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 BUHARI & NOLLYWOOD:  Bold Ideas... The Change We Need!

By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

We are all glad that the power-to-power political transition has been safely completed without bloodshed or terror unleashed, and we can now settle down to rebuild our life-giving institutions with hope and purpose.

President Buhari

We, as good citizens, are obligated to call attention of the new people in power and submit advice on where to direct their fresh powers in such a manner that will benefit the vast majority of the Nigerian people.

Without a tint of arrogance, we submit here that a calm and large-hearted attention to the spirit and letters of this article may show forth seed capable of generating joy and gladness in millions of Nigerian homes within a short period of time of sowing. This is the moment that bold ideas should be given space to flower. When those who can dare are thrust forward to make dreams pop into reality. Charged adrenalin fueled by high imagination can indeed produce economic or socio-political miracles. Please, come with me...

It is basically coincidental even if it seems similar to the nature of our movie-makers who are fond of putting multiple parts of same film in circulation; nevertheless, it is reasonable to recollect the three earlier parts of this series as we wrap up. The starter was "Why Nollywood Can't Afford to Lose This Goodluck", first published on February 3, 2015. Then followed by the post-election " Nollywood vs GMB: Now that GEJ is no longer at ease" on April 19. 2015. And finally, "Nollywood vs GMB: How To Woo GEJ Lovers" (or What We Should Take From GEJ) of May 12, 2015. Now to this "finally-finally" part of my submission.

When we say a government accords an "Industry" status to loosely connected groups of people identifiable by one broad profession, we mean that the government actually 'means' business. It recognises the vital importance of that profession to the development of the economy and the stability of the nation.

It understands that such a profession can add value to the system by exporting, in massive consignments, its products, general merchandise, services, culture, traditions, tourism destinations, and countless distinctly Nigerian items, articles and paraphernalia, through scenic representations in our movies which become handy worldwide.

Such a government desires that national artefacts like the crest, flag, stamps, buildings, games, protocols, etc are seen, recognised and patronised all across the world. Such a government appreciates that dominating Africa economically and politically is underlined by a vibrant, adept and professional motion pictures (and similar entertainment products) which are the sure and deliberate steps before 'conquering' the world.

Therefore, such a government will seek means and measures to protect and nurture the new "Industry" - by spearheading the building of physical and intellectual structures; designing and drafting pragmatic, comprehensive laws and regulations to midwife and safeguard the operations and procedures of the Industry. So, to build a world-class country and man-power, the world must first see the class and carriage of her visions and dreams via the windows of her arts and culture - her enduring civilisation!

Once upon a time it was fashionable for government officials to throw force and power at the restiveness and criminality in the Niger Delta. When that didn't work, they started throwing money at it: cash-for-gun, bounties on wanted notorious warlords, etc. It later dawned on the powers-that-be the obvious weaknesses of those strategies.

They realised the sane and result-oriented way was to deal with age-long infrastructural deficiencies and assuage developmental iniquities of past vagabond governments. And that brought the omnibus NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) in 2000 by the troublesome Chief Olusegun Obasanjo government.

We are not here to review the efficacy of NDDC, but is it any wonder that modest peace and some sort of order have pervaded the region since the policy mindset was persuaded by the Alh. Aliyu Musa Yar'Adua administration to offer carrot-and-stick approach (obviously more carrots than stick); and even quieter still since 2008 when he conjured a Niger-Delta Ministry with NDDC as a major parastatal?

It does not take much brain-work to know that the issues the core-objectives of NDDC/Niger-Delta Ministry confronted are also staring at us in the Creative Community of Nigeria. Here is a short list: Resource Control. Environmental Degradation. Pollution. Unemployable Restive Youth. Proliferation of Ammunition. For all these Niger Delta "devils", their creative equivalences are: Dearth of Resources. Economic Degradation. Piracy. Unemployable Restless Youth. Proliferation of Unimagination. And more of course.

With the strides of ex-president GEJ in his beloved Nollywood, the new Buhari government has a surly but eager community (however sharply divided and suspicious). The larger Creative Communities have long-standing capacity for supportive and eager collaboration with any government policies geared towards elevating the prospects of their art forms.

Unlike Brother Jonathan that threw money at Nollywood in an attempt to palliate highlighted inadequacies (professional training, seed capital for shooting projects, erecting cinema houses, etc), let Uncle Buhari go round the current funding nets and mop up outstanding capitals from Bank of Industry, NEXIM and such financial initiatives still lying fallow.

A N3b pledge was made in March 2013 by the Jonathan government for "the development of the film industry", and whatever remained of the N200m loan scheme of 2010. With remnants of these schemes and other the aggregated funds/grants, a fresh input and dedicated liaisons with art-loving nations and foundations worldwide, we should have enough stimulus to legislate into being the Nigerian Entertainment Development Commission, NEDC.

That I submit, is one of the first set of quick-fire bills this government can activate with a guaranteed instantaneous celebrations and sustained enthusiasm nationwide. Look into the archives, there have been many papers and colloquy on this sort of issue; so drawing up a draft bill should be a swing.

