Leadership: Deaf, Dumb or in Denial?

Muhammadu Buhari


By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Think about this: in countries where people are well-ruled, the prevailing criticisms surround the issues of vaulting ambitions of leadership, war-mongering, tendencies towards global domination, immigrants exodus, etc. However, amongst the misruled, the anger is fuelled by suspicions that the leaders are deaf, dumb, in denial of both ailments, and thus are impervious to issues, ideas and situations that may lift and promote the well-being of their citizens – even if these ideas are condensed in perfumed cream and stuffed into their nostrils.

 If you think this is all exaggeration, especially concerning Nigeria, then you must be from Mars, or some other planetary habitations.

 This month, four years ago, while still under the euphoria of witnessing an incumbent civilian administration allowing itself to be bloodied in the nose by a swaddling opposition party chanting “Change” deliriously, we caused to be written series of ideas that could ultimately change the face of Nigerian creative industries, and thunder our prodigiously talented tribe into global prosperity and stardom. An area the government-in-waiting obviously had no articulated plan or recognisable blueprint.

 We believed they meant it when politicians were chanting change! The reality afterwards is bleak and disappointing – but the nature of optimism suggests that we continue to call our rulers to the lane filled with ideas, visions and dreams; perhaps the wax will melt from their ears.

 Four years after, as the euphoria of another transitional moment swells around us, when former change-agents now drum the “Next Level” of actions, perhaps a rehash will sit well this time. Maybe, our rulers are not really deaf, or dumb… they merely need constant reminders… Like this….

“From the head-scratching of members of the 19-man Transition Committee set up by the President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, rtd (as he was then known) we know they are looking desperately for projects, policies and actions that will translate to immediate, resounding and impressive vibrations in the hearts of change-hungry Nigerians. So, the incoming government must device jobs, jobs and more jobs…. Well, with sober reasoning, we present one of the idyllic public spaces where a common-sense-driven administration can intervene effectively while keeping jobs from disappearing and creating new and numerous jobs.

 During the closing phase of his electioneering campaign, when GMB was asked his would-be government’s approach to Nollywood, he promptly threw the napkin to Gov. Babatunde Fashola of Lagos (current power/works/housing minister whose forte was law!) That act represents his shocking lack of understanding (I take that back, no shock at all) or sensitivity to a critical section of a vital mass within Nigeria’s geopolitical super-structure. I very much doubt if Fashola had ever written one full page of legal opinion on entertainment law in his illustrious career – nor has his administration (Lagos), generally  regarded as one of the best, if not the best, in Nigeria, done more for entertainment than tokenism of rehabilitating some ill-fated entertainers and a handful of carnivals and seasonal countdowns!

 For the benefit of the doubt, it is quite possible that a swashbuckling young army infantry hot-head in his early 40’s (1984, HoS) would not have heard of the terror and devastation that Pa Moses Adejumo’s “Orun Moru” suffered in the hands of profiteers barely two years earlier. It took another ten years after Buhari’s forced retirement before some semblance of what we now call Nollywood emerged. So, we should not take it for granted that GMB ought to know ‘something’ about Nigerian entertainment. If we insist, we overstretch our sense of importance.

 This is why thoroughbred practitioners snigger when govt plays the ostrich in its engagement with the creative enterprise… for a single mid-level Nigerian production with a capital outlay of N5-10m, the long line of operatives work out like this: behind the cameras/gadgets are at least 15 people; the major sets will accommodate from 20 to 500 role players, big and small. Further down the chain of production, are scores of tens of people working in the editing studios, sound studios, photography and graphic designs, printing press, publicity and liaisons, etc. Ancillary outlets also queue up for post production activities that may help the producer recoup some investment before the almighty pirates swoop: Hall rentals for premiere, contacts and mobilization, DVD discs for mass-dubs, cinema house and its complex of leisure shops, transportation for promotion or road shows, voice-overs for jingles, TV commercials, comedians, DJs and MCs for serial launchings, marketers, video sellers, etc… On this single work, we have partially identified more than (700-1000) people directly or indirectly eking a living. Multiply that work by the proverbial 700-1000 movie products we proverbially drop into the unwieldy markets every year. The opportunity is begging to create a minimum of two million jobs within three years in the creative industry alone, if hedged with a strong governmental support, legitimate structures and, ultimately, international financing and exchange of expertise.

 To bring the cattle home to rest, we merely need to study the growth and growing stature of India’s Bollywood (derived from film-makers’ activities in Bombay City, now Mumbai). You see, Nigeria and India find important indices of commonalities beyond the different shades of colour that distinguish us. Our history as a nation, as British colonized people, with relatively similar huge population of diverse tongues, religions and cultures meshed in a melting pot of blurring political and economic turbulence… among many other surprising relatedness. So, what can our men of power learn from Bollywood and its billion dollar climb to global prominence?

 Bollywood is basically a regional hyper Hindi exercise (one expert says 20%) of the huge Indian film activity. Bollywood’s global brand image dwarves the other Indian language film sectors and simply equates it as the national jewel, especially in jaundiced international media. As an aside, it is even debatable that Bollywood comes behind Nollywood, even without the additions of Kannywood, Yoruwoods, and such other ‘woods. Their story reads like ours: There is low cost of production; millions of Nigerians work and live all over the world; very high demand for quality Nigerian entertainment; expanding demographics. However, that is as far as similarities go. Bollywood’s key revenue outlets as at 2012 were: Domestic Theatre (74%), Cable/Satellite Rights (11%), Overseas Theatre (7%), Ancillary revenues like endorsements, brand ambassadors, etc (5%)…with Home Video trickling in at 3%! That statistics emanate from its 2012 total annual revenue of a handsome $3.5b!

 Just as the new deal dawned on the Central government of India (in 2007) when it granted “Industry Status” to Bollywood – the dalliance of Nigerian government with the movie business since the coming of outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan six years ago should now be concretized (“gazetted”) and serious attention given to institutionalizing key sectors of the burgeoning industry.

 We have similar population dynamics (though our middle class is almost wiped out in contrast to India’s 300m); we have the passion to sustain flourishing markets of quality works; we have the landmass to build giant multiplex theatres and other viewing centres in both rural and urban centres. Lagos alone, with private interest partnership arrangements, can start with two multiplex theatres in each of her 57 LG/LCDAs…and other states can pitch in at least one or more multiplex in all LGs, thus delivering over 1,500 centers of exhibition/distribution/commerce and information – triggering high income from product placements, high returns on investments, increased and widespread ‘follow-follow’ erections (private interventions) of theatres and viewing centres, thus igniting an explosion in job creation; promoting the flow of communication between the government and its people…. Instead of wasting billions on a gigantic stadium that is used once or twice in two years, overshadowing a landscape of poverty and economic erosion. If the flailing ‘king’ of Akwa-Ibom (of course, that was Godswill Akpabio) had built ten attractive multiplex of entertainment/leisure outlets across the state, there would still have been some sort of thriving legacy of commerce and roll-over employment for young Ibomites… but I digress….” Until next week.