IF the above question was put to me, I will not think twice before I say a categorical no. This is because as a casual observer of Nollywood (the Nigerian film industry) and its products, I have not seen anything seriously wrong with the industry that tarnishes the image of the country. Put in another way, if the question was asked to list the enemies of this country who are dragging our image to the mud, I don't think that the idea of Nollywood would come into the picture. We know who our enemies are. Anyone who doesn't know his or her enemy would most likely fall into the trap.
Against the foregoing backdrop, the recent charge by the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili that the Nigerian film industry has contributed to the nation's poor international image is misplaced and out of reality. The Minister certainly failed to identify the real culprits where she should heap the blame of the nation's poor international image.
As a matter of fact, a critical analysis of what has contributed in tarnishing the nation's image would certainly not place Nollywood in the list. On the other hand, the same analysis, if unbiased, would place Nollywood high on the list of agents of good image for Nigeria. This is the truth, which every patriotic and unbiased Nigerian would admit. Nollywood has done a lot within a short time of its existence to place Nigeria on the map of international film industry. Without government support but by dint of hard work, some talented Nigerian actors and actresses in Nollywood have made good name for themselves and the country. This is despite whatever mistakes they may have made as humans.
Today, Nollywood has done so well that it ranks third in the international film industry rating only after America's Hollywood and India's Bollywood. The interesting thing is that whereas Hollywood and Bollywood have been in existence for decades and have practically dominated the international film industry, Nollywood has been able to make its mark among the best in the world in a very short time.
The American Hollywood has been there since the 1920s. With such long history, the industry has grown to such prominence that today Hollywood has a defined and recognised independent district within Los Angeles. Therein, you have the best of movie studios and movie stars including auxiliary industries such as editing, effects, props, post-production and lighting companies. The historic Hollywood theatres are used for concert shows. Hollywood is a popular centre for tourism in America.
Similarly, the Indian Bollywood, based in Bombay has been there since 1913, when the first silent feature film was made in India. The industry grew through the 1930s and 1940s and reached its prominence during the period following India's independence from the late 1940s to 1960s. Throughout the period, Indian films were watched all over the world. There are many popular love, music and magic titles that thrilled Indian film adherents across the world. Again, this wasn't achieved without government support. Given the long history of American and Indian film industries, it is commendable that Nigeria's Nollywood could attain such great heights within a very short time.
While Hollywood is located in Los Angeles and Bollywood in Mumbai, where is the Nigerian Nollywood located? Is it in Lagos, at the dilapidated national Arts Theatre, Iganmu? Is it in Enugu, Obudu, Calabar or where? Nigeria's Nollywood at present has no location. The actors and actresses are scattered all over the country from where they take pains to travel all over the country to shoot films. Is it not time to have a location for Nollywood like its counterparts elsewhere? The situation is like that because government has not shown any interest in Nollywood.
The Minister was concerned about what she says is "the penchant of Nollywood to focus on voodoo, crime and advance fee fraud (419) in their plots to the exclusion of positive attributes of Nigerians in a bid to market their films". Good observation, one would say but that is just part of the matter. The question to ask is, do we have babalawos (witch doctors) in Nigeria? Do they have patrons? Do we have criminals among us like you have in other countries? What about advance fee fraud (419)? Do we have this crime in Nigeria? If the answers to these and many more posers are in the affirmative, then, what is the Minister grousing over Nollywood's film plots? Film industries all over the world use what is in vogue in their plots.
Voodoo is cultural in Africa and Nigeria is part of that system. There is no doubt that all kinds of people patronise the witch doctors to seek help. The rich and affluent surprisingly are often involved in this melodrama. It is part of the cultural belief of the people, which can't be denied irrespective of status. You can't have witch doctors in Hollywood films because that is not common in American culture. In the case of crime, Nigeria is not the only country where crime exists. As a matter of fact, more violent crimes happen in America and they are depicted in Hollywood films. As children, we used to love action films, crime busters and war films. The American government has not accused Hollywood of tarnishing her image by those films.
All over the world, the film industry uses what is in vogue in film plots. The commercial interest may be there. For instance during the 1930s and 1940s, when India was in the throes of the Great Depression, World War II, independence movement and the violence of partition, most Bollywood films were plotted based on those events of the time. Most Indian films of the time were escapist. Magic and love films were common while others focused on the struggle for India's independence in their plots.
The truth is that if there is any thing that has contributed in making Nigerians hold their shoulders high anywhere in the world, it is Nollywood. The other is football. Anybody who has travelled abroad and had opportunity to interact with people about Nigeria in the eyes of the world would agree that Nollywood films and soccer have done much to lift the image of the country. These two sectors could as well be regarded as the only good things left in the eyes of the world about Nigeria. Nollywood home videos have practically removed foreign films from the average Nigerian family. What about the huge foreign exchange that is earned through the export of Nigerian films abroad? What about the employment the industry has created from nothing?
Prof. Akunyili made her remarks at a training and community film production organised by the Nigerian National Volunteer Service and Del York International in Abuja. It is a contradiction in terms that the Minister, who appointed a versatile actor and prominent member of Nollywood, Pete Edochie, as Chairman of the Rebranding Committee she set up should turn around to accuse the same actors of tarnishing Nigeria's image. How could that be? If Nollywood is giving Nigeria bad name, why did the Minister put Chief Edochie to such strategic position?
It is important for the Minister to take a closer look at Nigeria's social and political set up to know who is damaging the country's image. Prominent among the culprits is virulent corruption perpetrated by politicians and their cohorts. The corruption gave rise to massive looting of the country's wealth by a few privileged political office holders. The craze for wealth has permeated the society to the extent that some individuals devised foul ways and means to dupe unfortunate foreigners and Nigerians alike to make quick money. That is the origin of advance fee fraud (419).
Because Nigeria has been ravaged and is tightly under the grip of some powerful politicians, many Nigerians have no choice than to flee the country in search of survival. While in foreign lands where stringent rules and regulations are set against illegal migrants, such Nigerians are forced to engage in dubious activities for survival. I am not justifying illegality or crime committed by anybody but it is important for the Minister to state the truth and place the blame where it belongs. There is nowhere in this configuration that you find Nollywood. A typical Nigerian has no benefit as a citizen of the country.
The Minister should have used the occasion to marshal government's plan towards supporting Nollywood. Many Nigerian evergreen musicians and actors like Chief Hubert Ogunde, Chief Bobby Benson, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Chief Osita Osadebe, Bala Miller, Rex Lawson, and many others have collapsed entertainment empires that were single-handedly built over the years because there is no government support. There is no preservation of the rich legacy left by those entertainment icons. How do you build a country's image? Is it by political propaganda or by concerted effort like in other countries? Nollywood needs government support to build a strong entertainment industry that would further boost the country's image.