*Nollywood needs professionalism, says Thomas
*Reflect the society you want in your films, music, Ajai-Lycett advises
*Classification not censorship should be norm, Duker, Young charge NFVCB
By Anote Ajeluorou
WHEN Unchained Vibes Africa (UVA), a fast-rising aggregator of practitioners in the creative industry for a common ground on the rules of engagement with governance policies, held its April edition of ‘Democratic Vibes: A Summit on Censorship and Artistic Freedom’ last Saturday, April 30, 2022, it was clear there’s need for greater synergy from both sides – government and creatives – for the health of the industry. Government, represented by the Executive Director/CEO of Nigeria Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), Alhaji Adedayo Thomas, and creatives have been speaking at cross purposes along the path of creativity. While government sets rules governing creative practice without consulting practitioners, creatives on their own fail to engage with government to understand the basis for some its policies that seem skewed against them.
Ultimately, this inability to see eye-to-eye has been the source of friction between creatives, who believe government is not moving fast enough to address their needs, and government that is always ready with its hammer to ambush creatives after they would have sweated to produce works. But Unchained Vibes Africa brought both parties under one roof even though some government functionaries shied away from attending, because of the seemingly outlandish, indefensible views they canvassed, and still hold, on how things should be done. Only Thomas, also a creative himself, showed up and laid out some of the policies that creatives fail to take into account while producing works for public consumption.
Executive Producer and Advocacy Manager of Unchained Vibes Africa, Mr. Ayo Ganiu, and Sola Alamatu respectively set the tone for the summit on censorship with the theme `Protecting Creativity through Participatory Reforms.’ Ganiu outlined some of the infractions some creatives made in recent times that earned them the wrath of senior personnel of government from the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed to the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, by a poet in Kwara State and a singer in Kano State among others. Their understanding of freedom of expression in their creative process backfired and earned them near arbitrary prison terms. While such creatives relied on UNESCO understanding of unfettered freedom of expression as basis for their creation, they failed to take into account their own peculiar socio-political and cultural environments and the intolerance that often holds sway and dictates the fragile relationships between those in power and the governed.
Also, an opinion poll conducted on Facebook showed that ritual killings cannot be blamed on films made by the country’s film industry, also known as Nollywod, according to Alamatu, who led the survey. Rather, bad parenting, get-rich-quick syndrome and corruption and bad governance, respondents said, are largely responsible for the spate of ritual killings across the country for money-making ritual purposes.
Indeed, it would continue to be a hotly debated issue and contradiction in terms that in a democracy, a diametrically opposed term like censorship is still being accommodated in statue books to abridge the rights of creatives of all shades for expressing themselves.
But it was the D-G of NFVCB, Thomas, a trained theatre practitioner, who brought an interesting perspective to the conversation that saw many who had brought out their daggers sheathing them in his presentation. He argued that the creative sector has allowed all manner of characters to infiltrate its ranks to its own detriment while its gatekeepers, if any, watched on helplessly. Although now a government man, Thomas said he was not unmindful of his unique calling as an artist, who would one day leave his government job and also create like everyone else crying fowl about breached rights and government’s insensitivity.
“We allow every nuisance on the streets to be part of us,” he said in his keynote address. “But our mandate (as stated in government’s rule book) says `Only those in guilds or associations can produce or create’. Accountants, lawyers, doctors, and engineers are respected except those of us in the creative industry. We need to professionalise to protect ourselves and the industry.”
He said over 2000 associations were supposedly registered during the last administration without documentation, ostensibly with the aim of accessing government`s funds, but after careful scrutiny by his team, only 18 scaled through the rigours of genuine professional associations’ parametres.
“How do we defend ourselves as creatives?” he wondered, adding that while it was fine to talk about freedom of expression, it would be wise to first read and understand the laws of the land that provide a plank on which free expressions can be had without infringing on other people’s rights. He noted that where one person’s right ends is where another person’s right also starts, and advised caution.
