Lai Muhammed, Eedris Abdulkareem And 50 Cent, By Simbo Olorunfemi
A lot of the hot air about Minister Lai Muhammed’s thought on getting the Broadcasting and Advertising Codes regulate the space to protect jobs for local talent and the country’s creative economy, as expected, has come from quarters with little or no knowledge of the intricacies or the more important matter of the economics of the matter at hand. It is indeed the post-truth era, where there is much mistrust for anything that comes from the government, even if the essence of the policy is for the betterment of those concerned. Once it is something from government, some simply jump at it to tear it apart, even before ruminating over it.
This article was written by Simbo Olorunfemi.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.
So, the minister said: “We cannot continue to go to South Africa or any other country to produce our films and then send them back to be consumed in Nigeria…The Broadcasting Code and the Advertising Code are very clear on this…For you to classify a product as a Nigerian product, it must have a certain percentage of Nigerian content…It is like somebody going to China or Japan to make a product that looks like palm wine and bring it back home to label it Nigerian palm wine…As long as we are not able to implement our own code to ensure local production of Nigerian music and movies, our young talents will not get jobs…It is Nigerians that pay for the consumption of these products and therefore they must be allowed and encouraged to participate in their production…I am going to meet with the relevant stakeholders over this, to see that whatever amendment that is needed to be made to our Broadcasting Code in this regard, is done urgently.”
This is exactly the point I made last year in condemning the decision to host/transmit the Big Brother Naija show from a South African facility. It was simply unpardonable that a programme successfully hosted in the country 10 years back and wholly Nigerian in participation would be taken to another country under whatever guise, depriving not only local production and technical crew and equipment vendors of income, but also carpenters, electricians, drivers, painters, caterers, graphic artists, tailors, printers and many others in the informal sector who are usually engaged in productions of this nature.
Big Brother Naija might have gotten away with it as the Broadcasting Code might have been many years behind such a development and a sanction might have been seen as a retroactive action, but now that the government is finally catching up, it is strange that anyone in the business of generating content or local production of creative work, in whatever form, will find fault with the minister’s position, except comprehension or an understanding of the creative economy is a challenge. This is indeed what the role of the government is and should be: Generating regulations and codes to protect and promote local enterprise. Both the Broadcasting and Advertising Codes affirm this position in their spirits, and all that might be needed will be for the letter of the codes to follow suit and block all loopholes.
What then is the issue? Largely, it is a case of people who do not know what this is about pontificating over what they know not and what does not directly concern them, while those who have suffered in silence as jobs in which they have competency are denied them in preference for people outside the shores having their voices drowned. Perhaps some, including musicians, beating the drum to another tune today, might not know it, but the NBC Code as it pertains to the use of local content and the penalty enshrined for flouting the rules was what forced Nigerian Broadcasting stations to take up more local content, especially music, as opposed to foreign content, which once dominated the airwaves, largely contributing to the development that has been witnessed in the Nigerian music industry thereafter.
Many years back, music and film productions were finished abroad. Even up to the era of Chris Okotie, the Odion Iruojes still needed to go abroad for the mixing and finalisation of production. But by the late 80s and 90s, things had changed considerably, the state of the economy playing a part, leading to the blossoming of many local production talents such as Laolu Akins, Kingsley Ogoro and others. Musical videos were produced locally. Tunde Hundeyin (Dudu), Philip Trimnell and others held their own, while television commercials begun to be mostly shot locally too.
Soon, digital technology made it even easier for the local production community to hold its own, to a large extent, in every area – music, video, TVC, etc. The entry level was now much lower with digital technology and the internet opening up the world, and with it, more opportunities. But globalisation has a flip side to it and by some twist of fate, just as it became easier to operate from any corner of the world with a democratisation of access and tools, our people somehow opted to flip backwards, choosing to go abroad again to shoot and produce.
Some say they save cost going abroad! I find it difficult to understand this. Some say they go in search of location and the right ambience. Someone pointedly asked me: “Can you get a skyline similar to the New York or Golden Gate skyline in Nigeria? Can you get snowy backdrops in Naija?…And when the reality you’re trying to portray is partying in Ibiza or Cancun, holidaying in the UK during winter or smoking weed with Rastafarian’s in Jamaica fa? Do you go and shoot a video in Ajegunle?”
