Happy Independence Anniversary Good and Optimistic Nigerians! This was published initially in Leadership Newspapers in 2014, has anything changed in Nigeria’s film industry?
The Nigeria Cinema from immemorial has grown in leaps and bounds. Accounting for 1.4% of the National GDP in 2014, this is no mean feat as the industry has created many jobs and shaped the perception of the world about our values, culture and lifestyle. It has a great potential to be far greater than this when structures are put in place.
Before Nigeria gained independence, Nigerians who are known to be the happiest people on earth according to a report, were doing their thing. As far back as the mid-1940s, playwrights and theatre artistes from the South-western region were performing stage plays. The doyen of theatre in Nigeria, late Hubert Ogunde had begun what will cause a revolution in the arts having begun his theatre career under the patronage of the Lagos-based Church of the Lord, a sect of the Cherubim and Seraphim Society in 1944 with his first opera (a play set to music), The Garden of Eden and The Throne of God. Buoyed by the success, he founded Ogunde Theatre Troupe which was the first contemporary professional company in Nigeria. Ogunde Theatre was entitled Tiger’s Empire. Premiered on March 4, 1946, Tiger's Empire was produced by The African Music Research
Scholars like Professor Wole Soyinka had also also started in this era having produced his first major play, The Swamp Dwellers in 1958 and followed it a year later with The Lion and the Jewel, a comedy that attracted interest from several members of London's Royal Court Theatre. It was performed at the premier university, University of Ibadan and the success of the play encouraged Soyinka to move to London where he garnered more experience as a playwright.
These two legendary artists among others contributed to the industry immensely.
By the time Nigeria gained independence from her colonial master, Britain, the stage was set for the industry to be built with many Nigerians schooling studying English, Theatre Arts and related fields.
Wole Soyinka who celebrated his 80th birthday in 2014 produced The Trials of Brother Jero and A Dance of The Forest in 1960. The body of works authored by him was a satire- criticism of Nigeria's political elites and it won a contest that year as the official play for Nigerian Independence Day. On 1 October 1960, it premiered in Lagos as Nigeria celebrated its sovereignty. The play satirizes the fledgling nation by showing that the present is no more a golden age than was the past. With these and other playwrights majorly from the academia, the art cum entertainment scene was part of us. Notable was Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage displayed by our traditional music and dance styles.
Travelling theatre referred to as the alarinjos was the order of the day between the 60s and 80s. Hubert Ogunde with his troupe, Kola Ogunmola and his theatre troupe, Afolayan aka Ade Love from Agbamu in Kwara State had his theatre troupe travelling from the Southern part of the country to the Northern part as deep as Maiduguri. They were welcomed in different places as they staged their dramas openly and in different centres across the country. Though the unrest occasion by bloody coups by the Nigerian military affected the travelling theatre, it made practitioners to think of other ways to tell their stories to the people. A handful of cinemas scattered across the country showcased Nigeria films via celluloid.
Soap Operas That Shone
The advent of television further opened opportunities in the sector galvanizing the change that made stars out of actors and actresses. Soaps which are drama series began to be showcased as independent producers were needed to fill the content available in different TV stations. Cock Crow At Dawn, Village Headmaster, Magana Ja Riche, Second Chance, Ripples, Behind The Clouds, Lynx Checkmate were all productions that got rave reviews among viewers and lovers of drama. At this point, an industry had emerged and needed both infrastructural edifices and sound policies to deepen the industry and create money making opportunities for stakeholders. Nigeria Television Authority NTA was the medium in the 70s and 80s that beamed stage dramas, soap operas and creative content to millions of Nigeria. Epics like Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe televised on NTA were one of the success stories of what television did to the industry. After the deregulation in the broadcast industry in the mid 90s, many more TV stations started and drama series producers, directors, technical team and actors got more medium to express their creativity. The first private TV, DBN Television beamed live the Atlanta ’96 Olympics. AIT, Silver bird TV and other arts friendly broadcast stations made entertainment bigger in Nigeria. And with the era of home videos in the 1992, the industry took a quantum leap with unlimited opportunities for filmmakers and business-savvy people to cash-in on the opportunity. The rest is history as they as Nollywood was born. Movie makers like Gabosky, Tunde Kelani, Wale Fanu, Tade Ogidan, Zeb and Chico Ejiro, late Amaka-Igwe began to churn out movies via home video format i.e VHS and then VCDs. These opened doors for Nigeria top sell herself through our stories laced by our rich cultural diversity.
Edifices authenticate the importance of a sector and the arts were not left out. The National Arts Theatre became the primary centre for the performing arts in Nigeria. Located in Orile-Iganmu area of Lagos State, the National Arts Theatre constructed and completed in 1976 was the hot bed for the transformation of the cultural arts and entertainment industry. The edifice, a magnificent dome was iconic of the era in the history of arts in Nigeria. It was built in preparation for the Festival of Arts and Culture FESTAC ‘77.
The first movie though produced outside the country had the imprint of late Hubert Ogunde who starred in Mister Johnson, the 1990 motion picture which also featured Pierce Brosnan. The movie was shot on location in Jos. Living In Bondage was produced in 92 by Kenneth Nnebue and this birthed the home video era. Fast forward to 2014, Nollywood is known for churning out the 2nd larges quantum of movies.
In recognizing the influence of the movie industry, government Intervention via the $200M intervention fund to aid movie producers in accessing loans came to the fore in 2012 and subsequent funds for capacity building came about under President Ebele Goodluck Jonathan led administration. Comedy, a part of drama evolved and it is now the fastest growing sector in the entertainment industry.
The challenges of access to funds remain in the movie industry. The MOPPICON bill which could have created a blue print for the stakeholders’ i.e filmmakers, guilds heads and others is yet to be put into law since Olusegun Obasanjo government.