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The Untold Truth about Nollywood: Separating the fact from the fiction

By Michael Chima Ekenyerengozi
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Presently the Nigerian movie industry popularly known as Nollywood is no longer the second largest movie industry in the world as reported by UNESCO in 2009. The UNESCO report was based on statistics of the quantity of home videos produced in Nigeria when Nollywood was at its peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s before rampant piracy and the economic downturn changed the fortunes of Nollywood and left most of the stakeholders in dire straits.

In fact, we can now count the movies produced in 2010 on our fingertips, because things have fallen apart and people are no longer at ease in Nollywood.

The worst hit have been the English speaking practitioners dominated by Igbos, but the more down-to-earth and better organized Yoruba practitioners have managed to weather the storm, while the other producers of videos in Edo, Hausa, Efik and Ibibio have been doing their best in spite of their own professional inadequacies.

There are those who are the Real McCoy of the Nigerian film industry like the foremost Nigerian filmmaker Dr. Ola Balogun, Tunde Kelani, Femi Lasode, the Adesanya brothers, Mahmood Ali-Balogun, Mildred Owoh,Tade Ogidan, Francis Onwuchie, The Amatas. Femi Odugbemi, Kunle Afolayan who is bearing the mantle of the legacy of his father Adeyemi Afolayan, aka “Ade Love”, Joe Brown, Didi Chika, Joe Brown, Lucky Onyekachi Ejim, Gugu Michaels, Faruk Lasaki, Chike Ibekwe, Mark Kusare, Kenneth Gyang and the new kids on the block Niyi Akinmolayan and Chineze Anyaene whose first features Kajola and Ijé The Journey who are outstanding indicators of the future of the Nigerian film industry. They often prefer to disassociate themselves from the popular videographers of Nollywood. The other Real McCoy can be found in the heart and soul of Nollywood, such as the accomplished Lancelot Imasuen, Teco Benson, the ambitious team of Emem Isong and Desmond Elliot and those in the same league with them who have been producing good movies in videos.

The troubles in Nollywood
“Nollywood habours lots of greedy producers.”
~ Kate Henshaw-Nuttal, Sunday Punch, August 1, 2010.

Notable pioneers of Nollywood such as Ejike Asiegbu, Madu Chikwendu, Paul, Justus Esiri, Olu Jacobs, Prince Jide Kosoko, Pete Edochie, Glory Young, Ngozi Ezeonu, Joke Silva-Jacobs, Rachel Oniga, Kate Henshaw-Nuttal, Zeb Ejiro, Chico Ejiro, Kingsley Ogoro, Lancelot Imasuen, Teco Benson, Emem Isong, Shan George, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Jim Iyke, Ramsey Noah, Riita Dominic and other members in the same League have been busy trying their best to rejuvenate the ingenuity of the heyday of Nollywood. But there are those who have resorted to dirty partisan politics contrary to professional ethics.

Yes, desperate times call for desperate measures, but going bonkers will only worsen the situation. Frustration often pushes people to acts of desperation in the struggle for survival or trying to catch up with the Joneses. The critical state of Nollywood is also bringing out the best and the worst characters of the principal practitioners and other stakeholders as shown by the petty squabbles in the guilds. The squabbles of the opposing camps and factions of those at loggerheads have left the troubled guilds in disarray and opportunists are fishing in the troubled waters.

One of them is fond of contesting for the bragging rights over celluloid filmmakers in Nigeria. He boasts that he has shot 18 celluloid films. But not a single one has ever qualified for screening at the Cannes Film Festival where other African filmmakers have proved their mettle competing and winning highly coveted laurels among the best in the world. Making dozens of substandard movies that are the best examples in mediocrity is nothing to brag about and talking bollocks from Lagos to Abuja. How many of the films have made the list of the best films by Africans? How many of them have won awards at major film festivals in the world? And now he is the chairman of an international film festival? I wonder why Nigerians like celebrating mediocrity. What a comedy of errors.

Many of them were taking sides in partisan politics as they supported the gubernatorial quest of Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, the former governor of the apex bank and were disgraced when he lost. And now they have rushed to endorse President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to contest in the presidential election in 2011. Then he has promised to give $200 million to the entertainment industry after listening to the pleas of Mr. Ben Murray-Bruce at the 30th Anniversary of Silverbird Group on November 6, 2010. But a promise remains a promise until fulfilled.

What matters most is providing a proper infrastructure for the film industry, because presently there is none. We don't even know if the practitioners pay taxes.

Azuh Amatus of the Daily Sun said there is no longer sanity in Nollywood, because all that has been bastardized.

Amatus is right, because the various guilds have no administrative polices comparable to best practices in more organized film industries like in South Africa and Egypt. The Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) simply collects a membership fee from anyone who claims to be an actor even if the person has never acted in any movie. Presently, the AGN is in disarray as two actors are fighting over the titular leadership of the guild. One of them who has a degree in engineering said he is more qualified than the rival who has only a diploma in theatre arts. The AGN is dominated and manipulated by the English speaking actors who are mostly from the Igbo tribe while the non-English speaking actors belong to another professional body. Membership of the professional body of the Yoruba actors is by apprenticeship. An apprentice pays more than N2, 000 (two thousand naira) for registration, but in most cases, the apprentices don't get paid until after three years. There is no insurance or any gratuity. And they do not pay taxes on their various artistes fees from acting in the numerous movies churned out regularly.

There is nothing like an insurance policy in Nollywood. The practitioners and production companies are not insured. No insurance in case a studio is razed or an actor has an accident.

The Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) and the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) are functioning, but is it not troubling that a billion naira industry has no insurance and does not pay tax?

~ By Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima,
Tuesday, August 10, 2010.