THE BIRTH OF NIGERIAN FILMS AND MOVIES
Nigerian Film and TV Industry
Filmmaking is beginning to come alive again after a dead period of about 10 years. At one time Nigeria was a leader in local production in Anglophone Africa. A colonial film unit was set up in 1947, but until the 1960's little more than documentaries were produced. Then came Nigeria's first film production companies, Latola Film (1962) and Calpeny Nigeria Ltd. In 1970, Kongi's Harvest, based on Wole Sonyika's play, was produced by Calpeny and directed by American Ossie Davies. This was the first flowering of local film in the 1970s and 1980s.
Directors used English and local languages, especially Yoruba. During the 1980s, Nigerian films started circulating throughout West Africa and further abroad. Now there is little demand outside Nigeria, although the huge local market can still make lower-budget films viable.
Sanya Dosunmu, Jab Adu, Ola Balogun and Eddie Ugbomah head the list of Nigerian filmmakers with Ade Foloyan, Moses Adejumo Olaiya, Herbert Ogunde followed by Bankole Bello.
The birth of the hugely successful Yoruba language films, sometimes wrongly called “folklore” films, date back to 1976. Ola Balogun, with two features to his credit, wanted better links with his audience. His first film, Ajan-Ogun, was incredibly successful, not only with Yoruba-speakers (more than 16 million) but also with the rest of the country. Constance (1997) by Cyril Nri and On the Edge (1997) by Newton I. Aduaka are two short films made by Nigerians living in England. The two films were exhibited with great success at Milan film festival '98.Two films were produced in 1998: Twins of The Rain Forest by Odion Agboh and A Place Called Home by Mahamood Ali-Balogun, which was in competition in Fespaco 1999. On the Edge won the short film prize at FESPACO '99. In 2000, M-Net and Zimmedia chose Ngozi Onwurak to produce one of the short films in the Mama Africa series. The result, Hang Time, is about the deals people make, wittingly and unwittingly, with the “devil” and the decisions people make in order to achieve their goals. It's about the allure of America from an African perspective. The film Rage by Newton Aduaka, won the Oumarou Granda Prize at Fespaco 2001.
With foreign exchange problems and the popularity of home movies on video, most indigenous film producers have now turned to making videos, usually of poor acting, filming and production quality, but which sell well. VHS copies are handled and marketed by distributors, who make them widely available and affordable. The video boom has left the film industry neglected although there are independent companies, such as The Production Team, seeking co-production opportunities. There is an effective and respected association called ITPAN (Independent TV Producers Association of Nigeria). The first international forum of the Nigerian video and cinema held in Lagos from 31 May to 2nd June 2001 has gathered more than 400 Nigerian professionals. The objectives of the forum were to present to the French and African professionals the abundance of Nigerian production and enable the Nigerian professionals to establish contacts with their foreign counterparts which would assist them in reaching the international network of production and distribution. On the occasion of the forum, director and distributor, Mr. John Riber (Media for Development Trust) in Zimbabwe, and Nigerian director and distributor Mr. Tunde Kelani (Mainframe productions) have signed an agreement on the distribution of their respective films. Mr. Kelani will distribute in Nigeria the Zimbabwean films Yellow Card, Neria, Everyone' s Child and More Time whereas Mr. Riber will distribute in Southern Africa the Nigerian films Saworoide and Thunderbolt. On the whole 650 films, whose quality is often average, are produced each year in Nigeria. In ten years, the explosion of this sector created nearly 4000 jobs and generated a turnover in the year 2000 of 420 million francs (US$ 65m).
Distribution is largely informal through the private sector, with the Nigerian Film Corporation, set up in 1979, and the Nigerian Film Distribution Company playing very secondary roles.
Nigeria was the first sub-Saharan country to allow private broadcasting. In 1991, after 50 years of government monopoly, the first private broadcasters began operating. Two years later the first official private broadcast licences were issued. Now Nigeria's television industry is one of the most competitive in Africa.
Nigeria is home to numerous broadcasters and an extensive state-owned network operated under the National Television Authority (NTA). Television broadcasting dates back to the launch of Western Nigeria Television in 1959, now part of the 27 stations operated by the publicly-run National Television Authority. Under the NTA, 25 of Nigeria's 30 constitutional states operate their own TV stations and 18 of these stations are TV Africa affiliates.
