Nigerians will determine our direction - New Censor Board Boss

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Before assuming office as the new Director General of the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board, NFVCB, Emeka Mbah had worked with Mu ltichioce, Nigeria. He also had a stint as a journalist with the New Nigerian newspaper. Recently, the Board organised an interactive session with stakeholders in the industry where suggestions were proffered on how to move the industry forward. Adia Ukoyen spoke to the new DG on his mission statement during his tenure.

In what state did you meet the Board on assumption of office?

It was in pretty good shape. The structure of the Board itself is sufficiently able, at this time, to carry out its objectives. One has to look at the future. I would like to bring in my experience, coming from the outside. The basic structure is there. They have set the basis from where I will take off. All I have to do now is add to what they have done.

What will be your driving force in achieving all your dreams and goals for the industry through the Board.

For the movie industry to be a successful business, there is the need to have credible information, reliable information about what the business is about, how the business functions and what are the end results of the business. One of the first things that I found on assuming office was the fact that a lot more needs to be done in terms of handling data. We are handling that as we speak. We have somebody mandated to look into this area and give me a feedback. We have plans of getting all the necessary information on-line. The issue of film titles can also be sorted out on-line because all the past works would be collated to know what titles are free. And these results will be received in a matter of seconds.

How qualified are the staff of the Board to classify and censor films?

Internally, we are looking towards building the capacity of people within the Board itself, to be able to understand movies and be able to take decisions with regards to how we are going to classify these movies or whether we should actually censor these movies and so on. We have within the Board, in the last two weeks, looked at our in-house capacity. In other words, what is our capacity to carry out these things that we are currently addressing. In a matter of months, there will be a proper 'sit-down' with the industry again to outline what are our policy objectives and if we have new guidelines, we would issue them out to the industry.

A stakeholder raised the issue of dual censorship, which is at the federal level
and in some states where monies are also collected, if not extorted. What is the stand of the law on this?

Our constitution says that the states have the right to set up their own censorship boards. It is there in the law. But at the same time, there is a federal law. So, if a producer wants to censor his movie in Lagos State, then it means that the movie will only be available for distribution and exhibition in Lagos State. But if he comes to the National board, then the movie can be distributed across the country. There may be exceptions to the rule and it will be so indicated in the censorship approval letter issued to the producer.

It is a general opinion that the Board should verify or classify films and not censor films. What is your position on this?

My understanding of the idea of verification is more of a quality control mechanism. It is used to ensure that the guidelines set are followed. I do agree with the concerns that the variance in classification is a problem. It may have been a function of capacity or a failure to understand or a lack of intellectual capacity in knowing how to classify movies from the zonal levels.

Last week, I was in Jos on a courtesy visit to the Nigerian Film Corporation. I spoke to the Managing Director about training our staff at the National Film Institute on a regular basis, to equip them with the knowledge of what the business is about. He agreed to give us a large discount at the training institute. As we go forward, you are not likely to hear of the problems again.

On the issue of classification or censorship, I have looked at other jurisdiction, even in other countries that have classification boards rather than censors board. Where you find the name otherwise, there is still an element of censorship and there is adherence to the law and to the socio-cultural values of that particular country. We still have to remember that we live in a country that is still forming, still growing and we have sentiments and people not understanding one another. It is crucial at some point, within government, to understand that we have to step in from time to time to moderate what I consider to be our creative juices, within the Board itself. My background is from the private sector, so I would want to lean on themes or expressions that tend to let people express themselves. But at the same time, we have to remember that we must be within the law. We are going to emphasize a lot more on consumer advice with regards to, if you choose, classification. We are going to lean more on providing consumers with choice. We are also going to emphasise our monitoring and our enforcement to ensure that if we classify this movie within a certain category, it is not available to people that it is not meant for.

But generally, we will work with the industry to agree once again on what we should look at that would form the guidelines for censorship or classification. It will be an on-going exercise. Societies change, peoples' perceptions change but we have to take into consideration certain national issues and themes as a country that need to be preserved in other to ensure that we do not lose our cultural policy. We can never be too liberal or too conservative. It will always be a subject for controversy and discussion.

Are the guidelines used to censor local films also applicable to foreign films?

There is no distinction. We use the same guidelines. But you find that there are differences obviously, with regards to how these movies are distributed, with regards to the format itself and the manner of presentation. We are looking forward to professionalism within and outside of the Board. It is something that I am committed to seeing. The idea is that you set within the law the area where we can play in and we leave the stakeholders to play within that area however they like, but if they step out of the boundary, then, they have issues with us. But in terms of always interfering, that is not in our line. The level of intervention will be minimal.

Should the Board be concerned with the technical side of movies?

I think it is a yes and no thing. Theoretically speaking, we have no business with the filmmaker when he is doing his work. But we understand that there are several gaps within the industry that we try to fill. We can fill them directly, that is why we have the NFC, which is why there is MOPPICON. We can work to set the standards because if there is more professionalism in the order value chain, our work will be easier. That is why in everything we are doing to move forward as a Board, we would be doing it closely with the NFC. You will be seeing a lot of Afolabi Adesanya (MD, NFC) and myself every step of the way, along with the Copyright Commission (NCC) and the Broadcast Commission (NBC).

Would you concede to the clamour for some form of nudity in films to drive home the message of the films?

There is good taste and there is bad taste, as professionals, the stakeholders should be able to tell the difference. I agree that adults have the right to see what they want to see, but then, there is something called the law. Everything has to be seen in the context of good taste. For me, we will look at it. In as much as we want to be free, we are still a very conservative society as well. The laws need to be looked at and applied as carefully as possible. We are not experts in what is good taste and bad taste but if we work together in working out the guidelines, then it would aid producers in producing their movies. That will also address the issue of sticking to the cultural policy of Nigeria rather than allowing ourselves to follow the examples of the US and countries in Europe. We are looking at doing a lot in providing consumer information. We are looking at having road shows, holding campaigns in schools and TV commercials for the Board so that people will understand what we are doing. The functions of the Board need to be known and understood. Its roles and limitations need to be appreciated. So the key word is cooperation, and instilling professionalism in whatever we are doing. As we speak, there is training going on for officers from grade level 6 upwards