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Put the blame on Federal Govt.—Igwe Gab Onyi Okoye

Source: http://nigeriafilms.com
Igwe Gab Onyi Okoye
Igwe Gab Onyi Okoye

A stickler as far as issues that concern movie making in Nigeria, Igwe Gabriel Onyi Okoye, or Igwe Gabosky as he is popularly known is one individual whose comments on the Nigerian Films Industry, is instructive. A position that has endeared him to stakeholders and consumers alike. He sits atop a multi-billion naira business with offices in London and Nigeria as a major distributor of electronic products. It was from this pool that he derived funds ploughed into the initial film productions that helped build the brand that is today known as Nollywood.

Recently the government of Nigeria through the National Film and Video Censors Board issued licenses to over 40 stakeholders it decided to recognize to ply the trade of film distribution in Nigeria. According to him, government is still planning to license more distributors for same purpose. This he described as a bastardization of the real hope of introducing mega film distribution into the system.

He spoke to http://www.nollywoodgists.com VICTOR AZUKA MORDYon this and other issues. Excerpts:

AS the President of the National Licensed Film Distributors, can you comment on the achievements of Emeka Mba, DG of the National Film and Video Censors Board and also on the decision of the board of editors of National Daily Newspaper to honour him with an award?

The honour done to Emeka by the Award is a welcome development in the industry. It is coming as a reward for hard work; it will inspire him to do more.

It is proper to recognize individuals who have performed creditably well in their jobs.

Emeka has succeeded in rolling out good programmes to move the industry forward. Distribution was the major bane, because it is what drives content. Without a good distribution strategy, there won't be an industry. But the notable lapses have been plugged to a large extent by the programmes initiated by the board. What he has done has also provided the platform for better movies to emerge from Nollywood.

The days of poor quality films are over.
But what Emeka Mba has started needs to be perfected. My advice to members of the press is to let him know that you are watching him always with the intention of calling him to order if he deviates. As you have decided to recognize and honour him for a job well done, I believe you would not be found wanting when it is time to criticize him if and when the need arises.

Emeka Mba will not remain at the board forever. Do you think these programmes will continue, if eventually he is removed or re-assigned?

Emeka Mba did not introduce any new laws since he came; he is merely executing the same laws that have been there since the establishment of the board. The reason why nothing worked before he came was that successive DG's of the board did not take advantage of the provisions of the laws that established the board.

Now that Emeka Mba, through sheer doggedness has achieved this feat of digging out and putting the laws to action, even if he is re-assigned today, anybody replacing him would do well for himself and the country to build on his achievements by utilizing the same provisions to move the industry forward.

Though we can not dictate to the government, but we believe it would be expedient for the industry, if he is allowed to finish the good work he has started. It would not be right for all the milestones he has achieved to face neglect as a result of the appointment of a new DG who might not be passionate about issues that concerns the movie industry. That would have amounted to wastage of tax payers' money.

But Emeka's case should not be different. I am not trying to be sentimental here, but I am aware that erstwhile Directors-General of the board; Demola James and Rosemary Odeh served two terms each before their removal. So I think it would only be just for him to be accorded such privilege in order to complete his good works.

Would you say that the new order places government in a vantage position to earn good income from the movie industry?

I must make one thing clear. The intention of government in helping to streamline film production and distribution in Nigeria is not primarily to make money from the industry, but to empower stakeholders. By this I mean producers, distributors and artistes. Government is trying to ensure that the job opportunities that the movie industry has been able to create are sustained.

If government does not introduce the right regulations, production would definitely thin down, which is the case currently with Nollywood. When this happens, the industry goes into austere times, which in turn affects remunerations and employment. By this reorganization, government is driving to create an environment that would enable the improvement of our production content. Once quality is beefed up, it affects distribution positively, which in turn will help generate better income.

It is after the industry has been stabilized that government can then move in to make income, by taxing all earnings made by practitioners as would be contained in documented dada, through the apparatus put in place by the censors board to monitor every earnings in Nollywood.

It is also through this same means that investors would get whatever information they desire in order to inform their decision whether or not to invest in the industry.

What will you attribute as the reason why government has not been able to earn taxable income from activities in Nollywood?

Why government could not lay claim to any income by means of taxation in Nollywood was because there was no data anywhere that could have proved that Nkem Owoh made any movie, or that his works generated even one kobo in sales. If you go to the producer or the marketer of the movie, he would claim that he did not make any money. But with the standard in place now, the number of all films sold in Nigeria and of course, the amounts generated through their release would be contained in the Censors' Board data. This dada is open to everybody, and by the press of a button, you can get any information concerning any film released in Nigeria.

With this, government now has enough provable evidence to tax income from the industry.