Thomas said the inability of Nollywood to organise itself into a professional body has robbed it of its essence, as infiltrators were daily rubbishing its name. For instance, he said although only 541 films passed through his agency for censorship, well “over 1,000 Nigerian films are being showcased in various online channels that overshadow the films (541) censored by the board. Netflix is the only (offshore) network obeying Nigerian laws. I’ve been sent queries by the minister and the National Assembly on these films” that glorify ritual killings and other vices.
Thomas appealed to his colleagues in the creative industry to err on the side of caution, saying the exalted pedestal of practitioners in the creative industry, as role models must not be taken for granted since what they say or do is often taken on its face value and acted upon without observing the nuances as the world of make-believe or reading between the lines.
“We need to be more focused,” he charged his colleagues. “We are more pronounced than any other sector. We are more known than politicians and anything we do is blown out of proportion. We need to come together to do the right thing. We shouldn’t abuse the freedom we have. Everywhere, censorship is seen as being draconian; it’s classification that they have (in other climes), but we have behaved or acted as though we haven’t self-censored” in the productions being made.
In the ensuing panel discussion that had veteran actor Mr. Nobert Young, ace producer and director, Mr. Fidelis Duker, foremost female drummer, Ara, and director, Mr. Victor Okhai, who joined via Zoom, with veteran journalist and culture producer, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo moderating, there was general consensus that art cannot be censored, and in terms of films, classification rather than censorship should be the norm. Duker canvassed abrogation of certain colonial concepts that have existed till date like `force` in Nigeria Police Force and `censorship` in the National Film and Video Censors Board, terms of coercion that the colonial masters deployed to keep the restive natives in check.
Anikulapo set the tone for the conversation when he said, “democracy and censorship are nebulous terms, because the two words cancel out each other, as they cannot co-exist in the same breath, because of their inherent contradictions.”
Duker said `force` and `censorship` should be taken out of Nigeria’s official lexicon as they violate the principles of participatory democracy. Rather than `censorship`, Duker said the term `classification` should be adopted to categorise films and the respective audience they are suited for, since censorship connotes outright negation of such works of art and denies audiences the opportunity of seeing them. Duker also wondered which legal instrument comes first: the constitution or Acts that establish government’s regulatory agencies, noting that it would seem Acts empowering regulatory agencies have trumped the constitution that concedes freedom of speech to citizens that these Acts abrogate, a seemingly contradictory situation, he argued.
“Constitution allows us freedom of expression,” he said. “That conflict between Acts and the constitution is problematic. The challenge is whether to call it `censors board` or `classification board`. Classification allows for showing (of such films) at different (time) belts (for different category of audiences). The reforms (we need) should be participatory, so everyone is carried along.”
Duker recalled how he was hounded by the family of the late self-styled `Eze Ego` Victor Okafor after the maverick millionaire died and he (Duker) made a film using the name. He said the censors board did not even allow him to present the film, so they understand what it was about before condemning it, noting that it was a wrong approach. However, a lawyer, Mr. Kola Alapinni said Duker should have gone to court to vacate the court order without which the censors board would not entertain his film, since the matter was already under the purvey of the judiciary.
For Young also, censorship of art is an aberration, noting rather that classifying art is more in tune with democratic ideals. Although Young argued for the need to have associations that work for the good of the industry, he wondered if censors board was not putting the cart before the horse, and sought to know where censors board stood with outlandish shows like Big Brother Naija (BBN) that has indecency at its core.
“Entertainment by itself produces positivity, but negativity also creeps in (when the gatekeepers fall asleep),” he said. Young gave instance of the banning of the music `Kerewawa`, a folklore music of the Tiv people of Benue State, and said, “There must be sensitivity to cultural issues. Is it right to ban a people’s culture? Kerewawa is a Tiv folk song.”
Young was on the same page as Thomas in the influence Nollywood wields, and how it should never be taken lightly as impressionable minds get hooked to the lifestyles practitioners in the industry portray in films and in real life. He related a shameful experience he once had when a child in a car pointed him out to the father that he (Young) was smoking. Young, who still enjoys puffing at his cigarette, said he felt ashamed of himself, because at that point he didn’t present the good image and high esteem the child obviously had of him. Like Alapinni, Young also called on his colleagues to bind together and present strong advocacy, as the only instrument that could make them get the most out of policies enacted by government.
