How Nollywood Is Sharing Jonathan’s N3b Gift

I still remember the ecstasy that greeted the
announcement of the grant. That historic Saturday,
March 3, 2013, will surely remain imperishable in the
life of Nollywood.

It was a gaily evening inside the State House, Marina,
Lagos. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, sat in the
midst of an expectant Nollywood crowd. It was a
rendezvous of everybody that was somebody in
Nollywood.

Even the most elusive man, in Nollywood, Kenneth Nnebue, the inspiration to the very industry being
celebrated was present.

It was the first time a Nigerian President would be sitting with Nollywood practitioners for a dinner just to say, “hey guys, you have done well; I appreciate
your contribution to job creation in this country”.

President Jonathan was hosting Nollywood to
celebrate with them 20 years of the home video
industry. He had demonstrated an unshaking love
and recognition for Nollywood. He had earlier in 2010 announced a $200 Million loan for the creative
industry. But collateral clogs had made it practically
impossible for practitioners to access the loan
managed by the Nigeria Export Import Bank (NEXIM).

But this evening in this finest hour for Nollywood, the
President decided to demonstrate his love further. If
the loan was interpreted to be political because
election was drawing close, he was now a bonafide
President, not canvassing for votes.

And so, having treated Nollywood to some delicious
meal plus a fabulous patriotic song performed by
Timi Dakolo, the President of the world’s most
populous black nation, Dr. Jonathan literarily sent
even the roof of the State House flying as he
announced a grant of N3 billion for Nollywood.
Celebration! Jubilation! Wow! Wow! Wow! Nollywood
went wild. This is no loan! This is ‘dash’. A gift! A
grant!

Right there and then, questions, apprehension, fear
followed. Who will receive the money? How will it be
shared?
“Nna, how we go share this money? Is the cash here,”
a producer teased. But the President soon provided
the answer. “This grant will be managed by the
Ministry of Finance under the supervision of Dr Ngozi
Okonjo-Iweala, the Honourable Minister of Finance
and Coordinating Minister of the Economy”.

The mention of Okonjo-Iweala added to the joy of the
practitioners. This was one minister that had spoken
so eloquently of Nollywood. She had spoken
unequivocally on many occasions about the capacity
and capability of our motion picture industry to
create jobs.

She believes that if Nollywood is given support and
properly managed, it could be a major contributor to
Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). She is
therefore a loyal advocate of Nollywood. Above all,
Nollywood sees her as an exemplary government
official with an untrammeled integrity.

And, so, Nollywood felt safe, sure that in a matter of
weeks, the money would be in their pockets. It was
not to be. It will turn out a long, tortuous journey
through the wilderness, a grinding odyssey to a
grant.

GLIMPSES OF THE GRANT: HOPE RISING

On Saturday, April 27, 2013, some Nollywood
practitioners vowed they smelt their money. They
could see it and almost touch it, they said. And the
reason for this is simple. The Honourable Minister of
Finance, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, and the Honourable
Minister of Culture, Tourism and Strategy, High Chief,
Edem Duke, who was the second Minister appointed
by President Jonathan to join in the fund’s
management, had gathered them once again. This
time, it was at Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. Over
60 practitioners but essentially heads of guilds,
associations, and generally stake holders gathered in
this arena of hope.

The much awaited money now seemed available. The
ministers had come to consult the owners of the
money to know how to ‘share’ it.

“I swear, I can smell this money”, an old practitioner
enthused; ecstatic that in a matter of days, he would
have his share. “What we have come here to do is to
continue the initiative of Mr. President in trying to
support our creative arts industry, particularly
Nollywood”, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala opened up.

“The idea is to recognise the talent in this industry
and the fact that it is a generator of jobs for our
young people. As you know, the industry has
generated over 200,000 direct jobs, one million
indirect jobs, US$250 million, equivalent in value and
we believe that we could double and triple all these, if
government has some supportive measure to help
the industry”, Dr Okonjo-Iweala said with candour to
the delight of Nollywood.

The minister finally revealed that she and her team
had been brainstorming on how Nollywood would
use its money. They came to the conclusion that the
grant should be put into Distribution, Capacity
Building and Film Production. Script writing was to be
part of film production.

They needed to seek Nollywood’s opinion in order to
move forward. Apart from some little suggestions,
the practitioners were in consensus that the two
ministers and their team had done a good job.

But the questions in the inner recesses of the
practitioners’ minds remained, “where is the money?
When are we getting it?”

