By NBF News
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ALTHOUGH Africa's foremost movie industry has its peculiar problems, practitioners are unanimous in their opinion that the immediate past Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, under whose ministry the movie industry operates, failed woefully in helping it to stand on its feet in spite of promises to that effect. They argued that the hope she gave at the interactive session Akunyili had with the industry players at Lagos Sheraton Hotel shortly after her appointment in 2009 eventually amounted to nothing. They expressed surprise as the former minister took every turn, later in the year, to batter the industry. Mr. Fidelis Duker would rather not want to be drawn into assessing Akunyili's tenure as minister. He however declared that 'her tenure was an abysmal and monumental failure in all areas. I was not moved by the media successes she recorded at NAFDAC. For me, most of the things we heard were the creation of the Nigerian media.

'Now to Nollywood: at the Sheraton parley last year, I saw she was not ready to face the challenges and myriads of problems facing the industry rather she was more concerned with the divide and rule approach and a condemnation of the sector at every fora she later attended. She forgot that the generality of Nigerians and non-Nigerians recognize the impact of Nollywood in laundering Nigeria's battered image worldwide. Even though we know the quality of films might not be the best but the message has been the motivating factor in these films.'

Aluko concurred with her colleague about Akunyili's scorecard with respect to Nollywood, especially how she became relentless in castigating it at every turn. She says, 'I agree with him totally on that score. All Nollywood got from her tenure was castigation. Nollywood became the minister's whipping boy', arguing further that she felt happy when she resigned, 'I don't know about Nollywood but I personally am happy she resigned. The Ministry of Information and Communications is a very sensitive one and must be manned by someone who has in-depth understanding of the issues at stake and is willing to do something to tackle them. A lot of rhetorics and no action became the lot of Nigerian filmmakers under Akunyili'.

For Aluko also, her successor, Mr. Labaran Maku would need to work extra hard to erase the bad memory she left in the minds of the nation's movie industry if he is to make any appreciable impact. 'I am sure her successor will have ideas of how he wants to go about his task so I will not preempt him. Suffice it to say that a lot of work needs to be done.'

Duker would not forget in a hurry, Nollywood's encounter with Akunyili at Sheraton Hotel, Lagos last year when she promised so much and ended up doing so little. He recalls, 'At Sheraton, she promised to get the Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPPICON) bill to the National Assembly and have it passed into law. She also promised to support the fight against piracy as she would organize a meeting with the Minister of Justice and the industry to fight piracy menace in Alaba Market and several other assurances she gave but none was fulfilled. But rather, it was a daily condemnation of Nollywood. Interestingly, at every fora where she condemned the industry, she always goofed as people could decipher that her condemnation was not genuine. But we thank God she has left for good and we hope we have a minister who has our interest at heart'.

Duker also believes Akunyili's Rebranding Nigeria effort was a sham as Nollywood has done more to rebrand the country than her cosmetic approach could ever do in half a century. He says, 'There is no comparison of the two. It is an insult to compare Nollywood and the rebranding joke Akunyili perpetrated. Nollywood is a global brand. Who knows Rebranding Nigeria? It is only Akunyili and her consultants that know about it. Even staff of the ministry did not believe in it. The rebranding initiative failed at inception. What is rebranding Nigeria? Check the meaning of branding. How can you rebrand Nigeria? I am a trained public relations practitioner. I say the Rebranding Nigeria concept was and still remains a misconception and that is why it failed.

'Even the 'Heart of Africa' project, with its flaws, was a success compared to Akunyili's. So, to compare Nollywood, which is a global brand with an initiative that never was, is an unfair comparison. The only other brand compared to Nollywood that can be exported is football, which has witnessed a decline. But even with the slow pace of activity in Nollywood today, the brand is still well admired internationally'.

Aluko corroborates Duker's view on rebranding project, when she states, 'I believe Nollywood has rebranded Nigeria more than Akunyili's programme ever did'.

