#YNaijaEssays: How does your friendly neighbourhood Naija celebrity go bankrupt?

Isn’t it amazing how some people achieve remarkable financial success in a relatively short time and somehow plummet into bankruptcy in a shorter time than the money was acquired? Celebrities, actors, athletes – are the major culprits in this instance.

When many celebrities achieve the pinnacle of success, they often fail to recognise it. You hear things like: “the best is yet to come”. It is not surprising considering celebrity insulates famous people from the reality of everyday living; the more famous they get, the less out of touch with how their daily lives operate and how much it costs to maintain whatever level of luxury they choose to indulge is shrouded from them. These unrealistic assumptions about future earnings cloud their judgment when it comes to savings and spending.

You would think that with all of the money celebrities make, there would be such a sheer number of honest, talented financial advisers working with them and hinting them of the possibility of disasters. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Celebrities attract many of the wrong people who only see them as marks for potential financial mismanagement and not as valued clients.

One of such celebrities is the popular dancehall musician, Cynthia Morgan – a female singer who sometimes can be likened to Lady Gaga, in the light of the fact that she is scandal free.

Morgan had conveniently entered a space no other female artiste had been and saw no competition, making a huge impression as a pop artiste in 2013, and a smooth transition into the dancehall space. For more than three years, Cynthia Morgan emerged and ruled as the Queen of Nigerian Dancehall music, dishing out standard reggae tunes that heavily referenced classic reggae artists of the late 80’s and mid 90’s without losing any originality. From 2015, Cynthia Morgan began to slowly sleep on us after her break up and makeup charade with Burna Boy on the visuals of her “Simatiniya” single.

Unconfirmed reports suggested that the Headies Next Rated award loss was what took a toll on her while others insisted she was either going through a personal storm or having managerial hitches. She has been off the music scene for a while and her absence has prompted her fans including Nollywood actress, Adesua Etomi, to inquire about her whereabouts on Twitter.

Some other reports – now more recently – suggest that the singer took time off to settle some personal issues as she is reportedly facing a major debt crisis. If the news is true, the music artiste is experiencing some financial challenges which is unsettling her career. There have been several allegations suggesting that the singer has been charged to an Ikeja High Court over her inability to pay the rent of her Omole Estate apartment. Sadly, it was learnt that on the same day the artiste was allegedly served court papers for defaulting on payment of rent, she was also served with court papers for evading tax. The singer reportedly owes waste bills for over a year and N1.3 million, which is her house rent. She was also reportedly served court papers for not paying up to N3.584 million in tax.

Another celebrity, a popular singer, Babatunde Okungbowa, aka OJB Jezreel, before his death, was also in the news for some financial problems one of which is a N200 million he collected and ‘squandered’ in no time. OJB Jezreel was a great musician in his time. He produced some of the greatest hit albums and singles in the history of R&B hip-hop music in the entertainment scene in Africa. He worked with 2face Idibia and produced ‘Face 2 Face’, the album that contained tracks like “African Queen” the singer’s first legitimate crossover single, that gained so much traction it was even featured in a number of Hollywood films and is today considered a Nigerian classic. At the height of OJB’s success, he also worked with Jamaican reggae artist Beenie Man, long before Don Jazzy and D’Banj caught the eye of Kanye West.

He produced artistes like RuggedMan, whose success in collaboration with OJB helped established Hip-hop as a viable genre medium for artistes in Nigeria. He also produced Jazzman Olofin, Weird MC, Paul Ik Dairo, Daddy Showkey, Sir Shina Peters and Olu Maintain.

OJB’s catalogue of albums and songs for Faze, Iyanya, D’Banj, Durella, Wizkid, Yemi Alade, etc. to mention a few meant he was always in demand and had access to a steady income.

However, in an interview with The Point when he announced his decision to create a GoFundMe to raise money to treat his cancer, he said, “People felt I collected over N200 million and spent it anyhow, when the amount realised was nowhere close to that. I got N16 million from the former Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, and realised N9 million from artistes and other sources. I didn’t make any serious money from that and the donation didn’t last for a month before I called it off.

