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We want to strengthen the film industry by our actions — Emeka Mba

By Okoh Aihe
Director General of the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board, NFVCB, Mr. Emeka Mba
Director General of the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board, NFVCB, Mr. Emeka Mba

For the first time since becoming the Director General of the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board, NFVCB, Mr. Emeka Mba was able to visit us where he bared his mind on a number of issues in the industry to a team of Editors.

Here, Assistant Editor, Communications, Okoh Aihe captured his thoughts.

Essentially I am here to say thank you for all the support I have enjoyed since I became the Director General of the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board. I have enjoyed great support from all the stables, from the weekend to even Okoh's contributions. And I must say that myself and Okoh, we have never always agreed. I remember one particular day it was at the National Assembly, I think it was 2002 or 2003; we were almost at the verge of blows. But I think at the end of the day what we share is a common interest, the interest in the development of our industry, whether it is broadcasting or film industry or indeed, the entire media industry.

We share that with passion. Sometimes we may disagree but I believe that we disagree on principles.

Myself and my team, we are here to share our own thoughts, our beliefs and our programme, as to what we are doing in the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board, NFVCB, at least over the last three years of my stewardship at the head of the Board. I came to the Board about this time, July 2005, having worked with DSTV and on my own as a media consultant.

When I came to the Board we came to the realization that no one likes the idea of a censorship but if you look at the vision of the Board, we have consistently said that our plan is to create a better society with what we do, that we believe that people should be free to express themselves but we also believe in the principle of responsibility. I think that anyone who is a professional media practitioner, whether in the film industry, broadcast industry or even in the newspaper industry, there is always the principle of responsibility.

There are certain stories you want to tell and you think the method is going to create problems, you still tell the story but you do it in a way that might not inflame because you are guided by the principle of responsibility. It's not censorship really. I have always believed that coming from a deeply private sector background, in fact, the fight that I have had with Okoh, is that I believe in the ability of people to really express themselves.

So, it's quite ironic now that he said to me when I took over the leadership of Board that here you are now DG, aren't you going to moderate what these people are doing? So one thing that I am stock with is empowerment and that responsibility.

How do you get people who suddenly have broken the barrier of film making, the way it was 20 or 30 years ago which requires you to invest a lot of money and go through a chain process, but thanks to technology, today these barriers are broken, we have an industry that we are truly proud of, how do you encourage them to do things differently?

It's possible for one to buy a video camera from a corner shop for less than N100, 000 and the fellow has become a movie maker.

This is something we hold dearly and I am very proud to say that this is something that all of us should encourage. But on the other hand, we are looking at the issue of responsibility and professionalism. Because these barriers have now been broken everyone easily becomes a film maker.

So the very traditions that we have abided by in those days that people have to go to film schools, all those things don't come to play any more. Yet the film industry is growing. Nigeria accounts for the third largest film industry in the world with revenue running in excess of $200m to $300m. These are figures put together by the former minister of Finance and the Finance Ministry about three or four years ago.

Perhaps the figures are more. It is a significant contribution to our economy, not just the economy alone but it is also a significant contribution to the perception of how we are and who we are as a people.

Our film industry has grown and has become this large industry that is beginning to affect all of us in so many ways. When you travel abroad you come across people who have never been to Nigeria and may never be, who have formed an opinion of our country because of their exposure to Nollywood products.

This is really the industry that we are dealing with. We at the board have come to the realization that to regulate the industry we need to push the concept of responsibility and we have been doing that until recently.

Over the last three years, we have asked ourselves a number of questions. How do we then ensure that in this new world of digital democracy where everybody is becoming a player that people exercise some responsibility?

Because the reality is that even when we classify a film and give approval, the reality of the situation is that most of the practitioners push their own versions into the market. A lot of people have always asked us, how do you approve part 1, part 2 and part 3 of film, after about 22minutes the film dies and another one is coming up.

