Stakeholders at War over MOPICON Bill

0

Stakeholders in the Nollywood are singing discordant tunes over a proposed bill for the establishment of the Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria, writes Adebiyi Adedapo

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on Tuesday 12th of April 2016 inaugurated a 28-member ministerial committee, headed by Ms. Peace Anyiam-Osigwe as the Coordinator and Mohammed Ali Balogun as deputy coordinator, to review the proposed bill for the establishment of Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPICON).

The bill seeks to establish Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPICON) as an umbrella body of professionals in Nigeria’s movie industry (Nollywood) incorporating film producers, cinematographers, directors, script writers, actors and other stakeholders in film production.

However, there have been discordant tunes over the proposed bill, membership of the committee as inaugurated by the minister and whole philosophy behind the establishment of MOPICON. Coupled with the division among stakeholders in the industry, over who and who should not to participate in the review process.

This formed the basis for the minister’s apprehension and scepticism as to whether he can achieve an harmonised copy of the proposed bill or not. “I am wondering if I can get that kind of support with the level of disunity in the industry and the prevailing structural deficiency, which have not allowed the industry to speak with one voice. I cannot count the number of petitions I have received either for non-inclusion in this committee or against the idea of MOPICON since I announced the constitution of the review committee. Some have even suggested that we are about to set up another agency that will muzzle creativity and dictate to them the kind of movies to produce.”

Perhaps, the suspicion that a MOPICON bill, when enacted will impose stringent conditions based on structured membership for motion pictures practitioners, as against the current system, which allows any interested individual or group to produce movies, makes the establishment of the body very difficult. For over two decades, Nigerian Motion Picture practitioners under various bodies craved for the council, which in their own view will engender sustainable growth of the industry based on best practices as well as practitioners’ protection.

While some entertained the fear that government will establish another regulatory body to censor activities in the industry, others are of the opinion that the establishment of MOPICON will stifle creative minds in the industry while at the same time create cumbersome conditions for new entrants into the Nollywood.

For instance, an award-winning movie director, Chukwudi Obasi expressed opposition to the bill, saying it was unnecessary and one-sided. According to Obasi, the MOPICON bill is not the solution that the film industry requires.

“I sense a change in the air. I have been asked why I don’t support MOPICON. So I have decided to articulate my points, so as to make clear that I have never been anti association. I may be a rebel at heart, but I realise and appreciate the function of organisation and structure within a system. I have never contradicted that in any of my statements.”

To solve the problem of ineffective distribution, he urged the government to build enough cinemas in every state of the federation, ensure that content buyers and cinema chains pay good money to producers.
Obasi also enjoined government to empower the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) and enhance its capacity for optimum performance to stamp-out piracy.

Popular film maker, Uduak Isong, in his analysis noted that establishing MOPICON would be counter-productive, as he said the bill seeks to gag fresh creative minds from coming into the industry.

According to Isong,” the bill seeks to determine what standard of knowledge and skills are to be attained by persons seeking to become registered as Motion Picture Practitioners and reviewing those standards from time to time. At the same time, it seeks to secure in accordance with the provisions of this bill, the establishment and maintenance of register of persons entitled to practise as professionals in the motion picture Industry, and the publication, from time to time, of lists of those persons.

“One question has stayed on my mind, why does anyone want this bill? How does it move not just Nollywood as an industry to the next level, but the practitioners as well? It looks to me like gagging, and why would anyone seek to gag Nollywood.”

Isong added that: “Anyone, anyone at all, should be able to pick up a phone, a camera, to express their art without fear or prejudice. We already have the censors board for ratings and other checks, why do we need this bill?”
Also, the intense power struggle and leadership crisis that may ensue over the control of MOPICON is a subject of concern. Despite series of harmonisation attempts by the minister, prior to inauguration of the committee, arguments over who should and should not be members of the review team never ceased.

There are diverse interests in the industry, which renders the industry porous and uncoordinated, this probably is one of the reasons why government is in support of establishment of MOPICON.

The minister while inaugurating the committee which has three weeks to conclude the review, explained that it is the responsibility of government to ensure that Nollywood plays a meaningful role in national development.
“Today’s inauguration is a fulfilment of the promise I made at the 3rd edition of the Kannywood Awards in Abuja on March 12th 2016 to set up a Ministerial Committee to review the MOPICON document with a view to fast-tracking its passage into law. I have heard all the arguments for and against MOPICON. Some have argued that government has no business in helping Nollywood to set up a self-regulatory structure. I want to state here that in line with our overall responsibility for the nation’s information, a culture and tourism policy, our role in helping to set up MOPICON is simply to enable Nollywood to play meaningful role in national development.”

He also said that the umbrella body as a central decision making body, will effectively combat challenges facing the industry, noting that government had no hidden agenda aside the overall development of Nigeria’s creativity sector.

“One of the ways we think we can tackle frontally the many challenges militating against professional and career fulfilment in the movie industry is to have a central body we can always refer to in decisions aimed at improving and modernising the motion picture industry. Also, government’s interest in the setting up of MOPICON is driven by the fact that we at the supervising ministry need to work with a formidable representative group that is to lobby for the growth, development and welfare of the industry and its practitioners as well as make for a better organised and more visible and vibrant Nollywood industry. We have no hidden agenda and we will not be part of anything that will stifle the growth of the burgeoning industry.”

The government also assured that MOPICON, when established will not assume the function of another regulatory body, but strictly an industry-run lobby and pressure body which will maintain the highest professional and commercial standard in the industry.

“It is however important at this juncture to clarify that this is not another attempt to set up another content regulatory agency or another parastatal of government. Government is even thinking of merging existing institutions; hence it is not prepared to waste scarce resources in establishing another agency. MOPICON is and will remain an industry-run lobby and pressure body that will foster the achievement and maintenance of the highest professional and commercial standards in the motion picture industry as well as ensure the protection of the rights and privileges of motion picture practitioners in the lawful exercise of their profession. I therefore urge the various interest groups to rise above their differences and work towards the harmonisation of their positions. I have no doubt that things will change for the better for Nollywood once you all work towards properly setting up MOPICON. I believe that like APCON, MOPICON will emerge the most important intervention tool that the Nollywood requires to address some of its structural deficiencies.”

The minister who handed over the Report of the Steering Committee of the Motion Picture Council of Nigeria Vol. 1; Report of the Steering Committee of the Motion Picture Council of Nigeria (MOPICON) Appendix (One-Nine) Vol. 2; Draft Bill for the Report of the Steering Committee of the Motion Picture Council of Nigeria Vol. 3; and the Proceedings of the Steering Committee of Report of the Motion Picture Council of Nigeria Vol. 4, to the committee, said sending the documents back to its source for a review should absolve government from suspicion.

“The fact that I am sending the documents back to the same source it came from for a review should absolve government from the allegation that we are about to set up another agency. The document I am handing over is your document, so please review as appropriate.

Coordinator of the committee Ms. Peace Anyiam-Osigwe promised to engage and sensitise stakeholders on the real intent of the bill.

“We are going to try as much as possible to have an open session, where we will make available these documents that have been handed over to us now, and get all the stakeholders to understand what we are trying to do. A lot of misunderstandings have gone out about what MOPICON is trying to do, it is not another regulatory body, it is not going to stop anyone from being a creative, but it’s going to help who the professionals are within the creative, who decides what a professional is? There are certain areas which you will have to know what a professional is, a cinematographer is a professional, a creative designer is a professional, a script writer is a professional, so all these areas, we will need to have professionals looking at them and having entry points and at what level. It is actually a lobby group between government and practitioners.”