by Chinwe Okafor
Of late, popular comedian, Alibaba has been talking about the issues plaguing the entertainment industry.
His question to President Jonathan during one of the many meets, went viral on social media, leading to a lot of conversation.
According to general consensus, no one has been more sensible and focused enough to broach such a serious question.
The people were amazed!
Now, he has come to give us an expose on Nollywood and the major issues the industry is facing- Funding.
When I look at the growth of entertainment in Nigeria, I very often come to the sad realization that some of my colleagues DONT GET IT, CANT GET IT & WONT GET IT. I say this with the backing of what I have observed in the over 25 years that I have been in this industry. Though it’s not the years you have been in the industry that counts. It’s the years that you have made to count in the industry.
When I started performing as a stand up comedian in 1988, I did not know anything about the business of showbizness, I just wanted to perform and get paid. I was pleased with fame and the little allowances I got. I saw indications of prosperity and I decided to prove my dad wrong about choosing to be a stand up comedian (he wanted me to read law) and there were no precedent. It was a green field. It was a tough task, but thanks to the likes of Mohammed Danjuma, Yibo Koko, ALLAM Bloo, Tee-A… And many others, the rest is history.
Stand Up was new. The appreciation of it as an art form was either low or non existent. It was not even a sector of entertainment. The real sectors had stage actors, television actors, dancers, choreographers, singers, producers, slapstick comics, clowns, storytellers, radio/TV broadcasters… Etc. I tried to blend into the existing structures to find form, purpose and a launch pad. I even started appearing on radio and television shows to gain relevance. Just to let people see what I had in me to offer. I then realized that the artistes back then were all struggling to make it. Those who found it hard to cope picked up jobs with advertising agencies, ministries of arts & culture, got lucky to be cast in an independent drama series (soap), media houses or hung around the never say die producers who always managed to get funding for their productions.
Many of these artistes back then, were supporting their acting careers by being Masters of Ceremonies, models in ad campaigns and some used to put up small drama productions. There were so many of them with several ideas with no money to fund them. So they go hustle everyday, end up at Abe Igi or go home to prepare for the next day. I once asked one of the seasoned actors, (OKONEDO) back then why they were not making so much money. And he asked me, where would the money come from. It’s only PZ, UAC, Leventis beverage and brewery companies and Lever Brothers that were really ready to drop money for productions. He then took me on a talk tour of why the industry wasn’t funded. And from his talk it dawned on me that it was hard to make it in entertainment. I remember telling him that I was going to be a stand up comedian and make a lot of money. He asked me, “Those of us WEY dey here before you come, WETIN we come do?”
Undeterred, I devoted my time to making my stand up act seen everywhere that mattered. I called up Edi Lawani and he gave me notes written behind his PMAN call cards to give to ROOTS, KLASS, LORDS, LAPARIAS, AFRICAN SHRINE, PEAK, JABITA, JAZZ 38, NITESHIFT, OZONE,… NITECLUBS. In the day time, I bought newspapers and went to seminars and workshops to perform for 5-10 minutes. Pro bono!!!!
Between 1989 and 1991… I heard wen!!! Make person no die, I Had to go do my NYSC (sic!). Seriously hoping that when I get back, if I got back and things don’t happen in Abuja, I will pick up from where I stopped. I was hoping things would have gotten better. For WIA?!!!
Upon my return to Lagos, I had to get another note from Edi Lawani to Kunle Onime who took me to Dapo ADELEGAN of Dp Lekki Ltd, organizers of Lekki Sunsplash. While I was working at DP Lekki, that was when I now started understanding the business of Showbiz. I was there for about 3 months or less and realized: this wasn’t what brought me to Lagos. So I just quit. I was later to find out that, even the musical artistes, were all depending on the shows they performed at to maintain the lifestyle they led. Not really from album sales. And many actors depended on the pink forms that NTA gave them after taking part in a production. I couldn’t sing so I joined the pink form bandwagon. I will hook up with Bisi OLATILO on radio then run to NTA, when the Wazobia programmes started. Getting on “The Honourables” was a great plus. Then Morning Ride, The Sunday Show, Youth Scene,… I still kept making appearances at clubs.
Then the home video tsunami started.
Not many know that the real reason Nollywood grew and became what it is today, was because of advance fee fraud. Yes. 419. Yes go call police. What single HANDEDLY funded the initial boom of the home video was the proceeds from crime. Just like Organized crime and the mafia did for Hollywood. I will explain.