Duker however believes all hope is not lost. But unlike most of his colleagues, he does not believe government can do much for the industry. He does not support wholesale government intervention but only a level-playing field just like other sectors for it to thrive. He argues, 'I have never been an advocate for government to do the right thing or fund the industry. The industry is private sector-driven anywhere in the world and can not thrive with undue government intervention. Therefore, I will only advocate for government to create the enabling environment for the industry to grow.'

Aluko also canvasses a government that has capacity to tackle problems confronting Nigerians generally. By so doing, she hopes also that issues in Nollywood would be resolved. 'When the right government gets into place, every area of our lives will be touched positively. So yes, the right government will do the right thing by Nollywood', she argues.

To Duker, the director of Eldorado soap opera on most TV stations, Nollywood fared below expectation during the outgoing year as only a few significant movies were made. 'Even President Goodluck Jonathan's $200 million largesse to the entertainment industry, according to him, did nothing to lift the industry beyond its low ebb during the year.'

Duker, like other stakeholders, argues that practitioners must step up their game and make better movies within the framework of needed structures like cinemas, good distribution network and a sound commitment from moviemakers to overhaul the industry. Charlatans, Duker also submits, are a bane to the image of the industry and that unless they are shown the way out, Nollywood might continue to reel in under-performance as the activities of these gate-crashers have impacted negatively on the industry till date.

He states, 'In my view, the industry was in its lowest ebb this year. We could, as an industry, have done better but unfortunately, the global economic realities affected us. Apart from a few films that made the cinema like Figurine and Ije and, of course, the annual events like Abuja International Film Festival (AIFF), Africa Movie Academy Award (AMAA) and the others, Nollywood as an industry was comatose. Then of course the 200 million dollar promise by Mr. President; otherwise, nothing significant happened, to my knowledge.

'However, there is hope for a turn-around, and I use the word turn around with every sense of responsibility, because I see the hope in the emergence of better films and the establishment of more screening or viewing centres and this is an important element for the bouncing back of Nollywood. With more cinemas and guaranteed distribution platforms, I see hope for the industry when quality films are made and we are beginning to see some filmmakers going back to the drawing board.'

Aluko is of the same view, too, when she states, 'I have said it severally that professionalism must become the norm rather than the exception. Also the downturn is not peculiar to the industry as the economic meltdown is global and has affected all industries. However, the guilds must be empowered to monitor and control the industry with the aid of enabling laws entrenched in the system. The MOPPICON bill must be looked into and passed into law. Finally, practitioners must continually seek to improve their art by constant training both formally and informally'.

For things to get better however, Duker marshals certain recommendations. He says 'We must as practitioners in the industry up the scale of our trade. The quality of production of movies must improve and we must imbibe global best practice as Nollywood is not in isolation of the global film arena. Charlatans and gate- crashers should be shown the way out as there must be basic entry standards in the industry. The government agencies must be responsive to their roles and stop playing lip service to the yearning of an industry that needs help. The federal government should also realize that Nollywood employs over 300,000 people and could employ more if properly harnessed and seen as a major contributor to the Nigerian economy'.

To really show how unfriendly the movie business environment has turned in the last few years, Duker attests to his inability to have made a movie in the last three years just like most of his other colleagues. He also opines that the few movies made have yet to break even. But all that, he says, will soon change as the industry looks set to bounce back. 'Yes, I made my last film in 2007 titled Senseless and I have not found the business environment of film convenient. You must realize that film is not only about the show but we must consider the business, as any investment in film must be recovered. Even with the so-called successes recorded by films like Figurine and Ije at the cinemas, I can comfortably say they are yet to recover their investment because when you look at the figures being bandied by the filmmakers as cost of production and what the cinema houses and media are declaring and for any thorough bred professional, you must look at this index before you go and invest in a new film.

Similarly, business wasn't good for Aluko in the out-going year as the only movie she made, Jungle Ride, in August 2010 wasn't a financial success. She says, 'The movie was in the cinemas for two weeks in Lagos and six weeks in Abuja before I stopped it. Financially, it was not rewarding at all. The days of cinema are finally here.

'However, we need a lot of cinemas, especially the cottage cinemas so even the not too wealthy can enjoy the relaxing benefit of a day out at the cinema. We must have more cinema chains. Monopoly is never good for business'.