Although Quramo Festival of Words 2023 ended a fortnight ago, its echoes will continue to resonate for a long while yet. With its ‘Connecting the Dots’ as theme that spoke to the opportunities and potential in the creative sector and what needs to be done to make it better, Country Director of Paramount Pictures, Dr. Dada Akintunde-Johnson lent his expert voice to the festival theme when he gave the festival’s keynote address that spoke to how certain critical dots need to be connected first if players in Nigeria’s creative ecosystem are to move from the realm of ideas and dreams to reality and attainment. Nigerians are creating value with just their talents, he said and gave instance of some skit makers who gross USD$5-7 million a year just by making skits on Youtube. However, he said there are certain critical steps to consider in order to keep the momentum going
SO, what are the critical dots that we must connect for us to be able to take our place within the comity of the world’s entertainment community? Undoubtedly, the US has dominated that space over the years. We can see how a country like Korea has come on in leaps and bounds. I’m astounded about how Nigerian women go on about K-drama; I didn’t think they make content that will resonate in this part. Chinese movies were because they fight; Nigerians are fascinated by marshal art. In K-drama they don’t fight. Some of K-drama actors are way more popular than American actors. There’s a guy called Lee Min-ho. Some Nigerian women in their hundreds of thousands are dating him, but he doesn’t know it. He’s that popular. On his birthday, people were posting messages on their social media handles on him. And I’m like, who’s this guy?
That underscores potential versus reality. Our potential doesn’t translate until that guy being celebrated globally is a Nigerian actor. I want to see Chinese people going crazy over a Nigerian creative. Again, what are the critical dots that we must connect? I always tell my team or my teams everywhere I’ve worked that at the risk of simplification or over-simplification, the way I look at life is in two parts. There are always things that you can control, that you must do your utmost at all times to control. And there are always things that you cannot control, that you must commit to the hands of God. I believe this is how life broadly is categorised or divided. There are things that we control and there are things that we don’t control.
Similarly, there are dots that must connect within the creative industry that you and I in this room do not control. I’m going to start off with some of the things that we don’t control that have to align. Why do we have to discuss them? In discussing them, we can begin to engage those whose responsibility it is to control and change those things. One of the things that must change to help us grow the creative eco-system and enable us deliver on the potential that we have is the economy of the country.
Dr. Dada Akintunde-Johnson
In marketing and in economics, the concept of disposable income cannot be talked about enough. What does that mean? Disposable income is the money that’s left after your bills are paid from your income. Your disposable income describes what’s left after you have paid all your bills. Most Nigerians do not have the kind of disposable income that allows them to buy entertainment products and services across board. How do you pay for streaming services, buy concert tickets, pay TV, stream your favourite songs several times; it just doesn’t work that way. Like I said, people take care of their bills first before they start to think of entertainment.
I give myself as example. My wife works and lives in the US; many people I know also do so. My sister-in-law used to work for Air Canada, but she was laid off post-Covid. You know, when someone is laid off work, you tend to pity them. But I was shocked when she bought ticket to attend a Chris Brown concert. So out of curiosity I asked her how much the ticket was going for. And she said it was $300 and she was buying two, one for her friend! She could afford that, for someone who lost her job at that time. Of course, as an American citizen some monies were paid to those who lost their jobs.
What that translated to was that though she was out of job, she still had disposable income. At the current exchange rate, what’s the exchange rate of $300 to the naira? That’s N300,000! How many Nigerians who have very good jobs, and I’m one of them, can afford to pay N300,000 to watch a Chris Brown? Except Chris Brown will follow me home and perform every day, morning-afternoon-night for maybe a week or a month, otherwise there’s no chance I will pay that amount for a ticket just to watch him! This is what places a burden on most Nigerian concerts. The reason why most Nigerians concerts don’t start early is because there’s no audience. They will advertise the show to start at 7:00pm, but they don’t start until 12mid-night or even much later. The reason is because they are waiting for the hall to fill out, because only a few people have bought tickets. And tickets go as low as N5,000, and it’s just because most people cannot buy at N5,000! They just cannot buy; too expensive!
Like my friend would say: most Nigerians are economically disenfranchised, unfortunately. Until that changes our sector will continue to be challenged, because we are not fast-moving consumer goods. We’re not offering products and services that people would feel inconvenienced if they don’t use them. No matter how bad things are, people must brush their teeth; so they will buy toothpaste. People will need to have their bath; so they will buy soap. People need to wash clothes, so they will buy detergents. But music? If they don’t stream Davido’s music, nothing will happen to them. If they don’t pay for DSTV subscription, nothing will happen to them. Matter-of-factly, a lot of people who used to pay for DSTV subscription 10 years ago no longer do so. It’s not because Nigerians hate to watch pay TV; no, they just can’t afford it.
