National

Censors Board, a low hanging fruit most troubling

WhatsApp Image 2021 02 09 at 8.48.49 PM

I have a friend with an acerbic tongue and a caustic pen that cuts straight to the bone. Although much more reputed as a sports journalist, his cosmopolitan knowledge about just everything around him can be humbling. His writings can make anybody feel uncomfortable, especially if you belong to the band of those who stand truth in the head and try to paint it as alternate reality.

Nearly two decades ago, my friend gave me a stunning education about happenings in the civil service. He challenged me to name some government agencies and parastatals for which I found my knowledge shamefully deficit. He told me there were over 200 of these bodies, some of them created not really to do anything but just to enjoy some budgets and make some connected individuals happy. As he reeled out the list with a wry smile, I could see that he enjoyed the confusion writ large on my face.

This was years before the Oronsaye Report, which recommended that the government weed down its burden of agencies and parastatals from 263 to 161, would come into the open in 2012. Although some governments since then have been coy about the Report, with the Buhari administration actually walking the opposite direction and nearly deracinating it. However, the Federal Executive Council which sat on February 26, 2024, has approved total and full implementation of the Report.

I am in full support of the implementation of the Report because I can testify that there are so many  people in government who are not doing anything at all or with knowledge too inadequate or outdated to contribute meaningfully to the running of an effective civil service.

In spite of my position, I was still a little nonplussed and distressed when an industry source, in response to my article of last week, titled: For Nollywood, ascendancy fuelled by Providus, furnished me with the information of the 3-week ultimatum given to the Minister of Arts, Culture and Digital Economy, to wind down the operations of the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB).

Part of the June 21, 2024, memo sent by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator George Akume, to the Minister, reads as follows: “Accordingly, the Ministry of Arts, Culture & Creative Economy is hereby mandated to initiate all necessary administrative/ financial processes and procedures that will lead to the winding down of Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board and subsequent scrapping for it to function as a Department in the Ministry within three weeks of the receipt of this communication. The scrapping feedback should be made to the undersigned within the first 30 days of being a Department under Federal Ministry of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy.”

This should be good news to me. But it is not. I was too enthused last week about the intervention of Providus in Nollywood with a N5bn Fund to even accommodate this kind of development.

Like the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to the broadcast industry and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to the telecommunications industry, the NFVCB is the regulator of the creative industry and it strains credulity that the agency is becoming a department in the Ministry.

NFVCB draws its regulatory power from Act No. 85 of 1993 which states as follows: To licence a person to exhibit films and video works; to classify films and video work; to regulate and prescribe safety precautions to be observed in licensed premises; to regulate and control cinematographic exhibitions; and to regulate the import of foreign movies and export of Nigerian movies. The foregoing are just a few of the functions.

Here is my plank of argument. For most of the governments that I know, the Tinubu administration has been most bullish and even articulate in canvassing the fortunes of Nollywood. The government created a new ministry to give more attention to the industry and the creators’ economy generally, and has even attracted a bank, Providus, to give loans in very liberal terms. Last week I expressed the optimism that more of such interventions should be expected and this should stimulate growth in the industry.

I was of the opinion that the government wants to make the entertainment industry bigger and more attractive to the practitioners and investors since a cardinal function of government is to enable a good environment for businesses. Nollywood occupies a prime place  in the industry and was already expressing growth characteristics with operators reacting excitedly to what is happening in their industry. Under this circumstance, the regulator has a substantial role to play in trimming the excesses of the industry while priming it up to attract investors. With all their capacity to entertain  and excite, are the inherent bohemian proclivities of industry practitioners that need to be properly managed by those trained and psychologically disposed to do so. I doubt if the ministry can manage the creative industry.

Let me establish my fears. As far back as I can remember, no ministry has been able to manage its relationship with the regulator. Two examples will suffice. Both the NBC and the NCC were created in 1992 for the broadcast and telecommunications industries, respectively. Over the years, the parent ministries have put them under immense pressure as they fought to take over their regulatory responsibilities. Each new minister to either of the ministries would always get a briefing of how disobedient and dishonest the regulator is and how officials would embark on frivolous travels in the name of regulation. Besides, they have money to play with and they are very reckless in doing so.

For a long period, the laws protected the two agencies. But under the Buhari administration, the ministers of the two ministries simply jettisoned the laws and took over regulatory responsibilities from the agencies. It was a clear case of regulatory capture and the concerned agencies and their industries are still struggling to recover from the damage caused by politics and hubris exhibited by politicians.

The case of NFVCB is beyond capture, it is total swallow sanctioned by the government based on information available to top government functionaries.

But let me say this. The Censors Board remains central to the growth of Nollywood. The agency carries out responsibilities beyond regulation which throw a lot of beautiful light on the nation. I will give instances. Around 2008, the Board organised a Nollywood forum on the sidelines of the Los Angeles Film Festival. It was a major hit, well attended by industry personalities across the global spectrum.

The Board has regularly hosted a stand at the Toronto Film Festival in Canada to connect Nigerian producers, exhibitors and distributors with international partners. So, it was a double slam for the agency when Genevieve Nnaji’s Lion Heart and Mo Abudu’s Death and the King’s Horseman were featured at the festival. In addition, it has worked closely with industry heavyweights to feature Nigerian programmes at the Cannes Film Festival in France and even at FESPACO in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

The Censors Board has grown with time, getting more interesting like old wine which tastes better with age. This writer is aware that the British Board of Film Classification, Kenya Classification Board and the South African Classification have requested a study tour of Nigeria to understudy the activities of the Board, while nations like Ghana, Malawi and Uganda are setting operations in the similitude of the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board.

For me, it is like walking backwards when the agency is seen as a low hanging fruit in the government scheme of events, and simply plucked out of existence.

I seriously believe that the Oronsaye Report should be implemented post-haste. But I also realise that the Report has been out there since 2012, within which period so much has happened in the technology space and in Nollywood in particular. I am persuaded to think that implementing the Report in its original form may be akin to doing a lazy man’s job. Even a review will have to be critical and devoid of emotions and a blind rush towards contemplated answers.

I don’t see the Censors Department (I hate to contemplate this) functioning well from the ministry. There will be frustrations for those whose creativity has put Nigeria in the eyes of the world, very positively. Nollywood will be the loser.

...