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Distribution Framework: We made mistakes— Emeka Mba, D-G Censors Board

Source: http://nigeriafilms.com
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The controversial distribution frame work, introduced in 2007 by the Emeka Mba-led National Film and Video Censors Board(NFVCB) to regulate the distribution and marketing of Nigerian movies may have come to stay at last.

At the inception, while many affected stakeholders, especially, movie marketers/producers welcome the initiative, a few others who were opposed to its implementation saw the framework as a way of flushing them out of business.

Reacting to one of the stakeholders' allegations contained in the interview and published on these pages last week, the Director-General of the Censors Mr. Emeka Mba, reinstated his boards resolve to realise the objectives of introducing the distribution framework. He puts certain records straight while refuting claims of critics of the initiative, describing their criticisms as a fall out of disappointment of his administration to dance to the tune of their music.

What is the level of success of the distribution framework your Board initiated in 2007?

The initiative has been an incredible turn-around in the industry. You are aware that about two year ago, we were fighting with marketers and producers over the initiative. We tried to sell our position in this regard to them. But while some of the marketers understood our mission, many didn't. Majority of them felt that it was an attempt to kick them out of business.

But I think, in the last couple of months, precisely between October and November, 2008, a number of development sort of played itself out in the industry. The initial marketers/producers who believed in the initiative were granted license in December, last year, at a ceremony held in Lagos .

And since that time, the core group of marketers/producers led by Emma Isikaku have also turned around to support the initiative.

We are now saying, the framework is the best thing to have happened in the industry. I did say so, in 2007 when we launched the programme. We felt that it was the beginning of a process. And what we have done at the just concluded BOBTV 2009 held in Abuja, was a confirmation of that process. At least, all the stakeholders in the movie industry were represented at the expo.

In terms of what has happened, I would say to a large extent, it's providence that played itself out in the film industry. And we have also, realised our mistakes. We started the programme with certain pre-conception about what we needed to do. We have been corrected. And I make bold to say that to a certain extent, we made mistakes.

We have been corrected. Today, look somebody like RMD, in terms of acting, is a brand. Look at Lancelot in the area of directing, he is a brand. The industry needs brands at this level of our development. To quantify the success that the distribution framework has recorded in terms of percentage, I would say, it's almost 100 per cent. It's true, not everybody that applied got the national distribution license.

We started with 45 people that we granted the license. Later, the number increased by 39, after we had resolved our differences with the marketers, thus bringing the total number of distributors licensed to 84. That's the figure we have at the moment.

But others granted regional license was based on capacity application. Even at that, we are still going to verify the figure between now, and the end of the year. Those who meets the requirements will go to the next category, having proved their claim of possessing N3. million as share capital with the bank. I don't think, there is anything wrong with that arrangement.

My friend Gabosky is quarreling with me because he believes that the distribution framework is like as GSM option. It's not a GSM option. Nobody is paying a monopoly rent here. Did I task anybody to pay N10.million.

No, I didn't. They only paid N200,000 for a two-year duration. It's just like obtaining a driving license. I always make reference to that, once you can prove to the authorities that you can drive, and that you are of sound mind, you are granted a driving license.

That's the principle we adopted. I believe that the dynamic of the film industry is not the same thing with the GSM network. Nobody grants 100 distributors license. But since we started this process, certain steps have been taken. Overtime, the market will fall into shape.

Some of the stakeholders who are opposed to the distribution framework have argued that there was no structure put in place as a stop gap, and that the distribution framework has broken down, and even the licensed distributors have not taken off, do you think this is true?

They are not well-informed. To start with, distribution has not broken down. We are still receiving applications from the prospective distributors. I know that in the last one week, we have received well over 20 applications to distribute films. What we have done fundamentally alone is to censor, and get approval for censorship is different.

To distribute films is also different. This means, that independently, producers are at liberty to come and censor their films, get approval and then, take the films to film festivals anywhere in the world.

Just like what Tunde Kelani did sometime ago, he got an approval, which is not same thing as a distribution approval. He could take his films to exhibit in places like Sliverbird, Numetro and other viewing centres.

But when any producer wants to distribute his films commercially, there is need for him to apply for license, or present a distributor who will have to come and front for him. Based on this, we are still carrying out our activities of censoring films, and film application.

Penultimate Friday, I approved about 20 applications for distributing of films. And this was after the applications were censored and evidences tendered as to where, the individual applicants are going to replicate the films, how many copies the applicants intend to replicate as well as the replicating company together with the tendering of copyright notification from the Copyright Commission, which we would put in our data base for reference purposes.

This is to say distribution has not broken down at all. Perhaps, what happened is because the market has become saturated.

A lot of factors are responsible for that. Piracy is thriving a lot. Business has dropped. That's one level. On the second level, we have become much more strict in terms of our censorship. And lastly, the distribution framework is gradually keying into the system. And so, stakeholders are adjusting to the new realities.

But to say that distribution has stopped is unfounded here. Two years ago, we all gathered in Abuja to set the ball rolling.

The idea is not to drive anybody out of business. As a result of enforcing compliance, we went to court with the marketers to seek legal redress. We arrested some of their members in Onitsha . Some of them were jailed.

But now, we have almost gotten to a point where some of the marketers who opposed the idea initially have agreed to comply with their new order. What moral right do the board have to stop somebody who has willingly agreed to follow a process, which we declared open to all.

These are the people who are creating the content, what legitimate right do I have to deny them license?

My critics should put themselves in my shoes and justify their actions. Why should they continue to antagonizs me when I have shown genuine remorse for my past mistake. We are serving as a magnet to draw other people in. Since I started this programme, all my so called enemies, who wrote stinkers against me sat on the same table with me at the BOBTV 2009 opening ceremony.

