Your Excellences, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am highly pleased and honoured to be here today on the auspicious occasion of the opening ceremony of the 2015 Annual International Conference of the Society of Nigeria Theatre Artistes (SONTA) hosted by the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO).
I accepted to identify with this conference for two main reasons; firstly, because of my deep appreciation of the importance of culture in national development. This informed the establishment of the National Institute for National Orientation (NICO), the host of this conference, and several other cultural agencies during my regime as Military President of our great country. The Institute was established by the Federal Government of Nigeria after the idea was articulated and promoted by my Government and subsequently approved by UNESCO in 1992.
The UN had mounted a developmental crusade for culture, and devoted 1988 to 1997 as the World Decade to propagate and establish necessary institutions and agencies to grow and develop cultures. This was to underscore the primacy of cultures in the sustenance of national livelihoods as well as productive industries in societies and economies.
Secondly, I was attracted to this conference by its theme, namely: “Repositioning Nollywood for the Promotion of Nigeria’s Cultural Diplomacy and National Security,” which, I believe, is designed to stimulate valuable discourses of pertinent and contemporary issues which under-pin our development as a nation. There are no doubts that the multi-cultural complexities of our nation deserve appropriate policy and institutional attention by governments of our three tier Federation as well as the private sector of our economy so as to sustain national integration, wholesome value templates and productive engagements.
It is gratifying and heart-warming that the main focus of this conference is Nollywood, the Nigerian Film Industry, which now ranks as the second largest in the world. Nollywood is a phenomenon that should stimulate our collective attention because of the enormous potentials for the social, political and economic development of our country.
Let me say what may not have been at the centre of consciousness of our people including the great artistes and other industry actors in Nollywood, namely: that it was my Government’s policy of Structural Adjustment Programme of the late 1980s, which gave rise to the deregulation of the broadcast media that energized and sprouted Independent Producers in the Nigerian Film Industry, opened up the entertainment space and massively encouraged creativity. Check the records of the industry between the pre-1986 SAP era and the post-1992 deregulation experience! Nollywood exploded, and the Nigerian society and economy penetrated our national borders into the African continent, America, and Europe.
Hence, your Excellency, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I have no doubt that Nollywood can be deployed as a veritable tool for cultural diplomacy and social re-engineering. Through the medium of Nigerian films, our rich and diverse cultural heritage and achievements can be projected and promoted to attract tourists and investors the way foreign films have been effectively used to promote Indian and American national interests. Nollywood certainly makes huge contributions already to Nigerian external relations and even foreign exchange earnings.
Equally important is the high prospects that our cherished cultural values, which were eroded mainly due to cultural imperialism, especially exposure to foreign films, could be revived. We should therefore take advantage of the general acceptance of Nollywood films by the global industry and society to achieve this feat.
I wholeheartedly agree that Nollywood can be deployed as a potent mechanism to address our current security challenges. Beyond entertainment, through films the citizenry can be adequately informed and educated on the enormous benefits of living in peace and harmony, have respect for the sanctity of human life, and, of course, the grave dangers of breakdown of law and order and the tendencies towards criminality and insurgency.
Your Excellency, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, while a lot is expected from Nollywood, the industry needs our collective support to stay afloat and contribute meaningfully to our development. Nollywood definitely needs the support of the governments, entrepreneurs and all well-meaning Nigerians in the provision of infrastructure and enabling environment for the film industry to flourish. The war against piracy should be supported by all and sundry so that stakeholders are not denied the benefits of their creativity.
Finally I congratulate all the organizers and promoters of this Conference. I wish you all very rewarding discourses, interactions and experiences.
Thank you for your attention; and God bless you all.
Gen. IB Babangida, GCFR, mni