Nigerian actor Francis Duru had a chat with the Nigerian Compass where discussed issues that ranged from his journey in the Nigerian movie industry, the fund issued to the entertainment industry by the President of Nigeria and the issue of Ghanaian movies Vs. Nigerian movies.
Read the interview culled from the Nigerian Compass below.
You have been in the entertainment industry for 23 years. So, what is your assessment of the industry and its players?
The industry has been a cash cow that has been lying fallow; yet, it remains one of the money-spinning sectors of this country, if well harnessed. The industry is in search of in-depth attention. The industry is like a gold that people ignored out of ignorance and inability of people to think outside the box.
As a result of this neglect, our cultural heritage and historic antecedence all have been neglected; and today, foreign culture has invaded us. If necessary steps are not taken, the next generation of Nigeria will completely lose touch of our culture. Despite the neglect, the movie industry, I mean the Nollywood, has been able to colonize the world.
Though our movies may not be as perfect as it is expected to be, it has become a phenomenon. Today, 75 percent of the globe has interest in our kind of home movies. We are at the point where we can’t be underestimated or ignored in the global movie sector.
Why do you think the industry is neglected, despite its capacity to turn things around for the country?
It is a multiple thing. First, the practitioners themselves have not been able to tell ourselves the truth and set up standards and structures that can move the industry from where it is now to where it should be. We have also contributed to the neglect in the industry. We have actually treated the industry like a prostitute: We come in, take what we want, reap and rape her and abandon her.
Again, we indulge in so much in self-glorification and individualism at the expense and detriment of the industry that made all of us. Nobody is thinking of the industry and what to do to get it positioned properly; rather, everybody is interested in what he or she gets from the industry. Once you get what you think you want from the industry, you move on and abandon it. We the practitioners have not treated the industry the way we should, so that is why the home video is today seen as an ordinary trade, forgetting the fact this is a veritable tool for social, political and religious cohesion for the country.
It is for mass mobilization and social enlightenment. If I can walk into a motor park and people are hailing me, it means that if I stand in that motor park and tell them certain things about the unity of Nigeria, they will not only listen to me, but they will do it because they have developed an interest in me.
The industry is a magic wand that can permeate the psyche of the ordinary and extraordinary Nigerian at the same time. It is a medium of communication that does not respect status, class, ethnicity, religion, tribe and race. Therefore, if it is well harnessed, it is a very strong instrument for social propaganda, which can upgrade the integrity of the nation.
The consciousness of a great Nigeria is lacking in every Nigerian today. So, to create the culture of ownership and patriotism is something that you cannot do without the actors and entertainment industry. They remain the magic wand to create that consciousness.
This is one thing that is missing in Nigeria. Whenever you talk about the apartheid in South Africa, you can never take away the various forms of agitation propaganda used by the Black South Africans to fight apartheid. Today, the challenges of national disintegration are starring us in the face. Everyday mischief makers at the helms of affairs try to create chaos and confusion among Nigerians.
You mentioned South Africa and how dramas were also used to fight apartheid. Why have you people in the industry not done anything that could help to disabuse the minds of Nigerians against national disintegration?
That is why I said that the idea of our movies is merchandizing. It’s purely for commerce. I put in N20 and make N30; that is what we do.
But you will not blame the man who has invested his money to create a structure to be used. He has created a structure that is multidimensional, and he has just taken the one that concerns him. Meanwhile, he has created vast opportunity for you, to use this same avenue, for culture and national reintegration, uplift of the heritage of the people and create jobs for million of people.
It scares me everyday when I see leaders argue about oil, neglecting the cultural and historical heritage of the people that has the capacity to add so much value to the GDP of this country. It is shocking that leaders are not interested in tapping from our cultural and historical heritage. I know that God will help me one day to see my dreams and desires for these opportunities that have remained untapped.
It is not only oil that we have. Everyday, we say Nigeria is bad, but go to the airports and you will see foreigners trooping into Nigeria. What are they looking for, if Nigeria is as bad we have painted it? It means there is something in this country that we have not been able to discover because of ignorance, which these foreigners have discovered.
