I am not a pirate, says Elonel

By Justin Akpovi Esade
Alaba international market  ( Photo ) http://nigeriafilms.com
Alaba international market ( Photo ) http://nigeriafilms.com

FRESH from police cell in Markudi, Benue State, Mr. Elochukwu Anibogu popularly called Elonel, who was among movie marketers arrested by the National Film and Video Censors' Board (NFVCB) on alleged failure to comply with the new distribtion framework, has described his experience in detention as "harrowing".

What pained the managing director of Elonel International Limited was the fact that he was branded a movie pirate and hounded into police cell in far away Makurdi. "It's quite unfortunate that I, who have been censoring films with this board for the past 12 years, would be branded a common pirate. I am still in shock and up till now, people still call me that they read the papers that I was called a pirate, that was why I was arrested."

Although, he could not cite any publication where he was described as pirate, Anibogu insisted that "all the VCDs the arresting party took from my store were all my works, so how can I pirate my own movie?"

The censors board recently caused the arrest of Anibogu, the immediate past chairman of the marketers' association; Mr. Hyacinth Onwuka, managing director, Okija Amaka Industries Limited and the vice chairman of Onitsha branch of the body; as well as Okwui Eneowo, a renowned movie producer, for alleged failure to comply with the board's distribution framework.

Elonel recalled his experience: "They (police) came to my office here (Surulere, Lagos) with guns, they were shooting in the air. I implored them to be more civic as nobody here is a criminal. They told me to shut up and that I would be shot if I showed that I know too much. They arrested people that came to do business with my Personal Assistant and me. They took us first to Ikeja and later said we were going to Abuja, because the order for my arrest came 'from above'. But they deviated to Makurdi. On getting there, we were detained, and the following Sunday, they told us to make a statement because they know that I own the film and they can't charge me for piracy so they now said it because of the framework."

He would not dwell on the distribution framework "as the matter is in court, at the end of it all, Nigerians will know whether marketers are right or wrong. I leave that for the courtto decide."

He debunked the claim by most producers that marketers are the bane of the industry. "I disagree totally, as a filmmaker, a producer and a marketer... if you are a producer that produces good works, the marketers will be going about after you, it's only when you do a bad film and the film did not sell, then you will now say that the film did not sell because marketers cheated you. It is like giving a dog a bad name to hang it. I know of independent producers who are not marketers that produce good films, and whenever you make a good film, it's the marketer that will go after you and it must surely sell."

Elonel spoke on the initiative the marketers embarked upon, to cut down production that would consequently reduce the flooding of the market with film works, before the censors' board introduced its framework.

"Based on what we had before, we decided to cut down the numbers of films we release into the market. We screened ourselves and allocated slots to producers on the number of films to be made. Before, it was 300 films in a year, but now, it has been reduced to eleven films, which will be shared among producers who are members of our association."

He said the present crop of marketers have what it takes as regards structure to market movies nationwide. "When we started out, we sent films to every part of the country, but when we sent to people in the northern states, they would not bring back your money. Sometimes, you will not see them again, so we now decided to make Idumota, Alaba, Aba, Benin and Iweka as a depot where people come to buy films every two weeks and it has been working. If the government should come in to build shopping malls in all these places where films can be obtained, it will be okay. People feel we are just ordinary marketers, unknown to them, we contribute 90 per cent of the content as producers in Nollywood."

He reiterated the fact that he has been doing genuine business for years. Elonel International has been in the business of film for the past 15 years and I have no record of piracy, I produce my films and market them. I pay everybody, so the right (intellectual property) is mine. Whatever the censors' board took away from my warehouse was mine, I don't intend to go into piracy because it's not in my blood."

But the censors' board during a visit to the corporate headquarters of the Guardian last week clarified that the sin of the arrested marketers was the refusal to comply with new distribution framework.

The NFVCB Director-General, Emeka Mba said the new policy is enjoying tremendous support from marketers across the country. "In the South West, practitioners have complied. Similar experience has recorded in the entire North as well as the South -South. It only a group of fw marketers in Onitsha market who have continued to behave as if they are above the law. This is the reason the board has decided to enforce our laws."

The censors' board boss also debunked the allegation that the new policy was meant to strangulate the industry. "They say we ask marketers to bring N50 Milllion for registration. This is not true. Today, we have over 20,000 film marketers who have complied with the distribution framework. None of them is asked to bring any N50 Million. We published their names with the hope that those that are spreading the falsehood would confirm how much they paid for the registration. You pick the form with just N2,500, and thereafter, you pay a token of N5,000, if you are operating in a community, while those we classify as national distributor pay N40,000."

The Act setting up the board, Mba noted, "makes it a criminal offence to release, distribute, exhibit, warehouse or engage in transactions on films and video works without a license from the Board. Mr. Elonel and others were arrested for contravening the law establishing the board. It is also important to note that over the past 26 months, the Board has engaged all levels of stakeholders in fashioning out the framework for licensing of distributors and exhibitors, and last month that process was completed and perfected."