Nollywood has become a most significant manifestation of Nigeria’s popular culture. In its local dimension, it has continued to be the staple entertainment form which most Nigerians have got used to. Africa Magic is a 24-hour channel which streams Nollywood movies directly into people’s home and offices. But Nollywood’s feat is no longer as a local movie industry. Apart from being the second largest producer of films after Hollywood, Nollywood has also achieved a global status that ensures that movies made in Nigeria are seen from Ghana to Barbados, and from the United States to Brazil. And all this from a phenomenon that started as a cottage industry with a very lean budget, and by individuals with the determination to transform how we relate to the cinema. In the 70s and 80s, most Nigerians were used to the cinema as part of the nightlife entertainment. However, a radical transformation of the social scene, basically through the looming consequences of insecurity, led to the collapse of the cinema culture. A further development was the high cost of making an average 33-mm movie. Several of the pioneers of the cinema in Nigeria went into indebtedness, and many more had to close shop, with many more, including the celebrated icons, dying silently and on a daily basis from virtual bankruptcy. The video film revolution indeed came almost by some sort of innovative accident.
Nollywood’s struggle to its present state has been herculean. First, it had to contend with the attention of Nigerians that had been taken over by television soap operas and the DVD menu provided by mostly Hollywood and Bollywood movies. Second, there was also the suspicion by those who felt that the video film does not in any way translate into the cinema. However, the greatest of the challenges that Nollywood had to face, and which seems to give credence to those who distrust its aesthetic capacity, came from the perception that its proliferative ability was achieved at the expense of quality productions. From the early 90s till mid-2000 when Nollywood was at the height of its notoriety, it was able to attract both approval and opprobrium in equal measures. There are those who still cannot stand any Nollywood movies; and there are those whose days are not complete until they have watched a movie or two on Africa Magic. Indeed, Nollywood kept increasing in proliferative and intellectual stature. It has gotten to a state where its influence can no longer be neglected. I am not sure if there is any statistics that can reveal, for instance, the number of those who have been influenced by what they watch on Nollywood.
There is no longer also any doubt about the significance of Nollywood and the Nigerian film industry to the current economic status of the Nigerian state. It has been proven beyond any contrary evidence that the film industry is one of the active enablers of Nigeria’s economic productivity. When Nigeria rebased its economic profile in 2013, one of the revelations of the exercise, which many already suspected, is Nollywood. When Nigeria rebased her economy in 1990, her total nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 59.5%. Twenty-four years later in 2014, it had increased to 89.22%, making Nigeria the largest economy in Africa, and the 26th largest in the world at a GDP worth of $503 trillion. Apart from the service sector which contributed 51% (an increase from 26%), Nollywood and the music industry achieved a significant 1.42%. This is critical because its presence had not mattered to the economic profile of Nigeria before now. From 2014 till date, Nollywood has grown bigger and better by coming to terms with its own limitations. Indeed, Nollywood studies has floated the idea of a “new Nollywood” founded on the challenge of making more cinematographically sophisticated and aesthetically appealing movies.
Unfortunately, Nollywood still lies largely at the fringe of Nigeria’s economic profile. Despite the laudable economic act that brings Nigeria’s economic data up to date as a development necessity, it is not sufficient to achieve economic growth only through a rebasing of the economy. While the rebasing exercise revealed some significant sectors of the Nigerian economy, what is needed is for the government to commence an exploitation of the statistics as a means of rethinking the economy. Nollywood is one such revelation, but its capacity to instigate the economy is still largely unharnessed. This is despite its huge economic potentials for transforming Nigeria’s economic status. Presently, Nollywood accounts for $7.2 billion of the GDP, directly employs more than a million Nigerians which makes it possibly Nigeria’s second largest source of employment aside from agriculture. It is generating $590 million annually, and it has the potential to serve as one of the major outlets for diversifying Nigeria’s mono-economic framework.
Nollywood is still a neglected variable that has not been factored strategically into the policy reflections of the Nigerian government. What worries me is that this does not turn out to become an unfortunate incidence of failing to plan even with the data by a nation renowned for “planning without fact”. This is troubling because one of the sources of Nigeria’s underdevelopment is the lack of critical data that are the sine qua non for successful economic planning. Yet, with the 2013 rebasing exercise, some new economic information, especially about the role Nollywood has played so far, have come to light. What are we doing about it?