AND THE WAITING BEGINS

By August, 2013, my office as President of the
Association of Movie Producers (AMP) had come
under permanent siege. “When is this money going
to come? Or have they spent it like they do in Nigeria?
Is this money real or a mirage? How long are we
going to wait?”,

So many questions rained as producers became
impatient. Many actually accused me of ineffective
representation.

“You are not pushing enough. Go to Abuja and bring
our money. Tell those people the money is for
Nollywood and not for government officials”, they
fired.

This grant almost cost me my re-election as AMP
President in January 2014. But with the inestimable
wisdom of hindsight many of them are beginning to
realise that the corrosive attack directed at my office
was absolutely unnecessary as grants usually come
with snail speed. Importantly this was despite the fact
that application for capacity Building Fund had
opened.

But I understood their plight and aggressive quest for
the grant. With their own meagre resources, they
seem to have reached the limit of possibilities.

Nollywood therefore needed this splendour of Aso
Rock generosity and hospitality, even if a drop in the
ocean, to re-oil the wheel of their checquered
professional journey. Here was an industry they
created with sheer grit and granite will, an industry
that has changed Nigeria’s story and image abroad;
yet an industry that past leaders have paid only scant
attention and lip service.

Only President Jonathan has turned his promise into
possibilities and these practitioners do not want to
hear stories about this grant. And, as long as they
have not seen the money in the vaults of their banks,
as long as this grant remains something of a mystery,
they needed to keep the pressure, if nothing else, to
crack the carapace of the fund managers’ conscience.
That way, they believe, the grant managers would
understand the crucible they have been through to
create an industry that now seems to offer its viewers
laughter and pleasure at the expense of these oracles
of zest – the content creators.

ON- LINE APPLICATION AND THE UPROAR THAT
FOLLOWED

The month of July 2013 heralded the arrival of
‘Jonathan’s money’, in Nollywood’s lingo. The N300
million earmarked for Capacity Building was ready.
Nollywood could now apply online for the fund and it
was open till the end of December 2013. By February,
2014, the N700 million fund for Film Production was
also ready and open for application.

This, ordinarily, should speak joy to Nollywood’s ears
and minds. But this was not to be. The forms
especially that for Film Production, was complex,
complicated and intricate. Here was a people that
their whole life is governed by caprice and their trade
by whim. Now they had to cope with this acidic test of
dealing meticulously with forms. It was a tedious
examination for many a practitioner. Some had to
hire consultants to overleap this intellectual and
indeed highbrow hurdle. Not even a seminar held by
the fund managers on the filling of the forms could
bring any succour.

But the worst crisis came with submission of the
applications. Apart from the acknowledgement of
successful submission of the first phase of the
application, which is in fact an automatic response
from a programmed computer, many did not receive
the form for the second phase which is like the semi-
final round to the fund acquisition. There was uproar.
As the AMP president, my office was once again
besieged by producers.

They want to know why the Project Act Nollywood
managers had failed to reach them. They wanted me
to reach Dr. Supo Olusi, Special Adviser to the
Honourable Minister of Finance and the man saddled
with the responsibility of dealing with Nollywood on
this much awaited fund and issues arising from it.
Sadly, no one could reach Dr. Olusi. None had his
phone number except one of the guilds’ heads. But
he was hoarding this ‘all important’ number. In
response to my request to get this number he
seemed to have ‘colonised’, he told me he needed the
man’s approval and later called to say Dr. Olusi
would call me. He never did.

Many started wondering whether Project Act
Nollywood had become a mystique that only the
initiates could access. I finally reached through
phone a lady in Dr Olusi’s office who explained that
some of the forms were not properly filled while
some had clear errors. She still wouldn’t give me
Olusi’s number. I couldn’t spare her a bit of my
caustic tongue. But it had also become clear to me
that equipment failures in their office must have
complicated the problems.

For instance, some forms duly filled and sent to their
office online got there with some sections blank.
Twice this writer had to correct his own form and
that became a testament to the failures of equipment
in some cases. But more problems kept springing up
and it was becoming a horrendous challenge. Since
we could not reach Olusi on phone, we decided to
take our problem to his office.

A kind member of my association was, however, able
to finally, and to our infinite joy, obtain Olusi’s
number from an Abuja based friend and gave it to
us. We, at long last, reached the seemingly elusive
Olusi on phone and most surprisingly he gave us an
appointment without any qualms.