“So, I prefer to keep things to myself. As I speak to you, I would likely sell this property (the Surulere home) to cater for my health. I have two items of property at the moment; this one and another one in Abuja.”

And in addition to that, OJB said “that people go through many challenges and they don’t say anything. I had been having issues with the kidney since 2008. But I kept quiet until three years ago because I felt I could handle the issue.

“Sadly, however, after I went public, people later said I made more than N200 million; they said I started buying houses in Lekki. But I am still living in Surulere. Comedians have made serious jokes about my situation. Regrettably, I’m not laughing. They would say if you wish to be rich, all you need to do is to be diagnosed of kidney problem like OJB. They think it is funny, but I am not happy.”

It is, therefore, safe to say that OJB’s financial problems were as a result of his kidney problems and not some spendthrift trend. Moving away from singers, actors/directors and sometimes producers in the film industry are no less free from financial problems and this, maybe, can be said to be caused by piracy.

With an average production of 50 movies per week and about $590 million revenue annually, Nigeria’s film market is indeed a big one. However, piracy is an even bigger issue that needs attention. Although Nigeria has laws against piracy, it remains a thriving business partly due to poor implementation of copyright laws, a near-lack of prosecution of offenders, and corruption in government agencies. You cannot wait too long before movies are found in DVD’s and are sold on the streets for lesser prices than expected.

In 2015, popular Nigerian actor and award-winning producer, Kunle Afolayan, was notified that his classic film October 1 had been pirated and was already being sold on Lagos streets at 500 naira per copy. The film had yet to recoup the $2 million invested in its production. This is just one movie out of many. Afolayan then threatened to leave Nigeria if legitimate businesses would not be allowed to thrive due to the activities of pirates.

The Alaba International Market, located off the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, and by far the biggest electronics market in West Africa churns out products as far as Ghana, East Africa, Togo and Benin Republic. The market has a mixture of individual customers and retailers who buy in bulk to resell across West Africa. They buy a wide range of items—including computers, televisions, broadcast equipment, household appliances, video games, generators, security equipment, CDs and DVDs. It is here, in the belly of the beast, that it mostly happens – we can add Upper Iweka Road, Onitsha.

Reducing demand for piracy is key, yet the biggest challenge may be to change a society that increasingly condones piracy. Can a culture of piracy be reverted?

Part of the problem is that many consumers of illegal content do not realise the potential negative consequences for the industry. The reality is that losses trickle down to directors, actors, and others who miss out on royalties that would have otherwise accrued from legal consumption. We understand how the show business is for actors – they, invariably, will be ‘left out’ when they fail to show to the world how expensive they can be. Sometimes, they buy/rent clothes on credit, live in rented apartments without payments, drive cars they might not have paid for. Imagine having to do all these things when royalties from movies they featured in are almost absent.

Yet, it is safe to say that the music industry is worse.

These days, some of the musicians literally beg fans and music lovers to go on paid sites to download the songs – but we trust the blogs who buy the said song/album and publish on their platforms for free downloads. It, therefore, makes it easier to get songs/albums without much ado.

Pirates come into this picture too. Most times, the very day the song is released, hawkers already have it, running after moving vehicles, asking people to purchase at a cheaper price. How many really want to spend more when it’s the same thing that’s in the pirated copy?

In this case, musicians have an alternative – live performances.

Money made from live shows can vary greatly, but it’s still one of the best ways to earn income. Not only can you make money from selling tickets, but it’s also one of the best ways to sell. How many understand this?

Besides, the industry doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure to allow artistes actually capitalise on performances.

Being a celebrity is not a walk in the park. Or to borrow from local colloquialism, “It. Is. Not. Beans.” There’s something called keeping up appearances which every celebrity worth their salt must necessarily do – an costly venture for the initiated.

