NOSC’s ‘no submission’ decision, a disservice


If you have the faintest idea of what Nigerian filmmakers go through to get by, the decision of the Nigerian Official Selection Committee (NOSC) to not submit a film this year will break your heart.

As a relative insider in this burgeoning industry, I can testify, without any fear of contradiction, that what has become one of the major sources of reckoning for the country today has thrived on the sweat and blood of ordinary but hardworking Nigerians, driven by nothing but passion and a can-do spirit.

For several years, practitioners went on without a flicker of support from the government. And when that came, it was presented in such a haphazard manner that the country’s usual ‘man-know-man’ tendency guided governmental intervention.

If you ask, you will hear countless stories of people who invested their all in one film or the other without any dividend to show for it at the end of the day. Like many Nigerian entrepreneurs, the government would sometimes obtain from these folks, without giving anything in return. Let me share an experience a friend once told me about.

She was to shoot a movie in a part of Lagos. After hiring all the equipment needed for filming, and paying the required fees to the relevant governing body, everyone assembled on the set. A few minutes into the shoot, an army of street urchins, popularly known as omonile, surrounded them. They demanded a huge sum of money. When the filmmaker hesitated, they unplugged the generator they were using for the production and ferried it away. Such are the hazards that filmmakers face in the rentier, free-for-all, and sometimes ungoverned environment that Nigeria has become.

That is not to speak of the unfavourable financial marketing and distribution climate under which practitioners operate. In that market, there is no way to assure anyone of the fate awaiting their production. This uncertainty is sometimes regardless of the volume or quality of monetary or human capital invested.

It is, therefore, callous for any committee, incidentally, made up of filmmakers, to return a “no submission” decision for the 95th Academy Awards. It’s easy to come to this conclusion because the information we have shows that at least three movies could do well at the Oscars this year.

From the information available, four films, namely: Eagles Wings, Anikulapo, King of Thieves (Agesinkole), and Death and the King’s Horseman, were presented to the committee this year. One of these, Eagles Wings, did not satisfy the important qualifying criteria that a film nominated in the International Feature Film category must have: a predominantly (more than 50%) dialogue in English. The other three films, possibly with a possible nomination in mind, have significant Yoruba dialogue.

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One of the films, King of Thieves, clearly meets the “seven consecutive days” commercial theatrical exhibition requirement, while the two others reportedly have up till November 22, 2022, to satisfy this academy requirement. The three films also scaled the technical requirements hurdle. It is, therefore, baffling that the NOSC decided that no film would be submitted, without offering any explanation to Nigerians; a decision which is, in fact, ultra vires-given that its remit is mainly about selection, and not decisions about eligibility. The academy itself states, “The International Feature Film Executive Committee shall resolve all questions of eligibility and rules.”

It is true that the committee must ensure that the country puts its best foot forward, but evidence abounds that these films have received commercial and critical acclaim. Femi Adebayo’s King of Thieves (Agesinkole) was a box office hit, making over N300m at the cinemas in Nigeria. It also made the Amazon Prime Top Ten upon its release on the video-on-demand platform in September. Anikulapo by Kunle Afolayan has also gotten a lot of attention since it came out on Netflix in September. Death and the King’s Horseman by the late Biyi Bandele is set to come out on Netflix next month.

So, why would the NOSC vote not to submit, and refuse to explain its rationale to Nigerians? There have been allegations of lobbying and inducements against some members of the committee. But these are unsubstantiated claims, which are also far-fetched to right-thinking minds. If the chairperson of the selection committee discovers evidence of compromise, the proper course of action is to request that those involved withdraw from voting. In extreme cases, they could be removed from the committee and even subjected to criminal investigations. Not even established cases of inducement should stop the nomination of well-made films! Having said that, I also have to state that most of the committee’s members are highly respected professionals with a strong sense of national pride.

And this last point is where I think the problem lies. Some members of the NOSC do not understand that the assignment before them transcends their personal egos. We can tell from this committee, and especially from a video that got out last weekend, that the NOSC has been infected by the national malaise in which people use leadership positions for their own gain, and to settle old scores.

The NOSC is about service to the nation and service to the filmmaking industry (Nollywood). The recognition that members of this committee would get is a function of how well they serve Nollywood and the country. Leaders miss the mark when they subject the popular good to their whims and imagine that earning respect is by disrespecting others and forcing things down their throats. What the chairperson of the Oscars selection committee stampeded her members into is a disservice to Nigeria and Nollywood. It is a disgraceful act that diminishes the hard work of Nigerians, and detracts from the country’s image. It has, as usual, opened otherwise unnecessary debates about ethnicity and other primordial interests. Nigerians must get rid of their selfishness and become more nationalistic and pan-Nigerian today, no matter where they live.

This story, however, tells us about the reality of global governance in Nigeria. Evidently, the government itself is oblivious or has decided to neglect the diplomatic import of films and the significance of having your country’s name and flag flown at fora like the Oscars. It is to the nation’s shame that in nine years, it has only successfully submitted one film, Milkmaid, which lost out in the 2020 edition. Yet the country is full of creative talents, and is reputed to be the third largest producer of video films in the world!

It is doubtful if any of these attitudes surprises anyone, though. At least not practitioners who have experienced successive governments’ lip service to the development of the industry. Nigeria has a federal minister who gallivants around the world in a flowing agbada without adding value to the industry. The same goes for the numerous agencies which should promote sustainable growth and empower more Nigerian youths to exploit their talents productively. At all times, and even more so now, politics is the primary business of those who take leadership positions in Nigeria.

The lack of understanding of how much this does to the national image, the psyche of committed practitioners, and the inspiration of our youth for personal accomplishments, is why regulatory bodies abandon their duties and allow people to run riot in the country. The Ministry of Information and Culture, and the Nigerian Film Commission should never allow this to happen again, ever! ,

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