The Vice President of International Programming for DishNetwork Mr. Chris Kuelling,
The CEO of USAfrica multimedia networks Dr. Chido Nwangwu,
The General Manager of Afrotainment Family of Channels Mr. Yves Bollanga,
International Marketing for DishNetwork Ms. Valerie Kalala,
President of the Nigerian Foundation in Houston, Mr. Segun Vaughan,
Friends of Nigeria, and Africa, fellow compatriots, distinguished ladies and gentlemen:
It is indeed my distinct pleasure to be in your midst at this important event, after much rescheduling, given my crowded programme at this time of the year, when many Nigerians are travelling home for the holidays, with their attendant passport and visa requests.
My sincere thanks and congratulations go to the management of the DishNetwork (whose) African Bouquet Channels — in conduction with Afrotainment — we are launching today; with USAfrica as DishNetwork’s consulting partner. It seems to me that this is an initiative whose time has truly come.
1. Let me, therefore, hasten to give credence to Dr. Chido Nwangwu, CEO, USAfrica multimedia networks and the CLASSmagazine. I must confess that it is not easy to turn down a well-meaning request from such an enterprising, young, dynamic and workaholic personality that has succeeded in putting Nigeria first, and Africa, in general, on the forefront of international media reckoning.
2. It would be recalled that only a week today, Monday, December 13th, Dr. Chido Nwangwu won the AfriPro award for 2010, as a recognition of his manifest touch of professionalism in global information technology, with particular reference to Africa, which not least, the foremost information global network, the CNN, has acknowledged.
3. In this critical global information age, I salute the DishNetwork for adding a medium for balanced information sharing about Nigeria in particular, and Africa in general. This is an opportunity that should not be missed because it would allow Africa tell her own story, against the slanted, stereotyped and often uninformed views on African affairs.
4. You are no doubt aware that Africa and her peoples are, even as I speak, portrayed in lurid colours, and the Tarzan image of negativism of never do-wells, because they are presumed to be sub-humans, always afflicted with wars, famine, diseases, and of all things, laziness. In this connection, it was during the 2006 World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, that world leaders and philanthropists showed concern on these biased and jaundiced views about Africa, and called for an immediate change, with a view to presenting a balanced and objective reporting. This explains why the Nigerian Mission in Atlanta is delighted to be a part of this epoch-making event.
5. To underscore the significance of this launching, I have been asked to speak briefly on a topical subject ‘The Importance and Growth of Nollywood and African Theme Movies in the Diaspora’.
First, let me admit that I am not an authority on this subject, since I am not a professional filmmaker nor am I in the entertainment industry. I cannot therefore pretend to be didactic, but I am delighted to share some perspectives on the subject. I also believe that perhaps part of the reason for extending an invitation to me could be that my résumé showed that about a half of my public service time has been spent with the Diaspora communities, as I have worked and lived in virtually all regions of the world, beginning with Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, Europe and now the U.S. It is therefore reasonable to assume that I should have something to say in this raging discussion on Nollywood and the African theme movies in the Diaspora.
6. As you may be aware, in nation building, one of the core strategies of national expression and influence is located in the entertainment industry, in which filmmaking stands out, because it has the power to refashion a reality that exists, and attach to it new images that do not exist, and like an advertisement, bring people to believe in its existence. You may call it propaganda, but that is part of the reality of entertainment industry. Indeed, the film industry appropriates the powers of perception, and is therefore able to determine behavior, taste and emotion among people. It amplifies and clarifies national influences that draw from cultural ethos, whereby social behaviours, economic and political beliefs are transmitted and imbibed most passionately.
7. As our take off point therefore, to assert that the ‘Video Movie Industry’, commonly referred to as ‘Home Video’ in Nigeria, is phenomenally successful, is to put it mildly. Talking about the growth of Nollywood and African Theme Movies, lest we forget, what is today known as the Nigerian Film Industry actually started in the 1960s, with ace filmmakers such as Herbert Ogunde and Ola Balogun. Their local productions were then patronized by the theatres, at a time when going to the theatre was in vogue. They were also promoted by both Federal and State television stations.
8. Soon after, about the mid 1980s, filmmakers like Eddy Ugboma and others who studied filmmaking abroad, emerged on the scene to take film business to a higher level. It was however in 1992, to be precise, following the release of ‘Living in Bondage’ by Chris Rapu, that the industry recorded a blockbuster in Nigeria. By the year 2003, the release of ‘Osuofia in London’ which stared the popular Nkem Owoh, which was in many respects like Eddy Murphy’s ‘Coming to America’, catapulted the film industry into international fame, with the promise that the best is yet to come. Ever since, thousands of Home Videos with African themes, have been produced in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, and a few other African countries.
9. By providing a platform for information, education and entertainment about Africa, with almost one billion people, and Nigeria in particular, with a population of 150 million people, and the huge Diasporan population, it goes without saying that the profound impact of the Nollywood is felt beyond our wildest imagination. In point of fact, Nollywood is one sector apart from the GSM – telephone industry that has had the fastest growth rate since the Nigerian economy turned the corner. This is supported by the numerous inquiries being received at the Nigerian Missions across the globe, to the effect that something good is indeed coming out of Africa and Nigeria in particular. It is common knowledge that Nigeria’s Nollywood ranks third in the world of motion picture production, after Hollywood and Bollywood.
10. To amplify this point, no one is in doubt that like football, the Home Videos not only unite Nigerians, but has to a large measure succeeded in helping the rebranding effort of the present Administration in Nigeria, as movies from Nigeria are watched in the living rooms and offices across the globe. With about ten million Africans now in the U.S alone, we have a joint responsibility to fill the huge information gap about Africa and her peoples, given our historical, cultural and close economic links with this great and beautiful country. Indeed, it should be said that there are by far many decent, responsible, cultured and highly skilled Africans in the Diaspora compared to very few irresponsible elements in our midst that are being projected on some TV channels as fraudsters and violent. It has to be admitted of course, that every nation has its own share of irresponsible and violent elements.