One of the things that God gave to us which we have failed to use is our population. Our population makes us a good market for any product. That is why the telecom companies are here. So, don’t blame the man who comes into the Nollywood to make his money.
That is just one aspect or benefit of the industry. Why can’t we see the other aspects of the industry? This is where the government, multinational firms and wealthy individuals who have made so much money from the system should come in. They should think of reinvesting to uphold and reserve our national heritage. When they do so, they will make more money for themselves.
Before the 2011 election, President Goodluck Jonathan gave a huge amount of money for the development of the industry, which I think should enable it do some of what you have said. What happened to the money?
I really thank you for this question. As I said, the major challenge we have in the industry is not just government. I said this because somehow government has created some kind of opportunity for us. It is left for dedicated and core practitioners in the industry who are not just in the industry to make money and to take advantage of the opportunities created by government to help the industry grow. The Censors Board, the Film Institute and the Nigeria Film Corporation are different outfits and organizations that are supposed to look after the industry and how it operates, but these bodies have been dormant for years.
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in the course of his transformation agenda, has become the Nigerian leader who refused to look at just one sector of the economy and he understands the vast potentials that are in the acts and entertainment industry. So, he offered to assist the industry grow, but the challenge is: what does the money stand? Again, how to access is one thing that is lacking. The people the money is meant for are totally kept away from it by sheer ignorance and lack of opportunity to have access to this money. Everything about the money is shrouded in mystery, and that mystery moves people away from it.
Stakeholders need to come together to discuss and know actually want the money stands for, what it should be used for and whether they need the money. It is a soft and accessible loan, which means that the template to get access to this loan is supposed to be totally different from the normal process of getting loan for other businesses.
This is because the money was meant to be used to improve the entertainment industry to enable it create more jobs. But what we have seen is that money has been given, and some people want to use the template or process of getting loans for other businesses to get access to the money. If that is the case, why should one bother going for the money, since there is no difference from going to access other loans.
If you are to submit collateral before you access the money, what about people who do not have collateral or people whose collaterals are their initiatives or ideas or scripts? You can see that if I do a movie and have a distribution network of just one million copies, at N100 a unit, I can make N100 million in just my one million copies release; this is dealing with just one percent of the population of Nigeria.
And a pertinent question is: is it possible to sell one million copies of a movie at first release in this country? The answer is yes. But the problem is that the average marketer does not want to risk his time and money into creating some other alternative means of distribution other than the one that has been given him money.
Are you saying that you people do not have access to the money given by the president?
For now, we don’t. People who have had access to this money are keeping quiet. I was on air with someone from NEXIM Bank who said they had dispensed almost N200m and I asked him whom they gave the money to. There is so much mystery around the money that we need to unravel and unmask. There is the problem of wrong people claiming to be representing some people in the industry.
The people are not aware of where the money is going. Another problem we have is lack of me enabling environment to do our work. If there is an enabling environment for me to work, I may not even need the money. All I need will be to go to my bank and ask for money to do my production and my bank will look at my distribution network and give me what I want.
Do you think the entertainment industry in Nigeria is being overtaken by the Ghanaian entertainment industry?
There is no comparison between Ghanaian entertainment industry and Nigerian entertainment industry. I have no regrets saying this. There is no comparison between Ghana and Nigeria, in terms of the entertainment industry. Where do they want to start from? I am not saying this out of sentiment. There is no basis for such comparison. Let’s name one Nigerian cinematographer to 10 Ghanaian minds. Let us not use the bandwagon vogue culture to make comparisons.
Take a look at our lineups and do the same with that of Ghana; do you see any comparison? It is wrong to even think of such comparison. They need to respect us and I am sure they do. Everyday Ghanaian sneaks in here to shoot movies. They do that because we have people who are only interested in making money, even when such monies are made at the detriment of their life. They do not care, forgetting that they are gradually tinting the integrity of this nation and the industry. That is why some Ghanaian’s will think of saying they are beating Nigeria. Where do they want to start? It’s an insult to make such comparison.