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Reinventing Nollywood for cultural, national values

The Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State, is silently teaching Nollywood practitioners how to bring values and narratives of the past into their trades. The aim is to rebrand to attract more professionalism and economy gains at home and abroad.

The term Nollywood has always been a subject of debate. The earliest usage of the word was traced to a 2002 article by Matt Steinglass in the New York Times, where it was used to describe Nigerian cinema. A Nigerian film producer, Alex Eyengho, however, defined Nollywood as “the totality of activities taking place in the Nigerian film industry, be it in English, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Itsekiri, Edo, Efik, Ijaw, Urhobo or any other of the over 300 Nigerian languages.” The term has also been used for Nigerian/African diaspora and Ghanaian films considered to be affiliated with Nigeria or made specifically to capture the Nigerian audience.
With an output of over 1,000 movies a year, Nollywood is now among the three largest film industries in the world, following with Bollywood and Hollywood. Though the production levels of the average Nollywood movie initially didn’t even come close to its two counterparts, this is beginning to change global. The desire to produce movies that can compete at a worldwide level only started to take shape over the last 20 years. But with ‘Half of a Yellow Sun,’ an adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel of the same name, Nigerian film producers are beginning to realise that the future is limitless. The fastest growing economy in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria, is home to about 200 million people and their appetite for entertainment is growing. Nollywood is filling the appetite, generating about $600 million yearly and employing more than one million people, according to experts.
The need for re-invention

Controversial as the name may suggest, one issue that has become paramount in the minds of many cultural enthusiasts is the erosions creeping into Nollywood from Hollywood and Bollywood, which they claimed are market-driven. Some critics have also questioned the negativities and destruction of cultural values being projected by film producers, which were against what earlier practitioners like Chief Ogunde, Baba Sala, Ugbomah and others stood for.

One of those concerned about the need to reinvent Nollywood is Dr. Ibrahim Adekola Adesina, the current head of Department of Mass Communication, Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State. He is a certified teacher and mass communication expert, who considerslanguage as an invaluable working tool of humanity to communicate meaning and exchange values among peoples and cultures. After decades of journalism practice and pan-Africanism around the world, Dr Adesina was one of the few headhunted scholars from the United Kingdom (UK) by its founder, Prince Bola Ajibola, in 2005.
Testing the waters with TAMPAN members

While setting a broad-based agenda for the department in terms of academic and societal expectations, the HOD and his team came across the idea of redirecting Nollywood practitioners to the part of self-discovery and re-invention, first with members of Theatre Arts and Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (TAMPAN), Ogun State Chapter. The department came up with the idea of an academic and professional course, titled: “Diploma in Film, Performance & Communication Studies,” to correct the abnormalities being witnessed in the industry. This, in Adesina’s estimation, is testing the deepness of the river before diving in. According to him, a larger plan to admit more practitioners from all segments of Nollywood would be considered.

Dr. Adesina told The Nation in an interview that the university’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ibrahim Gbajabiamila and his team have been very supportive of establishment of the professional proficiency diploma programme for Nollywood practitioners since the idea was first muted. Giving a background on the programme, the HOD said: “It is coming from some of the empirical evidence we found out ourselves and international researches on Nollywood and the world audience. We discovered that the name itself Nollywood has already subsumed itself under Hollywood and Bollywood. Apart from the home market, there is a growing market of diaspora Nigerians all over the world – up to three to four million in the United Kingdom and between four to six million in the United States and others who are scattered all over the world.

“We have two sets of diaspora now – those who are born here and moved over there and began to raise their children; and the children raised abroad completely. One of the few attachments they have to their motherland is these films, which are supposed to portray the cultural norms and some of the developmental stages in our existence as black people. But what we discovered, especially the Yoruba part of it, is that the Nollywood films are now gravitating towards trying to copy or imitate Hollywood and Bollywood. They are running away from the values on which the traditional theatre was built. In other words, they are running away from home and they will not catch up with Hollywood. So, the purpose of this course is to remedy that; to bring Nollywood to what we call ‘back to basics,’ the values, norms and cultural narratives that they can portray that will be new, novel and interesting to the world audience within the global benchmarks; that is the purpose.”