Ara, whose forte is drumming and music, came down hard on her colleagues for promoting immorality and indecency in the musical videos they put out which radio and TV stations play without considering the moral damage being done their teeming audiences, especially children who get hooked to these musical videos.
“We are the greatest influencers of society in our songs, lyrics and plays,” she said. “There needs to be a form of guidance, maybe not censorship, when you look at our music and musical videos. A lot of my colleagues are role models. It’s why most of these kids want to be like them. The role of parenting is critical; we need a wholesome society, but everyone must play their part. The Chrisland schoolgirl is a case in point. We can’t call government names when we are not doing our part. Creative industry needs to be checked, particularly musical videos. It breaks my heart when I see some videos from our musicians.
“What we forget is that not everybody can process information, what they see in films, videos to sieve out what should be copied or not. You can’t be praying for an angel for a wife or husband when you’re a monster. Let that reform start with your mindset. Let’s do things differently; let’s change the narrative.”
While responding to the legal issues, Alapinni said although the constitution is the ground norm which all legal instruments like Acts bow to, the constitution is so flawed that it lied against itself by saying in its opening, `We the People`, which is not true since it was not ‘the people’ that sat down to draft it. He, however, noted that Acts can be challenged in court by whoever feels aggrieved with their provisions. He acknowledged the sheer influence of Nollywood in Africa and also canvassed the need for sensitivity in the way the industry uses its lens.
“What are we projecting in Nigeria? We must project Nigeria’s image for our own good or else we will all pay dearly for this (indiscriminate use of) freedom of expression.”
Alapinni said there was no point getting sentimental about the laws already in existence, saying challenging them in courts of law or through legislation is the only option.
Okhai was furious that Nollywood was being dragged in the mud for the sins of other forms of media like radio, TV, cable TV, and even social media that portray Nigeria in bad light. He argued that if the conversation is limited to films, then the industry has discharged its role effectively and should not be held responsible for the failures of others on how society had veered off the moral path.
“Look at (the number of) books written about the Nigerian Civil War, but films are not allowed to do so, because those in the censors board are usually nervous about them,” he charged. “We self-regulate on our own, so let’s look at media generally apart from Nollywood. Don’t use radio, TV and media generally to crucify Nollywood.”
However, screen matriarch Taiwo Ajai-Lycett brought the audience back to D-G Thomas’ starting point and sued for professionalism, as the only way to set the industry apart and cut off charlatans. Ajai-Lycett said although art is said to reflect society, arts’ lenses can be made to be selective in reflecting what it chooses to reflect. America’s Hollywood, she argued, does selective showing of America, not because nothing is wrong with America, but its filmmakers choose to reflect what they want you to see. Nigeria’s Nollywood and music, she said, could also be made to select and reflect what’s good about the country in spite of the bad that also exists.
According to her, “We allowed the industry to be amateurs. With privilege comes responsibility. America’s Hollywood wants us to know what it wants us to know about America. We don’t have to reflect what we see in our society (the way it is), but to rethink and show what we want our society to be.
“We have lost civility; all we want is money. We need to do more. The western world wants some of you to destroy this country, this continent; it’s easier for them do business with us that way. We ought to see and constitute our world the way we want it to be. It isn’t politics that makes the world; it’s culture. Are you an ambassador of your culture? You (who make/produce culture) are chosen, but you don’t think you’re chosen by the gods. Are the gods proud of you? We’re ignorant of our culture, our religions.”
Respondents from the northern part of the country said northern Nigeria is the most censored region, as a result of religious intolerance. They said they suffer double censorship of their works, as local organs zealously pursuing religious agenda also subject them to censorship. They called for uniform censorship in the country, moving forward, to alleviate their plight.
National Coordinator of Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria, Mr. Ikule Emmanuel, said although it’s a difficult task, his organisation was making efforts to get the policing system to serve the interests of all Nigerians.
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