For The Records!NOLLYWOOD vs GMB: Now That GEJ Is No Longer At Ease By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

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Permit the audacity for that headline, the idea is not to suggest that the gentleman’s replacement will be a hard nut. Recollect that few weeks before the March 28 presidential election, I wrote a piece attempting to reiterate a number of reasons why arguably most Nollywoodians rallied for and waged mini-wars on behalf of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The summary of the write-up is that the practitioners could not afford to lose such a besotted benefactor. After all, his opponent scarcely knew that they existed – a scary proposition for a sector savouring unprecedented governmental pampering and back-massaging. The gravy was too sweet to spurn the joy-ride.
Now, it is proper to return to this subject since what Nollywoodians feared most has happened to them. My people, in their wisdom, say when a child falls, he merely looks ahead (aluta continua); however the fall of an adult is instinctively weighed with a backward glance (where did the rain start beating). So, what lessons have we learnt from the conduct, comportment and strategic interventions of members of the Nigerian creative community – especially, the make-believe commune?

The first major lesson the Nollywoodians have been forced to learn is “never say NEVER” in politics. In our climate, the template for the most improbable, the most grotesque, the most dishonourable, even the unmentionable…to happen appears to have been divinely created for our exclusive usage. Many frontliners of the Pro-GEJ brigade spoke and wrote with an Aristotelian exactitude about the unimaginable bright chances of GEJ. They brusquely dismissed and gave scant regard to every contrary position or searing criticism of their man. The aroma of their champagne love was, of course, sapped by the GEJ handlers, and every opportunity was rightly stretched to serenade Nigerians who seemed distracted by the daily grind of living in Nigeria. That aroma, at a point, appeared to be suffocating the teeming fans of the thespians who might have wondered why similar magical and clearly evident interventions were not employed in their own industries or situations.
To me, the moral here is: It is ok to endorse, campaign and express your love and admiration of political partisans in times of state or national elections: it is however wise to do such things as distinct personal exercise of rights and privileges (as their colleagues in Hollywood do). Do not arrogate you and your friends’ collective as aggregate of an entire “industry” – even if you boldly believe more than 90% of your folks are on the same train. Note that such “gang-up” mentality erroneously pits you against your colleagues who do not share your arithmetic formulae (of arriving at the “over 90%”). And that is even the least of your dilemma. Your effusive declarations and sabre-rattling may also antagonize the general voting populace to whom your boastful “90+%” commune account for far less than 2%. Your poor poster-boy had little chance of success in a credible election circle with that kind of “we-don’t-give-a-damn” circus.

Here is another lesson: In a contest of such magnitude, the minds of the populace are essentially framed around what they think or believe they know about the personalities of the main combatants, their statements, public styles and comportment. They also make direct judgment-call on each candidate, rightly or wrongly, based on what they perceive as the actions and attitudes of their close companions or aides.
While I admit many of the interventionist schemes of the outgoing administration might have been well-intentioned, and indeed a large pool of insiders might have benefited, the arrogant impatience and dismissive uneasiness of the GEJ work-group did not help their principal. Instead of spreading understanding of the sundry schemes, and explaining why thousands of potential ‘benefiteers’ were hardly aware of the funding opportunities, much less accessing or benefiting thereof, the GEJ movers hewed, clawed and trampled almost every specter of dissent. The talk-down on aggrieved members of the larger creative community on account of the lopsidedness of GEJ’s electric love for the movie makers was classic Hubris. In many areas of engagements, they arguably helped the cause of the opposition by their glib evocations of certain success on account of their sectorial Eldorado. The swaggering disposition of leading lights of the Otuoke General’s battle formation implied there was an oracular declaration of ultimate electoral success for GEJ that we were all ignorant about.
On many threads, fora, platforms, the tone and temper of the motley of GEJ apparatchiks were confrontational, abusive, defamatory – and running through their contributions was a strident dismay that was fuelled by a sense of entitlement. Sometimes, neutrals wondered who really was the opposition party! That was how blurred the lines of engagements were in the war-fronts of savage partisan skulduggery.

Then again, we have learnt what we ought to have known: that Providence cannot be bandied around in political space as if divinity is equal to incumbency. Many notables of the filmic trade amused us relentlessly with their grasp of political calculus; spewing facts and figures that gave GEJ ascendancy in the last presidential election. Practitioners were ready to throw opposing colleagues under the bus with their chronic disdain for either’s principal. We watched in awe as words, thoughts and projections were elevated to prophetic ministrations – and the ‘other candidate’ as a behemoth that must be crushed. We witnessed vitriol and disparaging comments that exposed the tribal and demagogic fault-lines of our Nigerianess. Many friends were prepared to go to war, and shred their relationship for the sake of winning an election. The actions and outbursts of creative artisans turned cyber war-lords revealed in crystal perspective the deep fissures that pork-mark our so-called “unity in diversity”. We virtually besmirched our fabric of national cohesion and brotherliness in electioneering orgy.
Isn’t it amazing that in all that colourful cavalcade and high-octane party-bangers, the encircling company of Nollywoodians did not remember to put on the front burners of campaign menu some of the main scourges bedeviling the promise and prosperity of their industry. Did they dwell on issues like corrosive privacy and profiteering pauperizing the enterprise of producers of creative matter; the comprehensive and inclusive nationwide distribution structure that can traffic their talents across many borders; a definitive and thriving Endowment Fund for the Arts; strengthening pivotal documents like the Copyright Act, National Copyright Commission, the collecting societies and other instruments and institutions? But more on that later.
If you thought the pain or gain of loss/win would have simmered with passage of time – that the tone and timbre of discussion and carriage will be tinted with humility and magnanimity on the side of the unexpected victors, and sanguine introspection and hopeful contemplation on the stunned vanquished – you are sorely mistaken. More anger, more dissonance, more disgust, more hate and more dross have continued to dog the stairways towards the hand-over ceremony. Energies that should be deplored to laying markers and charting agendas for the incoming government whose mantra is Change…. It is not therefore strange to declare that with the attitude and pre-occupation of many of our Nollywoodians, our creative industry need not look far for its worst enemies.
Clearly, we are impervious to lessons of our history or the sorrowful stories of other lands. The prayer of all who love this nation, and its culture/entertainment is that we move away from the current insanity (or what shall we call doing things the same ways all these years, and still expect different results?) May our prayers be answered!

Next: What must GMB learn from GEJ’s Nollywood Affairs – and the way forward

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