Behind the scene | 12 April 2007 08:28 CET


Prior to 1984, film lovers in Nigeria had to be contended with going to cinema houses. The tide changed remarkably when in 1984 when Alade Aromire produced the first made in Nigeria home video titled 'Ekun.' Though far from being a commercial success, the production of 'Ekun' on VHS format opened a new chapter in the evolution of home video film industry in the country.

It was not until 1996 that home video made its biggest impact in Nigeria. It was the year Kenneth Nnebue produced “Living in Bondage,” a soar-away commercial success. From then, he has produced other equally successful home video like Bondage, True Confessions, Dirty Deal, Glamour Girls, and Rituals etc. That did not only mark the turning point for the Nigerian film industry but also opened the floodgate of investment, entertainment and employment. The rush to cash in on the glamour inherent in these films, which fascinated viewers, made other movie makers to join in.

At this early stage of the development of the home video industry, the trend was for the marketers to converge in the Surulere Area of Lagos where most of the pioneers of the industry then operated. They include: Zeb Ejiro and his brothers Chico and Peter, Kenneth Nnebue (Nek Video), Opa Williams and several others. Then, the modus operandi was for the marketers to pay money to the producers who will hire the scriptwriters, the actors and assemble his production crew. The marketers' surfaces gain to pay the balance of the production in case of outright sales or to negotiate the terms of release of the flick with the movie maker.

In those days, the marketers limited themselves to finding ways to distribute and market the films they were interested in and nothing more. These were the days when films such as Tears for love, Flesh and Blood, Goodbye Tomorrow, Glamour Girls and the rest were made. Such was the success story of the Nigerian move industry a.ka. Nollywood. The artistes became familiar faces in several parts of Africa and beyond. Nigerian films were hailed for their richness in cultural background, costumes, humour and their distinct difference from that of Hollywood of America and Bollywood of India which the world had been used to.

This was before the marketers hijacked the industry. It all started with Kenneth Nnebue, the pioneer producer to venture into the market at Idumota with his dual role as producer and marketer. The marketers at Idumota also believed that they could handle the roles and now took up the title of executive producer, which gave them the opportunity to dictate to the movie makers. Initially, they started by choosing the kind of stories they wanted and cajoling the producers to use certain locations. In no space of time, they started dictating the actors and actresses they wanted on films. Before any body could guess their next move, some of them even became directors and established their offices among the film makers themselves.

While the real professionals were yet to fathom that move, the marketers began to dictate who must get roles and who should not get roles. Six years ago the marketers struck with a ban on Hilda Dokubo and Ejike Asiegbu, the offence of the duo was that they were too critical of the marketers. The ban was however, a clandestine affair as they (the marketers) were still afraid to assume such powers. By 2004, the situation changed completely with the marketers not only dictating who should act in films but also which films should be released into the market and which ones should not. It was that same year that the marketers exercised the biggest power of all when they banned 10 top Nollywood stars alleging indiscipline, very high fees and other sundry matters.

The banned artistes included Richard Mofe Damijo (RMD), Chief Pete Edochie, Nkem Owoh, Ramsey Noah, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde and Stella Damasus. Others were Jim Iyke, Kenneth Okonkwo and Emeka Ike. After one year, the marketers known as the 'Awka mafias' with an office in Awka, Anambra State asked the affected stars to appear before them and apologise for their 'sins.” Nkem Owoh, Kenneth Okonkwo, Pete Edochie, Ransey Noah, Emeka Ike, Jim Iyke reportedly complied with their orders and were unbanned while RMD, Genevieve, Omotola Stella Damasus are yet to comply and remains banned.

Among the marketers that hold sway and call the shots in Nollywood is Ossy Affasson. He is currently the most powerful in the market as the president of the marketers association, Cosmas Ndule, the boss of Contech Films, Ojiofor Ezeanyechie, the boss of O.J. Productions and Sunday Nnajiude. Others include the Amaco Brothers, Gabriel and Damian, the two brothers who are very influential in the movie business, Dozie Eriobu, the boss of Infinity Merchants, Okwytex, Azuka Odunukwe, the boss of Ulzee Nig Ltd and Bonag, run by the most successful couple ever to venture into movie marketing.

The control of the movie industry by the makers and the ban on the top artistes has its good and bad sides. The good aspect of it is that it has given some of them opportunity to venture into other areas, particularly music, among whom are Nkem Owoh, Genevieve Nnaji, Stella Damasus, Omotola Jalade Ekinde etc, while Jim Iyke has ventured into a foundation that has to do with facial deformities and they are all doing well in their new fields of endeavour.

The bad aspect of this hijack of the movie industry by the marketers has to do with the absence of strict implementation of controls, the use of greenhorns, repetitions and fallen standard of production. It is now a case of square pegs in round holes. It is a development that must be checked by the regulatory bodies to save the industry.

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