Film Institute to Dead Institute: Woes of the National Film Institute, Jos.
When news broke of the likely change in the leadership of the Nigerian Film Corporation, staff and students of the National Film Institute, though confronted with mixed feelings, waited with eagerness, optimism, and hope for the announcement of new head honcho. They had counted the gains and losses of the past three managing directors and could only hope that the soon-to-be-announced MD would be the bridge over troubled waters, one who would finally galvanize the administration of the corporation with the proper structuring of the institute, which was unfortunately, taking a downward spiral at that time. Patiently everyone waited; staff, students, everyone!
Alas! The announcement came through. Quite frankly, it was heartbreak, a shock, a disappointment. The name seemed as alien as it seemed out of place. Voices rose, people opposed, film professionals pleaded with the then PDP-led government to rescind the detrimental appointment but typical of them, they wouldn’t bulge. Selfish interests must be protected. So, NFC and NFI were condemned to their fate, to their death. (Refer to the Nigeria. ’70. news of May 14th, 2013, Vanguard of May 15th, 2013, National Mirror of May 17th, 2013, Nigeriafilms.com news of May 13th, 2013, the Nation newspaper of May 18th, 2013, latestnigeriannews.com news of May 15th, 2013)
With great helplessness, everyone watched as a Marine Engineer, without any prior exposure or experience in film or any film-related field mounted the saddle of leadership of what is supposed to the nation’s apex film regulatory body. In the words of Ibinabo Fiberesima, President of Actors Guild of Nigeria, “This is the height of insult and a big slap on the face of film makers and the entire stakeholders of the film industry in Nigeria. How can a Marine Engr. be made the MD/CEO of Nigerian Film Corporation? The government might as well make a furniture maker the new health minister or a farmer the Attorney-General or Solicitor-General of the country. DO NOT GIVE US YOUR CANDIDATE TO FULFILL YOUR PROMISES; WE NEED PEOPLE WHO UNDERSTAND OUR TERRAIN. How ridiculous can we get? All true blue practitioners should rise and say no to this. We need professionals who understand the challenges of our growing industry. This is a NO to this appointment.” (sic)
Mr. Chike Bryan, then secretary of the Screenwriters Guild of Nigeria, alarmed at the appointment, penned in his petition to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, ‘Without prejudice to Engr. Dadu’s sterling qualifications and experiences as a Marine Engineer, the industry has nothing whatsoever against his person, but we take particular exception to the inglorious disregard of the availability of numerous astute, qualified, experienced and well-positioned film makers, some of whom have put over 20 years of their creative life, into the film Industry.
As a matter of precedence, the N.F.C has been administered by notable filmmakers from its inception, from Brendan Shehu, Hyginus Ekwuazi and Afolabi Adesanya, as government has always seen the necessity to put qualified creative technocrats at the helm of affairs. More examples abound, with Prof. Dora Akunyili at NAFDAC, Engr. Ernest Ndukwe at the N.C.C, or Dr. Adewunmi at Ministry of Agriculture, or Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui–Okaruo at F.I.R.S.
We, therefore, wonder why at this critical period of rebirth and renewal, government deems it fit to do a policy somersault and endanger the spirit of consultation and cooperation currently pervading between government and the film industry.”
Taking an objective look at the Nollywood Film industry and the giant strides it has made over the years, the least anyone would expect is that an experienced administrator, seasoned and salted in film art, would be appointed to sustain the growth of the industry and its positive impact to the nation’s economy. Unfortunately, as everyone would allude, this is ‘Naija’, where a native doctor could be appointed Governor of the Central Bank, or where a pilot could perform a caesarian session without any batting of the eyelid. Never has it been so true like it played out at the NFC. This is a trend we trust His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari to change.
The first move of the MD was as expected. Knowing he quite doesn’t fit, he was quick to put together forums to assure practitioners they would work together, and that he would bring his ‘wealth of marine engineering’ to bear at the NFC and NFI. Unfortunately, no one sensed the sarcasm and deception laced in those words.
Over the period the new leadership has been at the helm of affairs, the corporation has become a battleground of voodoos and witchcraft, a theatre of greed, deception, and ‘dog-chop-dog’ motivated by the divide and rule policy of the leadership – similar to what was obtained at the Local Government where the same principal held sway as a transitional Chairman. The bitterness in the hearts of staff and students of the NFC and NFI can never be any clearer. However, if one thinks NFC as a corporation has been decimated, he or she only needs to take a stroll to the institute, and speak with any student around to understand the true meaning of grace to grass. A school that has produced great filmmakers, scholars, and talents that have impacted the Nation’s film industry now lies in shambles, a shadow of its former self.
