Richard Mofe-Damijo, Delta State Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism, says Nollywood has single-handedly caused a revolution in the entire African continent. In this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, Tony Manuaka, senior associate editor, Stella Sawyerr, associate editor, Tony Akaeze, senior assistant editor and Adewale Adelola, photojournalist, the renowned actor says in Delta, entertainment “is in our DNA. You cannot talk about the industry without pointing a finger to Delta”.
In the 15 years of democracy in Delta State, how has the tourism and entertainment sector fared?
What has happened is that, in 15 years of democracy, overtime, entertainment has migrated from the back burner to the front burner. And you will find that some successive administrations picked people from the entertainment industry and brought them into mainstream governance because of the obvious importance of entertainment. These days, when you say entertainment, it’s all encompassing – from culture to music, all the areas of performing arts, of dance, of drama, comedy and all of that. So, it has exploded and what has happened is that democracy has provided a platform for the arts to thrive, and it is the thriving of the arts that has resulted in the annual Abuja Carnival, the Calabar Carnival, the Port Harcourt Carnival, Akwa Ibom Carnival and Delta Carnival. There are carnivals all over the place; every state wants to do one signature arts event or the other and it will keep growing because the fact that Nollywood is looked at as a major sector in the overall growth of our GDP is a clear indication of how democracy has provided a platform for entertainment to thrive.
If you think back 15 years ago, think about how many homes VCRs and TVs have in their homes and fast forward to today, how many homes now have TVs, TVDs and VCRs and all of that. Think about the number of fashion houses; think about the number of photographers. Think about the number of television channels, production companies and all of that. Then think about when Africa Magic started, it was just one channel. Today, there are about eight or so. We have single-handedly caused an entire revolution in the African continent. Every African nation wants Nollywood to come and build their industry for them. People are calling me in Tanzania and other places. I was invited officially to Namibia to come and help out with the film industry and all that. If there was no enabling environment, in spite of how unorganized it is as it were, because what we have had within the entertainment industry are interventions, not a clear-cut deliberate policy that is followed step by step; unlike a government of Delta State that appoints somebody, keeps him in government and provides budgetary provisions from year to year as part of the mainstream of what is supposed to happen.
Today in Delta State, we have been able to host almost every segment of the society at the event centre with music, dance, comedy, entertainment, running side by side. That’s what I mean by the provision of enabling environment or platform for it to thrive. You can’t hold any major conference anymore without the fusion of entertainment into it. It is now part and parcel, a fabric of every organized seminar or whatever. So, democracy has, indeed helped to make the arts blossom. Comedy shows are being exported. The internet is awash with caricature of things that are happening; creativity on T-shirts and everything. We have affected how cities are run, how governments are run. You cannot talk about how Calabar is run today without mentioning the terminal month of December and how everything is driven by entertainment and tourism. That tells you the kind of explosion that has happened within these 15 years and I deliberately draw inferences from outside of Delta so you can see the correlation. Today, over 70 per cent of the films done in Nigeria are done in Delta. That has increased hotel patronage and created employment for people. There are people who, all they do is photography production in Nollywood while others are in catering and production outfits. There are people whose job is to just get locations for productions when they are here in Asaba.
What is attracting filmmakers to Asaba?
It’s the conducive atmosphere. If you don’t have a city that looks good in picture; if you don’t have a city where actors and actresses can come in, stay for weeks and feel safe; if you don’t have a city that is picturesque, that is lit at night, if you don’t have a city that is like a tax haven for all productions; everybody comes in here. You have a friendly government here which…I mean, anything that concerns Nollywood, my governor calls me and says, your people need this, your people need that. You know, so those are the kind of things that our people are enjoying. So, there’s a constant attraction. We have hotels where we have 50 per cent discount for artistes when they are in residence. So, Asaba has become something else and now, it is extending to Ugbolu and Onicha Olona and devolving into Warri and other places. And then, what we call Urhobowood – which is films in Urhobo has taken off in Ughelli. There are people who do films in Itsekiri language and you already have films in Igbo.