First, there’s the look. Celebrities cannot just waltz into any public occasion wearing their favourite bathrobe or pjs. No, that just won’t do. It will not do well for their brand (except they belong to the category of celebrities who don’t give a shit, which simply means they aren’t A-list or they are too A-list to give a shit); even if the ubiquitous paparazzi and fans will get a kick out of it. This means “the look” must be crafted down to the last detail. Hair, nails, makeup, attire, shoes, accessories, must all be on check at all times. There’s even an unwritten rule that they must be designer brands. So if you’re not picking outfits off foreign fashion runway shows or patronising our homebred fashion designers, what is the actual worth of your celebrity status?

Celebrities, therefore, shell out thousands of Naira per occasion (the pressure to make the top fashion lists is a thing). Established stylists command at least N50,000 per look while upcoming ones may negotiate 3 looks for N100,000. Celebrities with stylists on retainer spring upwards of 300,000 a month. A makeup session (colloquially referred to as a ‘face beat’) does not come cheap either. Depending on the makeup artiste’s ranking and the event/look/photoshoot in question, makeup can go for as low as 5,000 per face beat (not per event, mind) to as much as N50,000 per face beat. Then there’s the actual get-up (inclusive of shoes, bag and accessories), which can cost as much as N100,000 for the dudes to around N500,000 or N2,000,000 for the ladies, depending on their designer label addiction. Lest we forget the all-important hairdo, that ranges from N15,000 upwards.

All of this is supposed to ensure that the celebrity maintains a certain level of success the rest of the uninitiated can pine for and adulate because the bottom line is branding trumps all.

A celebrity’s brand is not a thing they take lightly (nor should they) because it is the public’s perception of them and if that perception is not positive enough or powerful, such celebrities are forgettable and easily dismissed. And who will buy what they’re selling when no one knows or remember them? That’s why celebrities surround themselves with a team of people who ensure they are in the public eye always. From managers to social media gurus to P.R. personnel and even personal shoppers in foreign countries, their team is responsible for shaping the perception the public has of the celebrity until they hit the right note. Take Ebuka’s brand, for instance. It’s independent, stylish, powerful. In short, unforgettable. Coming out of the inaugural Big Brother Nigeria 2006 edition, he is the only one Nigerians really remember. He doesn’t even need his surname to evoke a connection ‘cause, really, there is only one Ebuka we know. Toke Makinwa is another. Her brand is independent, stylish, #babygirlForLife. Her IG page is a mood board of all things salacious and inviting, leaving fans hungry for more. This team is not above fuelling controversy when it is required to sell movies, songs or books. And no, they don’t offer their services for free.

Unfortunately, these expenditures constitute a sliver of income-draining things for a celebrity. Cultural expectation is an addition. In Nigeria, the rule of thumb is the most financially buoyant, first born or not, bears the burden of the family’s finances. Children who attain celebrity status, therefore, become the family’s bank. Folks who are not deliberate and smart about their finances can easily sink into debt or worse, poverty. There are preventative measures around that, however, to ensure that earning power never stops.

  1. The Toke Makinwa Example: Use controversy to your advantage. Use it to produce content that is commercially viable. When the news of Makinwa’s marriage issues broke, Nigerian social media was awash with criticism. Every Tom and Ekaette had specific theories about what went wrong. Toke Makinwa, of course, bore the brunt of that criticism. She was crucified and vilified, even though she was clearly not the one with the baby mama. Well, guess what? She wrote a book, a dramatic comeback of epic proportions. Because of the keen interest in her story, her book, On Becoming, flew off the shelves (On Becoming clinched the first spot on Okada Book’s list of twenty-five best selling books of 2016), pundits occupied themselves with dissecting the material left, right and centre while Toke smiled all the way to the bank.
  2.  Multiple streams of income: Nigeria’s economic realities make one stream of income potentially disastrous. The only way to stay afloat and ahead is by fishing in several fertile waters. If the big brand endorsements are not coming (and why wait for them anyways?) start your own business, launch your own products, invest in land, do something. Serena Williams loves to acquire property; TM Bags, Gbemisoke shoes, are all products of celebs who parlayed their popularity into commercially viable products.
  3. Leverage on Copyright: Contrary to popular opinion, copyright is an automatic right afforded anyone who has created something that becomes a work. It is a protection of a person’s creativity that is expressed in something tangible called “the work”. This includes a piece of music or writing, pictures, movies or artwork. Basically, any literary or artistic work is covered by copyright. Please note that copyright does not protect an idea. It protects the creative work that comes out of the idea. Nigerian celebrities need to be aware of this protection that exists and take full advantage of it. For instance, musicians ought to earn royalties from telecom industries who play snippets of their music as caller tunes or ringtones, or from clubs. The Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON), etc are collecting societies which exist to ensure that artistes get the royalties due them. Apple and Tidal are other streaming/download sites that Nigerian musicians can explore to make more income off their music.

