No one can take away from Goodluck Jonathan the fact that his was the first administration to pay significant attention to Nollywood and the Creative Industries. However, we can certainly assess the impact this attention has had.
Without focusing on apportioning blame, it is necessary to understand what the GEJ administration got wrong in its approach to the creative industry in order to correct it and help the industry achieve its potential.
We raise these issues because we know that there is a genuine interest on the part of the government, the private sector and multi-lateral partners to support Nollywood and Africa’s creative industries. However, if we do not tell ourselves plain truths about the absence of impact over the past ten years in spite of this interest, we will mark Nollywood’s next decade bemoaning what could have been.
A critical evaluation of the GEJ administration’s creative industry policy formulation and implementation leads to one simple conclusion: it failed. As with power generation, the evidence is clear even though, unlike the power sector, one can’t even attempt to make the argument that in spite of the apparent lack of progress, GEJ laid the foundation for the creative industry’s growth. Not a single one of the high profile film projects that received support from GEJ’s NEXIM/BOI administered funding program achieved commercial success – not Dr. Bello, not Half of A Yellow Sun. No tangible structural improvements can be gleaned from the much vaunted Project ACT Nollywood – the interventions from that grant program have been decidedly of the ‘come and chop’ variety.
In contrast to the well-meaning but ineffective intervention of the GEJ administration, the Buhari administration must create a level playing ground for policy entrepreneurship for the creative industries. Let the quality of ideas and ability to execute be the touchpoint for decision making. Focus on structural solutions, not a ‘come and chop’ approach [that functions as the policy equivalent of handing out crack cocaine for headaches.]
President Buhari must resist attempts to micromanage Nollywood and focus primarily on providing an enabling environment for creative industry ventures under well-defined rules:
- Significant incentives to financiers of creative industry projects, including individuals, banks and other financial institutions;
- Pioneering status – tax free start up periods – as was afforded to the telecommunications and oil and gas companies;
- Import waivers, especially for capital equipment;
- Support for trade related initiatives, leveraging the efforts of international and pan-African bodies like the ITC and AU and focusing on bilateral partnerships with key countries like South Africa and Kenya.
These are but a few of the types of interventions that are likely to make a real impact, [not grandiose loan programs that do not even accept intellectual property as collateral or grant programs where the sectoral competence just doesn’t exist.]
Show Me the Numbers
The Ministry of Finance led by Ngozi Okonjo Iweala had neither the sector expertise nor the data upon which to set sensible policy. As the old aphorism goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. That administration’s failure to gather, aggregate and understand firm level data and challenges is evident from the laughable dimensions of the macro level claims carelessly made about Nollywood – ‘it accounts for millions of jobs, second only to agriculture.’
The rebasing exercise including the particularly vexatious claim that the film and music sectors contribute 1.4% of GDP – 23 times the aviation sector, 3.2 times the cement sector, 3 times the oil refining sector, 1.3 times the electricity supply sector, 1.3 times the road transport sector and 52% of the financial institutions sector (banks and insurance companies combined)! If anyone believes these numbers or, more importantly, believes that the GEJ administration believed these numbers, simply contrast the scale of its Nollywood initiatives to the interventions it made in financial services, agriculture, aviation, and the power sector. If that doesn’t lift the wool from your eyes, nothing will.
Film and creative industry incentives are hard to get right anywhere in the world. Nigeria isn’t just anywhere in the world – its creative industries need specific structural support to address two critical issues – access to finance and access to consumers (distribution). 234 Media and the African Film Academy have contributed to policy development over the past 13 years. Unfortunately many of our suggestions have been ignored or poorly implemented.
Over this period, there was undue deference in strategy and policy development given to international players – the World Bank, the IFC, the Indian EXIM Bank – and a strange motley of ‘consultants.’ Let us state boldly – the World Bank Group has close to zero competence regarding the film industry. Even in the US – which has one of the oldest and most advanced film industries, film has befuddled even the most sophisticated players – including Goldman Sachs. This is not to say that there should be no attempt at policy intervention or collaboration but the GEJ administration’s approach was all tactics and little or no strategy. The GEJ administration took an even more interventionist approach than its global counterparts who have far more institutional experience would deem sensible. When you have trade and industry bankers opining on the performance that a single film – rather than a slate of films – will have, you know you have “missed road.”
To develop a responsive film industry policy, one would need to understand how the global film industry has operated, the changes and stresses it is undergoing and how it will look in the future and also understand where Nigeria and Africa have come from with respect to leisure and entertainment consumption and how technology, demographics and culture are likely to evolve. This combination of skill sets and experience is not readily available off the shelf.
Specific Critical Interventions
At the threshold, the Buhari administration must address three key but non-exhaustive things:
- Comprehensive industry data and analysis;
- A strategy that maps out the growth options for the industry; and
- Commitment to transformative policies around access to finance and distribution.
The baseline would be to commission a comprehensive study of the Nigerian movie industry on the lines of India’s FICCI-FRAMES Entertainment Report. This study needs to be done by consulting (not importing from India, Europe or the US) the few people who understand the industry – people who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and go into Alaba, Idumota, Upper Eweka Rd, Oshogbo, Asaba among others. The industry’s future cannot be divined from a desk in Asokoro or Victoria Island.
What do Filmmakers Want?
The vast majority of Nigerian movie producers are happy to let their work speak for them. They understand the market is the ultimate arbiter of the value the audience finds in their movies. They simply want a path that lets them monetize their intellectual property and this requires two things:
- an efficient, equitable and wide reaching distribution in Nigeria (and the rest of Africa)
- effective intellectual property protection, especially against virulent piracy
There are more complex policy considerations involving cultural and artistic dimensions. It would be sensible to take these on once the basics have been done, we must walk before we run. And we must make it clear – access to finance, piracy, and the other challenges bedeviling the creative industries can NEVER be solved without first solving the challenges of distribution.
We are not disinterested observers – we have been at the forefront of separating fact from fiction in this weird and wonderful journey to building a movie industry with sustainable structures. Our record speaks volumes – from the first Corporate Nigeria meets Nollywood event over a decade ago; the first international trip to the US for Nollywood filmmakers (including more than 65 of the top actors) under the auspices of FCON in association with the Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe foundation; the annual African Cinema Business Roundtable; the African Film Academy, which we founded to run the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAAs). It might be a smart idea to start engaging us and several other people who have a track record of thinking and doing in the industry.
(Peace Anyiam-Osigwe is President, Africa Film Academy while Dayo Ogunyemi is CEO AMAA/ TED FELLOW)