Opinion: Some posers for Lai on his proposed ban

By Abimbola Adelakun

When the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, recently announced that the Federal Government would stop the producers of Nigerian films, reality shows, and music from recording their works abroad, there were several questions that one expected him to answer to expatiate why the move was necessary. Indeed, he argued that cultural productions meant for local consumption ought to be locally produced to boost local industries and create employment, and the government would be supporting those who make their videos locally to boost capacity. The argument is valid and seductive but it is as cut and dried as it seems.

Such a decision in the age of global interconnection between cultural industries needs a lot of clear-headedness before the minister proceeds to amend the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission code as he promised. Besides, lumping different categories of visual productions that have different means of distribution can result in confusion during policy execution. The Nigerian creative industry has done quite well without government support, and any poorly thought out regulation will stifle one of the few independently functioning enterprises in Nigeria.

First, how many of Nigeria’s visual productions – films and music, especially – are shot abroad? Nollywood, according to a conservative estimate, makes around 2,000 films a year. The music industry is equally vibrant even if one does not have credible data to state a specific number. Does Mohammed have empirical evidence that shows the ratio of the works shot abroad to the ones shot at home, and if the former outweighs the latter? If the preponderance of the videos made outside Nigeria does not outweigh those made at home, could he then be trying to solve a problem that is merely exaggerated?

Two, has Mohammed thoroughly engaged the question of why Nigerians take the production of their works abroad? Producers all over the world do it for many reasons, from economic to aesthetic. In the case of Nigeria, one can add that other factors such as status enhancement and guaranteed security. Earlier this year, MultiChoice responded to criticisms by claiming they shot Big Brother Nigeria in South Africa because the country had ready-made resources that would guarantee the production standard they aimed to attain. Theirs is also an economic rationale that cannot just be dismissed. Even those who make their videos abroad to boost their status should not be merely scorned. In cultural industries, that is one of the ways people generate social capital that pays off in other ways.

Sometimes too, people shoot abroad for aesthetic reasons. American artistes such as Jay Z, Chris Brown, Iggy Azalea, Beyonce, Rick Ross, Chris Brown, have all shot their videos in countries other than the US and that has not made their works less American. The Lord of the Rings film series was shot entirely in New Zealand because the book that was adapted for the film required a locale that was not available in the US. Mission Impossible 3 and Skyfall were filmed in China for economic reasons. Titanic was filmed in Mexico. It is on record that Hollywood takes its films to other countries in Europe and Canada to enjoy the tax rebate in those countries thereby reducing production costs. At the end of the day, creativity is business and profit maximisation. Why would people shoot their videos outside Nigeria if it does not make economic sense?

Three, what if the content of a video production of music or a film demands being shot abroad? For instance, could 30 Days in Atlanta or Osuofia in London have been filmed in Nigeria? Those are stories that require a foreign location. Could D’Banj and Don Jazzy’s Mr. Endowed have been shot in Nigeria? Also, suppose a production content requires stunts, technical or physical infrastructure that are not available in Nigeria, why should they not be taken abroad? Sometimes when Nigerian artistes produce locally, they still take the final product abroad for post-production to benefit from the available sophisticated technology. By compelling artistes to use Nigerian locale, is Mohammed not going to limit creativity, imagination, and the future exploration of opportunities for those who want to break the bounds of storytelling?

Four, when Mohammed talked about videos that are shot abroad even when they were meant to be “consumed in Nigeria,” did he realise that thanks to technology, the paradigm of production, distribution, and consumption is shifting? Already, Nigerian music and films are on YouTubeiTunes, Spotify, etc. Nigerian films are on subscription media such as Netflix and IrokoTV, available to be viewed all over the world. Nigerians that live in Nigeria are no longer the only ones that consume Nigerian art. In fact, non-Nigerians all over the world are taking interest in Nigerian cultural productions. This is not the time to begin to limit the creative explorations of Nigerian artistes.

Five, speaking of technological advancement and the mind-blowing possibilities it enables, has Mohammed considered a Nigerian music industry where classifications of “local” and “abroad” will neither be necessary nor meaningful? For instance, in the US, holograms of dead artistes such as Michael Jackson and Tupac now perform with living artistes on stage and the technology is so advanced that both the living and the dead seamlessly blend. When Nigerian music gets to a level of sophistication where virtual artistes perform in virtual locations, what would be the definition of “local” and “abroad” then? It is imperative to think beyond the present to the future where a lot more things than what we already know will be possible.

Six, what are the implications of insisting on local production in a world where collaboration is happening across cultures to reach a wider audience and create new meanings? For instance, The Great Wall is a US-China film that was shot in China with a Chinese director and a mostly Chinese cast but targeted both American and Chinese audience. If a Nigerian director decides to make a similar collaboration to expand his/her audience, why should such an initiative be stifled? For instance, Kunle Afolayan’s The CEO has that cross-cultural appeal, and his utilisation of talents across the continent and location outside Nigeria is a strategy to penetrate new markets.

Seven, what if an artiste has a Nigerian origin but is based abroad, should they have to come to Nigeria to produce their works to meet the stipulated “Nigerian content” especially if such an artiste has a multi-national audience? Should Asa have to make her videos in Nigeria to be able to sell to a local audience?

Eight, several Nigerians have asked why making videos abroad is any different from what privileged Nigerians do. They do have a point, and I wish Mohammed would respond to their questions. Let us start with President Muhammadu Buhari who is currently receiving treatment in the UK at the expense of Nigerians. Why is he not in any of our hospitals to prove he is a believer in local content? Why did the same Buhari, the man who once treated poverty as a consequence of his superior moral anti-corruption virtue, send his kids abroad to get an elite education? Why did he not put them in public universities in Nigeria to demonstrate that he is no hypocrite? How many of our leaders’ wives and children give birth in Nigerian hospitals? Don’t they run to the US to obtain the citizenship because their husbands and fathers superintend the country without a thought for the future?

What of Mohammed himself? Does he use any of our hospitals to promote local content or he goes abroad when he needs medical attention? Did Senate President Bukola Saraki’s son not recently graduate from a UK university? If Nigerians in public office can shop for better services abroad, why can’t other Nigerians, in their private capacity, vote for better quality with their money? Shouldn’t Mohammed first get rid of the log in his own eyes so he can better understand the meaning of irony?Punch

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