[The Film Blog] On fuel scarcity, Nollywood, and the media industry

Nollywood

Over the years, fuel scarcity in Nigeria has become as familiar as sunlight. Its repeated occurrence stems from a number of issues, from corruption to pipeline vandalism to the complete decline of existing refineries and the inability of the government to see to completion the construction of new ones. The hardship it has wrought is well-documented. Fifty years post independence, Nigeria’s economy is still almost entirely dependent on crude oil-driven revenue. In November, Vanguard headlined a story, “Increased oil production lifts Nigeria’s GDP by 1.4% in Q3.” Agriculture came in close in its input, but non-oil sectors declined.

The unavailability of fuel always has a negative, crippling effect on the economy, especially on sectors that have received little or no attention from the government. As part of the entertainment industry, Nollywood has done well for itself; the record-breaking 2016 romantic comedy film The Wedding Party is still a valid cultural reference. And the industry has proved that it can be self-sufficient and prosperous within a rather harsh and unfriendly environment. In the wake of the current fuel crisis, coupled with the seemingly everlasting problem of power outages, filmmakers are pushed to devising other alternative methods of generating energy to facilitate the filmmaking process. Also, they incur extra post-production costs in mopping out generator-induced sounds.

Lighting, as with nearly every other aspect of film and TV, is an essential part of the filmmaking process because it can sculpt and describe a scene or character or hide or reveal key areas, enhancing suspense and evoking emotion. Without fuel, this process is hampered. At the other end of the media spectrum, music video directors who have hired instruments long before time would have to pay extra fees to keep these instruments in their possession due to the fuel scarcity. In 2015, Nigeria experienced the worst fuel scarcity in recent history which paralyzed all scales of businesses and, by extension, the economy. Urban radio station the Beat 99.9 FM had to announce via its Twitter account, “We will be shutting at 8.30pm today due to diesel shortage. We have to ration. We will be back on tomorrow. We will keep you updated.”

Other radio stations, too, issued out statements to the public, rationing available fuel to keep their operations afloat. Cinema-goers thinned out in their numbers, affecting box office sales and a drought was experienced across the chain of cinemas nationwide. In Nollywood, fuel scarcity can hamper the mobility of materials, resources, and human labour. As we have seen in the past, and the choiceless insularity of Nollywood away from full government involvement, practitioners in the industry are still not protected from the difficulties and challenges that arise from the unavailability of the fuel commodity.

What is noteworthy is the seasonality of the scarcity, often rearing up towards the end of the year, a time bloated with more film releases, premieres, concerts and shows. Shortly after The Falz Experience concert, Dare Art-Alade said via his Instagram account that they had decided to start the show quite late because of reports that people were stuck in traffic caused by the long queues for fuel. The Falz Experience was one of the best shows of the year, towing after the immersive and cutting edge theatrical quality of Dare’s Love Like A Movie. Though the state of the fuel scarcity isn’t as viscerally biting as before, its occurrence, in the first place, points to a larger problem of political ineptitude. Nollywood, and other forms of consumable media may have thrived through the years with its own infrastructure, still they seemingly can’t escape the harsh orbit. The film industry, in particular, will have to do what it has always done – which is to survive.

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