So, the thing is just evolving. Look at the Film and Broadcast Academy, FABA in Ozoro owned by the Ejiros and some other people. So our successes in Delta are all due to the government’s efforts. The credit goes to the government. For instance, I think that some of the biggest performances that some musicians have had in their careers are all here in Asaba. We evolved the talent show for instance, to start to groom a new generation of the Ali Babas, I Go Dye, Sammie Okposo and the rest. Yes, we have such things.
Do you have an estimate of people who earn their livelihood through the entertainment industry in the state?
I don’t want to hazard a guess, because figures sometimes can throw up unintended issues. But it is obvious from even what has happened to our GDP, the kind of contribution that entertainment had made to Nigeria. If it is possible to have a way to quantify the export value for instance of Don Jazzy or a Tiwa Savage, you will be amazed what it is. But we also lose a lot of revenue from the fact that we don’t have a way of putting the figures together as to what is the real export value of Nollywood films because of the issue of piracy and all of that. But having said that, there’s no denying the fact of what has happened to the industry in terms of employment because people will tell you today that outside of the oil industry and perhaps government, Nollywood employs one of the largest number of people because you can easily multiply the number of productions that happen in a month and an average of how many crew per production and it gives you an idea what is going on, not to mention the number of people who sell the product, the number of people who replicate, the number of people who print the jacket and all of that. Before, when we started Nollywood, there were just two or three production houses located in Surulere.
And you must be proud that Delta contributes significantly in the country’s entertainment industry?
Of course, it’s in our DNA. You cannot talk about the industry without pointing a finger to Delta. We have film families in Nigeria that are Deltans. The Amatas and Ejiros are like film royalties in Nigeria. In comedy, if you are not a Warri boy you have to be associated with Warri to be a successful comedian. I mean it’s a thing of joy to be from Delta State.
Looking at the way forward for the entertainment industry, how do you rate government’s assistance to it generally?
Government at the centre need to stop looking at interventions but planned and deliberate policies where the film industry should be located at the right place, not this controversy of whether it should be in information or culture ministry. Let there be a clear location for it. If it’s going to be carved differently, let corporate Nigeria begin to look at it with a view to harnessing the power that resides there; let there be a symbiotic relationship between NCC, the telecoms industry, music industry, the collecting society and all that. You have no idea how much entertainment can transform this country until you begin to look at the elements one by one. Take what is happening on YouTube today. I can bet my life that if Nigeria has half the access of America, we will dominate the world creatively. So the kind of attention that government should give the entertainment industry is one of looking at all the elements and seeing how it can be best supported; ditto for the corporate industry. They should treat it as they treat education, agriculture, real estate, banking and manufacturing. It’s not something that you just suddenly look at and say, dash them one billion. No! Government intervention is good; it has helped a lot, no doubt. I’m just saying, beyond the intervention, it should be something that is seen as a right. This is an industry that employs a lot of people and the entry point is very low. You don’t have to be a PhD holder to be part of it.
Some critics are not happy that we tend now to collaborate with foreign countries because the argument is that it takes away jobs from Nigerians?
No. Collaborations are always good because we are expanding. Anybody that tells us that it takes away the job, it’s not true; because the need for collaboration is the extension of the market. Before now, our films are sold in Ghana and the money doesn’t come to us, whereas if you have a Ghanaian star now in your movie, you are guaranteed a certain amount of money from Ghana. How can anybody say there’s no business sense in it? It’s like they are coming here as expatriates working. Nigerians are in England and elsewhere working. The world is a global village. Your skill should take you anywhere.
But the collaboration is more about Nigeria and Ghana?
Well, Ghana is closer and they speak English. Cameroon speaks English and French. But let me say more about Ghana. Ghana had one of the most controlled and restricted markets for our films. They did not allow the infiltration of pirated movies into Ghana. They wanted it structured from day one. So they tell you, if you want to sell your film in Ghana, look for a Ghanaian distributor and give them to him to sell.