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Controversy: NFCVB verses Nollywood: Who wins the battle?

By BENJAMIN NJOKU

AS the lingering face-off between the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) and the Registered Trustees of Film and Video Producers and Marketers Association of Nigeria deepens, following the resolve of the former to ignore the grievances expressed by the latter over the enforcement of the controversial distribution framework, keen watchers of the unfolding crisis are apprehensive of what becomes of the end of this “symbolic clash of interest” which is bound to translate to two conditions; either to spell doom or, to chart a new direction for the film industry in Nigeria.
While those who are opposed to the introduction of the controversial distribution channel are of the view that the policy does not hold any promise for the industry, arguing that its implementation is only based on personal interest of one man to enrich himself, many others who have aptly bought into the idea see the new policy, not only as a welcome development in the industry, but more importantly, as an effort to restore confidence and faith in the already flourishing film industry.

As a regulatory body, the National Film and Video Censors Board recently rolled out a new distribution framework, where each movie maker or marketer is allegedly required to provide the huge sum of N30 million as bond and N500,000, as pre-condition to obtain licence to operate as a film and video distributor.

Following this development, the movie makers and marketers under the umbrella of Registered Trustees of Film and Video Producers and Marketers Association has gone to court to challenge the decision of the board to execute the new policy as against their opposition to its implementation, claiming, however, that their members were not properly consulted before a decision was reached by the board to enforce the controversial policy on them.

Sunday Arts gathered that part of the grievances expressed by the movie makers and marketers is not just because of the fact that the board deemed it fit to formulate a new policy that would help to inspire growth in the industry, but rather, because of the way and manner in which the board is said to be going about the enforcement of the controversial framework idea.

Among other grievances expressed by the marketers are the resolve of the board to impose an unrealistic N500,000 bond as a new condition for the granting of licence to operate as a film and video distributor, the registration of video clubs operators as distributors, and the frequent arrest and detention of their members whom they said the board accused of piracy. Meanwhile, some of the marketers, who spoke to Sunday Arts, in respect of the controversy last week in Surulere area of Lagos, vented their anger on what they described as the “uncompromising position of the board to sideline the major stakeholders in the industry and their failure to see reasons with the marketers who feel dissatisfied with the stipulated conditions.

According to them, rather than dialogue with the marketers to find ways of reaching a compromise, the board has been going about arresting and detaining some of their members, in the name of ridding the society of the menace of piracy. However, reacting to this accusation, when contacted on telephone, the Director-General of NFVCB, Mr Emeka Mba, dismissed the claims of the marketers, saying that the movie marketers are trying to find excuse to avoid the enforcement of the law on them.

He denied the fact that the board did not at any time impose any N30 million bond, and N500,000 as registration fee. He said: "At no point did we ask them to pay such amount of money. It is not true. The licence fee is N40,000 as against the N500,000 as claimed by the marketers.”

He further explained that, “the bond is not a strict thing. It is in the interest of the industry. We cannot have a film industry, which is considered as the largest in Africa, where there is no structure in place, no insurance bond and all that. We asked the marketers that, if they cannot raise the required insurance bond, they should try and bring a letter of undertaking. But until now, they have not taken any step to meet with the stipulated condition.

Mba also revealed that a nationwide task force was recently set up to ensure compliance, adding that it will not compromise on its enforcement position. He therefore advised film makers and marketers to embrace the policy and fall in with the philosophy of the framework as it's geared towards making the industry sustainable.

Mr. Emeka Mba, NFVCB boss speaks:We asked them to have an insurance. Other people who have met with the condition as stipulated by law have been licensed. The licence fee is N40,000 as against the N500,000 claimed by the marketers. This is beyond tribal sentiment. The marketers are trying to find excuse to avoid the enforcement of the law on them. Other stakeholders from Edo State, northern part of the country, and the western region have met with the conditions.

It is to the best interest of the industry. We cannot have a film industry where there is no structure in place, no insurance bond. We have asked the marketers that, if they cannot raise the insurance bond, they should try and bring a letter of undertaking to us. But up till now, no steps have been taken by them to meet with the conditions. Those who cannot meet with the condition have no need to remain in the business.

Marketers speak!