Whenever I’m in US, and because I’m a huge football fan, unlike here where you pay one subscription fee and you can watch all you want to watch on DSTV. Over there, the matches are scattered all over and you have to pay subscription for each of them. So to watch Champions League, I have to subscribe to a channel; to watch Laliga, you have to pay to ESPN. To watch English Premier League, I need two subscriptions, one to FoboTV and another to Peacock TV. Carabao Cup has a different subscription. I have to explain to my wife why I have to subscribe to five different channels just to watch 22 men kick a round leather object for 90 minutes. But those services are profitable in America regardless, because Americans have disposable income to use them.
Let me shock you with some startling statistics. MultiChoice has been in Nigerian close to 30 years; yet it does not have up to 1.5 million active subscribers in Nigeria out of 200 million people! Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services put together don’t have more than 500,000 subscribers in a country of over 200 million people. So I don’t want to overbeat the horse, not dead yet, but it’s in a bit of a coma. The economy has to be revived for our ecosystem to thrive. Creativity depends on disposable income; Hollywood would die if Americans don’t have disposable income. It’s just what it is.
My last point to demonstrate disposable income is that almost all the year, big Nigerians artistes are touring America and Europe. As I speak Adekunle God is on tour; Davido is on tour; quite a number of artistes are touring. And what that means is that quite a number of them are performing back-2-back at different concert venues. All of those artistes are Nigerians who are touring abroad. There are 36 states in Nigeria; they’ve only been to two – Lagos and Abuja for most of their careers. Are you trying to tell me Burna Boy doesn’t have fans in Kano and Kaduna? Are we saying there are no Igbo people that are huge fans of Phyno in Kano and Kaduna who wouldn’t like to pay N5,000 to watch him? But why isn’t it not happening? Lack of disposable income!
Second point of what we don’t control that is militating against our ecosystem that we have to connect the dot is insecurity! A few years ago, some Chinese wanted to come to Nigeria to invest in cinemas. At the time Nigeria only had 53 cinema houses. That company has over 600 cinemas in China. Now, you can’t reasonably go and set up a cinema house in the north; someone can get funny and blow up the cinema hall. You can’t take a concert to certain parts of the country, because of insecurity. It’s not my responsibility; it’s not your responsibility to create or provide security. That’s outside of our control.
In 2014 we were filming a commercial at the centre of Onitsha; we had two truckloads of police. But some guys showed up and seized our equipment and demanded millions to release them. The police were helpless. It’s the same experience our music video directors have when they are filming music videos. Some ‘area boys’ will just show up and seize their equipment and they have to pay millions. This doesn’t happen in other climes. What that meant was that we used to take a lot of our money to South Africa to film, because we were more secure there.
So those are two things we don’t have control over but which are critical if we must connect the dots in the creative ecosystem.
Laju Eresenara; Qfest Convener, Mrs. Gbemi Shasore; keynote speaker, Dr. Dada Akintunde-Johnson; Oyin Talabi and Folakemi Philips
Now to what we can control. Training and skill set. Practice. Practice. Practice. There’s a saying that if you have not held a tennis racket by age four, there’s no chance you can ever win Wimbledon Tennis Championship. Simple. So start learning; acquire knowledge. Practice. So capacity building is one of those dots to connect. We must be as skilled as anyone else in the world. We have to make sure that what we are putting out there is a representative of our best efforts otherwise we will misrepresent ourselves. I was speaking with some funders two years after Netflix launched, and they were planning to come to some places in Africa to invest, and Nigeria wasn’t there. But Senegal was there, and I was alarmed. But they said they tried to watch a Nigerian movie on Netflix and they fell asleep four times! And they abandoned the movie; so, they were asking: is this the Nollywood people were shouting about? Imagine the impact if what they watched was excellent! The number of people in the world that can watch content is staggering. So we have to make the most of our content that those streaming platforms present to the world, which would encourage further investments and motivate people to come to put their money in Nigerian productions.
Funding is one of those dots to connect. Unlike parts of the world where you can access grants or loans, you can’t do that here. If you take a loan to fund a film in Nigeria, they will sell your house in Lagos, sell the one in the village and maybe even sell all your family members to pay the loan! Interest rate is 26 per cent plus management fees and all that. It’s impracticable. So how do you raise financing? Well, a creative means of getting funds worked for me a few times. It might work for you.
There are people in Nigeria who have lots of money. If the formal structure does not allow you to raise money, then we’ve got to get creative. You’ve got to learn how to make pitches to those people who have the money. Write a business plan for your creative idea. Find some guy who knows some guy who has money and let them get you in front of them. Show them how you will use their money to make more money; that’s how to get financing if you’re not from a rich family. And most of us are not from rich families. I’m not from one. Financing; we’ve got to have it. That’s a critical dot, because no matter how great and grand your ideas are, if you don’t have money to get them off the ground, they will remain permanently in the realm of ideas. We must find creative ways to raise money, because without money our dreams do not take flight.
* Akintunde-Johnson is the Country Director of Paramount Pictures, Nigeria