Nigerian film industry can be cash cow if regulated —Akinseye

February 7, 2020
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Benson Akinseye, Oyo State representative on board of the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB). He speaks to DAPO FALADE on the activities of the board and declares that the government can generate revenue from the film industry if regulated.

What is the function of the board?

National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) is an agency of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. It was established in 1993 by former President Ibrahim Babangida, through the Act of the National Assembly to censor and monitor the sales and publication and broadcasting of films and videos in Nigeria. The governing board was inaugurated in March 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari. We need to know that it is not just NFVCB that is in control of films and videos in the country. We have the Nigerian Films Corporation (NFC) and also the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

The functions of the NFVCB, by the name and in fact that is what its current governing board is talking about now. This is because if you look at the Act that created the agency, the name itself is faulty. By the functions of the board, the name does not really relate to what the board is doing: It just said films and videos censor whereas, the content of the films is not part of the functions of the board. The Act only permits the board to regulate distribution and classification of films, whereas control of piracy is one of the things that the board does. These things are not really specifically outlined; there are conflicts. In fact, currently there is a bill before the National Assembly seeking to amend the act establishing NFVCB because there are lots of conflicts between the functions of this board and some other agencies of the Federal Government.

Where are the lines of demarcation between NFVCB and the two organisations, NFC and NBC?

The governing board of NFVCB noticed that our functions are interwoven with those of NFC and NBC and this causes a lot of conflict in the film industry. That is why the proposed bill is before the National Assembly so that the Act establishing NFVCB could be amended so, at least, to make it straight the functions of each of these agencies.

What area are you specifically looking at?

At NFVCB, we want the name of the board to be changed to reflect what the board is doing, that is, film and video. It is not really doing censorship: what it does really is to regulate the distribution and to prevent piracy and protect copyright. If you go to the activities of the board in recent times, we tried to go into the marketing to control the distribution of films. The film industry, most especially with the Nigerian population, is quite large and a lot of income is available to government, if it is properly managed and monitored.

Presently, we realised that there lots of films in the market that are not regulated, especially the ones that are coming in from other countries. We have a lot of piracy going on, which is direct stealing of intellectual property. The governing board of NFVCB has gone into partnership with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), security agencies like the police and the Nigeria Army to ensure that, at least, we curb the influx of these adulterated films and the work of piracy in the Nigerian film industry.

How would you rate the Nigerian film and video industry?

It is very vibrant but there is still a lot to be done. Like I said earlier, the industry is supposed to be a revenue generation point for Nigeria, if it is well-managed. Most of our people in the Nollywood film sector have the intellectual capacity but unfortunately, they have problem of funding. But government has some billions of naira set aside through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for some years for this industry. But they have not been able to tap into it because of some procedures and requirements. But I think NFVCB, in collaboration with other agencies and CBN, is trying to see how to liberalise this so that it would get better.

How about the quality of films and videos coming out?

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They are improving by the day, no doubt about it. But a lot still needs to be done and that is why we are talking about funding because it has to do with funds. Just last year, Lion Heart by Genevive was nominated for an international film award before some technicalities were used to stop it. All the same, we are coming up. Government really needs to provide an enabling environment so that things will beb better.

In seeking to stop the stealing of intellectual property, would the NFVCB not be in conflict with the Nigerian Copyright Council (NCC)?

These are the conflicts we are talking about and which we want the government to clearly define our functions. The Nigerian Copyright Council, in most cases, deals with publication of books and what have you. But then, we have our own which is the film industry where we also have copyright infringement and piracy. All these are not clearly defined in the Act establishing these agencies.

Would you blame the Nigerian system for duplication of agencies and functions?

I will not really blame the system because we have to look at where we are coming from. Nigeria is relatively a young nation, but unfortunately, when we are looking at 50, 60 years, we thought we are an old nation. Most of these regulatory systems are new to us. The only thing is that we refused to develop a particular system before we allowed other ones to come in. That is why there lots of confusion in the system; we don’t allow things to grow and get to age before we bring in new things. But from our little corner, by the way of that bill before the National Assembly, we are proposing that the Act establishing the NFVCB would be streamlined so that our functions will not conflict with those of other agencies.

In the course of doing that, don’t you think that it is still imperative that NFVCB work with the other agencies, vis-à-vis regulating the content of the films and videos in the country?

We do classification which is mainly part of our job. There may be pornographic films, for example. Adults can watch them and we do classify them. If any film is produced or about to be broadcast in the country, it is supposed to come to us: we view the film and classify and advise on the content, that is, for general view or classified purely for adults so that children can be barred from watching such a film. But you now realise that the conflict is now even becoming worse because there is infiltration as you can just go online and start to download most of these films and nobody controls that.

Is your board collaborating with such digital organisation, like DStv to check and regulate what comes into the Nigerian market and especially to the homes?

We don’t have control on whatever DStv or all these digital televisions do. That is purely the task of the NCC. But then, we do send papers to advise whenever we notice things like that. But NFVCB is always concerned about what comes into the market; what comes out from all the film houses. Those are the things we regulate for now and we are very active in that line. We collaborate with all these film houses and there is also international collaboration too to ensure that there is training and retraining and, again, to work against pirates who are trying to steal the intellectual property of the Nigerian filmmakers.

How does NFVCB finance its activities; is it self-sustaining or through government funding?

Of course, we have budgetary allocations but the truth of the matter is that the budget has been very small. Whatever they give us is always for the overhead and the running grant is very low. But all the same, we try as much as possible to collaborate and seek for sponsorships from international film organisations. They have been giving us some assistance. For example, they try to sponsor overseas trainings for some of our staff and sponsor some little trainings and seminars within the country. The big international film houses in the country are also trying occasionally.

We are supposed to raise funds from registration of film licences but the rate is low. Even the fines for penalties are also so low. We are trying to review all these in the amendment bill that we submitted to the National Assembly. We are hoping that, the moment they pass this and President Muhammadu Buhari accented to, funding will improve.

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