• Experts count burden of Censors’ Board’s New Distribution Framework

CURRENTLY, activities are sleepy and precarious in the Nigerian film industry (Nollywood). And nobody seems certain of what the future holds. Fear, suspicion , blame and dire lack (at least

among practitioners) are the persisting situation in the sector, now. But more obvious is the lull in the once eventful industry that by virtue of its buzz of activity and fast growth became recognised, globally as a phenomenon.

Within the past three years, especially, the last two, Nollywood, recently recognised by UNESCO as the second largest movie industry in the world, behind India’s Bollywood, has been a shadow of itself. In the once magical movie sector which as at 2004 and 2005 netted over N16.5 billion in new films sales alone, producers now produce fewer films, directors and artistes have seldom been seen on location, marketers and promoters report lower yields while the posters and billboards of new films which used to overwhelm major streets of Nigeria and African countries have almost vanished. As film-making and other vital industrial activities have become less and lesser frequent, those operators in the sector, particularly producers and director who have resisted the urge to migrate to Ghanna, Kenya or South Africa to try new pastures now resort to producing all manner of television serials for Pentecostal churches. Director, Foss Nwadike (a.k.a. Dr. Foss) says, “that is the in-thing now. Afterall, man must eat. They have muddled up everything. So, people are looking for any avenue of survival and you cannot blame them.”

Interestingly, the trend has thrown up its oddities as it is now common to see actors and directors who are still active Muslims or agnostics acting in or parading as production directors of one church or the other.

The lack of jobs also made many operators, particularly actors more keen on the internal politics of their professional unions and the larger Nigerian political system. The result is both odd and not odd as such Nollywood star actors as Richard Mofe-Damijo, Okey Bakassi, Hilda Dokubo-Mrakpo, Clems Ohamaeze among others are now high profile politicians in the native states. The flip side is in the worsening internal politics within the leadership of the Actors Guild of Nigeria and within the last two years things deteriorate to angst and enmity between such hitherto friends and coleagues as the actors, Ejike Asiegbu, Remi Ohajianya, Segun Arinze, Emeka Ike, Kanayo O. Kanayo among others.

Experts identify a federal government policy on film distribution which became effective almost two years ago as the cause of the current lull in the hitherto prolific industry.

Noting a need to properly regulate the mode of distribution of films in the industry, the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), a parastatal agency of the Ministry of Information and Communication with the responsibility of previewing and rating films, in 2007 put out a document that categorises film marketers into various levels. Operators in the sector, particularly, the creative persons who feel that sponsors of films short-change them unduly, without promoting them well, deemed the policy necessary. But the levies and requisite capitalisation to be paid by every firm intending to be part of the new arrangement was worrisome if unrealistic.

The policy tagged, New Film Distribution Framework (NDF) recommended four categories of distributors – national, regional, state, and local/community,.

And movies marketers who did not register to be part of any of the categories would, upon coming to effect of the law, no longer be legitment to operate in the country.

A marketer in the National category is required to pay N25,000 for registration, and N500,000 for an authorisation license that expires every five years. Such organisation must also “be a Limited Liability company with a minimum of N3 million as share capital and should have a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Accountant and legal officer. It must also have office presence in all the regional headquarters of Nigeria and N30 million bank or insurance bond or its equivalent in assets (land property or plant and equipment, etc.).”

To be a Regional Distributor, a marketer should pay, N15,000 as registration fee, N250,000 for an operation license that stipulates no expiration. The capital base and office infrastructure as well as network facilities required for a National Distributor, is also applicable to the regional distributor. Such a marketer must have N1million share capital and N1million bank or insurance bond.

For the firm that opts to register for the category of state ‘rental and retails’, N12,000 was the registration fee and N35,000 for a one-year license. It should also have an elaborate organisational structure.

The local/community retailers are to pay N12,000 registration fee, and another N12,000 for a one-year license.

The NDF also stipulates new standards for film exhibitions. This section which concerns firms that show films in cinemas and display venues has such categories as: national, city, sub-urban and community. While the intending nationwide exhibitor will be a limited liability firm with similar structures and finance base as firms applying for the national distributor certification, its license costs N300,000.

Upon the outing of the policy, the Nigerian film market went abuzz. Marketers, mostly, condemned it but NFVCB was adamant on its stand. A stand-off ensued between the businessmen who were the original and sole dealers on Nollywood films and the Censors Board. Several failed negotiation meetings and threats marked the era. And most of them failed. At some point, the marketers embarked on a strike in 2008 which they never called off officially though most of their members eventually went back to business.

Many took the opportunity of the period of misunderstanding to divert or divest their investment from financing films to bank-rolling musicians, compact disc sells and other areas of electronics merchandising. Film-making gradually slowed to slumber while the marketers still continued their kick against the development. From a quiet resistance within the market, without luck, the merchants went public hoping to get help.

Through their guild and market association, the marketers kicked against the conditions which they described as stringent and a ploy by the NFVCB to bring in foreign organisations and firms owned by their cronies or political godfathers to take over the film industry they projected to international aclaim.

In an interview with the Nigerian Compass in August 2008, during one of the marketers’ various conventions on the development at the premises of the Lagos Television (LTV), Agidingbi, Ikeja Chief Chiedu Chima a marketer, said: “What we are saying is that such a policy is grossly unfair. It is very mean for the government people, who looked away when we were struggling to make something out of the Nigerian industry, in which there has been no kobo of government investment, to do this to us.

“Such a policy is not sensible because it has no human face. It cannot work… Where do we get that money? Why can’t they give us time?… In fact, the whole thing looks like they have some plans to plant some people in a market we had used our blood and sweat to create, out of nothing. Even if they succeed, God will never allow them have peace. Because it is like monkey dey work baboon dey chop.”

But among film producers, many saw a good idea in the NDF. Charles Novia, chief executive of November Records, for example, told the Nigerian Compass (during the period of the marketers’ strike) that the film industry actually, needs the policy, badly. “It may not be appropriate to assume that it is the Censors’ Board that caused the situation in the market because what the board is doing now is what it should have been done long ago. What they (marketers) are doing is not film marketing. They, themselves know that. So, any progress-minded practitioner knows there is need for change. We can’t continue the way we are going. Everybody knows that.”

The Censors’ Board first issued the new policy in 2007 to reform the mode of operation of the film marketers who hitherto were almost the sole source of financing, promotion and sale of the productions of the Nigerian films which are mostly home videos. It initial projected that the policy should become effective, as at March 21, 2008. The date passed and another date was fixed for June 2008. That passed too.

Early, in 2009, news emerged that 22 national distributors successfully passed the board’s condition. Thereafter, the number given as authorised distributors, was 32.

Almost two years of operation of the policy, many thought better life would have come to Nollywood but the number of productions and new films are still dwindling, most operators in the system still underline the NDF in appraising the situation.