‘NOLLYWOOD FILMS ARE HARMFUL TO CHILDREN’
Dr Umar Faruk Jibrin, currently Head of the Department of Mass Communications, Bayero University, Kano, is the Secretary General of the Motion Picture Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN). At the Zuma film Festival 2008 he delivered a paper on the neglect of children by Nigerian films, on the salient points of which, among other things, he spoke to Sunday Trust
Some people are of the opinion that the Nigerian film industry is not as developed as it should be. What is your reaction to this?
My reaction is [I do not agree]. Development depends on how we define it. As far as film making in Nigeria is concerned, regardless of the format in view, film has reached one of its highest developmental stages as at now. This is because Nigeria is, today, the third largest exporter of film content in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood. So if you compare that with other countries that started since the early beginning of film making in the early 20th century, you find out that Nigeria is ahead of some of these countries. But if you are talking about film on celluloid format, I'd say yes, it has not developed. It has not developed simply because of the expensive nature of the production requirement on celluloid. Two, the highly technical nature of celluloid compared to film on video. Three, not very many people are trained to produce on celluloid, and four—and most especially—the very restrictive nature of celluloid as a format of distribution. These are the reasons why film was not developed in that format for that long; but with the break away from celluloid to video and now digital format, Nigeria has gone far. It's the first country in the whole world that is producing film straight to tape and straight to home. Nobody has done that before; Nigeria is doing just that now. So I'll say that film as a medium of family entertainment is developing rapidly in Nigeria, more than anything else.
Looking at film as a medium of family entertainment, you spoke about the neglect of children by filmmakers. Now, how would you like to see the industry addressing this issue?
I want to emphasise that the neglect of children in film is not only restricted to Nigeria; it's a feature of the entire African Cinema, whether we call it the traditional or, now, the unconventional cinema or film that is being produced. I would like to see a situation where those issues are addressed squarely. And the way to address them is to first of all consider children as part of the society. Without doing that, the producer will miss the essence of what I'm saying. Consider a film on an issue that affects a family, because most Nigerian films are produced on the basis of family films: now it will be abnormal for a family to exist in Africa without a child. But it is very common in our films. This is because the issues that are bothering them, that is providing the pivot of the film, are issues that affect adults only, like having to succeed in business, having been dismissed from work, like having to overcome certain issues that affect the workplace. These are some of the issues that give rise to some of the films that are produced. Now, these are adult issues. Not in many places could you find a film being produced about a child who does not want to go to school, or a family that is struggling to make sure that the children go to school, or a film that is produced on issues related to child abuse. There are a lot of things you can take and produce a film on. But those who are producing the films do not see those things as problems; even if they see them as problems, they do not see them as problems worthy of film treatment, because there may not be enough conflict elements within those aspects as to produce films.
Secondly, people have said that managing children on location or in production is a problem—many people do not know how to handle children. Thirdly and most importantly, most of the producers of these films are young men, and probably because many of them have not experienced anything with children, they may not find any interesting angle to look at children-based issues. But whatever may be the reason, now we've given the statistics: over 80 percent of these films that are produced in Nollywood are not fit for our children, because they are rated 18. Once films are rated 18, it means no child should be allowed to watch those films. It is harmful for them to watch the films, it is detrimental to their growth, it is eventually going to affect what they are going to do in life. So parents have to watch and we need to cater for them as an industry, by looking at them as a special segment of our society. What are those issues that children will be interested in? We define them, then we try to make films on them. That is the only way we can progress.
Now that children are exposed to these films that are rated 18, which you said can have harmful effects on them, what will be the impact on the society generally?
The general impact of this on society is that, one, child behaviour is being nurtured around growth elements—psychologically, physically, and physiologically—that are not supposed to influence the growth of that child. This is it: crime, violence, rituals, vulgar language, and a lot of other things that are being dished out in that content will affect the child. The child will take it as a norm and then graduate into trying those things, and then it may affect him/her eventually; and that is why they are rated 18.
There are seven classifications of content in Nigeria. There is the G, which is for general viewing; children can watch that, because it is safe for everybody to watch. There is what is rated as 12; any child between the ages of zero and 12 can watch those films, they are safe for them. And there is what they call 12A; it's also meant for children below the ages of 12, but they have to watch those films with an adult around, so that he can explain some of these things for them. And then there is what they call PG; this content requires the presence of a parent before a child can watch these films. There is what they call Restricted Exhibition; this Restricted Exhibition completely excludes children from viewing because of certain elements within the content. There is 15, which is for children above the age of 15; so if they're not up to 15 they cannot watch them. And, finally, there is the 18; only two of these are prohibited for children—18 and Restricted Exhibition. Even adults have to watch the Restricted Exhibition within certain contexts, like cinema halls, like special screenings and what have you.