That is not the way it works; the industry is both celebrated and is also repudiated. But for us at the Board one of the things we have set out to do is look at the way we can help to structure the industry. People say we have this industry and government is not supporting it, banks are not supporting it, investors don't want to put money.

The key issue here is the return path. The banks will always say we can't give you this money because we don't know how it is going to come back. Where is the return path? These questions keep coming back to us. We look it and ask how can we achieve two things in our own way? We can achieve confidence in our classification and at the same time we can contribute to the erecting or creation of a structure in the industry.

We set out over the last two years to look around and see how we can achieve these two objectives. One decision we took is to license all the distributors and marketers in the industry. People have often asked me, which is the best selling video in Nigeria and who sold it? I have never been able to provide an answer to that and no one has the answers.

Unfortunately the law falls on our table to provide that information. But we cannot do that. We cannot do that because of the nature of the industry. So, it is our expectation that from this we can actually work with the industry to create a path of engagement and structure that all of us will be proud of.

We are on the road to doing this. We have been criticized and harassed. Some of it is because of ignorance.

The people don't understand it. In all fairness, some people do not understand how it works at all. For us visiting Vanguard today, it is an opportunity to put our story on the table, exchange ideas and learn from each other. Because at the end of the day we are doing this, we believe, for the benefit of all us.

I keep telling people that one of the best ways of a regulator to perform his functions is work from the principle of self interest. That you are interested in the very thing you are working on, not self interest in the negative way, but an interest in the positive sense of it.

That is the interest that we have. We have an interest to see our industry and indeed our country grow. We have an interest to see our film industry, become an immeasurable contributor not only to our economy but also in terms of social and cultural well-being.

You don't have the figures, why? Is it because you are afraid to confront the marketers or those who profit from their works?

Not that we have been afraid to confront the film makers. The truth for us is that we didn't have the capacity in-house to even contemplate the enormity of the task ahead. This is a huge informal industry, hugely informal and we believe that the capacity that investigation itself needed to have is crucial otherwise you are making a half measure that is not going to yield any result.

So, it's only within the last two years that we have had to prepare the ground for it, and that is what we have done with The Distribution and Marketing Framework that we have put in place, to prepare ourselves internally and to prepare the industry.

A lot of people say we do 20, 30 movies but they don't even understand the powers of the movies they are doing.

So many movie makers see it from the alter of profit, which is good because money is important; if there is no money in any industry you cannot sustain it. But I think that there is the need to understand the power and the consequence of what they are doing.

We needed time to explain all that. We have done that. And in terms of our ability to move forward, whether we are afraid, I can tell you we are moving forward, we are determined to take the necessary actions that will help us to yield the figures, because it is important really for us to know what the film industry is contributing.

Not only the film industry but for all of us in the industry to know what we are contributing, so that if somebody wants to invest, the figures can easily come out to guide him. Some of us in the entertainment industry can tell you that Batman just made $400m, the third largest grossing movie in history.

That may not be the absolute truth but at least the figures are there. It helps to build confidence in the industry. Now as an investor, one can say if I get the director who did that kind of movie perhaps I can make some money if I invest wisely. In our own industry some people will say the banks are not giving money, it will be difficult.

It will be difficult for the banks to give money if there is no return path. I think that is the challenge. Someone was asking me this morning, is it your responsibility to create structures for the industry?

And I said, it may not be my responsibility but it is in the interest of the Board to create the structure because the presence of structure makes for more quality products and makes our own job easier. We have come thus far but without structures, without the fundamentals.

I fear that it may be difficult for us to sustain. As Nigerians we have to know how smart we are, you can copy the video technology but I don't think you can copy the way we do things.

It's only Nigerians that have that flare to create a movie industry the way we have done. I really think that is the one element we have but obviously we need to have structures.

Longer term sustained growth that can yield benefits to the larger segment of the society and economy can only be based on figures, on structures; we should not be afraid of that. We are not afraid at the board to create this structure but we just needed time to prepare ourselves.

