By BENJAMIN NJOKU
When the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in 2016, inaugurated a 28-member committee to review the proposed bill for the establishment of the moribund Motion Picture Practitioners Council,MOPICON, before presenting it as an executive bill to the National Assembly for passage into law, many stakeholders in the Nigerian entertainment industry heaved a sigh of relief as they thought that ‘a Daniel has come to judgment.’
They also saw the move as being in line with President Mohammed Buhari’s policy document on the entertainment sector, which he released during the build up to his first election in 2015.
According to the document, Buhari had promised to assist Nollywood to fully develop into a world class movie industry that could compete effectively with Hollywood and Bollywood in due course.
“I will also support the creative and performing arts with the necessary environment whereby our great entertainers do not end their lives in abject poverty as is currently the case,” the document further stated.
However, five years after the administration assumed office, the question many people are asking today is, whether President Buhari has fulfilled his promise of engendering rapid development of the Nigerian entertainment sector, or he’s still warming up for action.
While it would be acknowledged, however, that the administration had in the past made several attempts to kick-start dialogue between government and the stakeholders in the entertainment sector on how to move the industry forward, the truth remains that such dialogues and moves have not yielded any fruitful result. In fact, in most times it’s one of easier said than done.
A case in point is the abandoned MOPICON bill, which is still a work in progress. To many, its unthinkable that after four years of submitting the Peace-Anyiam-Osigwe-led review committee’s report to the government, nothing has come out of it. Rather, there were allegations that some insiders doctored the document, leading to its suspension by the minister.
The proposed bill was described as the panacea to the myriad of problems plaguing the movie industry, yet the government didn’t consider it necessary to prioritize the bill. Instead the apex regulatory body, Nigerian Film Corporation, NFC, quickly replaced MOPICON bill with its proposed Nigerian Film Commission Bill, which is currently before the National Assembly.
The film commission bill, according to NFC, would provide an enabling environment for the development and growth of the motion picture industry in the country. But the stakeholders kicked against the bill, on the ground that the regulatory body “did not carry the industry along.” Till date, the bill has not seen the light of the day.
In the wake of the yet-to-be passed film commission bill, the four Federal Government agencies including, Nigerian Film Corporation, Nigerian Copyright Commission, Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board and the National Broadcasting Commission, in 20017, jointly endorsed the establishment of the National Film Development Fund to tackle the lack of funding for film production activities.
The agencies, which met under the aegis of The Quartet, were desirous of pulling their resources through strategic partnerships to ensure that the development of the Nigerian film industry is vigorously pursued. The fight against piracy, intellectual property theft, effective distribution, sustainable marketing framework, dispensation and content development also topped discussions at the meeting, which was held in Abuja.
But till date, nothing much has been heard about the proposed bill, neither has the government put any measure in place to tackle the menace of piracy. Apart from the effort by National Film and Videos Censors Board, NFVCB, which set up a national task force, collaborating with its sister agency, NCC and the Nigeria Police to clamp down on movie pirates. Notwithstanding, the move leading to the arrest of three notorious pirates in Lagos, is still a work in progress.
Many believe that there is more to be done in the area of tackling copyright infringement in the country than we have presently witnessed. However, while stakeholders applaud the government for taking the bold steps to arrest the ugly trend, they also urge the present administration to enact the copyright laws, and endeavour to prosecute offenders as well as corrupt officers if the monster must be eliminated totally in the society. We are yet to see that done.
It was, however, based on these unfulfilled promises of the present administration that some industry operators and guilds kicked against the recently set up committee of industry stakeholders by the Ministry of Information and Culture, to advise government on the best way to mitigate the effects of the Corona virus pandemic on the creative industry.
One of the stakeholders, Francis Onwochei who frowned at the idea, wondered why the Ministry was fond of setting up committees to advise government on issues relating to the creative industry.
In his words, “I am usually a very positive minded person but I have reasons to be suspicious of the real intention of the Hon Minister of Information relating to incessant formation of committees to advise government on issues relating to the creative industry.
“Some years back, Peace Anyiam-Osigwe chaired the MOPICON committee, they sat for long hours and days. None can give a clear and verifiable status of the recommendations. Just last year, Mahmood Ali-Balogun was part of a team appointed to look into a different important matter in the sector. Recently, ace-comedian, Ali Baba was appointed to chair a committee set up to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the creative sector and make recommendations.”