What role can events such as the Zuma Film Festival play in seeing that children are brought into the context of film making?
One of the biggest roles of festivals is to provide a platform on which you can discuss a lot of issues on the industry. We presented a paper on this and it generated a lot of discussion. And that is part of the way forward for this. Many people were not aware that this is the situation because once you're producing you'll produce discretely. And there is no way you can know how much I produce or I can know how much you produce until we have a forum like this where we sit down, share opinions, and then see where we are making progress and where we are; and this is exactly what is happening now. That is one.
Secondly, this type of festival can bring in special awards for children's films—it should institute special awards for the production of children's content so that it can stimulate interest and motivate people to produce in that area. Thirdly, stakeholders like governments and child-based organisations can provide some special grants for whoever is interested in producing for children, because one of the issues that were raised [when I presented the paper] was that if you produce for children there is not enough market because the consumers of the content have been modelled to watch films other than children's. So if you put aside some little money towards helping to finance the industry it will go a long way in assisting the industry to produce for children. And then for the practitioners to get sufficient interest in producing for children, they have to start looking inwards, within the industry and outside the industry, as parents. This is the most important thing.
There are some television programmes that are made for children. How successful have they been in filling this gap?
You see, when you're producing films, you're not only producing for film audience; you are producing it for all audiences, including those who are watching television. What we expect Nollywood to do is to produce for cinema, home entertainment and television. There are no sufficient children entertainment programmes on our television, except for those [sponsored by] advertisers that are interested in children's products—[even] they don't sponsor production in children's entertainment stories unless there are products that they want to push. And sometimes it is very harmful to allow advertisers to finance productions, because there are inbuilt mechanisms that they have within the context of what they do to control the psyche of the viewers; and therefore it may not be possible for people to take advertising money and produce just like the advertisers want you to produce branding even the content.
Even in television, we don't have sufficient children's programme. The Law requires that 30 percent of our television content should be geared towards children; 20 percent of all cable content should be geared towards children. But watch any television in Nigeria, watch any cable station in Nigeria, sit down and take your statistics; you'll find out that there is less than five percent content for children. So even the provisions of the Law have not been fulfilled in those areas, let alone improve on that. So TV is as guilty of neglecting children as Nollywood. But Nollywood can fill this gap if there is a sufficient number of people interested in producing for children now. That'll go a long way in augmenting television content for them. TV stations can work out modalities along with Nollywood producers to produce sufficient content for children.
I represented an organisation that we just formed during the last BOBTV festival. The organisation is called Children's Broadcasting Association of Nigeria and we were able to produce a charter, the Nigerian Children Broadcast Charter. Our objective is to see that we improve people's understanding of television and film content regarding children; create awareness about the need to cater for our children in what we do; and the need for the regulatory agencies in Nigeria to insist on making sure that the provisions of the Law are fulfilled by the industry. It is a national association consisting of all those who are interested in children's media content generally, but specifically broadcast content—film and television.
We intend to organise sensitisation seminars in the six geo-political zones of the country very soon, and we intend to come up with a structure of awards and festivals for television programmes in Nigeria, so that we'll put this activity at the front burner of the industry so that people can see that it is possible to produce children's programmes and films and then make money. This is the best time for us to sit down and focus on children because Children's Day is coming up on the 27th of this month.
You said that our television stations have not been able to meet the requirement of the Law in terms of children's programming. Does that mean that the regulatory agencies have failed in their duties?
I cannot tell you that they have failed in their duties. You see, regulation is something that is evolutionary; it goes into several stages. The regulation of the broadcast industry started just about a decade and a half ago. So all the regulatory provisions can not be met within 15 years. Take the US for example: television started in the US in the early '30s as a medium of mass communication. Up till today, the FCC is still battling with certain issues that are evolving, like content on demand by television and cable stations.
Now there are more serious issues to consider than just focusing on one aspect; I'm sure they have been trying to make sure that part of this is met. But you cannot implement all the provisions of the Law at any given time. But with this realisation now, I'm sure the regulatory agencies can look at that aspect of children's entertainment programmes and then maybe start scrutinising what is on their menu and taking the appropriate action.