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The untold story of a new distribution network

By Fred Iwenjora
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When Emeka Mba, DG of the NFVCB after personally and painstakingly studying the nascent Nigeria movie industry from his times at MNET/DSTV decided that the issue to tackle was the issue of distribution of motion picture works, a few people gave him a chance of any level of success.

Some of the marketers in a coalition called for his head. Court actions were threatened on him. The fear then was that the government had started the gradual encroachment to finally extinguish them from their businesses

They expressed themselves at different fora after fora arguing that they had no other profession to fall back on to put food on their tables except marketing of movies. Yet Emeka, undaunted, was very determined that it was the best thing to do if Nigeria movies must fit into the pigeon hole of third best movie production countries after the US and India

Current trends in the industry now reveal that the battle is almost over with Emeka and the Censor Board coming out as winners with the marketers who earlier presented an opposition licking their wounds.

To really understand how the battle was lost and won, it would be pertinent to trace the origin of the events that led to the face- off which has seemingly polarised the industry and pitched the marketers against themselves.

Home Video People gathered that immediately after the framework was initiated at a gathering at Sheraton Hotels Ikeja, the marketers started a resistance against it. For the first time, the stakeholders both from the Hausa (Kannywood), Igbo/English and the Yoruba sections came together at the Lagos Television to discuss ways of dealing with the so called common foe.

That was when the board decided to work towards making the marketers see reason. Director General, Emeka Mba made sure he attended every gathering he was invited to just to find opportunities to drum it into the ears of the marketers and the major opponents of the system that he meant well.

The road Show to London to make the international community know that business has changed in Nigeria movies had some of the marketers and major stakeholders on board.

It was not long before most of them started seeing the issue from the eye of the board. Home Video People investigations reveal that in several workshops, the NFVCB called for inputs. Chris Ekejimbe, Film and entertainment facility expert says that “After the proclamation, the board called for in puts on how to make the framework more acceptable to all and I know I made a contribution into the system. One of my suggestions is there in the reformed frame work.

The Censors Board had initiated something which several people criticized. But later we started reaching a common ground. Why do you think the Yoruba film makers and marketing section registered to be part of the frame work even after being part of the opposition in the first place?

There were waivers as the Censors Board decided to reduce some of the hurdles from the original format. For instance the issue of bond which was said to be for N50 million has been shelved. The Yoruba marketers noticing these waivers, forged a united front and got an insurance company to support their indemnity. Why are the Igbo marketers holding tight to views that have never paid off since the industry began? I think these are food for thought for all.”

Before all these, some of the stakeholders of the movies had lent their full weight on the framework saying that the independent film makers would benefit from it.

In a chat with Chief Gab Okoye a.k.a Gabosky, the man who gave Nigerians its first epic movie Battle of Musanga, he says “ I spent several years chasing pirates and those who do not pay me for my jobs.

I know what it took me to arrest those who pirate my works and how much they have paid me for their sins.

There is no way the industry would progress without the new framework and that is why I support it wholesale. We have been discussing with banks for facilities and only a good framework on distribution can help us out. Some investors from Europe wanted to be part of my organisation and asked how many of my films sold in Nigeria. I could only tell them what the marketer said and I do know it is misleading.

So I am one of the unrepentant supporters of the frame work which is already working by my own assessment.”

For Chuks Anyiam of Chuks Anyiam and Associates, “ I went into marketing of entertainment products after my University education but I have not seen any benefit of running things as usual. It has never paid off in the way we have always done things.

Even with the so called co-operative amongst marketers, people still owe you money for goods supplied. We have gone on recess for more than three times to thinker ways forward. Yet it has never paid off.

So when the new frame work was initiated, every one felt it was the best way to go. There may have been a misunderstanding initially and I give it to the board who also waived some of the conditions so that we all will comply. I am very happy that I am not the only person in the rank of marketers who complied”

In the words of Ulzee Odunukwe, “the new distribution frame work is the best way to go since every other thing has not worked. How could one invest so much money and not get it back? I think each and every member of the marketers association who are still holding unto old ways should have a rethink now for the resuscitation of the industry.”

Master stroke

Perhaps what seems like the master stroke which the Board used in silencing every one was the publication of the over 12 pages of advertorial in several Nigeria national newspapers to show who and who were already registered.

That was what exposed the entire coup de tat. It was then that it dawned on the marketers that the baton may have changed hands.

While they were agitating for government intervention in the so called high handedness of the initiators of the framework, several of the hard core believers in the old system started to shift grounds. They had gone to register their companies with the board who didn't worry about the payment of immediate cash but encouraged all who cared to register to get the forms and accepting to pay the now reduced yearly fees of N40,000 which the board approved.