Remember I told you of how everyone waited to be on television soaps or be a part of a stage production or just hung around waiting for something to happen. There were many people with scripts and the only thing that held their dreams down was funds. The funds were not going to come from government or any individual. The only Bank that sponsored stage plays at the time was NIB (Nigerian international Bank) they always went all alone to sponsor or in conjunction with the USIS. That source of funding later was to dry up because certain people did not deliver. But that will be a story for another day. Anyway SHA, in the midst of all that not knowing where funds will come from, NNEKA, THE PRETTY SERPENT came out. Many more home videos were to follow. Guess who were the guys doling out money for the home videos?
These 419 guys had so much money, they built palaces as houses and malls as country home mansions. And how best could they show off the houses, cars, clothes, furniture and money? If you guessed, In home videos, you are absolutely correct. Now, don’t forget that these were proceeds from crime. The 419ers were not accountable to anyone. So, they were not looking for Return on Investment. All they wanted was for their friends who saw the video to know that that was one of their houses in different parts of the country. They also wanted their fleet of cars to be used by the actors and actresses. Some of whom also benefitted from their generosity. With such free funds flowing in, the actors who had been dormant woke up.
In fact the 419 funds triggered a whole lot of allied businesses. Make up, camera rentals, audio experts, generator rentals, VHS and pneumatic tape dealers, editors, producers, scriptwriters, screenplay writers, soundtrack makers, special effects, drivers, welfare, costumier, continuity, graphics,… Most of them funded by advance fee fraud proceeds.
UNDOUBTEDLY, the monies were proceeds from crime. The investors, or better put, financier, did not look forward to their monies coming back. SO, RETURN ON INVESTMENT WAS OUT OF THE QUESTION. They ONLY wanted to have everyone see their cars, clothes (often used by lead characters) and houses . And as time went on they demanded that they were thanked SPECIALLY immediately after TO GOD BE THE GLORY
It will be grossly unfair to history if I failed to mention that these 419ers were making things happen, pulling their weight in gold and even benefitted in kind from some movies they sponsored… As they were known to have married some of the actresses.
From then on, sponsors were falling over themselves to sponsor movies. Some of the 419 guys even appeared in the movies they sponsored. The actors and actresses started to command very interesting fees to act in home videos. Then gradually, they (419ers) started to dictate who appeared in their movies. As this was happening in the home video space, musical artistes were also benefiting from the proceeds as well as they were being invited to perform for very tidy sums.
The home video industry was agog. Things were happening. Lifestyles of actors changed. Better fees were charged, depending on how good your negotiation skills were. Many more 419 guys saw it as a PR arm of their business.
It’s important to note that with time, as expected, some producers, directors, actors and actresses at this time had gotten so popular, that they were beginning to dictate what happened in the market. The new cartel that had been formed, who were the financiers of the home video industry, now called the marketers, decided to seize back the controls of the growing industry. A case of who pays the piper dictates the tune. Some were banned and others whipped into line.
Years on, the heat started to be unbearable for the 419 king pins. Maga was not even paying as they used to, yet, the authorities, through the Police Special Fraud Unit (SFU) were hot of their tails. Many were picked to explain the source of their wealth. Some Lilly livered ones spilled and the people they mentioned were promptly picked. Their houses were seized, cars confiscated and accounts frozen.
Account officers in banks who were the people helping to launder the funds were picked up as well. It was very common back then, to see that the advance fee fraudsters, had married their account officers. So, when the bubble burst and the poo hit the fan, some of these account officers, now wives, were thinking of how to hide what they could, protect their children and families, still maintain the lifestyle, pay lawyers, get their 419 husbands bail every now and then, depending on when a new reported case fingered them.
Some wise 419ers, especially the educated ones, who had made good money, invested in some other businesses and cleaned up their businesses and tracks. Some not so smart ones, were selling off properties and cars and running out of Nigeria to Ghana or other neighbouring countries. Some unfortunate ones were swindled or blackmailed by the police to quietly forfeit their proceeds of crime. And others just went underground totally.
The consequence of these happenings was the dearth of the Home video business. Funds were hard to come by. Stars had been made and they needed to be paid to maintain the glamour and assumed high life style of the rich and famous. The seasoned professionals, who were shut out from the 419 windfall, and had not been benefiting from the free funds, had overtime, sourced funds from legitimate sources to shoot their own movies. These professionals, many of whom had come from thespian backgrounds, also had been making money from producing, directing, scripting and acting in the home video sectors and allied businesses. They now became the fall back for many 419 dependent actors and producers.
