Samuel Samiái Andrews urges the

NFVCB  to focus on effective and realistic regulation of films

The Media reports recently in Nigeria that the government through the National

Film and Video Censor Board (NFVCB), issued a directive to censor and ban certain

categories of creative content and expressions of cinematographic works made in

Nigeria or made by Nigerian filmmakers (Nollywood). Filmmaking is both a constitutional

and statutory right of Nigerians. It is also an internationally guaranteed right, which is

stipulated by multiple international treaties of which Nigeria is a signatory to most. It is a

fact that all laws are local, loosely interpreted to mean that a nation-state is the sole

sovereign to set laws for its jurisdiction that enforce acceptable norms, policy and social

good governance of her people. However, in the contemporary era, law-making that

offends laws in the books within the same geographical sphere of a nation-state may

offend the rights of its people.

If laws are made from the prism of solely enforcing moralities, sectional

sensitivities and ideologies, a nation-state risks descending into State-sponsored

illegalities and the illegal deprivation of private properties (intellectual property is mostly

private property).

Moral, religious, and ideological sensitivities or idiosyncrasies are complexities

that ought to be handled with the highest scrutiny in a state like Nigeria. In Nigeria, there

are people of a variety of religious, social and cultural beliefs. Therefore, forcing any

socio-cultural norm on an entire people is not just unfair but against the principles of

democracy. The terms ‘…ritual killings and glamourizing other crimes…’ should be

subjected to legal and anthropological certainties. Most content shown by Nollywood

are realities of Nigerian culture, folklore and history, so why criminalize, illegalize or

shame our culture? The emergence and ingenuity of Nollywood are linked to the

creativity and originality of the interpretation of Nigeria’s indigenous culture and folklore.

I am not stating that Nigerian culture or history is enmeshed solely in criminality or

gruesome killings of her people. However, if it happens (which is a fact) what is wrong

or illegal in showing these events on cinematographic platforms or sharing these stories

via songs? Can NFVCB ban the existence of smoking? So, why engage in the


Some indigenous Nigerian cultures and customs may be caught in this NFVCB

ban or censor directive. For instance, an unelected public official may cite a section of a

regulation (which has not been subjected to public scrutiny) to ban Ifa incantation, Ekpo

masquerade, Ekpo masquerade or any other traditional customs–which in most parts of

Nigeria includes skulls of dead animal, hides and skin of wild animals e.t.c–for the

misplaced discernment of “gruesomeness or barbarity”.

‘Na Who Send You’?

Cultural sensitivities have become a quasi-public policy of the National Film and

Video Censor Board in its regulatory activities. NFVCB cites ‘cultural sensitivities’ as

one of the criteria in granting permission for the release of a Nollywood film. This policy

has been a trend from the onset. The current directive of NFVCB concerns smoking in

movies, cultural scenes (reality) in films-sacrifices, ‘money-making rituals,’ etc. Who

defines what depictions of creativity are immoral or illegal? The government or the

people of Nigeria? It is improper to censor the visual and audio depictions of historical

events and cultural practices through the medium of fiction and non-fiction storytelling.

Why do we have categorizations-classifications of films- fit-for audience- ‘R’ ‘Adult’ ‘G’


We have experienced this censorship or ban threat from NFCB before. Half of a

Yellow Sun, a movie based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book with a similar title,

faced censorship issues. Other Nigerian-directed and produced films have faced a

similar fate. Did the censorship or ban stop the movie from being seen by Nigerians?

No! Of course, it did not although, the delay of the film’s release in Nigeria due to the

interference of NFVCB may have affected the bottom line of the filmmakers in Nigeria

and the censorship or ban certainly affected the creative entrepreneurial spirit and

efforts of Nigerian creatives.

Sensible and effective national policy to regulate citizens’ conduct shouldn’t be

expanded to include arbitrary abuse of power or infringement of the citizen’s creative

rights legally protected as private property by the Constitution of Nigeria. Within the

jurisprudential divide, one common denominator remains that laws should be effective

and ‘democratically’ made for governance. When laws or rules become anti-citizen, the

essence of societal ordering becomes complicated. In modern or contemporary

governance, the formal and institutional arms of government conduct empirical and

deep consultations with the people (especially, those who may be fundamentally

affected by a new law/rule), for filtration, analyzation and feedback on the overall

significance of a new law/rule. Did the NFVCB conduct consultations with the

stakeholders of Nigeria’s entertainment industry experts and professionals? As 

researcher and scholar of Nollywood, I’m unaware of the occurrence of such consultation.

Nollywood remains one of the relevant productive sectors in Nigeria. The

existence of Nollywood through its efforts continues to enrich Nigeria’s economy and

boosts a positive reputation for Nigeria in the comity of nations. So, why try to fix

something that isn’t broken? The Nigerian government should revert to its drawing

board and approach this issue more smartly based on the current global standards of

classification of movies. Banning goods or products that have recreational or

entertainment benefits to its citizens generally doesn’t work! In a digital era of creative

production with ubiquitous distribution platforms powered by digital technology, how can

NFVCB effectively enforce its ban or censorship? How effective is (was) banning or

censoring online piracy of Nigerian movies? According to studies and research, banning

online content lacked the intended impact on piracy (an obnoxious affliction on Nigeria’s

socio-economic objectives) of audiovisual content. Rather, another regulatory body in

Nigeria adopted a more effective mechanism to dull the effects of piracy on movies and

musical works of Nigerian creatives.

The unintended consequences of the NFVCB censorship and ban directive will

be the catalyst for the emergence of another wave of the black-market economy for

Nigerian films that will undercut the hard work of legit Nollywood producers and

directors; artists, actors, actresses, and the downline community. The focus of the

NFVCB should be on the effective and realistic regulation of films not banning or

censoring. The desired outcome of the NFVCB properly implementing its duties should

be to propel Nollywood’s creatives to spur Nigeria’s dire national economic situation towards growth.

 Andrews is a Professor of Intellectual Property Law & United States

Ambassador’s Distinguished Scholar

Related Articles