Dr. Adesina noted that the course was originally built away from the existing curriculum of theatre studies. According to him, the course was created out of the exigency – the need for the field to go back to basics and then use it in appealing to these demands and future demands of film people who go to theatre, who go on streaming organisations like Youtube, Netflix and Spotify.

“So, we want to let, especially the South-west part of Nollywood in Nigeria, to know that their narrative is reducing in quality and weight. If we go back to the days of the old and traditional musicians, they did a lot of work in exhibiting the values and cultural narratives in Yoruba in plays, songs, statements, quotations, dressing, and in portrayal of the values of South-west Nigeria. We are starting with South-west, but we aim to now make it national,” he said.
On the conduct of the Nollywood practitioners in class

Dr. Adesina submitted that one can see from the enthusiasm and the determination of the students in the class that they are ready to gain from the programme and contribute to the require paradigm shift. “You can see people with over 30 to 40 years’ experience like Olaiya Igwe sitting down in class like a pupil in secondary school and paying attention. The likes of Latin and Ajasa; there are many of them like that who started from the Alarinjo theatre groups up to what we have now. They are very serious. In fact, we had to stop admission at 50 students. Another set will start in January. They are so enthusiastic about it. They are so enthused about the quality of the curriculum. Some of them who have heard about theatre studies before are baffled that this is a new ball-game entirely.”

On how long the programme will run and whether contemporary dramatists are living up to the standards set by old practitioners

“Currently, we are experimenting with four months professional diploma with a possibility of some of them who are qualified stepping into degree programmes directly. The next one is likely to be five or six months. It is evolving and we are following it as it evolves,” the university don said.

Adesina said those in the industry are deviating from the right path, stressing that was one of the reasons the course was conceived. “It is because they are not doing like the old practitioners. If you look at Baba Sala’s comedy, it is a comedy that is based on current affairs and that is why he was unique; that is why he always had materials to work on. He did plays on census and health programmes. By that time, the government was using him for campaigns despite the fact that it was comedy. He was able to pass his message. Even on radio, you would listen to Baba Sala’s audio and you would be laughing; you would be smiling. But what we have now is the opposite of that. What we have now are people who call themselves comedians who have run out of wit on how to elevate comedy into commentary and current affairs.
The students’ reactions about the course

While speaking on what he has gained from the programme, Comrade Owolabi Ajasa Jepoola (JP), Governor of Theatre Arts and Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (TAMPAN), Ogun State Chapter and a member of the class, said: “I have a gained a lot, because most of us have been in different schools with different courses. I read Marketing, but I did not have any certificate related to this industry (film industry) and when we came here, I have gained a lot.”

On plans to bring other states on-board for the programme: he said: “Yes, we had a meeting with the HOD. I think about last week alongside the President of our association, Otunba Bolaji Amusan. We discussed with the HOD that we are going to bring more members from other states so that it will not be only Ogun here.”

To Alhaji Lukmon Ebun Oloyede (aka Olaiya Igwe), whoever refuses to have education will remain in darkness “because education can be described as a light.” He said he decided to apply for the course because he wants to be more educated in life. “I don’t want to remain in the darkness. That is why I said I needed to have this to add more to my CV,” he enthused.

For Adesegun Adesina Emmanuel, head of the class and Secretary of TAMPAN, Ogun State Chapter, he could not itemise what he had gained from the course. “I have gained a lot, though it’s not as if we have not been to school. I am a graduate of psychology. But notwithstanding, this profession we are all in, we don’t have that certificate that will back it up. I have gained a lot in the area of casting, managing artists, managing production and also, more importantly, the issue of making sure that the production is perfect and other areas.”

Another member of the class, Anuoluwapo Oyeku, who is secretary to TAMPAN, Abeokuta South Local Government, Ogun State, submitted that she had also gained a lot. To Yeye Yetunde Kehinde Ayina, a caterer, actress and film producer, acting is her passion. She said she has started applying what she was being taught in the university.
A lecturer’s assessment

One of the lecturers in the Department of Mass Communication, Jamiu Folarin, who is teaching the class “Issues in Communication, Law and Ethics”, said: “When you talk about the interest of the students, it is very commendable for the members of the association coming down to learn; learning by its nature is non-stop. It’s an analogy we learn from cradle to grave. This enthusiasm by members of TAMPAN signifies this.”


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