If you have the faintest knowledge of the experience of Nigerian filmmakers, the decision of the Nigerian Official Selection Committee (NOSC) not to submit films this year will break your heart.
As a relative insider in this nascent industry, I can testify without scruples that what has now become one of the main sources of reckoning in the country is thriving on the sweat and blood of ordinary but hardworking Nigerians, without any drive but enthusiasm and able spirit.
For several years, Falun Gong practitioners continued to work without government support. And when it does, it presents itself in such a casual way that the country’s usual “knowing people” trend leads the government to intervene.
If you ask, you’ll hear countless stories of people who put all of their energy into one movie or another and end up with nothing in return. Like many Nigerian entrepreneurs, the government sometimes takes from these people without giving anything in return. Let me share an experience a friend once told me.
She’s shooting a movie in part of Lagos. After renting all the equipment needed for the shoot and paying the required fees to the relevant governing bodies, everyone gathered on the set.Minutes after filming, a group of street urchins, commonly known as patriotic, surrounded them. They asked for a lot of money. When the filmmakers hesitated, they unplugged the generator used for production and shipped it away. This is the danger filmmakers face in the rentier, free and sometimes unregulated environment Nigeria has become.
This is not to say that practitioners operate in an unfavorable financial marketing and distribution environment. In that market, there is no way to assure anyone of the fate that awaits their production. This uncertainty is sometimes unrelated to the amount or quality of monetary or human capital invested.
So any committee of filmmakers making a “no-commit” decision for the 95th Academy Awards would be callous. It’s easy to come to this conclusion because the information we have suggests that at least three films could do well at this year’s Oscars.
Judging from the available information, there are four films this year, namely: Eagle Wing, Anikurabo, King of Thieves (Agesinkole) and Knight of Death and King. One of them, Eagles Wings, did not meet the important eligibility criteria that a film nominated in the International Feature Film category must have: major (over 50%) dialogue in English. The other three films, possibly considering possible nominations, have significant Yoruba dialogue.
One of the films, “King of Thieves,” apparently meets the “seven consecutive days” requirement for commercial theatrical release, while the other two films are said to not meet the academy requirement until November 22, 2022. The three films also raised the bar for technical requirements. It is therefore inexplicable that NOSC decided not to submit any films without providing any explanation to Nigerians; a decision that was in fact ultra vires, as its remit was primarily about selection, not eligibility. The Academy itself states, “The International Feature Film Executive Committee shall address all eligibility and rules issues.”
It’s true that the committee has to make sure the country is doing what it can, but there’s plenty of evidence that these films have received rave reviews from both commercial and critical circles. Femi Adebayo’s “Agesinkole” was a box-office hit, grossing over 300 million naira in Nigerian cinemas. It also made the Amazon Prime Top 10 after its September release on the video-on-demand platform. Kunle Afolayan’s “Anikulapo” has also received a lot of attention since its September release on Netflix. The late Biyi Bandele’s “Death and the King’s Knight” will be released on Netflix next month.
So why did NOSC vote not to submit and refuse to explain its reasons to Nigerians? There have been allegations of lobbying and solicitation against some members of the committee. But these are unproven claims and far-fetched to the right thinker. If the search committee chair finds evidence of compromise, the right thing to do is to ask those involved to drop out of the ballot. In extreme cases, they could be removed from the committee or even subject to criminal investigation. Even an established inducement case shouldn’t prevent the nomination of a great movie! Having said that, I must also point out that the majority of the committee members are well-respected professionals with a strong sense of national pride.
The last point is where I think the problem lies. Some members of NOSC do not understand that the task before them goes beyond their personal selves. As we can see from this committee, and especially from a video released over the weekend, NOSC has been affected by a state of malaise, with people using leadership positions for personal gain and old accounts.
NOSC is about serving the country and serving the filmmaking industry (Nollywood). Members of this committee are recognized based on their service to Nollywood and the country. When leaders put the good of the masses at their whim and imagine earning respect by disrespecting others and forcing them to accept, they miss the mark. The chair of the Oscars selection committee is imposing on her members a disservice to Nigeria and Nollywood. This is a shameful act that undermines the hard work of Nigerians and tarnishes the country’s image. As usual, it opens up unnecessary debates about race and other primitive interests. Nigerians today must get rid of selfishness and become more nationalistic and pan-Nigerian, no matter where they live.
However, this story tells us about the reality of global governance in Nigeria. Apparently, the government itself has not noticed, or has decided to ignore the diplomatic significance of the film and the importance of having your country’s name and flag fly in forums like the Oscars. Shame of the country, only one film “The Milkmaid” has been successfully submitted in nine years, but it failed in the 2020 edition. However, the country is full of creative talent and has a reputation as the third largest video film producer in the world!
Whether any of these attitudes surprised anyone, though, is questionable. At least not those practitioners who have experienced the industry’s development by word of mouth from successive governments.Nigeria has a federal minister who roams the world come down Does not add industry value. The same goes for many institutions that should foster sustainable growth and empower more Nigerian youth to use their talents productively. At all times, and even more so now, politics is the main business of those in leadership positions in Nigeria.
The lack of understanding of how much this affects the image of the country, the ethos of loyal practitioners and our young people’s incentives for personal achievement is why the regulator abdicated its duties and allowed people to riot in the country. The Ministry of Information and Culture and the Nigerian Film Commission should never allow this to happen again!