There are currently around 80 television stations operating in Nigeria (including provincial and regional stations). The licensing of private stations began in 1992 following the establishment of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). By 1996 14 private TV stations, 30 cable/MMDS re-distribution operators and two satellite TV stations (African Independent Television and Minaj Television) were licensed. Due to the country's worsening economic problems these plans were over-ambitious and by mid-1996 only seven of the stations were on air.
Major television stations include Channel TV, Degue Broadcasting Network (DBN), AIT (Lagos and environs), Galaxy TV (Western Nigeria), MITV, DITV, UBS and Minaj TV (Eastern Nigeria). In July 2001, African Broadcast Network (ABN) secured a new partnership with AIT during prime time viewing.
In March 2001, the National Association of Satellite and Communications Company of Nigeria (NASATCCON) has called on the NBC to begin policies that will nurture the cable television sector and make it affordable and accessible to every Nigerian.
Each television station broadcasting in Nigeria has a mandatory 40% local programming requirement, which is reduced to 20% for pay-TV (Cable/MMDS and satellite) retransmission stations. The lack of independent production houses makes this figure difficult to achieve. Existing production houses suffer from lack of funding and so, for major projects, producers depend on multinationals, foreign aid or the Government for funding.
Nigeria is strongly influenced by Muslim and Catholic morals. The regulators are renowned for being conservative. Piracy remains a serious offence in Nigeria.
There are 38 TV sets per thousand households, which boasted an estimated ad spend of US$675m in 1997.
Here's a really great article on the history of film in Nigeria
How video films developed in Nigeria
In Nigeria the prohibitive cost of producing films and other economic considerations have led producers to resort to video films. This boom has caused a general drop in quality and fuelled intense competition to promote their commercial appeal. In spite of the powers conferred on it by statute, the censors' body appears unable to stem the tide of this commercialism in a way which might effectively promote the country's rich cultural heritage.
Changes in human society reflect the dynamism of culture. This dynamism is responsible for constant shifts in patterns associated with given cultures, and the multicultural character of most, if not all, societies substantially widens the scope for influence on such cultures.
Definitions of culture are wide in scope. Arulogun, (1979: 31) citing Ekpo Eyo, settled for a vast, partly human, material and spiritual apparatus 'by which societies are organised into permanent and recognisable groups.'
Over the years, the medium of film has come to be closely associated with the culture industry. In Nigeria, such a role for the film industry is still evolving although certain factors are altering the profile of what could be regarded as the country's culture, while the film industry itself is undergoing a crucial transition.
However, the immense potential of film was recognised even during colonial times. The Federal Information apparatus early acknowledged film as the most effective medium for internal and external publicity and by 1923, cinema entertainment had become immensely popular in Lagos (Mgbejume, 1989: 48, 53). In exploring the interface between culture and film and by extension, video films, this article hopes to establish patterns which will provide a clearer basis for understanding a development which strongly impacts on the future of the society.
The very origins of the film business in Nigeria signposted the shape of its future. The first film screenings in Nigeria took place at Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos, on ten consecutive nights from 12 August 1903. Significantly, but hardly surprisingly, a Nigerian - Herbert Macaulay - managed its affairs, and Messrs Balboa of Spain screened the film.
Thereafter, films were either foreign or promoted by foreigners active in the growth of the local film industry. In 1939 W. Sellers started up the Colonial Film Unit (CFU) as an agent of development designed to lift standards in areas like health, education, agriculture and industry among the local population (Mgbejume, 1989: 39, 42). This focus of the CFU explained the kind of films it produced: among its documentaries were those on Good Business, Better Housing, Mixed Farming and Fight Tuberculosis. They were basically educational and fitted the general policy direction of the colonial administration.
By 1947, the CFU had ceased to exist and the government established the Federal Film Unit (FFU) but the basic direction of the CFU was maintained. Film continued to gain in popularity and government utilized it extensively for publicity purposes. In 1979 the FFU metamorphosed into the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC).
Film and culture
Film is a powerful tool for the transmission of cultural values. In an analysis of how film could further the cause of cultural identity, Arulogun (1979: 26-29) identified four main areas.
