By Tony Ogaga Erhariefe
During the build up to the 2015 general elections, President Muhammed Buhari’s policy document on entertainment stated: “I will assist Nollywood to fully develop into a world class movie industry that can compete effectively with Hollywood and Bollywood in due course. I will support the creative and performing arts with the necessary environment whereby our great entertainers do not end their lives in abject poverty as is currently the case.”
A year after he assumed office, the question is, has Mr. President kept to his promise or is he just paying lip service to the development of the Nigerian entertainment industry?
Ever since the Buhari administration came on stream, there have been a couple of attempts to kick-start dialogue between government and stakeholders in the entertainment sector of the economy, and his administration has time and again acknowledged the potentials of Nollywood as a cash cow that could transform the Nigerian economy.
However, the Buhari administration it would seem is finally putting its money where its mouth is.
Only recently, the industry got a major boost when the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, broke away from the past and inaugurated a 29-member committee for the review of MOPICON draft document, which has been described as the panacea to the myriad problems plaguing the movie industry.
Unveiling the committee members at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, the Minister pointed out that the move became necessary in order to enable Nollywood play a meaningful role in national development.
And to make sure that the move is successful, seasoned practitioners including the likes of Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, Mahmood Ali-Balogun, Brian Etuk, Ralph Nwadike, Fred Amata and Anthony Anih among a host of others were inaugurated to the committee which also has as members, representatives of Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), Ministry of Information and Culture, and Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC).
Commenting, the Minister said: “MOPICON is and will remain an industry-run lobby and pressure body that will foster the achievement and maintenance of the highest professional and commercial standards in the motion picture industry as well as ensure the protection of the rights and privileges of motion picture practitioners in the lawful exercise of their profession.”
Among others, the committee is expected to review and harmonize the MOPPICON draft bill and code of ethics document within three weeks ahead of its submission to the Ministry of Justice and the National Assembly.
Another area where the Buhari administration is making strides is digitization. According to Mohammed, the digitization process of the broadcast industy in Nigeria has the potentials to contribute over $250m annually to the entertainment industry in Nigeria.
The Minister further said that the Federal Government is determined to ensure that Nigeria meets the June 2017 digitization deadline switch over, noting that it had made tremendous progress in its bid to meeting the deadline set by the international telecommunications union on the digitization of broadcast signals worldwide following the success of the pilot project in Jos, while promising that the nation’s capital, Abuja and Lagos are next on the list.
He also used the opportunity to state that the ministry would continue its engagement with all stakeholders in the sector to ensure the continuing success of the process and to also remove knotty issues like the litigation arising from the licensing of the signals’ distributors.
Re-reiterating the federal government’s readiness to partner Nollywood institutions, during an interactive forum with filmmakers at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Media Centre, Iganmu, Lagos, Mohammed emphasized the need to strengthen agencies such as the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) and the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) as the true ears and eyes of government.
Identifying a major problem facing the industry, Mohammed said that he will make moves to bring the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) under the Information and Culture Ministry because the decision to move the NCC to the Ministry of Justice has caused a major disconnect between the industry and the other sector of the arts
Obviously aware of the impact piracy was having on the industry; the minister said during an interactive session with stakeholders a while ago that indeed, piracy was the bane of the industry.
“There is no doubt that piracy has become a monstrous disincentive not only to filmmakers but also to the entire arts and the entertainment industry.
“With what I have read and seen, it appears that piracy has almost killed the industry. This is totally unacceptable and this administration is determined to fight this scourge and the good news is that we have the backing of Mr. President.”
Admitting that millions of naira in government revenue is lost annually, the minister conceded that government could not properly diversify the economy if it did not make any effort to tackle piracy and in the above light, the minister promised that his ministry was ready to work with relevant agencies to tackle the hydra-headed monster.
However, if the Buhari administration is truly sincere in its bid to redefine the entertainment industry, stakeholders believe that it should begin with the signing of the Private Copy Levy bill which COSON chairman, Tony Okoroji has argued passionately about. According to Okoroji, if ratified, the bill has the potential not only to transform the fortunes of artistes but also to contribute millions of naira to the nation’s GDP.
There is no gain saying it, the last one year has been a lot of talks and little action in the entertainment industry. Now, what remains to be seen is if the Buhari administration will have the will to walk the talk.
However, with the inauguration of the 29-member committee for the review of the MOPICOM draft document, it is obvious that the administration is headed in the right direction. But then, it is not yet uhuru.