Reassuring Words Amid Censors Board’s New Regulations

Over dinner with a coterie of media professionals, the National Film and Video Censors Board’s recently appointed executive director, Dr. Shuaibu Huseini, dispelled concerns about his agency’s new regulations on films stifling creativity. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Surely, it’s about time—isn’t it?—that someone at the highest level of authority in the National Film and Video Censors Board voiced concerns about the alarming trend festering like a malignant sore in the local film sector. This worrisome trend, characterised by an unhealthy fascination with the gruesome and the morally repugnant, unequivocally takes the cake among the industry’s litany of transgressions.

Previously unchallenged by regulatory oversight, the exaltation of smoking and the captivating allure of tobacco products, alongside the chilling portrayals of money rituals and ritualistic killings, have stealthily infiltrated the mindscapes of cinematic audiences like ominous shadows. This status quo persisted until the pivotal announcement on Tuesday, May 21, during which the Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy minister, Hannatu Musawa, greenlit the stringent “Prohibition of Money Ritual, Ritual Killing, Tobacco, Tobacco Product, Nicotine Product Promotion, Glamorization, Display in Movies, Musical Videos, and Skits” Regulations 2024.

It had to be the incendiary word “prohibition”—one that is guaranteed to ignite passionate dissent within the creative community—that stirred the hornets’ nest. In a bid to douse the growing apprehension among the industry’s practitioners, the newly-appointed executive director of the National Film and Video Censors Board, Dr. Shaibu Huseini, sallied into a whirlwind of urgent meetings and strategic engagements. Among these endeavours was a carefully orchestrated dinner gathering with esteemed media professionals last Sunday, June 3, at an elegant boutique hotel nestled in a serene mainland neighbourhood of Lagos, setting the stage for a pivotal discussion on the industry’s future amidst mounting tensions and uncertainties.

Then, there is a prevailing ethos that underpins Dr. Huseini’s advocacies, which are akin to a resounding anthem, focused on the intersection of artistry and regulatory measures in the entertainment sphere. The executive director is resolutely committed to ensuring that new restrictions on smoking, tobacco, monetary rites, and ritualistic homicides in films do not stifle creativity. He insists on nuanced accommodations within the rules for smoking scenes, requiring meticulous execution and storytelling intent. Filmmakers are granted some leeway, especially for scenes driven by artistic integrity or historical accuracy, albeit with a strict warning against glorifying tobacco or yielding to corporate pressures. While conceding that filmic portrayals can enhance cultural messages, he stresses the necessity of disclaimers to discourage mimicry. The absence of moral complexity or narrative redemption not only risks normalising odious behaviour but also blurs the line between fiction and reality.

“I really need us to understand this: I did not ban smoking scenes,” Dr. Huseini reiterated for what could have been the umpteenth time at different stakeholder meetings. “I did not ban ritual scenes. There are aspects of our culture that you need to display. But what we are saying is that if you have to display these necessary scenes for historical accuracy, educational purposes, and, of course, to correct a negative lifestyle, you must warn people that these things are not real and that it is not a lifestyle to emulate.

“I’m telling you today that the regulation is not self-serving. I’m also telling you today that there is nothing anti-creativity about that regulation; there is nothing about suppression of creativity in that regulation.”

The whole point of the gathering, hosted with great partnership enthusiasm by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, a renowned advocacy group otherwise known by its acronym CAPPA, was to enlighten participants about the Regulations 2024. This significant legislation, eagerly anticipated for official approval by the federal government upon gazetting, promises to shape the future landscape of regulatory governance.

Husseini, once a passionate performing artist with a lustrous track record, made a resounding declaration about his role within the Censors Board, expressing his firm stance against suppressing creativity for the sake of censorship. With unwavering resolve, the executive director revealed ongoing efforts to revolutionise the National Film and Video Censors Board into a more progressive entity—a National Film and Video “Classification” Board. He vividly painted a picture of a future where the board shifts from its archaic analogue methods to a state-of-the-art digitised classification system. Infusing his words with determination, he pledged to lead the board towards greater responsiveness to societal needs, stakeholder input, and the overarching directives of the federal government. Extolling the invaluable support received from CAPPA, he reinforced the board’s commitment to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the film industry.

In his allusion to a separate but pivotal moment, CAPPA’s executive director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, eloquently emphasised the immense importance of the recent national stakeholder engagement in Enugu. The event showcased the momentous unveiling of the Regulations 2024 and the Code of Practice, underpinned by the voluntary support of over 51 distinguished Nollywood stakeholders.

“One very important thing happened in Enugu that was not given wide publicity,” Olufemi disclosed. “There was also another document called the Code of Practice.

The Code of Practice is intended as a voluntary commitment by movie stakeholders to say, ‘We are pledging that we will comply with the intent and spirit of smoke-free Nollywood.’

“I’m happy to report to you that at that event, about 51 major movie practitioners and associations in Nigeria signed that Code of Practice, and we have their signatures documented. It included all the professional bodies in the movie industry. They were all in the room and pledged commitment to the regulations.”

Another speaker at the dinner, the in-country coordinator of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), Michael Olaniyan, fervently stressed that while the regulations offer exceptions permitting smoking depictions in films, absolute adherence to health warnings is mandated to safeguard public well-being.

Meanwhile, Dr. Huseini’s reputation as an industry expert not only benefited him but also set the stage for forthcoming engagements with stakeholders, building strong connections.

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