Feature: Fraught with challenges, Nigeria's film industry hopes for promising future

Source: Xinhua| 2019-04-30 20:43:43|Editor: xuxin
Video PlayerClose

by Olatunji Saliu, Guo Jun

ABUJA, April 30 (Xinhua) -- Yomi Fabiyi, a Nigerian actor and movie producer, drove a long way from the city center in Lagos to a suburb town of Ikorodu in search of a film location on a Friday morning.

It was a long ride amid terrible traffic, huge potholes, and a few more challenges which are characteristic of Lagos roads, as he inched closer to his destination.

Arriving at the place, the film location was full of mainly young actors having the energy and unique talents to push the film industry in Nigeria to greater heights.

Although 36-year-old Fabiyi and the film production crew are faced with challenges now, part of which includes funding, they believe the future will be bright.

The story of this young actor and the film production crew is entirely similar to Nollywood, Nigeria's movie industry and arguably the most popular on the African continent.


In 1975, Adebayo Salami, the famous director in Nigeria, made his first Yoruba movie Ajani Ogun, drawing the curtain of Nollywood. In 1984, Papa Ajasco, directed by Wale Adenuga, made history as the first English Nollywood movie.

Currently Nollywood produces more than 2,000 movies and TV series every year, most of them in Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo and English, the most widely spoken languages in Nigeria.

Fabiyi said Nollywood practitioners are great storytellers. The cultural balance and diversity of Nigeria make Nollywood different from the other movie industries across the world.

"People should understand that Nigeria is a movie or entertainment country. It is an industry that is creating employment. It tells people what Nigeria is and what is obtainable in the Nigerian economy," Fabiyi, who has produced up to five movies and featured in countless others, said in a recent interview with Xinhua.

"If the industry gets the right support, which is mainly funding, it will grow and grow faster," he said.

The economic recovery in recent years has breathed fresh life into the film market in Nigeria. According to the Nigerian Box Office Yearbook 2018/2019, box office revenue over the last three years has registered a 34 percent compound growth rate, from 9.07 million U.S. dollars in 2016 to 16.3 million dollars; and it is projected to rise to 24.45 million dollars in 2020.

The significance of the Nigerian film industry came into focus after the rebasing of the national economy in 2013. The film sector was seen to contribute 1.42 percent to the economy, and by 2016, the film industry sector contributed 2.3 percent of Nigeria's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as shown in the government's data.

But all these figures do not yet directly improve the lives of the industry's practitioners, Fabiyi said.


Local observers said Nollywood is a "producers market" -- meaning the film producers, who, most times, are the marketers, make more benefits.

Majority of Nollywood films are low-budget ones, with costs ranging between 5,000 dollars and 70,000 dollars, according to industry stakeholder. The films are produced within a month and are profitable within two to three weeks of release.

In the past, some of the films easily sell more than 20,000 units, while the most successful ones sell over 200,000, Solajide Awoleye, President of the Association of Movie Content Owners and Distributors of Nigeria told Xinhua in an interview. Only a few practitioners can claim higher earnings, as most Nollywood actors' incomes are low.

Many industry stakeholders said it is in dire need of increased collaboration with foreign investors who can take it to the next level in order to have a wider outreach.

Segun Arinze, a top Nollywood actor and former national president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), said the movie industry has opened itself up and is looking for ways to invite more people, including foreigners, to come and invest in it.

"One of our major challenges is funding. It is always a major challenge when it comes to filming," Arinze recently told Xinhua in Lagos.

With overwhelming popularity, Nigerian movies started to dominate television screens across the African continent and by extension, the diaspora, since the early 2000s. The movie industry also has a strong following in the African diaspora community in Europe, especially in Britain.

Arinze, who described Nollywood as "a multi-billion dollar industry that provides employment," said foreign investments are not going to have any negative impact on the industry.

In terms of technicalities, the industry has grown in leaps and bounds amid daunting challenges, the former AGN president said.

"China, for instance, can go into partnership with Nollywood in terms of technology, finance, and expertise. China and Nigeria have one thing in common: population. Let us have a synergy by working together and pushing the industry forward," he said.


Piracy is yet another challenge that Nollywood continues to face.

Over the years, the Alaba International Market, a local marketplace in Lagos where electronics and other household items are sold, had allegedly become the hub of film pirates.

At the marketplace, it is also very common to see young men and women dubbing three to four new films and compiling them into one compact disc.

These film compilations are sold at very cheap rates, less than 1 dollar. At this rate, they're sold in very high quantities.

Arinze and Fabiyi, as well as other movie stakeholders in Nigeria, believe that pirates, who are copyright offenders, have slowed down the progress of Nollywood despite its overwhelming popularity because the national laws are not stringent enough.

"Piracy is the biggest thing that harms the industry everywhere. It is a big problem when your intellectual property is infringed upon and they (the pirates) start profiteering from what they did not even sweat from," Arinze said. "The laws that we have now were made way back in the 1960s. It is just a slap on the wrist."

The practitioners are looking forward to a time when pirates can go to jail for infringement and piracy.

"It (piracy) is another form of robbery, although without a gun. But it is a robbery. I want to see stiffer penalties for copyright offenders," Arinze said.

To end the ugly trend, industry practitioners are urgently seeking a very strong collaboration between the World Bank and the Nigerian Export Promotion Council and the Nigerian Copyright Commission.


On April 4, the Nigerian government said it will now focus on Nollywood and the entire creative industry for interventions, investments, and partnerships.

In a statement, the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Investment said the government plans to drive the creative industry to new heights by supporting and creating an enabling environment through partnership with the private sector and the global community to attain its full potential.

In 2011, a 200-million-U.S. dollar intervention fund by the government had gone down the drain, without proper accountability.

Gabriel Afolayan, an actor whose father Ade Afolayan was a pioneer of the Nigerian theater, said the latest move by the government was a welcomed development, particularly because it is coming at a time when stakeholders are working hard to maximize every opportunity that they have with support from external bodies and corporate bodies.

"Movies and films are the number one PR (public relations) statements of any nation. That is one thing the government had been missing in all of these things because we represent the country, we are the ones who give the country [its] color," Afolayan said.

He and his colleagues would love the government to see through that insight and render all the support that they have promised, and even do much better than they intended to do right now, the actor said.

"We have managed to keep the industry moving and to help with the paradigm shift of how things are. I pray we get better over time," he added.