments. The size of the country and the huge capital required to have and maintain presence in all the states, local governments and communities which going by INEC data is over 120, 000 is the reason why brave attempts by some individuals to evolve the structure is yet to bear fruits.

  The internal distribution system here canvassed is strictly for the physical public video distribution. Cinema houses, although essential, are not part of it because the focus is on the 99 per cent of our producers whose output is Direct-To-Homes (DTH). The present intervention fund with BOI and NEXIM Bank are no more than special focus commercial loans which only those with acceptable collateral can access, while the Presidential grants, though laudable is no more than a block of ice in a cauldron; it is generating ripples but hardly enough to bring about any major impact! 

  What is recommended is for NEXIM to be appropriately empowered to take the evolution of the internal distribution structure for our entertainment products as a deliberate medium range strategic policy that will end in the products eventually becoming regular exportable products as Nigeria’s immediate answer to the volatility of global oil prices and politics.

  But to appropriately empower NEXIM, we have to reckon with the submission of Dr. Nnanna at the Senate. Hear him; “we just have to make up our minds as a nation on what we really need, bearing in mind that we cannot have the three things together. We cannot have a low interest rate, low inflation and strong currency at the same time. It is when we make up our mind that the CBN will pursue the policy for us; Since we have development banks like the Bank of Industry, NEXIM Bank, Bank of Agriculture, and so on, we can recapitalize all of them and mandate them to lend at a fixed interest rate for the entrepreneurs and other investors willing to invest in the Nigerian economy which for the purpose of this article should read exportable entertainment goods. “Government cannot force a private bank to lend at a fixed rate because it will take into consideration, the risk premium especially when most people have been borrowing without the intention of repayment.” Now even government-owned banks too are operating under strict policy guidelines, and they cannot also go outside their respective mandates no matter how much their managers may privately identify with the yearnings of their environments.

  I am now saying that the government should as the CBN Deputy Governor has canvassed, appropriately empower NEXIM then give it a marching order to help the entertainment and creative industry implant a visible and auditable distribution structure. It is a sure way to salvage and secure our economic future; now heavily dependent on the depleting asset we call crude oil.

Ogundaisi is a film Producer and critic in Lagos