Leadership: Deaf, Dumb or in Denial (2)



With Femi Akintunde-Johnson

find the words of my “Facebook friend”, Bolaji Innocent, quite illustrative, in a reaction to the first part of this article last week. His quote: “Our rulers tend to play the three monkeys – deaf, dumb and blind – when a sensible message does not massage their ego. If you’re a sycophant, they’ll listen to you attentively.” Is he wrong? Can the truth be sadder?

Well, let it be on record that some people are interested in nation-building, and are willing to sacrifice their jealously-guarded peace which public pontification can easily shatter.

 We therefore continue with our lingering thoughts on how to unleash the thunder of our creative communities, for the sake of the common good:

“Good sensible government policies that allow entrepreneurial capacities of its people to roam and flourish, have a way of attracting major investments. When we get our distribution and exhibition channels right and running; when the right people drive a commonsensical pro-people agencies of government with a crusading desire to promote and project the creative endeavours of Nigerians, we shall begin to witness fantastic collaborations with Hollywood moneybags, the likes of which Bollywood is now enjoying.

 Major Indian media conglomerates, Reliance Big Entertainment acquired about 200 theatres in 28 American cities to screen Bollywood and other regional movies; it earlier signed a 36-film, six-year deal with Steven Spielberg’s Dream Works SKG worth $1.2b. Walt Disney is reputed to have invested over $300m with Yash Raj Films, apart from Warner Bros collaborating with People Tree Films and Tandav Films. Other interventions are Sony’s Saawariya (a Dostoyevsky story) in 2007; Disney’s Roadside Romeo (animation), Warner Bros’ Chandni Chowk to China; 20th Century Fox’s Dum Maaro Dum and the (once) most successful flick locally, My Name Is Khan ($16m in India/$44m globally).  By the way, wither the Nigerian data on the much-vaunted third global power in movie-making?

 The point is, most of these stupendous deals began just after government took Bollywood seriously… and around the 2009 India-set mega-hit, Slum Dog Millionaire (a British/American/Indian collaboration shot mostly in India) which was produced with $15m but grossed $377m box-office! Of course it won eight Oscars out of 10 nominations! Another word for breakthrough.

 However,  none of these can be attained without the help of government. Though an intrinsically private enterprise, the sum-total of creative efforts is the elucidation and documentation of people’s culture, lifestyle and struggles through the lenses of their defining citizens. Great nations recognise that their insular confluence of diverse economic, informational and strategic interests are best enunciated by a collaborative creative community – for exports to the farthest reaches beyond the motherland. Perhaps GEJ saw the fringes of that great promise, but history will record that he took the stuttering steps (embracing and recognising the power of creativity) that galvanised successive administrations to ascend and catapult the great promise of our Creative Enterprise to the zenith of global ascendancy. Don’t snigger and wrinkle your nose – for this is how America cockily began to surge outfield (99) years ago…it is not late for us to start climbing.

 To lavishly buttress my point, this is how an Associate Professor of Anthropology at New York University and a notable chronicler of Hindu films

(Bollywood), Dr. Tejaswini Ganti puts it in a 2012 interview:

“Until the advent of what is referred to as corporatisation, which really started to take shape in some sort of serious manner about five years ago, there was no integration between production, distribution, or exhibition, although that is beginning to change now. Finally, a very important difference between the two industries is that Hollywood has always had the support of the US government, since the early 20th century, to help its goals of expansion, unlike the Hindi industry, which first took shape under a colonial power. The British were trying to figure out how to promote their own films in India and had no interest in fostering Indian filmmaking. After Independence, the Indian government treated films akin to a vice in terms of its censorship and taxation policies….

“The U.S. government from the early part of the 20th century saw the economic and ideological potential of film exports and Hollywood was often referred to as the little State Department. In fact, Will Hays, the head of the MPAA in the 1920s, asserted (that) every foot of American film sells one dollar worth of manufactured products somewhere in the world. So the issue of expanding market reach has to do with political and economic factors rather than simple content… “.

 So, this is not a time for dogmas and crass partisanship. This is a venture where everyone wins – the government, practitioners, business people, consumers, the media, distributors, and allied sectors.   The Nigerian Creative Communities deserve our full and wholesome support, and a watchful encouragement to soar beyond its current supine status. I believe it!!

 To be clear, 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 (familiar) 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 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 (not dilly-dally over an amorphous Motion Pictures Bill that has taken almost four years to draft, and yet no document in sight). 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!”

 It is time to unclog the ears, drop progressive pretensions, roll up the sleeves and get to work… no serious nation can make progress when her rulers strut around like courtiers and mandarins in bellowing babanrigas and starched kaftans!