Established by the Nigerian Film Corporation, and is currently affiliated to the University of Jos, the National Film Institute was formerly a member of CILECT (le Centre International de Liason des Ecoles de Cinema de Television), an international film body uniting all film training institutions in the world – a membership that has long been lost with only NTA Television College, Jos, being the only certified membership in Nigeria, joining other institutions in Benin Republic, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Morroco and South Africa. (http://www.cilect.org/profiles/members). The continued use of the tag of CILECT membership by the NFI is obviously an act of deception to claim relevance in international film training. NFI as institute, NFC as a corporation, and the Nigerian film industry has clearly gone many years backward by the appointment of the MD of NFC.
As sensational Victor Akande of the Nation succinctly puts it in his article, “DADU AND NFC: A ‘Sabbatical’ Too Long (2)” (December 19, 2015); “There is no gainsaying that the NFC honcho has no passion for the film industry, but to warm the seat of power as though it is the birthright of the Plateau.
Filmmakers keep complaining that he does not attend their sessions. Why should he? What would he be saying there? If the NFC boss is willing to learn, he could have, at least, started off by attending students’ film festivals. That way, he may learn the ropes. But something tells me his intent is political and personal. And that is why, despite the rules of his engagement; the one that clearly eschew his position from politics, he has brazenly immersed himself in politics as PDP agent for both the last gubernatorial and presidential polls on the Plateau.
This is an unfortunate deviation, because the NFC before Dadu had been playing the politics of film festivals, only for Dadu to set the film industry back by three years: three years of disinterest for the prestigious Festival de Cannes, France; Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale), Germany; Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Canada; Pan African Film Festival (FESPACO) and Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) among others. However, we hear he was recently at a film festival in India. Which African film screened at that festival, Oga Dadu, let alone Nigerian film? Why the choice of an ‘unpopular’ Hindi film festival over the traditional Festival de Cannes and others that have been favoured by past Ministers of Information and MDs before you. Isn’t something about your style sinister, Mr. Lecturer?
I cannot remember seeing Engineer Dadu at any Nollywood event in the last three years. Why would a serious minded leader decline invitations from members of his constituency? This year alone, Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) took place without Dadu or a representative; Abuja International Film Festival (AIFF) held without Dadu; Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) held without Dadu; Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) where several Nigerian films were screened also held without Dadu, whereas film agencies from South Africa, Rwanda etc were in Nigeria for the last AFRIFF in the spirit of continental collaboration. Of what good is Dadu to the Nigerian motion picture sector, I ask?
The NFC Lagos office has been reduced to venue for wedding and other events. This is an edifice many thought could be utilised as an annex of the NFI, irrespective of the number of film schools in Lagos. But how could this fester when students at the NFI, Jos still go out of their way to rent cameras which the school should have provided.
It is instructive to note that the NFC used to be the champion of the Quartet involving it, the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) and the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC). There is no gainsaying that Dadu, with a manifest of cluelessness couldn’t fit in that shoe.”
Factually, a film institute that produced the likes of Yinka Edward (Oct 1st, Shuga, Figurine), Achor Yusuf (Desperate Housewives Africa), Leo Nformi (Head Director, Ebonylife TV), Afred Chia (D.P/Director, Ebonylife TV), Kenneth Gyang (Confusion Na Wah) Ali Mustapha (Aljazeera), Adaobi Obiegbosi (African Students International Film Festival), Aaron Ugede (Mnet) Mike-Steve Adeleye, Chinedum Iregbu, Lot Pindem, Ifeanyi Iloduba, Julius Morno, Jide Bello, Akasa Stephen Angba, and many others too numerous to mention may not be turning in anything substantial to the film industry in the next 5-10 years if the downward turn is not nipped in the bud. The institute had thrived on the brilliant curriculum drafted by the highly cerebral former MD, Hyginus Ekwuazi, whose brainchild the institute is, and who painstakingly worked hard for its existing clout. Shortly after his departure, veteran filmmaker, Afolabi Adesanya took over the reins and steered the institute his own way. The excellence of academic planning may not have been one of his major strengths. Hence, the institute struggled for a while for stability. Following his departure, and the arrival of the new MD, who unfortunately is a square peg in a round hole; it is pertinent we call a spade a spade. NFI is near dead and needs immediate resuscitation. From curriculum to resource persons, from academic planning to management structure, NFI is in shambles, the lowest it has ever been in over 20years of existence. Elements who are not fit for the classroom, and who has no prior experience in filmmaking or anything related to it, now holds sway as proud resource persons. From scripting lecturers who have never written a script, to directors who have never directed anything, and editors whose only experience is with the analogue system of editing, it may not be long before cleaners, gardeners, and security men find their way into the classrooms. Sadly, the very few knowledgeable ones by experience or training, with academic credibility to teach the art of film have been either tactfully rendered docile, retired, or transferred to the comatose corporation on flimsy grounds. The list goes on and on. Jovi Okpodu, who is knowledgeable in film history and criticism, Yomi Olugbodi, who trained in the Beijing Film Academy in China and most recently, Lawrence Akande who returned to the Nigeria after successfully completing a Masters degree in Sound Design for Film. These talented resource persons can no longer impact what they impacted into the other graduates of the film institute that distinguished them. To be candid, no particular resource person on ground is fully qualified for intensive film training. It is therefore an utmost shock when the MD sanctioned a trip to Kaduna for a meeting with the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), which resulted in the death of two directors in the corporation in a ghastly motor accident. (Refer to Nigerian Tribune of Oct 29th, 2015) That trip was absolutely unnecessary, to say the least, considering that the institute was already awarding degrees in affiliation with the University of Jos and did not need to also need to award a HND. The institute, as it is, does not even have the capacity for independence at the moment. However, in a hurried bid to secure approval from the NBTE so as to be able to access TETFund, these unfortunate gentlemen perished on the highway.