With me, I can understand when some people feel cheated concerning how they supported the board to ensure that the framework is not a defeated programme as we are bringing those who were opposed into the fold.

But what I cannot understand is a situation, where someone resort to deceit and lies. If we were to continue the combative mood, what suffers is the industry. And I think, my appeal to those who have been licensed is to commence operation without further delay. For me, it's a bit unfair to blame everything on the Censors board.

Are you confidence that those you have licensed so far are able to drive the process?

I think so. I am confidence. We 've seen a number of people that came from a very interesting companies. There is an Indian company that's based in Accra , Ghana , that want to be subtitling Nigerian films into Chinese, and Indian languages, Yoruba and Hausa. A few other companies that came from the United States is involved in taking our films to create market for them in the States.

We have never changed our message mid way to anybody. Our concern is, meet the requirement and secure your license. It has never changed. Our message has never changed. May be , what has changed in some people's mind is there own expectation. But for the board, our message remains intact.

If you look at the all the distributions that we have set up, it has never been that we are driving at setting up a cartel, enfranchise or disenfranchise any group. No. for me, and the board, we have always been open. As a body, we don't have a perfect frame, but we have what we belief as the foundation.

I don't think that the board has fundamentally disappointed anybody by its position on certain things. If you recall, when we launched the distribution frame work many stakeholders applauded the initiative, describing it as the best thing that would happen to the film industry.

But a week later, they turned around to criticise the initiative. People like Don Pedro was involved in the fight against the framework, but today, Don Pedro's company holds a license. Later his association instructed its members to put out of the arrangement, which made Don Pedro to write to the board to show his disinterest in the framework.

Some of the marketers that feels disappointed thought we were going to license only very few distributors, while others are left out of the system. Ask anyone of the marketers, if they did pay more than N200,000 for a two year duration. I don't think we have changed the goal post along the line. I think, what happened is that some people had a complete conception of how they want the game to be played. But the board's position on the matter of distribution framework has not changed.

With the distribution framework , do you still find time to address other serious matters like the indiscriminate display of pornographic materials on most streets of our major cities?

We have consistently found time to address the problem. It's just that the distribution framework has taken much of our time. We have been in a lot of places, Port-Harcourt, Abuja, Kano and Jos, making so many arrests in these places in respect of displaying pornographic materials on the streets. Honestly its like smuggling and piracy and it's the biggest nightmare the board is facing.

In Lagos we arrested 34 persons, and took tem to court. And this is causing the board so much money. The new regulation we have put in place empowers the board to seize and destroy the films. Initially, we had to use the films as evident to persecute the case in court.

I must state here that the Inspector General of Police, has been very helpful. At least he gave us a squad of police men who are working with us to effect arrests of the culprits in Onitsha , Lagos and Abuja . But also, we need society's understanding and support to combat this indiscriminate display of pornographic materials on the streets.

For our young minds, it's a very dangerous orientation. While we are doing what we can do to arrest this trend, we will also continue to solicit the support of other agencies especially the police to help combat this evil of pornography display on the street. It is a criminal issue that the police should also be greatly involved in its combat.

What's funding like for the board?

Funding was very good for the board last year. We got a lot of money to upgrade most our offices, especially in Lagos, to enable us stop going to the Sliverbird to censor films. We are actually building four cinema centres and a digital library. Last year, we bought all the equipment needed for the project.

And budget is there too. We are just waiting for this year's budget to be signed so that we can get additional money to install all the equipment, and also, launch it. From next month, we will be getting an SMS' based response movies.

We have built a very high automated system and spent a lot of money putting these in place. So, we got a lot of money from government last year and not from revenue generation .

Put together what the board have gotten in the last 14 years of its existence from government can not meet the figure that we got last year. Our classification label will come into effect this year to boost our source of revenue.

Though we planned to sell them at the rate of N20,00 but given the global economic crises, we have resolved to sell them at N2 ,00. Now that we have reformed the top echelon of the market, this year, we are going clamp down on the video clubs, and rentals, which I consider as the biggest link in the system.

Could you tell us the number of films your board censors in a year?

The is the only authorized body that can give you the authentic number in terms of the number of films we censored last year. There is also, a number of films submitted for censorship, and a number of films for approval.

But between January and December last year, we approved 1583 films, including foreign films and films that where to cinema. Local films were less than a thousand two hundred in terms of Nigerian movies, which is a quick drop from about 1500 films recorded in 2007, and even a further drop from what we saw in 2006.

In 2005, we censored almost 2000, and 2004, it was 1800 films. So, the number has dropped drastically. Last year, what may have accounted for the drop, is the fact that we became much more strict and in terms of how films are counted readily was changed. Initially, when you bring your part I film, it is counted as a separate film, unlike now, when both part I & II are counted as one film. Because we see part II as an extension of part one. So, how we count the films has also changed.

These two factors accounted for the drop in the last year's figure. Equally, marketers themselves sometime last year introduced a slot system, where they determined when an individual producer should release his film. The interesting figure we have gotten is that the Yoruba films is beginning to flourish as well as the Hausa films. And this account for the 4 percent of films released last year.

On crises in Kano film industry

The crises in Kano film industry is fueled politically. There is PDP and ANPP external politics in Kano . And the film makers who were arrested happened to belong to different political parties. But I think it went beyond film. And I also, think that it was that video clip that ignited the action.

I got a letter few weeks ago from the Director-General of Kano censors Board, calling for stakeholders' meeting. I think, the problem has been addressed. And the film makers there are now willing to work hand in hand with the board.