As a propaganda tool, film remains a vehicle employed by governments and others interested in the art of subtle diplomacy. Because of its popularity as an entertainment medium, it easily becomes a means of relaying and reinforcing information meant to promote a certain reality.
Film also plays the role of stereotyper, helping to shape perspectives on a people's culture. The impressions which viewers develop about a people and their cultural values are greatly influenced by film portrayals.
As an educational medium, film covers issues in the school curricula or things about their country of origin which tell viewers about different countries and peoples.
Film also plays a role in promoting commerce. Where this character of film has developed, it is a major source of foreign exchange.
These qualities indicate the real and potential contributions of film to the culture industry. As Opubor and Nwuneli (1979: 13) have noted, film exposes Nigerians and outsiders to 'the diverse (and) rich cultural heritage' of the country.
In this regard, some locally made films are known to fit this overtly cultural agenda. While Amadi - a 1975 product of Ola Balogun - demonstrated the beauty of the Igbo Language, Ajani Ogun also by Ola Balogun demonstrated the richness of the Yoruba language and Sheu Umar by Adamu Halilu, that of the Hausa language.
This trend in cultural projection is probably best exemplified by the role of Hollywood and the export of American popular culture with active government backing (Wagnleitner, 1994: 1990). It is known that the frontiers conquered by American culture, courtesy of its film industry, have long extended beyond Europe to cover the different continents of the globe.
An example of how this works is provided by Nigeria. Before a handful of indigenous film makers in the late 1970s took up the challenge to fill the void in local participation in the film business, the market was dominated by films from China, Hong Kong and Japan, England and America, and India (Adesanya, 1984: BI). The Anglo-American films offered a variety which included cowboy, horror, war and adventure films, among others.
Competition between these films was stiff and the success and continuing popularity of Indian romance and Kung Fu films with segments of the Nigerian audience, could be traced to the gains of this period. However, the Anglo-American films marketers, apart from having the advantage of the English language, regularly screened their films free of charge, using mobile cinema units in different parts of the country. Marketers of Chinese and Indian films somehow restricted their activities to movie theatres in the towns.
The stage was therefore set for the relative advantage Anglo-American films (especially the latter) still continue to enjoy. Further cultivation and utilization of television through movie slots also secured a strategic market for these American films. However, the potential of film was for a long time constrained by its level of development which is still low in Nigeria. The only key reality shared by film and other media is their orientation which betrays foreign cultural influences although local actors are becoming more involved in ownership and production.
In a way, economics is at the root of film development. When the Indigenization Decree was promulgated in 1972, ostensibly to allow Nigerians effectively to take over the film industry, that goal was hampered by the ill-preparedness of Nigerians to take up the challenge.
Since most of the films screened in the country were imported from various sources, the only areas that could have been controlled by Nigerians were the distribution and exhibition of films. These were however, firmly in the hands of Indians and Lebanese who managed to hold on to ownership of movei theatres and the distribution of films. To date, it is doubtful whether Nigerians control more than a tenth of these crucial arms of the film business.
Apart from losing out in film distribution and exhibition, film production has been a financial nightmare for many producers . According to Adeiza:
Ossie Davies Kongi's Harvest was a flop, so was Chief Francis Oladele's Bullfrog in the Sun, which basked so much in the sun that it refused to croak at the box office. The late Chief Ogunde, who left the theatre for film in 1980, with his debut Aiye, did not smile to the bank, despite the success and popularity of the film... The story of Chief Eddie Ugbomah, Dr. Ola Balogun, Adeyemi Afoayan (aka Ade Love), Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala)... is not different, for in most cases they were never able to recoup what they spent in making their films from the box office. Many like Moses Olaiya, did not only go bankrupt, but also became debtors... (1995: 6).
The list of producers who failed to get returns on their investment is long and includes younger producers. Saddik Balewa who produced Kasarmu Ce (It is our Land) is an exception because the federal government headed by retired Gen. Ibrahim Babangida wrote off the expenditure on the film during its launch.
Recounting his experience, the late Adeyemi Afolayan (1995: 10) explained how he took a bank loan to finance his film Destiny. At that time, a dollar exchanged for N10. On the very day he got the loan, the dollar appreciated and exchanged for N19. He had to borrow further to repay the loan. His popularity in the theatre from where he switched to film also helped. From such goodwill he once got N200,000 the highest he ever got from any sponsor.