Onwochei, however, expressed concern about the government readiness to implement the recommendations of the committee.
“When the report is submitted, how long will it take government to react in the way that will be beneficial to all concerned. I am raising this red flag because from my conversation with a director in the ministry, they were also not carried along so who will implement whatever recommendations the committee comes up with?”
“In four years, the minister had organized three culture and tourism summits. What was the purpose? Of what use are the reports? And What’s happening to them? I sincerely hope the minister will do something tangible with this particular committee,” the popular film maker and actor posited.
In the same vein, the conference of Nollywood guilds and associations discredited the setting up of the committee of industry stakeholders , following the non-inclusion of presidents of these associations by the Federal Government as members of the committee.
The presidents of the associations and guilds including, Ralph Nwadike(Association of Movie Producers, AMP), Fred Amata(irectors Guild of Nigeria, DGN), Emeka Rollas(Actors Guild of Nigeria, AGN), Yinka Ogun-(Script Writers Guild of Nigeria,SWGN), Daisy Madu-Chikwendu(Association of Nollywood Core Producers, ANCOP), Yinka Oduniyi(The Independent Television Producers’ Association of Nigeria,ITPAN), Israel Eboh(The National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, NANTAP) among others, described the appointment as an embarrassing and appalling omission , adding that “an industry with about 20 guilds, employing about 2.5million youthful Nigerians; recognized globally as the second largest movie production industry in the world, the same industry was not consulted in any way before this purported committee was set up by the government.” Yet their agitation did not change anything as the committee is still sitting and working to beat the deadline given to it.
Also, recall that in July, 2017, the Minister of Information and Culture, held a two-day Creative Industry Financing Conference, in Lagos, to take the entertainment industry into “a golden era of smooth access to short and long-term financing, world-class management as well as local and international distribution was an eye-opener for the stakeholders as they realized how much lack of access to financing is stunting the growth of the creative industry.
The confab, however, held a year after the landmark National Summit on Culture and Tourism, was organized in Abuja, by the Ministry of Culture and Information to chart a new path for the industry. Whether the recommendations arising from the conferences have been implemented is yet to be seen. But one thing is certain, and it’s the genuine intention of the present administration to make the entertainment industry an alternative to ‘oil’ in the country. The minister of Culture and Information once declared that “government cannot afford to take the creative industry with levity, as it had become the cash cow for many other nations.”
Only September last year, Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria,CBN, Godwin Emefiele at the Creative Nigeria Summit announced that the apex bank would commence the implementation of the N22 billion Creative industry development scheme.
According to him, the Creative Industry Initiative, was not only aimed at unlocking the creative talents of Nigerian youths, but also, it was designed to generate 800,000 jobs in the movie, music and fashion sectors, and increase the revenue of the industry by $300 million. But as we speak, the initiative is still a work in progress.
Meanwhile, despite some of the yet to be fulfilled promises of Buhari’s government, the entertainment industry in recent times has witnessed a significant growth. This is as a result of the active involvement of both government and private sector in growing the industry. In 2017, the government released about N420.2 million to the movie industry to improve and support aspiring practitioners.
Also, milestone for the industry was the government’s decision to give a tax break for the creative industry. The gesture, which was in fulfillment of the promise made by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, represented by the then Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, at the opening of the Creative Industry Financing Conference in Lagos, to grant the industry ‘Pioneer Status’ was greeted with resounding applause on the part of the stakeholders who described it as a ‘welcome development.’ But one doubts if the policy has been fully implemented.
Commendable also was last year’s unveiling of the Creative Industry Financing Initiative,CIFI, by the Central Bank of Nigeria,CBN, in conjunction with the Bankers’ Committee which was designed to enable businesses to obtain loans up to the tune of N500 million.
According to the official release of the CIFI document on the apex bank’s website,the initiative was borne out of the committee’s conviction that the entertainment sector holds the key to job creation, poverty reduction and inclusive growth. However, what is not clear is how many industry operators have accessed the loan so far. But from indications, there’s need for the present administration to work the talk. While some government agencies like the NFC have high projections for a better film production outing for Nigeria in year 2020, the outbreak of corona virus pandemic has forestalled such projections.