The evolution of the Nigerian entertainment industry in the last two decades has been quite phenomenal. What started as individual efforts at offering entertainment in music and drama – the latter mostly stage plays – with scant attention from the government, has become an industry worth being courted by the government, for its increasing relevance to the country’s socio-economic growth.
A popular proverb in Akwa Ibom State says market founders never live to sell in those markets. They clear the bush, weed the ground, erect the bamboo pillars to hold the stalls, but are never around to be participants in the flourishing market the site becomes in the future.
The likes of Rex Lawson, Bobby Benson, Inyang Henshaw, I. K. Dairo, Victor Olaiya, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Hubert Ogunde, Ade Love, Art Alade, John Chukwu, Nelly Uchendu, etc, must turn with satisfaction in their graves, seeing their solo efforts galvanized into a booming industry capable of impacting on the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). It is possible they may have been foresighted enough to see a future in what they started, but it is doubtful they envisioned an industry that would place Nigeria prominently on the world entertainment map, ranking among the best on the planet.
There is, however, a sense of satisfaction in seeing that King Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey, surviving members of the aforementioned generation, are alive to witness what is nothing short of a revolution.
The early years
The 1960s, up to the 70s, was the period entertainment was synonymous mainly with music. The western part of the country led other sections in entertainment, with Dairo, Olaiya and Benson leading the pack of musicians that also included Sunny Ade, Obey and Kuti, the last three beginning to get their voices heard outside the west in the 70s.
Lawson held sway in Port Harcourt, and was arguably the loudest voice east of the Niger, followed by Henshaw, in Calabar. Dan Maraya Jos, with his famous locally made guitar, reigned unchallenged in the entire northern part of the country.
The few cinema houses that were found in big cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kano and Enugu showed foreign movies. Entertainment in form of drama came from troupes owned by Baba Sala, Hubert Ogunde and Ade Love, and these were found mostly in the western part of the country. Stage play was almost alien in other parts of the country.
Enter television drama
The twin factors of insecurity and the advent of television drama impacted negatively on nightlife in particular and entertainment in general. For instance, what Lagosians lost through the demise of the famous Bar Beach Show and cinema, they got more than enough compensation from television shows that kept them in the security of their homes, especially at weekends.
Stage play lost its appeal when the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) introduced Village Headmaster, a drama series that ran for more than a decade in its network service. It was a programme that kept families glued to their television sets every Sunday night. This was followed by such equally popular soaps like Mirror in the Sun, Cock Crow at Dawn, Behind the Clouds, Ripples and Checkmate.
The evolution of the Nigerian entertainment industry began to turn into a revolution under two decades ago, when what is known today as Nollywood started as the home video industry, taking the shine off television drama.
Not much could be said of the quality of what was erroneously referred to as movies then. With poor funding from mostly electronics merchants in Idumota market on Lagos Island, and a cast of 15, which included actors and production crew armed with just one video camera, a home video could be ready for the markets one month after shooting. But it was accepted, if not for anything else, for the refreshing difference it provided to television drama that had lost its entertainment value, due to a myriad of problems that included lack of quality content and over reliance on mostly outdated foreign soaps.
The phenomenal rise of Nollywood could be attributed to numerous factors that include involvement of younger, more educated and better exposed practitioners in the industry – ranging from script writers to actors, producers and marketers – as well as better funding. Those who call the shots today cut their teeth when the veterans who are no longer active, dominated the scene. They can afford, with funding that has gone beyond the shoestring budget of their predecessors, to shoot movies at any location around the world. It speaks volumes about the quality of movies coming out of Nollywood these days that they can attract cinema audiences. In fact, some movies now gross enough revenue from cinemas to cover the cost of production and substantial profit.
The movie industry has become the second largest source of employment in the country, after agriculture, offering over one million direct and indirect employments. Increase in demand for quality programming is expected to create opportunities for content providers.
It is a testimony of the competence of Nigeria’s present crop of actors that some of them have been considered good enough to act in Hollywood movies. They include Stephanie Okereke-Linus, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Genevive Nnaji, Jim Iyke and Osas Ighodaro Ajibade.
Nollywood is ranked second after India’s Bollywood in terms of volume of production, and number three in revenue, after Hollywood and Bollywood.
“Nollywood is getting set to take over the world”, former president, Goodluck Jonathan, said at an event to host the industry’s stakeholders in 2013. “I recognize the role of entertainment in the Nigerian economy, and this government will support an industry that makes Nigerians happy. I have given them direct order to make sure entertainers have $200 million worth of loans to work with. Make more movies; write and produce more hit songs, provide jobs and give hope to our people”.
The introduction of the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) has further raised the bar in the country’s movie industry. The awards, the African equivalent of the American Academy Awards, have seen Nollywood practitioners striving to meet international standards, especially with the involvement of movies from other parts of the continent.
Advent of comedy
The present generation of Nigerian youths who incidentally constitute more than 60 per cent of the entertainment audience would be forgiven if they credited Ali Baba with introduction of comedy into the country’s entertainment scene. That is because many of them have never heard of the name, John Chukwu.
Chukwu was not a stand-up comedian as it is known today. Nor did he earn a living making people reel on the floor with laughter. A showbiz impresario and night club owner who was also in the business of organizing musical shows, Chukwu was a master of ceremony, but one with a difference.
He raised the business of emceeing from drab announcements to an art, adding drama and colour to events at which he took charge. He was not known to be fluent in any Nigerian language other than his native Igbo, but had the uncanny ability to speak English with the accent of not only any Nigerian language, but also the accents of many nationalities around the world.
At a dinner to round off the country’s independence celebrations on October 1, 1985, held at the then Nicon Noga Hilton Hotel (now Transcorp Hilton), Abuja, Chukwu got the guests, which included diplomats, roaring with laughter when he took a virtual trip around the world, speaking English with the accents of all the countries he passed through, with incredible mastery.
Today, comedy is big business. People pay high ticket fares to be made to laugh, something John Chukwu could not have imagined in his lifetime. Not only do comedians smile to the bank just making people laugh, they actually get signed on by big brands as ambassadors. Reports say some of the big names charge as high as three million to compere at corporate events. It couldn’t be better.
Rejuvenated music scene
The music scene has also undergone remarkable transformation, especially in the last decade, with the significant feature of solo artistes emerging to replace groups, a development that has followed a global trend.
It is not a novelty for Nigerian musicians to have their songs sold outside the country, as others like Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey and I. K. Dairo had been there before now. But the present crop of musicians has gone up many rungs of the ladder, with some of them signing on to international labels.
There is no edition of the annual music awards by the various bodies – MTV Music Awards, African Music Awards, etc – in which Nigerian artistes do not cart home numerous awards. This is a reflection of the level of acceptance of Nigerian music outside the shores of the country.
The music scene has even been made more attractive by the involvement of corporate organizations, through appointment of artistes as brand ambassadors, an arrangement that comes with heavy cash for people that were hitherto referred to as dropouts.
Contribution to GDP
The Nigerian entertainment industry of today is one that contributes to the country’s GDP, even if not quite significantly at the moment. This wasn’t the case 10 years ago.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the entertainment industry experienced a growth of 1.80 per cent to 12. 81 pw cent in 2016, contributing N54 billion to the country’s GDP of that year.
A PricewaterhouseCooper report has estimated Nigeria’s revenue from entertainment at $8.5 billion in 2018, up from four billion dollars in 2013.