The funding of the home video industry was now a case of who can bring the needed funds. Many repented 419ers still had money, but were no more interested in showing off their houses, cars and wealth. They just wanted to stay clear of the home video business. But good enough for the young industry, the hunger for the movies had been created. The market was waiting for movies, and anyone who had a story and could assemble a cast put it out in the market. The marketers of the movies had made stupid money in the home video boom and now started funding movie productions.
Interestingly, many of the born again 419ers, joined politics and became power brokers. And knowing how NIGERIANS had taken to home videos, they started to use their offices to support the industry and expected to also benefit from the fame that the stakeholders enjoyed.
My conclusion. Owing to the fact that the initial funds that kicked off the home video business, were not expected back by the people (419ers) who funded the business, some of the actors and actresses, plus producer and directors, were more concerned about the creatives. They did not pay attention to the distribution of movies and how to roll over the proceeds from one movie into the next one. They were already now used to lau lau money. It became a problem when they got monies from individuals for a movie and years after, have not been able to recoup money spent on the movie, not to mention paying back. No one even dared to mention interest or profit.
From the above you will agree with me that Government had no role to play in the funding of the movie industry as we know it. It had always been through the efforts of stakeholders and the funds from the MAGA who paid.
Credit at this time must be given to professional players in the industry who in spite of those free funds, continued to legitimately source funds, produce quality home videos, though they did not pay as much as the free-fund movies did. They were the ones that kept Nollywood alive.
I had a stint in NOLLYWOOD, thanks to BASORGE TARIAH jnr. (It’s at this point that I mention that it was my debut in the movie industry. That same movie, started, Rita Dominic’s career). I saw what Basorge went through, to get the movie MY GUY out. It was a combination of a lot of support here and there. Still can not stay he made enough to compensate for the energy and resources that that movie consumed. Like I said, I had a stint in NOLLYWOOD. I was on set for MY GUY for a week. The money that I made back then as Mc or comedian, in a week was more the total cost of shooting that movie. I then decided that, I was not going to be that patient. To be part of a production that will take a month and yet the money was not commensurate with the work.
I therefore, find myself being worked up, when I see people in the movie industry, failing to get the point. If it requires me saying it over and over again, I will. Till those that did not get it get it. PIRACY IS THE PROBLEM. It is not government intervention. It is also not loans or alternative funding. PIRACY IS THE ONLY PROBLEM. The sooner stakeholders that, the better for them.
In our first meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan, in 2010, after I listened to all the speakers before me, I was vexed. Vexed because, there were many who I thought should have known, that it was not about funding. sadly, they wanted money. Go and ask Ecobank. Did they not fund movies. It was and still is about piracy, the legislation to curb (not eradicate) piracy, the awareness of the legislation, the enforcement of that legislation, the punishment for people who broke the law and ultimately, more money for those whose work the legislation was made. It’s when this is sorted, that we can begin to make money from our intellectual properties.
Thank God for Amaka Igwe of blessed memory, who came to my rescue when she said, the pirate only needs a copy, and all your investment, creativity and distribution channels will come to nothing. I was practically threatened and told to keep quiet by the people in NOLLYWOOD, who saw $200m, and that was all they saw.
I have said severally on many platforms, arresting pirates is not the first line of attack. Go after their foot soldiers. Set up an ANTI PIRACY SQUAD, headed by an AIG, with a law degree. Set up Zonal office. Empower them with patrol vehicles and trained and armed mobile policemen. Get corporate bodies to donate vehicles and properties. Arrest the people who sell them on the streets and charge them for economic crimes. Then let them go serve the jail term. No option of fine. While this is on, start awareness on the evil called piracy. Then start pushing for stronger laws to punish offenders. Gradually, the foot soldier who spent one month in a cell for selling pirated products, will avoid that line of business. He will however have a choice of going to legitimate shops that will now be licensed to sell the products.
Decorum will not return immediately, but as the anti piracy message continue to reach out, people will begin to adjust to the changes. That is when cinemas will fill out. Thus warranting the building new ones.
Finally, there is no more 419. There are no more proceeds from crime that will be given to the entertainment industry as free funds. Anyone who gives money to the industry now will expect return on investment (ROI). This is why it’s hard for banks to give loans for movie productions. Because the bank will ask how you plan to pay it back.they know the Pirates are out there. They know there is no legislation protecting your work. So, you have to do more to convince them to fund you.
Let’s just hope that Mr President is not advised again, to share the money again, instead of setting up a lasting structure that will protect intellectual property and help regenerate our entertainment industry, to a point where it can contribute 20% to the GDP. And it can!
What do I know sef? Shebi I am just a comedian