|Nigeria: Nollywood as a positive tool for African transformation|
|Written by Uchenna Onuzulike (1) Friday, 02 March 2012 03:25|
This CAI paper highlights the Nigerian movie industry, known as Nollywood. It has an impact on Nigerian culture, politics, society and economics. Although the early Nollywood movies predominantly dwell on supernatural themes, the movie industry has evolved. Despite some challenges that face Nollywood including quality of film and piracy,(2) the film industry has positioned itself to inform its audience, which impacts Nigeria and beyond. Recent developments include the seeking of Nollywood’s endorsement during the 2011 general election and contribution to the removal of fuel subsidy in 2012.(3) Furthermore, the industry “has tried to represent the disintegration of societal values such as women’s rights, civil society and governance.”(4)
A brief historical development of Nollywood
The first exhibition of film in Nigeria occurred in August 1903 at the Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos.(5) Since then, the Nigerian film industry has gone through four prominent stages, namely, the colonial, independence, indigenisation and Nollywood eras.(6) In fact, Nollywood emerged in the early ’90s as a result of several factors, one being the economy. This was necessitated by the implementation of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAPs) instituted by the military dictatorships by devaluation of the Naira (Nigerian currency). Due to the SAPs, the price of film production on celluloid became very expensive so, they resorted to video format. There are a number of movies that were made on video prior to 1992 in Nigeria,(7) Living in Bondage (1992), which was produced by Okechukwu “Paulo” Ogunjiofor, directed by Vic Mordi and successfully marketed by Kenneth Nnebue’s NEK Video Links, has been credited by many for ushering in Nollywood.(8) As Haynes notes, Nnebue used empty VHS cassettes he imported from Taiwan and dubbed Living in Bondage (9) for mass production. Produced in Igbo language and subtitled in English, it became a hit.(10) Even though the majority of these movies are made on video and sold in DCDs and VCDs, Nollywood has produced movies on celluloid; one example is The Amazing Grace (2006).(11) This experiment opened the door not only for Nigerians—both professionals and amateur filmmakers— but to other African countries. This industry has taken the world by surprise and paved ways for Nigerian and other African filmic transformation.
Arguably, Nollywood has impacted and transformed Nigerian and African cultures. Although there are some concerns about Nollywood’s alleged distortion of cultures, the industry has been a tool for transforming and preserving African culture despite the forces of globalisation. For example, Nollywood uses Nigerian indigenous languages to tell African stories. “The language and culture of the people are central to their identity and aspirations for self-determination.”(12) In addition, Nollywood tells the traditional, hybridised and contemporary lives of the people of Nigeria.(13) Other African countries have followed in the footsteps of Nollywood by producing movies on video. This allows them to tell their stories, which are predominantly done by the West and a few African filmmakers. In addition, the affordability of video makes it easier to showcase the culture of African people.
Nollywood has brought back social life that virtually disappeared in Nigeria, especially in terms of film and entertainment. Cinema theatres in Lagos had disappeared or were converted to warehouses, nightclubs and Charismatic churches.(14) Nowadays, with the presence of Nollywood, along with Silver Bird cinemas, nightlife has returned.(15) Nollywood stars are now producing music, which has subsequently helped the Nigerian music industry. The Africa Movie Academy Awards is known for recognizing professionals in Nollywood and the African film industry for their excellence.(16) Similar awards also take place in the Diaspora. An example is the Nigerian Entertainment Awards, which is held in the United States every year to recognise Nigerian and Pan-African artists and professionals in Nollywood. The presence of Nollywood stars is always felt.(17) In addition, social media is a prominent arena where Nollywood issues are being discussed, critiqued and promoted. In these ways, Nollywood has practically contributed to social change and transformation in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
Nollywood is the second-largest sector of employment in Nigeria besides agriculture; it has sales of between US$ 200 million and US$ 300 million per year.(18) This is an indication of how this industry is continuing to boost and transform the Nigerian economy, through the provision of jobs. Notably, during the recent removal of fuel subsidy in Nigeria, it was reported that President Jonathan sent a representative to discuss it with Nollywood in a meeting tagged ‘Nollywood Roundtable on Deregulation’. This was organised by Segun Arinze’s faction of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN). However, another Nollywood group, the Association of Nollywood Core Producers (ANCOP), led by Alex Eyengho, criticised the meeting. They argued that the fuel subsidy removal should not have been supported by Segun Arinze’s faction of the AGN.(19) Regardless, the main issue here is to highlight the relevance of Nollywood in transforming and impacting economic policy in relation to politics in Nigeria.
Just like in every other society, politics in Africa has been hotly contested. However, hope has been restored in recent elections in Africa. An example is the 2011 Nigerian general election, in which “the findings of election observer groups” characterised it “as a significant improvement over previous polls, although not without problems.”(20) Also, “the 2011 general elections in Nigeria are considered to have been the most peaceful in the country’s turbulent history,” even though they claimed some lives.(21) This political transformation cannot be mentioned without the role of Nollywood. During these elections, some politicians sought Nollywood endorsement. The most notable endorsement was for President Jonathan. He was supported by a number of Nollywood stars, which is evident on a YouTube video.(22) Many of these stars threw jubilation parties after he won the election.(23) This demonstrates the impact Nollywood can have on the Nigerian political arena as well as the position of influencing national policies.
Similarly, some Nollywood actors expressed their interest and ran for an office in the general election in Nigeria. For example, Tony Muonagor, popularly known as “Tony One Week,” was elected to the House of Assembly election for the Idemili North constituency in Anambra State.(24) Also, in 2008, the Delta state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, appointed the veteran Nollywood actor Richard Mofe-Damijo, who survived a ghastly car accident on 17 January 2012, as a Special Adviser to the Governor on Entertainment and Talent Development. In December 2008, Mofe-Damijo was cleared by the Delta State House of Assembly as he assumed the post of Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in 2009; he was reappointed in 2011.(25) In 2011, another Nollywood actress, Nkiru Sylvanus was appointed as a Special Assistant to the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha.(26) Others who occupy cabinet positions are Okey Bakassi, as a Special Assistant to the Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State; the former National President of the AGN Ejike Asiegbu, as a Special Assistant on Entertainment to Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State; and Hank Anuku, a special adviser to the Delta State Governor, Dr. Uduaghan, on Tourism and Entertainment.(27) Political participation by Nollywood actors indicates that they are in the position to help transform communities.
Nollywood’s impact and transformation of Nigeria’s culture, politics, society and economy cannot be underestimated. Because of the growing strength of Nollywood, the stakeholders are now in the position of influencing the Nigerian government policies. Arguably, many of these actors had played “walker-pass” (inactive role) or were unknown, at one time in their lives; they have the opportunity to put the interest of the people first in any policy negotiation with the Government.
(1) Contact Uchenna Onuzulike through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Africa Optimistic Unit (