Afolabi Adesanya, a younger generation film maker is another example of a producer who was financed and paid back his loan. Vigilante - the debut of A-Productions of which he is a prime mover, was financed by H. K. Aderibigbe and R. N. Aggrey. Marketing was made possible with financing from KMG and Afribank (Nigeria). Ose Sango their second production was jointly financed by Wema Bank and Rims Merchant Bank to the tune of N815,000. Ose Sango was released in 1990 (Adesanya, 1995: 13). What helped both film makers was their understanding of the logic of popular culture and commercial appeal.
One implication of the financial failure of many other films, despite their popularity and general qualities, was close attention to economics rather than strict cultural considerations in subsequent productions. Another was that some producers, having to cope with the distress that the failure of such privately financed projects brought, opted out of an activity in which they had demonstrated so much potential.
The video revolution
For film producers in Nigeria, the shift to video resulted from a mixture of factors, significant among which is economics.
As a result of the local film industry's heavy dependence on external input, the cost of production of films on celluloid has been astronomical. Although the National Film Corporation (NFC) was subsequently able to establish a laboratory in Jos, that did not necessarily reduce its level of external dependence. This means that the cost advantage of producing and processing film locally, may, if at all, only have reduced marginally. Even then, the NFC only successfully produced its first feature film Kulba Na Barna in June 1993.
Since film production is an area which has witnessed a lot a private initiative, producers have tended to work alone. Sources of funds have taken similar directions. But as a result of the realities of a depressed economy and stringent lending conditions in financial institutions, financing such projects placed enormous burden on producers.
Where the product fails to meet the expectations of the audience, producers have to shoulder the burden of failure alone, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
This was the main impetus for the shift to video films. As Adeiza (1995: 6) noted, most film makers turned to video as a survival option. The prevalence of this trend even influenced the more successful film makers to join a growing bandwagon. Ladi Ladebo who produced two award-winning films is one of them. Eewo (Taboo) and Vendor, won laurels at the First National Film Festival in 1992.
But even before the economics of production and the need for good returns on investment influenced the shift, the country was already witnessing the import of foreign video films. Lack or ineffective control over the flow led to the indiscriminate import and marketing of these films. Some of them were aired by local television stations which used them either as alternatives to local programmes which generally cost more to produce or to attract an audience weaned on a diet of imported programmes.
As would be expected, these films portrayed values rooted in their countries of origin. They glamorised violence, promoted consumption and were based on pedestrian plots which hardly tasked the imagination. The films stereotypically portrayed white heroines and heroes while assigning inferior roles to blacks (Okoye, 1993: 69-71). Okoye cited the example of The Wild Geese where a few white men overcame the security of a black country before escaping with its most wanted man.
There was virtually nothing in these films promoting African culture or values. This prompted Okoye to state that:
It is almost certain that the video culture will create Nigerians who will completely repudiate their cultural heritage, thereby complicating further the problem of national development.
The boom in locally produced video films offers a basis for comparison. Records at the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) attest to such a boom. While the feature film Fincho, produced in 1958 by Sam Zebba is said to be the first notable film by a Nigerian (Mgbejume, 1989: 65), there was no consistency in the frequency and regularity of films by Nigerians. There were years between 1958 and 1977 when no Nigerian was credited with producing films for general consumption.
Although there were films which were amateurish in quality of production and casting, there were others which received international acclaim. Those in this latter group included Ola Balogunt's Muzik Man. Herbert Ogunde who moved from theatre to film in 1980 with Aiye (The World) and who thereafter produced Jaiyesinmi, (Let Life Be), Aropin N'tenia (To Doubt is Human) and Ayanmo (Destiny) demonstrated a clear commitment to quality in these productions.
Between August 1993 and April 1996, 276 video films were, according to available records, censored by the NFVCB then based in Lagos. At least 90% of them were Yoruba video films. There are Igbo video films and one in Hausa - Ramin Mugunta (Boomerang). The year 1995 saw the highest number (170) of video films produced.