Evangelist Innocent Peace: Director, Rhema Productions: I think, the major problem is that somebody just woke up and felt that the movie industry in Nigeria has come of age, and therefore decided to find an avenue to enrich himself. Instead of finding ways of developing the industry to a sustainable level, he wants to see what he can grab from the industry, while he lasts in office. That's what is causing the problem. One man's greed. And this man surrounds himself with people considered to be the enemies of the movie industry in Nigeria. People who have not been active in the industry for a very long time.

NFVCB cannot start a new distribution framework and decide to sideline over 95 per cent of the pillars of the industry. Before Mr. Mba came on board, his predecessors tried as much as possible to protect the interest of the copyright owners. But when he assumed office, the first assignment he carried out was to register the Video Clubs, which rent out our movies without due permission and consent of the copyright owners.

This action, certainly destroyed the market for us in the industry. And, apart from this, having come up with the issue of Distribution Framework, where the marketers were asked to provide N30 million bonds, and N500,000,00 as pre-condition to obtain licence, the Board has registered Video Clubs as distributors. And several of the people published in the national dailies, which the Censors Board claimed to have granted licence are non- film producers and marketers. In fact, many of them are just video club owners.

So, how do you think that we can move forward in that kind of arrangement? Several attempts have been made by the movie marketers to reach a compromise with the management of the parastatal but to no avail. In fact, I want to use this medium to call on EFCC to investigate Mr. Mba, following what he has done with such money realised from the registration of over 200 video clubs, and about five thousand to ten thousand movies which he must have censored ever since he assumed office. Producers pay N40,000 per movie produced, whether part one or, part two as the case may be.

Eneoma Christian Chairman, Lagos State branch of Movie Marketers Association: There was a time we formed a coalition, which comprises some Yoruba film-makers, and also some concerned English version film producers and marketers. We were then at the verge of reconciling with the Censors Board; but the marketers later were not given any notice as regards the outcome of that reconciliation. As a result of that, we were not given any MOU to sign.

Otherwise, if the Censors Board had given us any MOU to sign, it would have been used as an evidence in court of law that, we were fully informed of the outcome of that reconciliation bid. Now, coming to the N30 million bonds that we were asked to provide, this is an industry that is being funded by independent businessmen. Tell us how anyone would wake up one morning and impose N30 million as bonds per marketer.

Having disagreed with the Board's directive, the D-G took it upon himself to enforce it on us. As I am talking to you now, the Board has refused to censor our films. And, I don't know why the Board should refuse to censor my films as a stakeholder and as an independent producer. Mr. Mba owes us some explanation.

Mr. Paul Okoli, PRO, National Association of Film Marketers, Lagos State branch: I don't believe in a framework that does not exist. For me, I don't think that the Distribution Framework of the Censors Board is viable. The Video Clubs that the Board has issued licences to operate are the people that pirate our films. Today, all our films are being pirated in neigbouring countries such as Congo, Togo, Ghana, Cotonou and other African countries. What the Censors Board should concern itself with presently, is to see how to tackle the menace of piracy, put more structures in place and erect a film village to facilitate our work and not to introduce an unfriendly policy.

Ace-actor, Emeka Ike: If I may ask the Director-General of the National Film and Video Censors Board, Mr. Emeka Mba; 'Why is he arresting the movie marketers, who are engaged in a legitimate business? By arresting them, is it the first thing the officials of NFVCB should have done? How can you be calling the copyright owner a pirate?

Is it because the man refused to register with the Censors Board, on the ground that he does not believe in the tenet of what the agency is offering to him to sign? I am sure that, the NFVCB director is working with some sycophants who have not done any movie in the last two years. He came up with a framework that is unacceptable to the movie makers. Tell me, where does Mr. Mba expect the movie makers to get N50 million bonds from, and N500,000 to obtain a licence to sell their products.

Is it not ridiculous for him to impose fifty million on each marketer as pre-condition for licence. Before now, I should have done more than fifteen movies, and earned close to N4 million as an actor. But I can't do anything now. Since Mr Mba assumed office as the D-G of NFVCB, things have not been the same again. He has introduced certain obnoxious laws that limit us to nothing.

While movies are not shot again, the NFVCB director has been going about arresting major movie makers in the country. As a matter of fact, the marketers represent more than 90 per cent of the producers of Nigerian movies. How then can anyone turn around to accuse them of pirating their own products? My agitation is that by the time NFVCB starts to arrest the major marketers, the parastatal would have succeeded in shutting down the movie industry in Nigeria.