"I GET DEATH THREATS ON THE PHONE"----EMEKA MBA
He enjoys the dual role as the classifier and regulator of motion picture products in Nigeria. But the Director General of the National Film and Video Censors Board of Nigeria, Mr. Emeka Mba, is having to rethink his personal safety.
In the last few weeks, he has received several death threats that have jolted him into the reality of the cut-throat business that sometimes characterises production and distribution of video-films in Nigeria.
“I get death threats on the phone these days. It is sad and frightening that people will call me in the middle of the night asking me if I wanted to make my wife a widow and my children orphans,” Mba said.
Although he did not directly link the death threats to his recent reforms, but it sure looks similar to the case of the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Control, Dr. Dora Akunyili, who nearly got assassinated for wielding the big stick on fake drugs. Mba's landmark distribution framework through which he hopes to regulate the distribution of video-films along territorial areas in the country has generated huge controversy since the beginning of the year.
The traditional marketers of video-films, who have often been accused of perpetrating the proliferation of low quality films, have risen against Mba's framework, claiming it would favour multinational investors against local marketers who had invested heavily in the industry.
For the first time, warring factions among the marketers – in both the English-Igbo and the Yoruba sub-sectors - have come together to rise against a perceived common enemy in the Censors Board's film distribution framework.
However, Mba said he suspected nobody other than “those who do not want to be transparent.” According to him, he only expected that introducing reforms into the video-film industry might raise a few dusts, such as people criticising or writing us about it. “But I never expected that it would be this tough. I never imagined that my well-being, my life would be threatened because of our plan to make the film industry better.”
He insisted that the people behind the death threats might be those in the industry whose source of wealth is suspect - those who might be using the proceeds from the industry “for money laundering.”
Mba said he had reported the threats to the Inspector General of Police through his supervising minister. He added that the development had made him to rethink his safety by being careful of where he visits and who to associate with in the industry. “I have become sensible about my security,” he stated.
And like Akunyili, Mba might still have a useful lead for the police in their investigation. He told our correspondent that though most of the threats were relayed in English, however, he got the impression that the callers, through their accent, were from the South-East part of the country.
“They say I am playing the Yoruba agenda. By that I think they meant my consultant (on the distribution framework) is Yoruba.”
However, Mba said the accusation showed the deep knowledge gap within the industry. The proposal for the framework, he explained, was first submitted to the Nigerian Film Corporation by its author, Mr. Yinka Ogundaisi, who had the original idea of having films and videos distributed along territorial and geographical lines, for easy networking and accountability.
Mba said, “But the NFC realised the proposal would work better if implemented by us as the regulators of the distribution aspect of films and video in Nigeria. So NFC's Managing Director, Mr. Afolabi Adesanya, called to inform me. I looked at the proposal and realised that was what the industry needed; had a meeting with Ogundaisi, and here we are.”
The video-film sector has had its fair share of controversy and turbulence in Nigeria's creative industry. In 2001 when Mba's predecessor, Mrs. Roseline Odey, assumed office, she courted controversy right from the beginning after proclaiming that the industry was in a “state of anarchy.” For four years, she engaged in a perpetual battle with producers who made x-rated films, and those who allegedly re-injected censored scenes into films that had already been classified. She also had a running battle with certain producers that she accused of obtaining phony classification certificates; with producers' association who spoke against her when she hosted an awards ceremony that did not fall within the purview of her office; as well as critics who challenged her judgement on film censorship.
But Mba, 39, who came from a media and broadcast background, has had a relatively peaceful reign as the classifier-regulator until the distribution framework was launched. He said he was often asked if he had interest in his wish to reform the industry, and he had often responded with a resounding 'yes.'
“I say to them I have an interest to have the industry developed. I have an enlightened self-interest the same way Dora (Akunyili) does for NAFDAC and Bambo (Adewopo, Director General, Nigerian Copyright Commission) does for NCC.
“In the process of change, there will always be people who will lose out, while some will gain. But we are unwavering in our determination to lift this industry to the rightful place it belongs,” the DG said.