Being DG Hasn't Change My Lifestyle Emeka Mba
For Emeka Mba the director general of the National Film and Videos Censors Board (NFVCB) the past four years have been full of challenges. He has seen both the good and bad sides of Nollywood being the head regulator of the Nigerian movie industry.
In this interview with Correspondent Kemi Yesufu he speaks on the many controversies surrounding the distribution framework introduced by the Board in 2007. Mba, who once worked with MultiChoice Nigeria, also spoke about recent comments in certain quarters on the perceived negative effects of Africa Magic on Nollywood. The debonair regulator equally opened up on working with a female minister, his style and why he wouldn't mind a second term in office.
Judging by your gentle mien and the tough terrain that is the Nigerian film industry, quite a number of people are surprised that you survived the last four years as head of the NFVCB. Did these people misjudge you?
I think it's both ways, in the sense that I have been lucky and yes, maybe some people think you have to be aggressive to head the Censors Board. I have been lucky in the sense that I served as the director general of the Board at what many believe is a pretty young age. Though if you consider the industry we are in it is a youthful industry most of the players in the industry I have come to know in my previous job, so it wasn't hard transiting to my present job. The film industry is dynamic and challenging if I may put it that way and it helps to have an open door policy. It helps when you listen to people and rub minds with them. It helps when you don't come into office with a preconceived agenda rather than sanitising the industry to see that it grows. If it shows that you are committed and passionate about the industry even when you have disagreement with certain people over issues or policy direction. I have been criticised and friends who used to reason with me are now opposing me. But I believe our disagreements have never been personal, it has always been about differing on the level of principles. So, I would say that I have been lucky because we have kept our arguments essentially on the job and not on a personal level. And I would give it all to God for the grace to manage people because you may have a degree in human resource management, but ultimately it is God who sees you through.
You just said you came into office without any preconceived agenda, but some people in the industry have accused you of executing a well marshalled plan to hand over Nollywood to MultiChoice via the Africa Magic channel. A few actors and producers have blamed the lull in the industry on you and the Africa Magic channel. What is your position on this matter?
I have heard of all of the accusations. But when you put it (accusations) to logic or you put it side by side with the policies of the Censors Board you will understand that they are not making sense. I don't work for Africa Magic; in any case these producers have been selling their films to Mnet before I became DG. The fact of the matter is that the producers sell their films as part of their commercial considerations. What some people do not understand is that we are not the regulators of the broadcast industry; that this is the duty of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). The deals that people enter with the broadcast stations are not our business; it is when a station broadcasts a film that has not been classified that we come in. More importantly, it is the choice of a producer to do or not do business with Africa Magic. I left Africa Magic (MultiChoice) not necessarily on a cheerful note, because I disagreed with some of their policies. At the point I left, I felt they had nothing more to offer me and I had nothing more to offer them. I was partly responsible for establishing Africa Magic, I take pride in that, but the criticism doesn't make sense.
So what is the way out for those complaining about the decreasing capacity of Nollywood to generate wealth for its practitioners?
I can tell you that even when you advise some producers not to sell their movies hurriedly to Africa Magic they wouldn't listen. I know how many times I have explained to some of them that Africa Magic cannot survive without them, so they need to hold to their films to negotiate a good deal. But they go ahead to do the opposite. I have always been of the view that the success of any film industry, not just Nollywood, depends on the structure you have on ground. It is not about how many films you release in a day but how you distribute those films and the money you make from the films. If the industry is not founded on a proper structure it will collapse. This is why I will keep on preaching that we get the distribution structure right, if not all the successes of our industry will end up being the reason for our failure. Anyone can be a filmmaker; anyone can distribute his films the way he likes. You have like 500,000 copies of different films but no one is selling really.
You must have come to the Censors Board with some aspirations. Would you say you have achieved the goals you set for yourself while coming into office?