11. Clearly, given the primacy of information technology, the question about the importance of these African theme movies in this globalizing world, is that they to a large extent determine Africa’s next level of global relevance. With millions of viewing audiences inside Africa and in the Diaspora, Nollywood has created the largest platform of socio-cultural interaction for Africa, as their African themes penetrate and create long lasting memories in the minds and hearts of its viewers. Indeed the effect on the Diaspora is electrifying both for the young and the old.
12. In terms of revenue, the film and video industry in Africa is estimated to have the potential for billions of dollars in foreign exchange. It has also been argued in some informed circles that if properly harnessed; the possibilities that this holds for Nigeria, is even more strategic than the black gold –petroleum, which is not only perishable but also exhaustible. With the progress that Nollywood industry has made so far, it has to be said loud and clear that the 21st century economic progress has to be determined through ideas, I mean, brain power rather than mere reliance on natural resources alone. For example, take China, a globally acknowledged octopus on the economic plane, she still had cause recently to extend invitations to over 500 professionals to assist her translate her huge natural and material resources into ideas. Make no mistake about it, the 21st century is about information technology and market square of ideas, period. Any nation that ignores this does so at its own peril.
13. I tell you, there is a prevalent infectious quiet confidence that Nollywood will open a new and refreshing vista for Africa in the global marketplace, by creating a haven for investment in the continent. This is the opportunity Nollywood should capitalize on, and seize with both hands.
14. It is gratifying that Nollywood and African theme movies are in the ascendancy of positive rating by the global film industry. The talents from Africa in the entertainment industry cut across filmmaking, comedy and music. Again, like football stars, their talents have shut them into international limelight as they are usually given recognition wherever they go. It is common sight at the airports and other public places to give cynosure of attention to top movie celebrities as veritable ambassadors of their countries. It is no wonder therefore, that the time magazine recently reconfirmed the rating of Nollywood as the third largest film production industry in the world.
Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen
15. Like all good things, it is not all sunshine with Nollywood and African theme movies, as it is today being confronted with a lot of challenges. There is the hydra-headed issue of piracy, resulting in low sales. This, I understand, has attracted the concern of the Music Copy Right Society of Nigeria, the Nigerian Copy Right Commission and other similar agencies abroad. It is evident that unless the pirates are checked, they will continue to reap from where they did not sow, and Nollywood will continue to sow without reaping. It is well known that from the European, American, Asian and African cities, piracy of Nollywood movies are on-going and is affecting the dwindling revenue of the artists and producers.
16. Again, there is concern about the quality of production of some of Nollywood movies, in terms of poor packaging and illogical story lines. There is obvious need for appropriate training and retraining of practitioners, to improve quality through technical know-how and setting of minimum standards. It is true that it is an industry that started its trade from VHS to BETACAM cameras and now HD cameras, but Nollywood can do better by bringing in cutting edge technologies.
17. Evidently, every producer in the film industry needs money to make good films, which has been lacking until now. With the recent grant of $200 million to Nollywood by Mr. President, H. E. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, it is hoped that the Nigerian OPS, will compliment this wonderful gesture, from the Government, to ensure that this growing golden industry will put Nigeria where she aspires be in the year 2020. With the value being added to the film industry, I am confident that the 21st century will be the African turn to accomplish the much awaited dream of economic freedom.
18. In light of above, Nollywood can and should portray the fact that Africa is the genesis of civilization and that her wealth, which is largely unexploited, remains the richest of any continent on earth. Nollywood should continue to celebrate Africa and her heritage, her diversities, her many brand names, her history, culture, literature, music and art, and you can add to it. This will enable Diaspora Africans and their many friends to experience the resourcefulness and dynamism of African icons, the beauty and sweet spirit of the continent. Friendship and goodwill apart, no nation, no organization, no one, can tell your story better than yourself.
19. I enjoin Nollywood to celebrate Nigeria’s contributions in building Africa, especially in the liberation struggles of African States of South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Let Nollywood celebrate the stabilization of sister countries of Liberia and Sierra-Leone, which would have disintegrated as States, but for the fact that young Nigerian soldiers paid for their unity with their blood.
20. The time has come that as Africans, we can no longer afford to be apologetic, but walk tall and tell stories of our heroes and heroines, despite our challenges and our struggles. This is especially in respect of unacknowledged contributions of Africans, for the development of the various regions of the world, and in particular, Europe and the Americas, from the 17th century to date. Nollywood should speak to these historical realities, because the history of Europe and North America cannot be complete without the African umbilical cord connection of blood and sweat.
21. Before I take my seat, let me thank you for listening and for a sumptuous dinner.
22. As I begin in earnest to wind up my affairs as Consul General by end of January 2011, I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
23. God bless.
Hon. Okafor, a career diplomat, joined the Nigerian Foreign Service in 1981; he was appointed Nigeria’s Consul General to Atlanta, Georgia, in January 2007 with Consular jurisdiction over seventeen (17) Southeastern States of the USA. He holds a B.Sc degree with honors (Second Class Upper Division) in Political Science in 1980 from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; post graduate diploma in International Relations & French Language Course in 1983 from the Foreign Service Academy, Lagos, Nigeria. He also obtained his Master of International Law and Diplomacy from the University of Lagos in 1988. In December 2010, he earned another Master’s degree in Conflict Management from Kennesaw State University, Georgia. 636 pictures of the event on www.PhotoWorks.TV http://photoworks.tv/dishnetwork-afrotainment-usafrica-2010dinner-houston