Can we have an update on your intention to float 10,000 distribution outlets in the country?

The update is that, my aspirations towards achieving that goal have not been achieved. Most Nigerian banks are not interested in long-term businesses. Their interest goes with business that starts generating income after one or two weeks of putting money into it. The reason why things are slow in delivering is because I am carrying out the project alone. The banks I contacted shied away at the last minute. If I had the backing of banks to carry it out, it would have been completed. But because I am doing it alone, it has been slow. Even the few banks that showed interest are giving me impossible conditions that points to a lack luster interest in it.

I have voted a lot of money from my business to set up distribution points in strategic areas of Nigeria. I am being careful so that the fund derived from my other business concerns do not cause unpleasant financial hic ups. But gradually we have been progressing in that direction. Soon, the whole 10,000 distribution outlets would be ready.

Do you have to wait till they are ready before you start making new films?

I have already made new films and still contracting more to be made. I am developing my own culture. I want to be recognized for a particular type .

When are we to expect the films in the market?
By the first quarter of the year, you will hear what Gabosky films is doing in the industry.

What efforts are your members making to make a big come back like you are planning for your outfit?

Every individual distributor in our association has his own model. Business is all about strategy, you don't just disclose your strategy to all. I believe that they are also planning to come out big.

Do you think the industry really needs as much as 38 national distributors to move Nollywood out of the woods?

Capital no. To be honest with you, the original idea by the Censors' Board was to license about ten mega distributors, and a lot of community distributors. The 10 mega distributors would have the sole right to release films in the country. Every Tom Dick and Harry cannot be mega distributors. I believe that the fewer the number of mega distributors licensed; the more manageable regulation would be for the censors' board. So this idea of licensing 45 distributors makes the whole exercise look like a huge joke. I even hear that the board is planning to license more distributors.

This, I believe is one of the reasons why most banks's who had earlier shown serious interest in investing in films distribution decided to shy away.

For instance, if government from the advent of GSM in Nigeria had registered 45 GSM operators, no bank would have agreed to deal in that sector. For a very long time we had only two service providers, before GLO came on board and now ETISALAT. The banks have done great business with this sector because of the advantage provided by the fact that they are few.

Don't you think the decision to make it an all comers affair rubbished the whole idea to tinker a new and vibrant Nollywood out of the old order?

In the real sense, the outcome of the distribution framework disillusioned a lot of us. It also caused the banks who were having fruitful discussions with, while the framework was in the works to beat a fast retreat, thereby reneging on the agreements we had made already. Once they discovered that the licenses issue was made an all comers affair, they felt the deal had become unattractive.

We understood Emeka Mbah's original idea of the framework was a far cry from what was eventually implemented. Do you think he was arm twisted into watering down the original idea?

Exactly. You see, the former Minister of Information and communications, Mr. John Odey knew nothing about movie making, and he definitely was not interested in Nollywood. Even at the presentation of Licenses to distributors, he did not show presence, despite the fact that it was widely advertised that he would be there.

Mr. Odey contributed immensely to the messing up of the distribution formula. I have it on good record that he even personally sent a list of those he wanted registered to the DG, undermining set regulations by the board. The former minister does not understand regulation. He has never initiated a meeting with practitioners during his tenure.

Every blame as regarding the lapses in executing the original reformation to be carried out in the movie industry should be put on the ex-minister. He completely scuttled the real dream to build a vibrant movie industry in Nigeria through formulating a workable distribution formula.

But I believe that if Emeka Mba does not correct the current misnomer, somebody else would come and correct it.

People have described the ex-minister as a square peg in a round hole, because of his inability to effectively cover all parastatals under his ministry, especially the entertainment sector, do you share this view?

I see him as a very good politician, but in regards to doing a good job in his beat, he was a perfect square peg in a round hole. Bringing him into the ministry of information and communication was a grave mistake. We never met him, we never celebrated him and he left the same way he came in. We did not even feel his impact as our minister.

What is your comment on the posting of Professor Dora Akunyili to the information and communications ministry.

Before now, stakeholders in the movie industry had begged the government to send somebody like Dora Akunyili to the Ministry of Information and Communication, who can right the wrongs committed over time. There are lots of parastatals under the ministry that require regulation, not only the movie industry. We believe that it's only a person like Dora Akunyili, who can handle the task in this sector.

For example, when Emeka Mba had his challenges initially. When he was experiencing serious sabotage from his workers at the Board. We made up our minds to institute a retreat, which took us to Ogbudu Ranch in Cross River State. We invited Dora Akunyili to help out and she did it perfectly well. So I do not believe that it is by accident that she is now the Minister of Information and Communications. Her appointment is a welcome development.