In response, I asked him: “Why must you get a skyline similar to that of New York? Why must you get snowy backgrounds? What about New York getting a skyline similar to that of Lagos? Is the essence of filming not to document your reality, tell your story and project same to the world? If it is about an Artiste based in Nigeria trying to portray partying in Ibiza or Cancun, holidaying in the UK during winter or smoking weed with Rastafarian’s in Jamaica as his reality, then we obviously cannot be on the same page, in terms of what art or television/film production is all about!”
Invariably, it is about our mind-set, as it is evident that many of us are simply unable to take off the invisible chains holding us down and unshackle ourselves from mental slavery. Years ago, it was all about shipping in big name musicians from all over the world to play at concerts here. These artistes were paid huge sums, while Nigerian artistes barely drew fees that could equal the cost of flight tickets of these foreign musicians, who always had their terms clearly spelt out. They would come into a red-carpet treatment, while the local artistes could only watch from the distance.
So it was that the American Artiste, 50 Cent, was in Nigeria as a guest of this beverage company. He was on the same flight with local artistes contracted by the same company, among who was Eedris Abdulkareem. While 50 Cent was made comfortable in the business class, local artistes were not that lucky to receive the same kind of treatment. Of course, we are not privy to the terms of the different contracts. But then, who knows what it really was. Eedris claimed he was entitled, as well, to be in business class. Who knows? The situation degenerated between Eedris and 50 Cent’s bodyguards. Eedris got the wrong end of the stick then and much later. While this happened, reports have it that the other Nigerian artistes simply watched from a distance. Perhaps, there was not much they could have done. But Eedris’ larger point about laying out the red carpet for foreign artistes, while local artistes were treated like ‘locals’ was a valid one and could not have been lost on those who should know. Eedris paid the price, but it was only a while before Nigerian Artistes started receiving better treatment locally, as the era of importing fading foreign acts with loads of dollars has gradually receded.
Back then, some of the Nigerian musicians who stood to benefit from Eedris’ act of defiance did not even understand it was their fight. Today, the talk is about shooting musical videos and TV commercials meant for transmission on local TV stations at home, and some who stand to benefit are aloof while those who do not understand what it is about are sinking their teeth into it.
The words of Rotimi Pedro, CEO, Optima Media Group are telling: “A country’s media space is the mind, heart and soul of that nation. Accordingly, if there is one key sector of any economy anywhere in the world which deserve protection, it is the media space of that country. Indeed, each country, including the so called liberal democracies, protect and guard their media space jealously. Rupert Murdoch was forced to take up America citizenship in order to take up a majority stake in Fox, even in the land of laissez-faire!
Let’s put things in perspective. This is exactly the role governments play in any country aiming for any meaningful development of its economy.
Let’s cast our minds back a few years. If the government had not enforced the local content provision of our codes, American pop culture would still be the order of the day in Nigeria and perhaps the likes of P-Square’s music may not be where it is today.
Again, if they had not enforced the same local content provisions, our wives would still be glued to Mexican Telenovela and the standard improvements we are now experiencing in Nollywood would be a mirage. The truth is that we should not continue sacrificing our birth-right on the altar of local imperfections. If we do, the local industry will never improve.
We have lost almost irreversible grounds to foreign controlled entities in the CONTENT DISTRIBUTION and MONETIZATION (Pay TV) space because of irresponsible regulations in the 80/90s. We are beginning to yield grounds to global competition in the CONTENT ORIGINATION and DEVELOPMENT end of the value chain. This needs to be reversed before it again becomes irreversible. The hon. minister is on point in my humble opinion in seeking to enforce PRE-EXISTING regulations. Even the EU recently forced NETFLIX to produce 30 percent of production targeted for the European market within the EU. That was despite free trade agreements between the USA and EU.”
We cannot afford to be quiet on this. What the government is doing is what we had canvassed for. Now, this is not about banning anything or stopping anyone from doing what he feels like, it should be about exercising control at the broadcast end. You can go wherever it suits you to shoot whatever, however. If Nigeria is not a good enough location to shoot your content, it cannot be good enough for its consumption on the terrestrial platform. If you produce locally and your product is targeted at the local population and you have a desire to advertise it on local stations, it cannot be that bad to shoot that TV commercial locally. Every country sets the parameters for what is broadcast-worthy within its territory. Nigeria cannot and should not be an exemption. Someday, we will emancipate ourselves from this mental slavery of assuming everything good must come from abroad.
This article was written by Simbo Olorunfemi. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.