The objectives of the NEDC are direct and actionable:

1: To protect, promote, preserve and permit activities, regulations, practices and procedures that shall produce and provide conducive conditions for the attainment of high productivity, excellence in production standards, training and development.

2: To act as arrowhead and driving force in the capitalization and establishment of critical infrastructures; and the mobilisation of corporate financial institutions towards deepening and expanding professionalism and investment super-highways.

3: To encourage and stimulate the positive, clear-sighted promotion and preservation of our sundry cultural and traditional mores, diverse lifestyles and customs, etc. In the pursuit of the foregoing, to activate a strong sense of patriotism and deep appreciation of the potentials of our inherent diversity - in culture, practices and customs - and its sensitive and responsible presentation to the larger world.

Some of the major organs of the NEDC shall include the following: A new National Copyright Administration (the NCC Act shall be amended to subsume this effete body under the NEDC) will act as the intellectual, orientational, documentation and informational arm of the NEDC, especially in the critical forth-coming anti-piracy war.

- War Against Piracy (WAP) unit (with adequate and well-remunerated enforcement and prosecutorial personnel and competences). The crack-force units of armed forces, police and paramilitary corps shall be in action across the states/LGs/major urban centres (like a "Piracy Police"). The units shall include lawyers proficient in criminal litigation of intellectual property infringers; PR/Information officers (reverse propaganda is essential), etc. We have to win the war on piracy, as the statistics is worse than distressing - a recent international media report blatantly revealed on this scourge that "Nigeria accounts for 80% of internationally pirated music CDs!

- A corollary of the above is the establishment of counterpart judicial units - for example, the much vaunted Special Tribunals in every geopolitical sub-zone (senatorial district). A spin-off from that is the urgent need to review the Copyright Act where punishments are now outdated and are no longer commensurate to the gravity of criminality. As we speak, punitive fines range from N10,000 to N100,000 for individual infringers - and N50,000 to N500,000 for "body corporate"! The longest jail time is 12 months... with that sort of kid-glove knocks, it is no wonder piracy is quite lucrative here.

Even more despairing is the apparent ignorance (or may be indolence) amongst copyright owners - they seem to believe only the Copyright Commission can prosecute infringements. A former senior law lecturer at University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Dr. F.O.B. Babafemi lamented in his 526-page book (Intellectual Property: The Law and Practice of Copyright, Trade Marks, Patents and Industrial Designs in Nigeria, 2006):

"In my view the Commission is now doing a very good job. More cases are being taken to the Federal High Court. However, be this as it may, when one examines the civil cases brought before the Federal High Court, one is indeed dismayed at the paucity of cases (brought by copyright owners - emphasis mine).

"The point I am making is that even if the Nigerian Copyright Commission prosecutes or does not prosecute, nothing stops the copyright owner himself from suing anyone who infringes his copyright in a court of law. It is indeed very very sad that since the enactment of the Copyright Act of 1988 and its amendments in 1992 and 1999... we can only cite very few reported cases on copyright"!

Need we say more?

Yet, all the current noise is on physically piracy... the war front against the ascendancy of the more sophisticated digital piracy has not even been cleared! As Ana Santos Rutschman revealed an Emory University International Law Review paper (Weapons of Mass Construction: The Role of Intellectual Property in Nigeria's Film and Music Industries, March 2015): "With an estimated 23% of the Nigerian population having access to mobile Internet by 2017, the Internet could become Nigeria's new Alaba market." Oh, we have work to do! (But more on Piracy later).

- Another critical arm of the NEDC is the Arts Endowment Fund. This is what gives the commission its spunk as a semi-autonomous body with inherent abilities to access funds and grants all over the world; and a well-designed accountable system of supporting, funding, subventing and generally provoking creative or artistic excellence in productions, trainings, festivals, exhibitions, concerts, scholarship, curricular, etc. We can borrow a leaf from the Iroko that America's National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has become. Surely with an annual budget of $146m (about N28b in 2015) the NEA boasts of a chest to wink at entire budgets of several Nigerian states' Ministry of Cultures combined. It was set up in 1965 as an independent agency by the US government. Our own giant document on the Endowment Fund has been gathering dusts since the 1990's.

- There is an urgent need to deregulate and decentralize the business of collecting societies and the administration of royalty distribution. A strong function of the NEDC is to act as keen regulators of these independent membership-driven associations - and provide adequate and perpetual safety nets for creators of self-generating works of arts.

- Note that even as we promote our culture, give jobs to our youth and project a worthy legacy for the promises of this great nation, the surrounding activities of NEDC are catalysts for grater and qualitative job opportunities for large spectrum of professionals and allied industries. it is a win-win scenario for all Nigerians.

Our parting plea is that the above statements should not be digested in a hurry like a watered-down Nollywood script; nor should we regress to the classic Nigerian pass-time of abandoning the message and hankering after the messenger.

Spend time to reflect; give the benefit of doubt and seek clarification or research if unsure. Being disdainful of bold or "crazy" ideas does not make them less pivotal, or less beneficial.

Whatever you do, think of this moment as a unique opportunity and atmosphere to change dramatically the fortunes and features of the Nigerian Creative Community - for good. So, let us think together! God bless Nigeria. And her long-suffering art-isans!

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