Most of the producers are new names. While Jimoh Aliu who produced Etekete (Bad Plan) in 1994 is a popular theatre figure, Tunde Alabi Hundeyin of Dudu Productions who produced Iyawo Alhaji (Alhaji's Wife) also in 1994 is a known producer. Moses 0. Adejumo (Baba Sala) of Alawada Movies is an old figure in the film business who switched to video and produced Diamond in 1994, while Professor F.A. Peller made a name as a magician before he ventured into video films, producing Owo Idan (Magic Money) in 1993 and Idan Nlo (Continuous Magic), and Agbara (Power) in 1994.
Another theatre veteran - Oyin Adejobi, produced Orogun Adedigba (Adedigba's Marriage Rival) in 1995; Yemi Farounbi, a veteran broadcaster, produced Ebun Oluwa (God's Gift) in the same year. Lere Paimo, a popular theatre figure in the Western part of Nigeria made Ipade Ayo (Meeting of Joy). Sola Fosudo and Babajide Kosoko, both latter generation popular theatre figures, produced Oko Iyawo (The Husband) and Amina Eleha (Amina in Purdah) in 1995 and 1996 respectively.
Most other producers are relatively unknown, although their role as midwives of popular culture has raised their profile and public visibility. The mass media and posters are being used in the popularization of these films, their producers and actors. Star Films magazine was introduced onto the market in March 1996 and has as its slogan 'The What's and All on the Nigerian Film Industry'. Another magazine, Nigerian Videos, serves the same market. The magazines are almost exclusively devoted to video films, trying to keep pace with their rapid expansion, highlighting the appeal of particular films and expanding the number of stars and superstars in the process.
The preponderance of Yoruba language video films or those made by Yoruba producers could have developed out of a theatre tradition in Yorubaland which was characterised by the existence of many theatre groups. A number of these groups have gone into video film production. Some are actually adaptations of stage plays.
Another explanation can be found in early awareness on the part of new producers of the viability and profitability of the video film business. The success of early starters had a multiplier effect. This itself follows a tradition in which most of the key actors in the celluloid era were also of Yoruba extraction. It is natural that economic judgement in a depressed economy will favour any business in which early returns on investment are assured.
In the new drive to share in the cake, the quality of Yoruba video films appears to have suffered on a general level. The situation is such that low budget films are the order. The tendency is for producers to put together a cast of popular actors and advertise the credentials of the subsequent product on that basis.
Igbo or Igbo/English or English films tend to be high on budget, with an eye on both the local and foreign market. According to Adeiza (1995: 7), the financial success of video films from the Igbo-speaking part of the country is evident. Films like Living in Bondage, Glamour Girls and Betrayal were so successful that other producers have taken a cue and are introducing new products which explore various message and commercial strategies.
The result is films and an industry which in an attempt at commercial success, move further into a terrain whose rules and codes are fine-tuned by the West in general and North America in particular. The interesting thing is that the National Theatre, Lagos and other venues are regularly packed with people eager to savour the latest product.
The storylines of popular videos are indicators of a trend which affects films by Igbo and Yoruba producers alike, or use either language with or without English sub-titles. Popular themes which recur are sex, infidelity, fraud, violence, intrigue, conflict and other such subjects which are designed to entertain, excite, provide escapism and appeal to the emotions. The bottom line is commercial appeal and profit.
Apart from predictable plots, quite a number of them offer stereotypes which give a slanted view of Nigerian cultures. The hybridization of these cultures is reflected extensively in the use of language. In some Yoruba films, what goes for Yoruba language is actually adulterated. Although only one of the films analysed - The New Booty produced by Kaycee Ogunejiofor in 1995 - uses pidgin English, others feature characters which use pidgin English.
While it may be safe to classify video films produced by private producers for the mass market as commerce driven, the levels of experimentation with popular themes also vary. There are some which also try to promote values of a better society and responsible citizenship. Films by Mount Zion Faith Ministries led by Mike Bamiloye are, for instance, devoted to promoting the Gospel using common themes like the eternal battle between the forces of good and evil.
Evil is consistently portrayed as unprofitable and dangerous. The group has produced films like Agbara Nla (Ultimate Power), The Unprofitable Servant and The Great Mistake which are popular and have been screened on television.
