‘Censors board wants to destroy the film industry’

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blackpearl

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Emmanuel Isikaku is chairman Amalgamated Films/Video Producers and Marketers Association of Nigeria. The group comprising several splinter associations recently came together to protest new guidelines released by the Nigeria Films and Video Censors Board (NFVCB). Isikaku tells Justice Ilevbare why the coalition is opposed to the new guidelines which he said is aimed at putting them out business

What actually inspired this amalgamation? We came together to fight a common cause because our business in the industry comprises different sections. We have people who produce, market, retail and because we are all pursuing a common cause, we decided to come together.

There are insinuations that the coalition is against reforms in the sector. How true is this?
We are not against reforms in the industry in anyway. What we are against is the nature and manner the Censors Board is going about it. We are against the short-term notice because you cannot recapitalise in 45 days. It is not possible and that is to tell you that Censors Board and those who are collaborating with them have some ulterior motive. All we are saying is that if there must be reforms in the sector the stakeholders must be carried along and then we will tell them what is practically obtainable and how to improve on what is on ground now.

Did you foresee this kind of situation?
We actually saw it coming. That was the time when some of our colleagues on the other side who felt that they had been sidelined started playing politics and carrying out plots to destabilize the industry.

Why did it take you so long to speak out?
We have to raise alarm when we saw the details of the framework. We heard it just last week and we are already shouting for the whole world to hear us and know how we feel about it.

How do you mean?
I am talking about some directors and marketers who don't have jobs and who felt that they have been sidelined in the system so they decided to go about it politically by making sure that they used Censors Board to hit at us.

Were you part of the meeting that drew out the guidelines?
We don't know anything about this. It is still strange to us. We knew they would come out to say they had consulted with the stakeholders, but in the real sense nobody contacted us. We tried to see how we could dialogue with them but a situation when they tell you the kind of people they want to see and those they didn't want, there was nothing we can do. That shows they are bent on carrying out whatever they have decided.

Are you saying the Censors Board never at any time invited you for a meeting on this issue?
Maybe they have invited us to some kind of meetings but from what we have seen and heard with regards to the new framework on distribution, it was never at anytime discussed. If we had discussed it, I don't think we would be shouting this way by now.

Do you think the industry actually needs to be reformed?
I agree that the industry needs to be reformed. Not only the marketers but from the producers, distributors and the actors because there are many of them who are not supposed to be in the industry. So the reformation and sanitization is geared towards having a virile industry. But what we are saying is that it should not be targeted at the distribution only because the whole industry needs reforms.

Why can't two or more marketers come together to meet the N50m benchmark?
That is the assumption they always make and this is not true. As a matter of fact, most of us have been impoverished because the Censors Boards have not done what it is supposed to do to sanitise the industry. Even if this is possible, it is obvious that it cannot be done within 45 days. We believe that this can never work. I remember in 1997, I produced a movie called Yesterday. As at then, I spent over N2 million. But what I'm saying here today is that we don't have anything to show for it. I have been in the industry for over 15 years, following the production and marketing fully but I don't have anything to show for it.

You said something about classification of distribution along geographical lines. Can you explain what this is all about?
I think what the Censors Board is saying is that you have to register either as regional distributor, state or local government distributor. All these, are avenues of making money because at the end of the day, they don't have machinery to implement all these. We have heard things like this before, but I tell you that Censors Board doesn't have what it takes to ensure proper implementation. Let them go and re-organise the video clubs properly. Then we can start from there.

You don't agree the Censors Board's boss has some noble intentions?
We don't know what he has in mind. But for us, looking at it holistically, you find out that there is no good intention. As far as I am concerned Censors Board doesn't have anything to do with recapitalization. They want to kill our industry. Their major duty is to censor films. But if they want to go into regulation or reformation, they have to do it along with the people who are already in the business.

So what does this mean for the industry?
It means that the industry is heading towards doom and if it is not checkmated, most people in the industry would be turned into pirates overnight. That will be a major blow to the industry. Our position is that we were not consulted. We heard it for the first time at a launching in Golden Gate. We are telling them to come down to the grassroots and know what is practically obtainable in Nigeria. All the marketers in this country have decided to come together as one. This industry started from nowhere to what is today envied by most people and nobody can take it away from us. What we want is that we should go back to the drawing board and fashion out a regulation and reformation that will be people-oriented and carry every stakeholders along. So, our position is that we reject in its entirety the new NFVCB marketing and exhibition framework because it is discriminatory, unpatriotic, impracticable and unconstitutional and not in consonance with the principles of due process. We also condemn illegal harassment, arrest, detention, prosecution of our members by NFVCB and that innocent and small-scale business owners in the film/video industry should be allowed to do their legitimate businesses unmolested.

Have you tried to seek an audience with the director general of the Censors Board?
He never sought our audience before he went ahead with his plans because if he had, he won't have gone to make the framework public. We didn't get to him before making our stand public.

How do you see the marketing and distribution network?
The film distribution network needs improvement. There is no doubt about that. But it is going to take a gradual approach and that is what we are doing internally to see how we can improve the system. But before that can be done, the Censors Board should go and re-oganise those that are operating the video clubs who are making use of the jobs we have toiled for. We are ready to shut down the industry for six months. We won't produce and market films. Let Nu Metro and others the Censors Board is projecting do everything.

What do you think is the way out?
The way out is that the status quo be maintained to allow due consultation and involvement of all stakeholders. Because we believe in reforms, a committee has been set up by the coalition to work out modalities on the way forward for a better film/video distribution. Even though we welcome foreign investors into the film market industry, but that we co-exist on a level playing ground. This definitely will encourage healthy competition amongst us and improve sales. I also think that the way out is for government to create enabling environment for our businesses to thrive rather than create monopoly. It is my belief that NFVCB enabling act should be reviewed and reconstituted and enlarged to accommodate all stakeholders to be made up of producers, artistes, viewers, distributors and marketers.

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