I was recently in The U.S and was introduced to an African American, a perfect stranger who upon meeting me asked if I was a Nigerian. I answered that I was whereupon she asked me if I knew Genvieve Nnaji, I was momentarily stunned, and she must have seen the expression on my face because she immediately explained that she watched Nigerian home videos and proceeded to reel out a list of Nollywood stars that even as a Nigerian I do not know. ‘How did you come by Nigerian movies’? I asked, she responded that its all the rage in New York where she lives and you could buy them at many corner shops. My curiosity got the better of me and as soon as I got back in my hotel, I went on the Internet to research Nollywood. Of course I knew that Nollywood has grown and is now the 3rd largest film industry in the world, but it blew my mind to discover that a large bloc of African Americans and Carribeans as well as European blacks patronize Nigerian Home videos. This is in addition to the large population of indigenous Africans in Africa who hero worship our Nigerian stars. And then it occurred to me that our government can actually do more to build this industry which has been created by the genius of our Nigerian youths.

With all the noise about rebranding Nigeria, I would have thought that a serious government would recognize Nollywood as THE vehicle to project Nigeria’s better image to the outside world. We have nothing as positive as Nollywood which is accepted by the outside world with perhaps the exception of football, but unlike football, Nollywood is not seasonal. Every single day at least one new home video is introduced into the market.

Imagine how we could grow this industry even more by tackling the menace of piracy. A serious government ought to see the possibilities in this industry. If the producers of Nollywood movies can produce movies of such quality to captivate the attention of Blacks in the Diaspora, imagine what they can achieve if the government finds the will to enforce anti piracy laws and promote intellectual property.

We are so focused on oil rent we fail to see the potential of this indutry to add value to Nigeria’s GDP. In 2002, the contribution of entertainment and other intellectual property copyrights proprietors to the U.S economy was $1.25 trillion dollars please see http://www.wipo.int/ip-development/en/creative_industry/pdf/ecostudy-usa.pdf. One Indian movie alone Sholay, grossed over $53 million dollars and India’s film indusrty, Bollywood, averages over 800 movies annually. Now we have an Indian movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ that has swept the world off its feet and was this years winner of the Oscar for best movie beating big budget Hollywood movies! Why will India spend billions on rebranding? This movie has rebranded India positively to the world. You can not watch Slumdog millionaire and have negative feelings towards India.

As I write this, I am convinced that Nollywood can produce its own Slumdog Millionaire and can contribute a similar amount to what oil brings into Nigeria. We simply have to be less focused on oil rent and do that which is required to sustain the long term development of this industry. I am an entrepreneur and I know that this industry is a viable money spinner for this country helping to project our image positively to the world and earn us foreign exchange. We have to find the will to help this industry thrive by clamping down on piracy and granting their producers access to capital to produce and market their movies.

This is what oil does to Nigeria, it blinds our eyes to other streams of income, it makes us so lazy and dependent on something that we get for nothing hence we pay less attention on industries that require patient nurturing to grow and yield returns. Instant gratification has taken over our leaders and we do not know that gratification deferred is greater in satisfaction because it yields profits in geometric progression. Oil money is merely seed money. It is meant to be used to build sustainable industries that will sustain us in the rainy day-and that day will come soon. Oil will dry up, but Nollywood will not. We can not become great if we do not suppress an impulse in favour of a principle. If we keep eating our seeds we will not have a harvest, we need to plant the money we amake from oil.

In the area of science and technology, the West has made such strides that it is difficult to catch up with them though we should keep striving to do so and not relent, however we can easily catch up with and even surpass them in the area of entertainment as an industry. Nigerians are naturally stylish and engaging and we can use this quality in Nollywood movies to reverse the negative image that 419, yahozee and credit card scams have brought on us.

My advise to Dora Akinyuli as she tries to rebrand Nigeria, is to seek out the stars of Nollywood and engage them to use their star power to project Nigeria positively. The money spent on consultants could be put to better use in supporting the growth of Nollywood. As I have said publicly and keep saying, a realistic rebranding should be a projection of things that are already happening. You can not rebrand the current Nigerian government with what happened recently in Ekiti state. That would be an impossible task. But you can rebrand Nigeria with what our young people are doing in Nollywood and the music industry. Once agin, God bless Nigeria.

By Pat Utomi