Gelete: Irin Ajo Eda Laye which chronicles facets of a man's journey through life and was produced by a former television personality - Jaiye Ojo, is another. The film is a collage of the lives of different people from different backgrounds. It mirrors intrigues, desperation, greed, misfortune, betrayal, and leaves lessons which challenge the imagination of viewers. It portrays Yoruba culture in its richness, leaving out the kind of abusive and rotten language used in some other films ostensibly to raise their popular appeal.
However, producers are not about to champion the cause of cultural purity since the elements of local cultures are daily refined by influences which dictate the mainstreaming of values to fit global prescriptions. Popular culture projection appears to be a fixation for these producers who continue to be propelled by the profit motive. Packaging of films for export is also influencing the drive to satisfy criteria rooted in Western commercial standards in the scripting, characterisation and production of films.
Local cultures in their original form, therefore, become secondary considerations in film content. The middle ground between the commercial consideration which is primary and other secondary considerations, including culture, yield products which neither please local people nor are strong enough to break significant grounds with overseas audiences.
Local cultures are, of course, in transition all over the world. Globalisation is setting the pace in the interaction of cultures with the consequence that local cultures are overwhelmed. There is sufficient evidence, in accord with the comment of Fall (1995: 15) that 'dynamic cultures will overcome conservative cultures'. Attempts by Nigerian video films to mainstream along the lines of global commercial culture could explain their superficial commitment to culture. This itself brings into question the optimism of a former Secretary-General of the United Nations who, in reference to nationhood and cultural projection, stated (De Cuellar, 1995: 7):
Nationhood ... has led each people to challenge the frame of reference in which the West's system of values alone generated rules assumed to be universal and to demand the right to forge different versions of modernization.
A different view is the interpretation that 'forging different versions of modernization' means projecting a version of local culture which suits the demands of global popular culture.
The lasting contribution of video films to Nigerian society will depend on how the industry responds to the challenge to stay profitable without compromising the rich cultural heritage with which the country has for centuries been associated.
Adeiza, S. (1995) 'Genesis and Nemesis of Film Financing in Nigeria'. Film and Video, Vol. 3 No.1.
Adesanya, A. (1995) in 'Still on Film Financing' Film and Video, Vol.3 No.1
Adesanya, A. (1984) 'The Film Industry: Staring or Staring?' The Guardian, January 29.
Afolayan,A. (1995) in 'The Problems of Film Financing.' Film and Video.,Vol. 3 No.1
Arulogun,A. (1979) 'lThe Role of the Film in Cultural Identity' in A. Opubor and O.E. Nwuneli (eds) The Development and Growth of the Film Industrv in Nigeria. Lagos: National Council for Arts and Culture.
Fall, Y. (1995) 'In the Beginning was Culture' UNESCO Sources No. 74, November.
'Film Policy for Nigeria '(1993). Film and Video, Vol. 1 No.1. September.
Galadima, U.S.A. (1993) 'Making Movies - Nigerian Factor' Film and Video, Vol. 1 No. 1., September.
Lawrence, H. (1997). 'Protecting Young Minds in the Media Deluge'. The Guardian, March 8.
Mgbejume, O. (1989) Film in Nigeria. Nairobi: African Council on Communication Education.
National Film and Video Censors Board Enabling Law (1993). Lagos: NFVCB.
Okoye, 1 (1993) 'Video in the Lives of Nigerian Childran: Some Socio-Cultural Implications'. Africa Media Review, Vol. 7 No. 3.
Opubor A., O. E. Nwuneli and O. Oreh (1979) 'The Status, Role and Future of the Film Industry in Nigeria' in A. Opubor and O.E. Nwuneli (eds.) The Development and Growth of the Film Industry in Nigeria. Lagos: National Council for Arts and Culture.
Perez de Cuellar (1995). 'Culture and Development: The Winning Combination'. UNESCO Sources, No. 74, November.
Wagnleitner, R. (1994) 'American Cultural Diplomacy, The Cinema and the Cold War in Central Europe' in D. W. Wilwood and R. Kroes (eds.) Hollywood in Europe: Experiences of a Cultural Hegemony. Amsterdam: Vu University Press.
Nosa Owens-Ibie (PhD in Communication Arts) currently teaches mass communication at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He is a columnist for the Sunday Punch newspaper and has written extensively for print and electronic media in Nigeria. He has also published academic papers locally and internationally