A celebrity can take it further by trademarking his brand. A celebrity can protect his reputation by trademarking his name and an image representing his brand. When a person becomes so popular in a particular industry that when his name is called, there is only one image that comes to mind, that celebrity can leverage on that popularity by trademarking his name. Cristiano Ronaldo did this with CR-7. It wasn’t even his coinage. He was christened CR-7 by football commentators and fans but he took advantage of that by having that name trademarked so that he alone reserves the exclusive right to use the name for commercial purposes. These include a hotel property in Madeira, Portugal called CR-7, fragrance, a clothing line (which carries sportswear) etc.

7 years ago, Lionel Messi followed suit by attempting to trademark the name Messi. Although that resulted in a lawsuit with a company named Massi, which challenged Messi’s trademark on the grounds of his name being too similar with theirs, just last week the EU court ruled that Messi may register his trademark “MESSI” for sports equipment and clothing”. This means that no other brand can use the name “Messi”. In this vein, Nigerian celebs like Wizkid, Baddo, Davido, Tuface and the like can trademark their brands for commercial exploitation.

It is quite difficult to reconcile the facts on how the same people a lot of citizens look up to (at least in attaining financial success or fame) in a country as ours, could turn out to be the same people who would turn around to crowdsource funds or perhaps beg the general public for financial assistance when they go broke or are faced with some terminal illness.

While this may not be ethically correct, one cannot rule out the fact that our culture as Nigerians encourage concern and care for the next neighbour, as encapsulated in the maxims “Be your brother’s keeper and No one knows tomorrow”. Indeed, a typical Nigerian is generally expected to display some level of compassion emotionally and/or materially when he/she is faced with another neighbour in need.

And so, when viewed from that perspective, it becomes easy to understand while such phenomenon is not viewed with disdain on the part of the ‘supposed donor’ when assistance is sought. It is a safe conclusion therefore that there is nothing wrong with such act, so long as it is in tandem with our belief as a people especially if we consider the fact that they are humans and could face hard times.

In the long run, it is however to the benefits of the practitioners of the entertainment industry (music artistes, actors, comedians, etc.) if they rise to the task by defeating the desire to sacrifice sustainability on the altar of survival. This would begin from insistence on restructuring their industries to ensure that money is more evenly spent and artistes have more flexibility to take on projects that improve the craft rather than focusing only on survival.

This has a lot to do with the level of efforts put into song production so as to transcend beyond generating a rave song or the roles they accept in movies irrespective of the depth of its script, as all of these contributes eventually to how relevant the actor/artiste would continue to remain in the scheme of things.

The current arrangement is such that the movie promoters or record labels (in the case of music) takes a far larger chunk of the profit that accrues from a production and in many cases, pirates swarm upon their works and ultimately make themselves (the pirates) rich off the sweat of these entertainers.

On the other hand, the onus is on entertainers to create a desirable future for themselves and to pursue more viable options for wealth creation in the form of investment (in and out of the entertainment industry) as a way of diversifying their income stream so as to keep up with the responsibilities that come regularly or unexpectedly irrespective of the height of their fame at that point in time.

More so, as branding changes and in this age of personal branding, so does opportunities for personal advancement. Entertainers should leverage on this in order to see that they continue to remain celebrated as a pride to their society.

Celebrity shouldn’t be a curse to the general public and the individual.

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