BOOK REVIEW: Trends in Nollywood: A Study of Selected Genres

Publication:        Trends in Nollywood: A Study of Selected Genres
Author:            Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma
Publishers:            Kraft Books Limited, Ibadan
Number of Pages:    365
Year of Publication:    2014
Reviewer:            Professor Emmanuel S. Dandaura

    The search for an alternative to oil as the mainstay of the Nigerian economy has become even more crucial with the prevailing falling price of oil in the international market. Of all the options available to Nigeria, the Nollywood industry, one the most active of Nigeria’s creative industries holds the greatest promise. The UN has identified world trade in the creative industries sector to be 3.4% with an annual growth rate of 8.7%. This gives the industry the fastest growth rate globally. In 2012, UNESCO rated Nollywood as the world’s second largest film industry with its potential annual revenue of N522 billion; over 2000 movies produced per annum and a captive viewing audience of over 200 million across Africa and beyond. A recent British Council funded creative industries pilot survey in Lagos, which I had the rare privilege of superintending, showed that combined, Nollywood, fashion, and music contributed N2,547,300,490.26 during the reference period with 61 per cent of the total Gross Value Added (GVA) derived from the Nollywood industry alone; the fashion and music industries contributed 26 and 13 per cent, respectively. The survey also indicated a steady rise in Nollywood’s contribution to the GVA from 2010 to date. This first and perhaps, for now, the only empirical evidence on the economic performance of Nollywood moves the argument from the idea of mere economic ‘potentials’ of Nollywood to more concrete, measurable economic contributions.
    However, one major challenge that has threatened the rapid development of the Nollywood industry in Nigeria over the years has been the mismatch between scholarship and practice. Whereas there is an appreciable improvement in the quality of productions from 1992 to date, scholarship appears to be lagging behind. The results of the few serious studies conducted on the industry so far are inaccessible, hence hardly inform subsequent works of Nollywood professionals. The inaccessibility is either because the studies are published abroad or tucked away gathering dust on library shelves of many Universities in Nigeria. Herein lies the significance of the contributions of this enriching publication by Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, titled, Trends in Nollywood: A Study of Selected Genres
    I am convinced that the scholar and critic, through his/her critical writings, extend the life span of an artistic product. History has shown that creative works or indeed any remarkable human activity for that matter, which is not documented or interrogated by critics who are knowledgeable in the subject matter, will be forgotten sooner than later. I therefore commend the author of Trends in Nollywood and urge more scholars to help Nollywood live longer by interrogating its products and activities of its players in scholarly publications like this.
    Ayakoroma’s book x-rays the evolution, development and thematic preoccupation of Nollywood movies, particularly in the first fifteen years of the industry. The author’s choice of very accessible style, lucid language, full colour illustrations, in-depth analyses, and bold prints on cream bond paper, makes his book a reader’s delight any day.
    The book is broken into five parts. Part One provides the context of the evolution and development of Cinema in Nigeria. Part Two, entitled, Studies in Genres in Nollywood establishes the theoretical framework. Parts Three, Four and Five give the author’s taxonomy and critical evaluation of the diverse genres in Nollywood, using relevant case studies.  
    The author begins with a historical perspective of Nollywood. The reader learns from the opening chapters that Nollywood is a child of circumstance, having emerged from the unfavourable economic and social climate that saw the decline of locally produced television soap opera and prohibitive cost of producing Nigerian movies on celluloid. The author recalls that the harsh policies of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in the 80s also provided Nollywood its first crop of ‘discontented’ experienced independent television producers and directors, who saw in the video format, a viable alternative which emboldened them to call off the bluff of the then NTA management with its stifling policies. The marriage between these television producers/directors and some adventurous traders gave birth to Nollywood, which has today become a commercial success. The industry offers Nigeria’s teeming youth alternative employment, either as actors, crew members or distribution and marketing players and has become the country’s accidental cultural diplomatic tool.
    Being a product of his doctoral research, Dr. Ayakoroma seeks to establish in this book the symbiosis between the production context of any movie industry and its different film movements or genres. The author’s analysis goes beyond the superficial chronicle of stylistic and formal qualities of the selected movies. In addition, he offers the average reader easily digestible information on prevailing political, socio-economic, technological and ideological contexts within which the movies were produced. The book analyses the factors that drive the mutations of genres in Nollywood, from its early preoccupation with ritual to its more profound exploration of burning social issues and its recent drift towards more research-driven historical themes.     The major trends in the industry highlighted by the author include, the phenomenon of cross-over television directors/producers; the metamorphoses of some executive producers into producers/directors to cut costs, lopsided gender representation, the dominance of piracy, stereotyping and type-casting, bandwagon effect in terms of production approaches and its concomitant cultural misrepresentations, weak ideological foundation of the industry, and the overwhelming influence of the Igbo traders turned executive producers on the creative freedom of the movie directors, the impact of the crave for quick profit on the choice of some genres considered more cost effective as against the epic genre, which requires more financial investments, inter alia.
