Let me seize this opportunity to wish Nigerians and my numerous fans happy New Year. I pray and hope that this year would be a good year for Nollywood and its millions of fans around the world.
I am totally, a Nollywoodian, a diehard fanatic of the industry, which sprang up out of nothing, standing tall and proud today. I am talking about a movie industry that has variously been described as the third most vibrant film industry in the world after California’s Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. According to Hala Goriani and Jeff Koinange, formerly of CNN, Nigeria has a 250 million US dollars movie industry, churning out some 200 home videos every month to become the third largest in the world after the U.S and India.
Prior to the advent of the first home video, Nigerians had, for years, watched only soap operas, like Checkmate, Ripples, Mirror in the Sun, Winds against my soul, Cockcrow at dawn, Behind the clouds, until one man with extraordinary vision, broke that cycle of monotony. He changed the face of television; he brought excitement and passion. He dared to tread, where mere mortals feared to even dream about! He awoken our curiosity by producing the first nationally acknowledged authentic home video, Living in Bondage.
With the sales running into over two million copies, and following up with Living in Bondage II and then the monster box office, Glamour Girls, which my humble self was part of, done in English language, professionals who had been hanging on to television stations to ply their trade, saw a new dawn on the horizon. Soon, soap opera big names, like Zeb Ejiro, Amaka Igwe and later Chico Ejiro, Opa Williams, and Fred Amata, among others, followed in that man’s footprints. Films like Rattlesnake, Taboo, Fatal Desire, Obsession, True Confession, etc woke up Nigerians to a new movement of beauty, culture and pride.
These core professionals, like Tade Ogidan, Ralph Nwadike, Simi Opeoluwa and Kingsley Ogoro, among others, would become the fetching symbols of a new era of motion picture production in Nigeria. Tens of films would be released every week and Nigerians would buy and watch with ecstasy. Nollywood was born. Thanks to that one man, with the heart of a lion, that man that believes in made-in-Nigeria, that man that believes that something good can come out of Nigeria. Thanks to Chief Kenneth Nnebue.
The Nigerian movie industry is fast becoming the fastest growing industry in the nation enjoying a wide audience, both in Nigeria, Africa and in the Diaspora. The success of the African Magic Channel on satellite TV proves this eloquently. Nigerian films outsell Hollywood films in Nigeria and many other African countries. A hit movie may sell several hundreds of thousands. An audio-visual disc sells for about two dollars, making it affordable for most Nigerians and providing astounding returns for the producers.
The popularity of Nigerian films now stretches far beyond the country’s borders. Nigerian video movies are available in even the remotest areas of the continent. Nollywood actors and actresses are honoured, welcomed as stars throughout Africa. Uganda dreams of having its own Ugandawood and Ghana is threatening to close its market to the cascade of Nigerian movies for fear that its own productions will drown in the rush.
The last few years have seen the growing popularity of Nollywood films among Africans, in both Europe and North America. Even international festivals in Berlin, Montreal, Rotterdam and Cannes have made room for Nollywood. Even with the obvious success of Nollywood, a few within the industry are of the view that one essential ingredient is missing. The feeling is that corporate Nigeria is yet to fully apprehend the enormous potential of Nollywood as a brand development tool.
Nations can have good and bad images, but Nigeria seems to have only one – bad. For our multinationals to succeed abroad, we need to clean up this image. The arts are perfect for this, but lack funding. Despite this, Nigerian arts dominate Africa. Business can, therefore, benefit from pushing the arts to clear their paths internationally.
Many countries had to re-brand to build global trust for business growth. Malaysia was re-branded and developed by its government. However, it was Bob Marley and other artistes that launched reggae and gave Jamaica, a poor country with a criminal image, a positive image that led to massive tourism, a music industry and democracy.
Nigeria can proceed like Jamaica!
As Nigeria, with its sole dependence on oil, faces global recession and competition from green energy, we need to diversify the economy: to reboot – start afresh and adopt strategies that can help artistes and the nation develop.
In this view, let me remind us that film production, in this context encompasses the totality of activities involved in the film industry, such as scriptwriting/screenplay, camerawork, directing, make up, set designing, acting, sound recording editing, etc. But beyond such production and post-production activities as above listed, also of vital importance to the industry, particularly commercial film production, are the money-spinning aspects – distribution, promotion, exhibition, rental services, and sales with particular reference to video movies.
It is obvious that as an industry, film production is both capital intensive and labour intensive business. It falls within the social sector of national economic and industrial development with very heavy cultural and political implications and undertones, employing men and women from all backgrounds who can deliver.
A look at the term national development means an “integrated process of growth or advancement for a people within a defined geographical boundary in all spheres of human endeavour.” And for the development or growth to become a reality and meaningful, it has to be planned, and before the plan can take place, certain basic inputs have to be provided, such as: manpower (skills/technical know-how), technology, natural resources and finance of course, national support by the populace and possibly foreign assistance are imperative if the development plan is to achieve its objectives.
Film production, as an industry, could be listed as part of the social sector or industrial sub-sector of national development. Film, through the content of each production, constitutes a medium of expression, an instrument of image projection, a vehicle of ideas, with immense psychological and ideological power. Meaning that film could be used as a tool of communication (and depending on the content of the production) with the subtle power to influence the mind, for good or for bad. It is, therefore, obvious that the connection between film production and national development film, therefore, as a tool of communication, could be used to inform the people about the philosophy, the objectives, the projects and the benefits of national development programme.
Despite the fact that Nollywood has its problems of poor production, values, terrible sound, trite plots and poor dialogue, we are learning all the time and trying very hard to correct our steps with new movies doing us proud, like Stephanie Okereke’s –Through the glass, Kunle Afolayan’s – The Figurine.
The video-makers are telling our story, our own way, just like Chinua Achebe told our story in Things Fall Apart, the most successful African novel so far. And Wole Soyinka told our story in The Man Died, a very successful non-fiction. We are having a conversation, not only with ourselves but also with the world. As a nation, we are becoming increasingly notable partakers in the global dialogue among cultures and civilizations.
Nollywood is putting its foot in the door. And whether we like it or not only an African can tell his story better. Whether we like it or not, Nollywood has employed thousands of restless youths, who, otherwise, would be in the streets, graduates without employment. Whether we like it or not, the first 50 years of Nigeria cannot be written or talked about without Nollywood’s impact and the doors it has opened. Whether we like it or not, Nollywood has now become the one good thing, apart from football, that is putting the nation in good light. Whether we like or not, Nollywood is here to stay.
Let me end this article with a “vote of thanks.” I thank everyone who has supported me to be who I am today. I also thank Uncle Mike for agreeing to offer me this popular platform to articulate my thoughts as a guest columnist. It’s a great privilege, which doesn’t come often. Thank you, sir and may God bless you in your newspaper ministry. May God guide you in whatever new direction you go after your exit from The Sun. Until the opportunity comes my way once again, let me wish you all a prosperous New Year filled with abundant blessings.