I won't say that I have achieved everything I set out to do and that I can close my eyes and rest. But to a large extent we can count many successes so far. We have been able to elevate the film industry from what people used to look at it as some place where people make movies called Nollywood to a sector important not only to government but to the business people. People now realise that this is an industry that is of strategic importance to the country. The second thing is that the filmmakers, marketers, actors and others now realise how important the industry is to themselves and to all of us as a people. Now, the next level is how do we formalise the industry. How do we at the Censors Board give investors who walk into our office accurate answers to all of their questions? Internally, the staff of the Board no longer think or work like public servants. The level of professionalism within the Board is higher than before. One of the things I am immensely proud of is that the films submitted to us from 1994 when the Board was established till date have been digitally transferred into DVDs. Now researchers, investors, and Nollywood stakeholders themselves can in a short while log on to our website and see these films over four thousand of them. The rights of the film of course still belong to the producers but this registry we believe should be online and accessible to those who need it. By June Professor Dora Akunyili the honourable minister of information and communications will be commissioning our modern preview rooms equipped with 35mm projectors. We even have popcorn machines; it is like a mini Silverbird Cinema. We want our clients to come in and have their movies previewed in a conducive atmosphere. It really is a pity that we have not been able to move to our head office here in Abuja. But I will say that given the tight situation budget wise we have been able to live up to expectation and given the opportunity one would like to build on the gains of recent years.
Your getting a second term is probably the most talked about thing in the Nigerian film industry. What you have just said about if given the opportunity you will like to build on the recent achievements suggests that you are hoping for your tenure to be renewed
I would love to do some more work but it is not my decision to make. It is the decision of the President and the honourable minister of information and communications that counts. I think that they will make their determination based on the work I have done when the time comes. The minister obviously will review my work; she will ask questions and make her judgement. But do I feel I still have more to contribute to the board? Yes I think so. I won't say I am being immodest by saying this.
Are you anxious about what decision the President and your supervisory minister will take about your tenure?
This job has been a tremendous opportunity for me. I did not particularly set out to get this job four years ago. I was asked by the then Minister of Information, Chukwuemeka Chikelu, to come do this job. He interviewed me and felt that I could do the job and he gave me the opportunity. People have asked me just like you have if I am anxious and I will again say that it is the call of the honourable minister. Of course, it is my duty to impress it upon her that I still have the drive for this job, but I don't see myself going to a native doctor to divine for me if I would be retained in office. I won't go about lobbying people to make sure I stay in office. If I am asked to make a defence of what I have done, I would do so.
What is it like working with a female boss, a famous one at that?
There is no difference really working with a female minister; as a DG it is more of taking direction policy wise from the minister. You know in terms of policy the Censors Board already had its present set of policies before Professor Dora Akunyili came on board as minister. So, what we do is to go to her for direction. And I am particularly lucky because Professor Akunyili herself understands the job of regulator. It is a great thing to have the former DG of NAFDAC (National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control) because she comes with a better understanding than anyone who has been minister of information the duties of a regulating agency like ours. I must say she has been very encouraging and supportive. She is empathic about the attacks we get from some of the people in the industry. She understands what we go through having been in a tougher regulatory situation at NAFDAC.
Most successful women like Professor Akunyili are viewed as bossy but you are painting a different picture.
Professor Akunyili is not bossy. She is a brand on her own, a national icon so she has no reason to be bossy. If someone were to say that she is bossy I would say that the opposite is the case. She understands what it takes be a regulator, on our own we at the Censors Board are swimming in the current she is generating. We hope that we also attain the level of success she had at NAFDAC.
Earlier on you talked about falling out with some of your friends in the industry over policy. Is this about the objection of certain big names in Nollywood to a higher number of distributors contrary to previous agreement to licence a few mega distributors?