    The beauty of this critical publication is the invaluable insight it offers the reader into the social and political history of Nigeria. From the authors analysis of Igodo: Land of the Living and Egg of Life,1 & 2 produced by Ojiofor Ezeanyaechi and directed by Andy Amenechi, the reader is educated on the sharp contrast between the concept of leadership in the traditional Nigerian societies and modern political leaders. Whereas the traditional concept of servant-leaders is fast becoming extinct in contemporary Nigerian polity, the reader is guided to understanding the extent to which this age-long traditional value of personal sacrifices for the common good of society has been supplanted with politics of greed and self-aggrandizement. The exemplary sacrificial leadership qualities of the two major characters: Egbuna (Igodo) and Buchi (Egg of Life), are projected as models the reader can take away from reading of Nigerian history through the two movies.
    Similarly, through Ayakoroma’s analysis of the Issakaba Series produced by Chukwuka Emelionwu & Moses Nnam, directed by Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, the reader can understand the root of the prevailing poor governance in Africa and the near collapse of the state apparatus; its failure to protect the lives and property of its citizens in the face of rising crime rates; and the resort to self-help by most communities either as vigilante groups or civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) as we now know them. The taste of the reader, who needs to understand the intrigues in the Nigerian political terrain will surely be quenched on reading through Ayakoroma’s discourse of The Senator and MasterStroke movies.
    Indeed, the cluelessness of any casual reader, who has neither watched most of the movies analyzed in the book or understood the socio-political happenings in Nigeria in the last three decades will be replaced with informed perspective on going through the pages of this book. The author argues that for Nigeria to break away from its doldrums of development, Nigerian films ought to move towards greater functionality than entertainment. Sadly, the mercantile focus of the Nollywood industry as at today has made this option rather unattractive to the average producers. The role of the traders turned producers/directors in the Nollywood industry has become akin to the stifling role of the NTA management of the 1980s. The time has come for practitioners to seek a break from their strangulation. This is important, as the industry has now grown beyond the capacity of these untrained interlopers.
However, who will ‘bell the cat’ in the face of the persisting monopoly of the marketing and distribution component of Nollywood? How will the relatively low availability of film exhibition centres in Nigeria be addressed? How do we better the entry points for fresh graduates of theatre and film? These and many more are some of the teasers Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma’s Trends in Nollywood presents to film lovers, professionals, corporate Nigeria and the public policy drivers.
    As refreshing as reading this book is, the critical reader might demand for more in terms of wanting to see actual screen shots that ‘speak’ key actions in the various movies analysed in the book in addition to the portraits of Nollywood stars generously printed in full colour.
    My reading of this book also agitates my mind further about the urgent need for comprehensive mapping of the Nollywood industry in order to establish its actual composition, character, size and net contributions to the Nigerian economy, which has today been adjudged the largest in Africa with one of the highest global annual growth rate of 7%. Such a study will correct the current disconnect between this sector, and the organized private sector (OPS). The later is not able to evaluate, in statistical terms, the net potentials of Nollywood; thus, any investment in the sector is classified as high risk; thereby denying Nollywood the needed support from the major capital markets or the organized private sector. The involvement of these major financiers is one way to free the industry from the strangulation it faces in the hands of the electrical/electronic traders who are its core investors to date.
    Surely, on the strength of my thorough reading of this book and deep consideration of its contents, I have no reservation recommending this book to all who seek to understand the full value of Nollywood. The organization and style of the book makes for interesting reading. As a critical scholarly work, the hypothesis was well framed and properly investigated; the analysis thorough, comprehensive, and academically enriching. The work is anchored on relevant theoretical frames; its method of enquiry is sound, factual, objective, and intellectually provocative. The language used by the author is lucid, engaging, effective, resounding, meaningful and refreshing. The book deserves the attention of all Nollywood professionals, who desire to break fresh grounds. It is a valuable asset to film scholars, Nollywood fans and even casual lay readers. The taste of the food they say is “in the eating;” so I urge you to get your copy today.

(The reviewer, Professor Emmanuel S. Dandaura is President, African caucus of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC); President, Nigerian Centre of the International Theatre Institute (ITI) and pioneer Head, Department of Theatre & Cultural Studies, Nasarawa State University, Keffi)