Despite its runaway successes since its inauguration in 1992, Nollywood has consistently battled with some severe challenges that have compromised its potentials and possibilities. Let me highlight two. The first is the scourge of piracy. Nollywood movies are produced within a month, and an average one costs between $25,000 and $70,000. In recent times, some of these movies have been taken through the rounds of the cinemas in the country before they are eventually released on DVD for the larger market. Yet, producers only have a very short period within which to recoup their profits before the product is pirated, and the profit dynamics damaged. Piracy undercuts the profit margin of the film producers and either drives them into indebtedness or runs them out of the industry. The commercialism that was undeniably present when Nollywood made its appearance in the early 90s is still its Achille’s heel.
The second challenge is correlated—it has to do with the adequate funding of the industry in ways that enable filmmakers and producers to access funds that will ease their activities. This becomes an even more crucial issue if we reckon with the possibility of taking Nollywood as an economic instigator with a potential for doubling its economic impact. Funding becomes critical because Nollywood needs to keep transforming itself in response to consumers’ growing expectations about what a technology-savvy and qualitative story-line ought to look like. Movie distribution platforms like iRokotv and Netflix would not just acquire the distribution rights for just any movies that lacks a solid cinematography. Yet, only few Nigerians filmmakers can rise up to this challenge of making a good movie. Those, like Tunde Kelani, Stephanie Okereke, Kunle Afolayan, Jeta Amaka, Izu Ojukwu, and so many more who braved the odds to make such movies often do so from personal and sponsored funds. Most are neck-deep in debts and high blood pressure!
IN 2013, the Nigerian government, under the Jonathan administration, launched the Capacity Training Fund, an intervention scheme named “Project ACT Nollywood.” This is a N3 billion grant to address the challenges of production, and of training and skill acquisition. The grant has the Capacity Building Fund and the Film Production Fund. This government initiative is supported by the Bank of Industry and its Nollyfund loan initiative. However, and like all things Nigerian, the Project ACT Nollywood grant has been mired in policy complications. First, there is the seemingly trivial but significant issue of managing the Project’s website (www.projectactnollywood.com.ng). If such a significant initiative cannot have a standard and functional website, then what happens to its substantive objectives? Second, the initiative, inaugurated by one government, is facing a reassessment by another government. A policy reassessment is a good thing if it is backstopped by a reform consideration. The fear however is that most incumbent governments discountenance the factor of continuity especially if the policy initiative is not specifically theirs.
Apart from this, there are several policy and governance loopholes that may undermine the objectives of the Project itself. This concern falls into the larger worry, in reform thinking, about government’s capacity to singlehandedly handle governance challenges in any sector of the economy. With the coming of the managerial revolution in administration, the governance space has become enlarged to facilitate the entry of nonstate and nongovernmental actors and players with the capabilities to assist government in managing governance complexities. This is where the public-private partnership (PPP) becomes a significant direction for managing Nollywood’s potentials as an economic variable in Nigeria. Nollywood is too strategic an economic dynamic to be left to the vagaries of government-inspired policy intervention alone. It requires a more rigorous and robust funding intervention (an upgrade into a deepened universities TETFUND model and management process readily come to mind); but, that will become more amenable to a private sector-driven management dynamic than what the solely government-driven control can yield.
Without any need to reinvent the wheel already provided by the Project ACT Nollywood, all that is required is for the government to open up the Project to a PPP framework that can oversee its optimal operations. In the first place, there is a need to put together some operational dynamics that answers to the private sector concern for economy, efficiency and effectiveness. This translates into a more competitive, more performance-driven and more accountable structure in ways that lead to the eventual achievement of the objectives. This is to be complemented by an all-stakeholder forum that brings various perspectives into the running of the project. On the other hand, managing the Project also requires a PPP-mediated consortium or preferably a Board of Trustees made up of eminent Nigerians—philanthropists, business persons, civil society, government ministries, and so on.
Administering a phenomenon like Nollywood requires more than the government sole initiative and drive to move it in the direction that the government wants. To succeed, it simply just requires government recognition that Nollywood is as important to the government as it is to the private sector. Thus, there is no point keeping the governance space close to its purposive intervention and collaboration.
Prof. Tunji Olaopa
Retired Federal Permanent Secretary
/Professor of Public Administration