N3 BILLION GRANT: NOLLYWOOD MAY BOYCOTT JONATHAN’S LARGESSE

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I have written this again and again without any equivocation. And it is that when the dispassionate scholars of history settle down to write the true story of Nollywood, President Goodluck Jonathan will be given a hallowed page. He will enjoy a palatial mansion in Nollywood’s hall of fame because of the recognition he gave them, the appreciation he showed in words and indeed. And importantly for his gift of hope- N3 billion grant!
Because of my steely conviction about the sincerity of the president in his dealings with Nollywood, I had no hesitation making caustic remarks about those officials of the President, who by their actions and or inactions, willfully give political hues to the President’s most kind and sincere gestures.
The hosting of Nollywood practitioners on march 2, 2013, commendable as it was, was almost tainted by squeaky voices that arose from the crass failure of the organizers to treat the guilds and associations with sincerity and importantly to carry the heads of the guilds along in the course of the preparations for the event that ordinarily deserved the utmost ovation.
And just like the dinner, once again, the voice of Nollywood jangles and appears to be going hoarse over the President’s N3 billion grant. Nigeria’s media audience is now sated with hypotheses and theories on how this grant should be managed.
But I am not at all surprised at the cacophony emanating from Nollywood. The stinging truth is that the government, its ministries and agencies must come to terms with the hard reality that whether it is a gesture of kindness or a partnership they intend to extend to Nollywood at any time, there is a crucial need to confer with or consult, in some way, its elected leaders and stakeholders.

The government needs to recongnise a simple fact that in the absence of Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPICON) whose papers are still buried in some vault in one of its ministries, in the absence of this critical council, it must deal with the leaders of Nollywood if its objective is to support this industry that enunciates not only the genius but the power and possibilities of the Nigerian spirit.
Now, I will look critically at all that has transpired since the N3 billion Presidential gift. The purpose is to show why the present noise and protests are inevitable and why indeed Nollywood practitioners easily fall victim to acoustics of hate and sophistry that tend to make ugly pictures out of genuine efforts of government to support the industry.

A WRONG SIGNAL

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala set up a committee to figure out how Jonathan’s N3billion grant could be expended or managed. She didn’t consult with Nollywood; at least, the elected leaders of the industry. The news of the committee simply came and like a wild fire, spread fast. Wrong signal.
Then three sub-committees were set up to focus on training/human resource development, Content development & production and lastly, Distribution. Again, Nollywood leaders were kept on the sidewalk, not consulted, not mentioned as some ‘egg heads’, most of them non-practitioners, tried to solve their problems. “What do these people take us for? Are we idiots?” screamed a frustrated president of one of the guilds. “How could any doctor on earth prescribe drugs for me when I didn’t tell him my sickness”. Another wrong signal.
The sub-committees on Training and content development submitted their reports without any form of consultation with Nollywood’s elected leaders or stakeholders. However, Amaka Igwe, Chairman of the sub-committee on Distribution, perhaps being a practitioner herself, decided to consult her constituency.
Amaka was once a prominent player in the guilds and associations of Nollywood but withdrew from guild activism a few years ago.
And so, when she invited Nollywood to the intellectual session to dissect and discuss issues on distribution, she did so using her discretion and based on personal capacities of the invitees and not on guild system.
Now, Amaka’s decision to consult Nollywood would have received unanimous and timeless ovation but the fact that it was not open to all practitioners and worse still, the representatives of the practitioners did not go there in their official capacities, naturally, spurred curiosity and blighted opinions. The most vexatious for some practitioners however was that they were turned back from the GRA, Ikeja, Lagos venue of the meeting.
For the records, I do not understand why a Nollywood practitioner of eminent or even low standing should seek to attend an event that he or she was not duly invited. That for me diminishes our stature as practitioners. That apart, it would have been absurd for the convener of the session to throw it open to all practitioners as it would have turned out a dialogue of the deaf.
However, may be the discordant tones would have been less or dismissed as poetics of pseudo-tradition if the Checkmate Producer had invited the heads of guilds and asked each to invite just one member of his or her guild while she (Amaka) could add some stakeholders or perceived intellectuals of her choice. That way, the practitioners would probably have felt that their leaders would brief them adequately.
This sadly did not happen and it offered an opportunity on a platter for rumour-mongers and hawkers of Nollywood gossip to gleefully ply their trade.

THE PROTESTS

It took only 72 hours. The highly intellectual, analytical and empirical session on distribution seemed destined to get the rough edge of the stick.
The first group to attack them called themselves Nollywood Monitors. They lured people to the popular hang-out, Ojez, in Surulere, Lagos, with an ambiguous, if not dubious text signed simply by “The Committee”. “Which committee?” many asked. “Is it the government committee? Are they ready to talk to us now?” Many a practitioner went there to find out.
They arrived the venue only to be disappointed that the conference was not organized by government representatives. It had been organized chiefly by Paul Obazele, Zack Orji, both ex-presidents of the guilds and Chike Bryan, a serving president of the Screen Writers Guild of Nigeria.
Although they allegedly made wild and unsubstantiated allegations, they were eventually compelled by some of the guests to write a communique that did not quite betray their fractured emotions. Indeed one of the attendees at the conference confronted them with a pungent question. Hear him, “Now, to all of you, sitting here and addressing us, supposing Amaka Igwe allowed you into that conference she organized, will you have been sitting here to address us? I think there is a lot of selfishness in here”; he insisted.
Other Nollywood practitioners like formidable director, Lancelot Imasuen, President of the Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria (ITPAN), Osezua Stephen-Imobhio and avant-guarde director, Dickson Iroegbu, also confronted the organizers of the Ojez conference and ultimately made them to release a communique that was less blurred by their emotions.
However, more protests are brewing over the manner the committee and sub-committees were set up without a significant participation of Nollywood. Now, the entire industry is meeting to put together an industry position paper to be sent to President Jonathan. “We sincerely hope that the President will listen to us and act on our petition to him”; averred a serving president. “We do not have anything against members of the committees. But there is just no way can they adequately address some of our problems with this grant without hearing from us. Haba! This is not a school project my brother. We are the ones wearing the shoes. And so we know where they hurt. Those people have to talk with us. In fact they must listen to us. Those committees are not complete without Nollywood’s official voices and these voices are those elected to represent us”.
I spoke with eight presidents of the guilds and I asked, ‘what if at the end of the day, Nollywood leaders are not included in the committees’. Their answer was unanimous. “We will have no choice but to boycott the grant”. Continuing, one of them adds, “We have done this business for more than 20 years without grant or any government support. We thank the president for the grant. But if we can’t have a say on how it can work well for us, then we wouldn’t have any choice than to forget it. Our members are waiting to hear from us. Everyone is tensed. I pray that the government will listen to the voice of wisdom.

A CRITICAL QUESTION

When the government wants to discuss with medical doctors, it contacts the Nigeria Medical Association. For lawyers, it reaches out to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and sits with Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) to discuss advertising.
Why can’t the government deal with the guilds and associations of Nollywood in the absence of the Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPICON). Why are government officials always denouncing the idea of working with the guilds and associations that ordinarily should make their job easier? Why do they want to forever pitch Nollywood against itself? Why do they want to kill this industry?
I will say it again; President Jonathan genuinely wants to support Nollywood. I want to believe that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala means well too.
I will be praying fervently that the handling of this grant will reflect their good intentions. I have my worries. Nollywood must have even stronger worries.

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