What do you mean by capacity? You talked of regulatory framework, what enforcement are you thinking about, and how do you monitor compliance by the marketers? You also talked of capacity building, so what kind of training have you given your law enforcers to make sure they understand what you are talking about?

Thank you very much. When I mentioned capacity, capacity is not only in terms of finance or other material things, but critically in terms of personnel. You know most government agencies suffered for a long time under the military.

The right people were not in the right places. We needed to get in some people and do some serious training. Enough training to bring us to the realization of how important the job we are doing is to the country.

These things take a long time. We have done a lot within the industry, training and workshops, as if we had almost forgotten that our work is not only for the industry but also for the larger society; these are the people who consume the films, so they also need some kind of training.

But in terms of working with our industry we have spent a lot of time, energy and resources doing that. Since the industry has been amorphous in a way, and people are used to doing things without being called to order, they say the Act does not cover what we are doing.

That is the major resistance we have, all stemming from ignorance. Most of them have not really read our Act.

There is a culture of ignorance which is very permissive in the industry, which is even supposed to be one of the most intellectual industries, as film making all over the world is very intellectual. Unfortunately for us, we are not at that level yet. So, we are spending a lot of time doing that. Capacity was an issue but it's no longer an issue to us at the Board.

We are very fortunate that in the last one or two years, we have received a lot of funding from the government than we used to get. We had a lot of challenges in terms of finance, even just to get people moving.

We are very grateful to the National Assembly, the Chairpersons on the Senate Committee on Information and Communications and the counterpart in the House have done a lot to ensure more money is appropriated to us to enable us perform our responsibilities.

You need money to move around. Our territory is the entire country but we didn't have the funds to do so in the past.

But it is not so any more. On the issue of enforcement, let me say we are working with the Copyright Commission and with the assistance of the Inspector General of Police; we have set up a joint task force, JTF, across the country.

Apart from getting properly mobilised we have to ensure a proper training for the law enforcers to know that certain actions in the creative industry could lead those who genuinely want to work into crime.

If the monies that should get to owners of work is consistently stolen, they get into crime and that is bad for the society. I think that sometimes, things change. We have a much more understanding Minister and an understanding National Assembly.

I think there is a constellation of forces enabling us to mount the right kind of campaign that we are doing. Now in terms of the film marketers being registered, well what I want to say is that even though that has been a part of our function since 1993 when the Board was set up, nobody was doing anything.

We ourselves did not take it as part of our function. We thought that once we censor a movie, it is okay. So the person who distributes the movie will ensure that the Classification stays. But that did not always happen.

So the major problem we have had is from some marketers who say, we don't want to be part of this with the excuse that the Board is asking for huge sums of money. Just for the records the only thing we have asked the marketers to pay as far as money is concerned is: the form is available for N2, 500, and the marketer pays N40, 000 a year licensing fee, that is all.

That is the only money that comes to the Board, there are no other charges. We currently have about 20, 000 people who are registered.

If we were collecting N10m or N15m, that would be a lot of money by any standard from these registered ones. We are aware that we are working within a certain context. Although we say that Nollywood is generating this amount of money, on a day to day basis, I am not aware of the capacity of anyone of them to bring that amount of money.

The idea of licensing is not to generate money as far as the Board is concerned. It wasn't to generate money.

It was specifically to generate data, to know who is doing what, to be able to generate information not only to other government agencies but to the industry itself.

If you ask today how many video shops are operating in a particular area it is possible for you to go to our website and get that information. It will now be possible to know the worth of the industry or how many films are being sold weekly.

That is the basis of the licensing that we are embarking upon not necessarily to raise money. In terms of enforcement, I think it is the same thing.

Financial capacity was an issue but I think we have gotten to a point where we have a joint task force in place; we are able to raise teams, and we are able to take the necessary action. Let me state again that we are not lacking in courage to execute our mandate.