Opponents

One of the greatest opponents of the frame work is Chairman of the Video producers and Marketers Association, Emma Isikaku, who was the vice chairman of the coalition of opposition formerly led by Mrs Biodun Ibitola of Remdel Productions when the framework was first initiated. The name of Mrs Ibitola is one of those that registered as the advertorial show.

When contacted, Isikaku said “the problem is the N50m bond which is too big for our members to pay.” He said it was only the removal of that part in the framework that would spell the way forward. When told that the bond had been waived, he said “it is not on paper and his congress members say no to that.”

However what bothers a lot of people is the fact that Isikaku spoke to the reporter of The Classifier, the in house official newsletter of NFVCB where he extolled the vision of the new distribution framework saying it would sanitise the industry. According to him, the agitation trailing the new distribution framework was as a result of communication gap.

He had said “I see the framework as coming when the industry is down,.. we as marketers see it as a programme that we already have in mind.

There is the popular adage that says he who wears the shoe knows where it pinches .... we know there is bastardization in the system... now we are compelling our people to know that they can shoot one or two films yearly and maximise.

In the area of distribution we are accused of not spreading our tentacles... we already have a plan to open a website with data of all members and the films they have to their credit”.

On the reason why they rejected the new framework, Isikaku said “that was then, our members attended a stakeholder meeting with the DG of the NFVCB where he further explained the fine points of the NDF.

It is laudable. You see the problem initially was communication gap. That gap has now been filled. The DG and other resource persons were invited to give talk at a workshop we organised after which our members could pick the forms for registration.

There are few areas we need proper understanding... the area where they say you must show money and building, as a sign of seriousness. I was worried about whether the money and building could be used for film. That is another issue. I don't believe in newspaper framework”.

Mischief

Many an analysts now wonder that if Emma Isikaku could say what he said in The Classifier, then it means he now better understands the situation. Here are the questions begging for answers

Why then is he still the main opponent after the understanding of the issues at stake?

“I believe he is not leading his people well. A leader must be capable of steering the ship of his people to the right course”Gab Okoye says “it is mischievous or what else do you think? That was why we called a press conference to drum into the minds of people that if over 2000 companies are authorised to market and distribute movie products in Nigeria, then we are winning this battle. I have always been one of the protagonists of the new system because I know that the lack of a credible system over the years have not paid us”.

This is where Emeka Mba himself is smelling plenty of rats. He spoke with Vanguard editors a few days ago where he expressed his fears over the latest development.

“Ironically these so called marketers charge N500,000 to become members and pay a yearly due of N50,000 “says Emeka Mbah. “They have to come out open and say what the matter is. If Emma Iskaku is still opposing the board after due consideration of the following then there is mischief smelling somewhere which I have not understood”.

Marketers polarised

What the new projections, its acceptance and all have done to the industry is scatter it, divide it and polarise it that the marketers are threating one another. Death threats from every where have become the order of the day.

Eddy Ugboma has been reporting to the police for quite sometime because two telephone lines whose numbers he has give to the Police have continued to call him and threaten him with instant death. He even sent an SOS to the police asking for protection. According to him, “I strongly believe that the threats are coming from those who say no to the framework on distribution.

I believe that it is the only way forward for now because we have been beating about the bush. The marketers have been the all in all in Nigerian movies and stakeholders have not fared well at all. There is no movie that they sell for you that ever make it. When will this end? I believe it is the best thing to have happened to the industry”.

Aside from this, there has been other allegations and more coming from the marketers themselves against themselves since the publication of the entire list of those who have registered with the new framework.

In Idumota, Lagos, Upper Iweka, Onitsha or Aba, there is palpable anxiety every where. Apart from the fact that there are no new movies since the marketers just returned from a forced hiatus, people do not know who is registered and who is not.

Those whose alliances have been exposed are already excommunicated while those who were not exposed live in fear that their colleagues would soon find out where they belong. Some of them even do not wish to talk about their preference in public lest they get the fire.

The place of Actors Guild in the matter

Ejike Asiegbu, the President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria told a gathering of media people that the AGN supports every move geared towards making the movie industry better than it is now.

According to him, “ there was rumor that the actors protested in solidarity with the marketers and I must say I am not aware of that. At no time did the Actors Guild of Nigeria protest against any one. If it happened without my knowledge, then it is not true. We are law abiding citizens of this country who will not do anything to cause chaos...”

What happens next

As things stand now, no one really knows what would happen next. Yinusa Tanko Abdulahi, Assistant Director Corporate Affairs of the NFVCB thinks that all those who “have registered with the board are now ready to begin to produce films, censor such movies at the board and are authorised to sell same in Nigeria.

It means that those who have not done so are not recognised to sell films. The Censors Board believes that this is the only way one could censor or classify if you say so, all those motion picture products which continue to flood our airwaves .

For God sake, you now know the business men and women involved and where you could reach them if you need them. They are now business partners with government, if there is an international organisation that wishes to do any business and call for statistics we at least have them”