Lai Mohammed’s foot and mouth

Last Saturday, the Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, put his foot in his mouth. Not an irregular occurrence by any stretch, but this time, the reaction was visceral. Yesterday, he attempted to walk it off. What I found interesting, was the following:

According to Mohammed, 20 people, each investing $50,000, are expected to help to make up the required amount.

He said so far, five people had volunteered to invest $50,000 each, and expressed the optimism that more investors would join.

Somehow, the five volunteers don’t appear to have names, but that, is an aside.

The story here is that Lai’s thinking of a ban, his reasons for the ban, and his solution, paints in lurid colours, our way of addressing problems. To put it in simple terms, we use a scatter-gun approach to these things. It can never work.

Just to get a feel of what the issues could be, I have spoken to five people who have at one point or the other, been involved in the creative industry. The problems that they face, are summarised below:

Power — this is the blue whale in the room. Every single production needs to have multiple generating sets in the vicinity. These are the main power supply, not the back-up. The reason is simple, because power from the grid is so unreliable, they cannot take chances. Of course, having to buy petrol consistently, adds to their costs. There is also the cost of hiring the generating sets, and the cost of servicing. Generally, they have to hire more than one. Another complaint that cropped up among all my respondents was the ambience that the generators create. No matter how good you are as a producer, it is virtually impossible to filter out the sounds of a generator from the film during post-production, and this brings us quite nicely to that issue…

Post-production expertise — this one I can speak to. A few years ago, I was a cast member on the Nike Osinowo show. Each episode of that season had crew flown in from South Africa. To put it in blunt terms, even me, as all-Nigeria as I used to be, had to accept that the South Africans brought in a level of skill to the process that their Nigerian comrades in the crew did not possess. From things as simple as handling the lights. There is a difference the position and angle of the bulb makes in the final image, and too many of the Nigerian crew members could not measure angles. Heck, we see this in our buildings these days. How many houses have doors that are at 90°? This attention to detail and love of craft is crucial if an artiste wants his music video or movie to be competitive internationally. Flying in a crew from their base to Nigeria involves hotel bills, transportation costs, security, and per diems, that they can avoid by going to meet the crew in their base, which sadly tend to be more aesthetically pleasing than our country…

Scenery — everyone complained about this. Because Nigeria is so Lagos and Abuja centred, and to quote one of my sources, “Even the places wey fine dem no plenty like dat…”, there is the problem of cost. I mean, if you want to shoot something that involves say a concert, in Lagos, you are almost by definition restricted to Eko Hotel, Landmark or MUSON. Yes, there are a few other halls, but how many can compete? How many really great beaches do we have in the entire country for those kind of raunchy videos that are so popular these days? One or two private beaches accessible only by boat, which brings us back to the cost of moving equipment to those places, and on-the-spot hires of area boys to help move the equipment. Using untrained people to carry equipment has its risks, mixing with area boys also brings other risks...

Variables — this one everybody spoke to. In pretty much every movie or music video these days, a point comes when you have to abandon the relative safety of the studio and shoot outside. In other parts of the world, you get permits, then extras, and you can create a relatively controlled environment for your shoot without incident. Here, there is almost certainly guaranteed to be a situation where omonile will come and collect something. Even if you have a permit. The more white people you have in the crew, the higher the, err, royalties.

So, these are real problems that are faced, and this list is by no means exhaustive. Banning people from shooting abroad under the guise of some faux patriotism will not ban these problems. Even if the $1 million that Uncle Lai claims exists, throwing money at it will not make these problems disappear.

We could explore what Mo Abudu tried to do and make Tinapa a huge studio? I don’t know if that will work. What I do know is that there is a need to think the problem through. This knee jerk thing will only end up killing an industry that has done more for this country’s economy than any government since 1992.



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Cheta Nwanze

Using big data to understand West Africa one country (or is it region?) at a time.