The drum of death has never stopped sounding within the institute, and never has it been this dire. July 25th, 2015, two pretty ladies and bright talents, Brenda Adebayo (23) and Joy Latisha Ezennia (23) choked to death in the Jos Chlorine Gas Leakage at the Plateau State Water Treatment Plant at British American Junction in Jos. These ladies had rented an apartment behind the plant because the MD scrapped the hostel arrangement that had been the structure of the institute right from inception. Subsequently, students scattered all over the highly sensitive city of Jos, and thus, these two leaders of tomorrow met their untimely death, while others escaped death by the whiskers. The risk these students, most of whom are not indigenes, are exposed to is unspeakable. Sadly, there is no mechanism to respond in case of emergency. Even the presentation requested by the Deputy Governor of Plateau State through the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources to enable him identify the students’ difficulties and wade into their plight was tactfully impeded by the NFC leadership. Categorically, in a meeting at the corporation’s boardroom on Sunday, 26th of July 2015, barely 24hrs after the death of these beautiful ladies, the MD stated clearly we do not need to begin to push or make demands from government because we lost people. He went ahead to state that he lost his son to the rampaging Fulani herdsmen and never held anybody for it. His position was clear, ‘the girls are dead, forget about them’. We watched with helplessness as the chapter was closed on these girls. Sadly, the death toll has hit 6 in the last 11 months – 3 students (all ladies, and all from the same level), and 3 members of staff. Let it be clear, and on record, that these girls were betrayed by the institute that was supposed to protect them. First, they were sent to the streets; secondly, they were allowed to die in vain. Shamelessly, all the NFC leadership approved to assist the bereaved families was a paltry N50, 000 each, which was levied on the members of staff. From the coffers of the corporation itself, not a dime was spent. What insensitivity!
The National Film Institute, as a film training school operates without a bookshop, a canteen for students, a cyber café, or any other amenity that aids learning in a modern academic enviroment. Instead, the NFC leadership set up a clinic where students are still charged for medical services. The cluelessness of the NFC leadership is really appalling. No electricity, no pipe borne water, dilapidated restrooms, empty classrooms, lack of teaching aids, a highly substandard library that only thrives on borrowed books, etc., NFI is indeed man’s inhumanity to man. No project is undertaken, except it is an avenue for the embezzlement of funds. Any contrary opinion will be severely punished. Therefore, the institute’s permanent site project has become a white elephant project where same contracts are awarded, re-awarded, and renovated, as long as funds can be squandered. It is now a veritable avenue for the funding of self projects like the farm, filling station, and houses. Before the coming of the new MD, the past administration of the NFC had gotten the permanent site 70% ready for use. How it suddenly became a new project, and gulping outrageous amounts of money, is disheartening as it is baffling. If we have to take cue from the high standards and discipline of the current administration, then this is an undisputable act of corruption.
Looking another way, it is also noteworthy and of interest that shortly after the current NFC leadership made the pronouncement of the access of TETFund’s 300 Million Naira as part of a 600 Million grant facilitated by the University of Jos for the institute, and the purchase of 100 Apple Imac systems, the institute was burgled. Claims of what was lost have been highly exaggerated to provide a shield to other non-transparent transactions. What is more confusing? Of the so-called 100 Imacs purchased, not a single one was carted away even though it is displayed in an open hall without any major security. It will be interesting to finally see the list of ‘what the robbers stole’ from the institute. Unfortunately, the tag of ‘thieves and suspects’ are on the students, as a deliberate bid to divert attention.
