Film village: Nigeria should thank Kano puritans

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Courtesy bimbo Adelakun punch



The issue with Kano State’s rejection of the film village the Federal Government had proposed to build in the state is that it highlights the deficiency of the structure Nigeria runs. If Nigeria were not a bottle-feeding system that helps constituent units to survive regardless of their level of productivity, religious zealots in Kano would not turn down an opportunity for federal investment for spurious reasons such as the fear of a taint of their puritanistic values.

Kano State, by the way, runs a queer system whereby it rejects enterprises that risk collapsing its impeccable morals under the weight of its own self-righteous hypocrisy. It publicly destroys thousands of bottles of beer because alcohol is anathema to the state but nevertheless lives off a federal allocation derived from activities steeped in all kinds of immoralities. They are like Chichidodo, the proverbial bird that hates faeces yet feeds on maggot. Yet, for all its contradictions, the state’s rejection of a film village may have some positive bent.

The first eye-rolling moment came for me when I saw that the film village would be named after President Muhammadu Buhari. Why in the name of “Orunmila” would anyone name such a project after Buhari? What, precisely, is his contribution to the Nigerian film industry that he deserves such an honour? Why not name the project after the people who worked assiduously to make the industry great instead? Why do we love raising monuments to our leaders’ sense of vanity?

The other eye-roll happened when I read that the project was envisioned as “world class.” When Nigerian government says it is building a “world class” project, be assured it would neither attract the world nor would it be classy. It would likely end up ghettoised, a testament to the haste with which such lofty ideas are conceived and executed. For instance, they budgeted $10m or N5bn (depending on who is reporting) for the film village but nobody seems to be questioning how a project of such magnitude could cost so little.

If according to the project promoter, Abdulmumin Jibrin, the film village will contain “a cinematography centre, 400-capacity auditorium for training, hostel, sound stage, eatery block, three-star hotel, shopping mall, stadium, clinic, among others” then, the amount is curious. Would the N5bn/$10m go towards merely raising the buildings, or it includes furnishing them to “world class taste”, or it includes equipment procurement as well? The finished project would definitely have cost far much more than the proposed amount and one of two things would have happened eventually. The project would either have been abandoned after the initial amount has been expended or it would have become a money guzzler, a pit where the Federal Government throws money every year when inflation rates overtake allocated amounts.

Another question that should have been raised was the regular maintenance of the facility. Will the Federal Government be providing the sum for running costs or there is a plan, independent of the government, to make the place yield its own maintenance costs? I am not convinced that a government that barely supports the arts, a government that was not diligent enough to carry out feasibility studies- but only learnt of the aversion of Kano Pharisees to their proposition after they were ready to release the funds- has worked out the minutiae details that would have made the project sustainable. They, of course, have a fuzzy grand vision: that the project would boost tourism and generate jobs but until they answer why similar projects around the country are not generating similar returns, they are simply wasting everyone’s time.

Just lately, it was reported that electricity supply to the National Arts Theatre was disconnected because they racked up N9m bill. If that monstrous edifice in Lagos that is supposed to signpost the nation’s cultural and artistic pride can be allowed to whittle away before our very eyes, whoever believes the Kano film village will enjoy a better fate? Does anyone sincerely imagine that in the next 10 or 20 years, the sound studio would still be fitted with “state of the art” equipment operated by well-trained personnel, that the clinic would have operating staff and equipment, that the shopping mall would be fully functional, selling made in Nigeria products? Is there at least one example of Nigerian government’s successful venture into enterprise such as this that one can at least be hopeful?

Let us remember that there do exist similar projects that are yet to yield anything. There is the Mamman Vatsa Nigerian Writers’ Village in Abuja that has been in the works for many years now. The project has been dragged through a number of controversies and up till now has still not taken off. Meanwhile, in January, the “Artists Village” in Lagos was levelled with bulldozers, its artist inhabitants complaining about the philistine attack on their intellectual property and material goods. How come Nigeria that is destroying one artist village somewhere is setting up another elsewhere? Where is the consistency and coordination?

One of the arguments that have been trotted out in defence of the idea for the Kano film village is that India and China also have similar ones. The problem with such comparison is the elision of contextual differences. Film cities in India are actually private enterprises, not government businesses. The largest of such in the world, Ramoji Film City, is owned by an individual, a Ramoji Rao. Their other three film cities were built by individual businessmen too. India has a huge market for their films that it practically guarantees these businesses’ self-sustenance. With a population of one billion, they sell more than four billion films every year.

China, also taking advantage of its population, is trying to cut into India’s dominant share of the global film market. China’s richest man, Wang Jialin, is building the most expensive film studio in the world and for two reasons: to make money and to snatch from the United States, the propaganda power it has deployed over the rest of the world through Hollywood. What cultural policy is Nigeria currently developing that it needs the film village as part of its execution agenda?

There is no doubt that Nollywood, an industry that developed into its current global status in spite of Nigeria, requires some form of institutional support. Government’s intervention should however be strategic and meaningful; not haphazard, premising showiness over substance. For instance, how about the government helping Nollywood combat piracy? For years, filmmakers have complained about their creative enterprise being stifled by pirates whose bootlegging activities practically wreck them. If after all these years of existence Nollywood still remains stunted, its potential severely capped by its artistic limitations, part of the blame should go to the problem of piracy. Piracy limits how much can be invested in the industry without the filmmaker inviting his/her utter ruin.

Lately, Kunle Afolayan made a film, The CEO, and his publicity machine practically beat us on the head with the film budget. At a press conference, Afolayan resorted to begging pirates not to touch his work because he needed high returns to repay the bank loan he collected to make the film. When an artist entrepreneur resorts to begging thieves not to rob him of his investment, then there is a problem and a most disgraceful one too. We can bet that pirates would most likely spurn Afolayan’s appeal and will do all they can to pirate his work. That, right there, is the task Nigeria owes Nollywood: fighting piracy with all the resources of law it has at its disposal. If investors can confidently put in their money without begging pirates, the industry will grow even more. Nollywood will attract investors who will build their own film villages and also think of creative ways to manage their own investment.

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