THE ABUJA MEETING

I arrived the Ministry of Finance with a strong lawyer,
Barrister Sam Kargbo, who is also a member of my
association. The Dr Olusi we met, again to our
utmost surprise, came across a delightful character,
hospitable, business-like, no fuss, no semantics, his
language within the precincts of civility, devoid of
unnecessary preambles. He gave us his call card with
his phone numbers without any hesitation. In fact, he
was only a surprise because there was nothing
surprising about him.

We then brought the uproar in Nollywood to his
attention. The complicated film-fund form and the
awaited fund for Capacity Building. Specifically, we
told him of the many practitioners that have been
given admissions in US Universities for three weeks
intensive training but are yet to receive funds from
Project Act Nollywood. We also stressed in crystal
language Nollywood practitioners’ determination to
get the N10 million Film production fund. Having told
him about Nollywood practitioners’ rough and tough
road to creating an industry, we made it known to
him that this money, to some, “is not a matter of life
and death. It is more than that”.

Dr Olusi was precise though with some understanding. Having explained that they were
working assiduously on the applications and trying to
correct the errors and mistakes from Nollywood and
perhaps his office, he shocked us with the news that
the N300 million set aside for capacity building had
been exhausted.

We sat mouth agape. With all the guilds in Nollywood, only the Directors Guild, about 28 of
them, had been sent to the US for training and each
had a total of US$6000 for tuition, ticket,
accommodation and welfare. So, where has all the
money gone to? What happens to all the members of
the Actors Guild of Nigeria, the largest guild in
Nollywood? What will be the fate of over 60
producers who have been given admission for their
training and many more still waiting? What about the
editors, the cinematographers?

Dr. Olusi was not about to answer the salient
questions that cascaded our heat oppressed mind.
His words were concise. “We are going to publish
how your money was spent. The money is for
Nollywood and we will spend it only on Nollywood
practitioners and projects”.

His words spoken with granite cast conviction and
confidence sounded to us more like sophistry and
poetics of pseudo tradition, that made our ears
tingle. He then told us that he had advised that since
we are very passionate about the capacity building, we should apply for additional fund to be injected into that segment of the project from the budget for distribution. It was an advice that Nollywood easily bought.

All the guilds’ heads have since jointly written to the
Minister of Culture and Tourism on this development
as directed. And so the waiting game, like their
histrionics calling, is once again being acted out even
as I write this piece.

Phone calls continued to come and the same
questions again and again – where is the money?
Some asked if the directors’ trip to USA was a mere
facade. What exactly is holding the money?

AT LAST, THE FILM PRODUCTION FUND!

On the cloudy evening of Friday, July 4, I received a
call from our National Financial Secretary. “Presido,
she said excitedly, the money don land o!”. What do
you mean, I quarried amidst laughter.

Chinasa Joy Onyechere, our ever buoyant and
sprightly Fin Sec then told me that some of our
members had just received mails inviting them to
come physically for an interview on the Film
Production Fund. This is the final stage. Once you
appear and successfully defend the form you filled,
then you are in business. The ‘Jonathan cash’, ‘GEJ’s
largesse’, whatever you call it will be yours.

The ball is now in everyone’s court. It has been one
long dizzying walk to a place called hope. This grant
does not hold a financial revolution for Nollywood,
but it could rev the sound of change and begin the
reconstruction of a promise, the journey of history
that Nollywood encapsulates.

And that is why President Jonathan will have a
hallowed place when the story of Nollywood is told. It
is that uncommon tale of silent mystery; a story of an
industry, started by ordinary people for ordinary
Nigerians; but an industry that is today not only an
African pride but a stunning subject matter the world
over.

The President has made the very first audacious
move, ever, by a Nigerian leader to give Nollywood a
nudge up the ladder of hope. We urge our trusted
ally, Dr Okonjo-Iweala therefore to assure the
success and survival of this initiative even as we
believe that she, with the President’s support, could
do more for this authentic Nigerian brand-
Nollywood!

*Zik Zulu Okafor, award winning journalist, scholar and President of AMP, lives in Lagos.

Vanguard

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About Olumide Lawrence

OLUMIDE LAWRENCE is a writer, an artiste and a publicist. Started out as a PLAYER, now I am a Relationship COACH. Follow me on twitter @ilummynation and instagram @glowville Facebook: Olumide ilummynation Lawrence. BBM: 2A3B059E, 7E15126B.

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