To be candid, these 100 apple imacs bought for a highly inflated and overwhelmingly jaw-dropping N1.2Million each are utterly substandard and lacking the capacity to handle cutting edge high-definition post production activity. Since its purchase, not a single one has been deployed for use by the institute, or even powered as the case may be. Student projects are still edited commercially in rented editing suites. What a shame! Obviously, it is a propaganda mechanism orchestrated for show-off to high profile delegations, like the Honorable Minister of information and Culture, when he visited the institute. Had students known of his coming on that day, of a surety, it would have panned out differently. We are also sure that the Honorable Minister, being a highly intelligent officer would have noticed the jitters in the voice of the MD as he tried to answer questions during the visit. Who wouldn’t when you don’t even have an idea how long it takes to do a diploma in an institute you manage, or who a film producer is, or if a laptop is used to shoot a film. Truly, key principals of the NFC did a great face-saving job with their improvised use of sign languages that enabled the MD get by through what was already panning out to be a monumental show of shame. And, for the records, the sound stage which the MD showed off was not built under his leadership. His tenure only brought forth the most amazingly inept departmentalization structure the institute has ever experienced with even the doors of the toilet getting their own tags as a department of its own. Funny right? Laugh it off. Unfortunately, we are crying it off!
This appointment of a demi-god whom no one can advice, call up on emergencies or even approach (those who dared got their supposedly deserved queries and letters of warnings), against the will of an entire film industry, is a clear indication of the insensitivity of the last administration to poignant issues, and an obvious sabotage and betrayal of an industry that provides over 5 million to 10 million jobs. The indifference of the past government on this issue reflects a clear preference for the protection of the interest of political ‘vultures’ and godfathers, than national development. By this singular gaffe, the industry has been set many years backward and viciously disintegrated.
On another hand, this NFC leadership is still defaulting in the regularization of affiliation formalities and payments to the University of Jos, to whom we are affiliated, and whose resources persons handle key GST and other non-film courses. Therefore, results of the graduating students of 2015 are still currently been held up, thus, delaying them and impeding their progression for NYSC, while their contemporaries at the UJ, who were months behind due to strike action, have been cleared and standing by for mobilization. All these are despite the coercion of students to pay school fees directly to the school authorities and not in banks as directed by the Federal Government. With fees ranging between N110, 000 and N67, 000 respectively, and with a student population of approximately 200, the institute would still owe staff allowances and force lectures to jettison classes. This particular move is even a clear violation and sabotage of the TSA Account arrangement of the Federal Government who is leading a continued quest for accountability and zero tolerance to corruption. Yet, the funds realized by direct payment to the institute were not deployed to positive projects.
The MD and his cronies have continued to stifle students’ rights and voices through the continued empowerment of an SUG President whose tenure had since 2015 elapsed, and who continues to run the affairs of the SUG solo, without the rest of the executives, senate, or congress. This element continues to make wanton withdrawals from the SUG account without recourse to constitutional provisions, and with the aid of members of management. This act of impunity is capable of causing an uprising and disrupting the prevailing relative peace. Worthy of mention is the harassment and intimidation of other members of the SUG executives by management, and constant threats issued with every confidence. Just on Saturday 4th of June, 2016, the Financial Secretary of the SUG, Mrs. Mirabel Obodoefuna, who is in possession of documents that were to be used in the auditing of the SUG account, died in questionable circumstances, days after being intimidated and harassed into the signing of cheques for the president of the SUG. This late Financial Secretary had often reported an alleged threat to her life by the president of the SUG but the Student Affairs Officer, and other top members of management who are apparently compromised, neglected her reports and would not act. Again, it is a sincere wish that the situation within the institute does not degenerate into a situation that would truncate the peace on the Plateau, as students are already getting highly agitated and offended.
It therefore, behooves the President of the Federal Republic, President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR), the Honourable Minister of Information, Film bodies and agencies, and all film enthusiasts to intervene to save the institute from imminent collapse. It is now the proverbial case of the stone that is thrown into the market place; if one is not hit directly, his relatives might be. The students need to rebuild their confidence in government and in their interest in their affairs, and this begins with urgent action in the light of the aforementioned. The continued retention of the MD of NFC is tantamount to gladly sacrificing the future and lives of these innocent students. 6 deaths already, who knows who is next? Posterity is watching.