I guess a lot of people when they see me speak they hear only what they want to. Remember when we launched the distribution framework in 2007 we never set out to lock out anybody from the industry. What we said was that we have put up guidelines and policies that anyone who wants to be a player in industry must adhere to. Obviously, these policies are targeted at formalising the movie industry and not to suffocate the smaller companies. I read the interviews one of the people we licensed gave to a number of newspapers saying that the Censors Board licensing smaller companies wasn't part of his agreement with us. I daresay that we do not have such an agreement with anyone. The Board does not operate like the NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation), which gives out allocations for mega filling stations. If you go back to the document for the distribution framework, it is stated clearly that any company that meets the guidelines for distribution will be given a licence. The NFVCB act does not give me or anybody the power to license mega distributors. The law states clearly that we can license national, regional, state and local government-based distributors. If you look at the law again it states how much a new or an old distributor pays as licence fees at the topmost level, which is N500,000 and N200,000. In the case of existing marketers the N200,000 is for two years. But the same people were the ones who went around saying that we asked them to pay N50 million as licence even when they knew that it was untrue and that the guidelines for the distribution framework is a public document, which anyone can access and go through. All those who are making these arguments are not ingenuous, maybe they are not happy with the way things have turned out, it is not what they expected. They thought the Board would act out a script they had written but we operate according to the law.
Now that you licensed a higher number of distributors, do you have mechanisms through which you can monitor their activities effectively?
Oh yes, because the chief reason why we want to monitor the distribution of films in the country is that some times marketers do not send out the version of the films we approved. They instead sell the unapproved versions. Now that distributors are under the obligation of a licence we can monitor the versions of the films that are put out. We have a classification label scheme, which we are working on making much more secure. During the last edition of BOB TV the Censors Board sat with the marketers and we discussed the distribution framework. We had what we call the distributors convention, now these distributors share the burden of regulating the industry. Aside from this we have also made some changes within the board, we have a new head of the legal and enforcement team; we have someone in charge of the distribution framework. We have reshuffled our zonal coordinators; we are in partnership with the police and state governments such as Lagos and Cross Rivers. We hope in a short while to multiply the levels of cooperation and more importantly, if you flout our regulations you will not be allowed to release your films in Nigeria again.
Having said a lot about formalising the operations of the movie industry, how soon do we begin to feel the results of this move?
I think we are already feeling the effects of the new structure of the film industry. The changes will be evolutionary, in some areas it will be slightly revolutionary. But by and large we are beginning to see the results. Now we have data, if you ask how many films were sold last week all I have to do is cross check with the office. Before we started the process of formalising the industry 70 per cent of those in the industry were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), they did not sign contract, most of them don't have accountants and they have never consulted a lawyer. Now, these are some of the requirements those who applied for licence met before they got our approval. What we have done so far is the bedrock for any other level of development in the industry.
Both insiders and the fans of Nollywood agree that the sale of films has fallen drastically. Why is this so?
Nollywood is overproducing, the consumers are angry and in some cases rebelling. When we approve a film what they send into the market is different and because it is video, when you cut and cut the consumers somehow notices that the content of what he bought is poor. We need fresh content because when somebody buys a film with the same story line and a different name they decide not to buy films anymore. Another thing is that more people own satellite TV so rather would rather pay for subscription than buy a film. The poor returns on investment has led some of the big names to turn to other means of making income like TV programming. Piracy too has affected sales of Nollywood movies, you now see these DVDs that have six films on one disc. But it comes to Nollywood to reinvent itself, find new means of marketing its films and make good movies.
When you are not talking about films what do you do?
I read, write and watch films.
Some people would say that one of the best-dressed guys in town is the Censors Board DG. What does style mean to you?
Style means comfort not just physically. But comfort in the sense that whenever you go out you are sure that people are not looking at you funny. I went shopping with a friend recently and he bought a pair of sneakers and they looked good on him. I told him that only a guy like him would look good in that kind of sneakers. When I tried another pair of the sneakers everyone around laughed at me. So it depends on how you wear things not how much you bought them.
How much has being a high-ranking public official changed your lifestyle?
Well, I try not to let being the DG of the Censors Board change my life or the way I think. This is because I know that I will not be DG forever. Some other person might get carried away but I try no to be. Some of my friends are ticked off that I cannot do some things for them because I am a DG. But my true friends understand that I have limitations on what I can do for people and even myself.