Lai Mohammed is right; it’s time to ‘build Nigerian’

Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed is not a very popular figure among Nigerian youth at the moment, no thanks to his direct challenge of the Nigerian entertainment industry – the only existing wellspring of happiness and opportunity in Nigeria.

Last week, at the Creative Nigeria Summit – a two-day event discussing Nigeria’s film, television and music industries, Mr. Lai Mohammed had caused more than a stir when he publicly accused Nigerian entertainers of not facilitating the growth of the industry within the country. He recommended that a large part of media content had to be produced within the shores of the country before it could be rightly labeled ‘Nigerian’. This seems a reasonable policy, especially for foreigners trying to understand the Nigerian society. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a lot more complicated than reason would permit.

The Problem

The challenge with Mr. Lai Mohammed’s rhetoric is that one has to take into account the incredible growth the Nigerian entertainment industry has experienced over the years, independent of any notable government contribution. In 2009, Nollywood – Nigeria’s movie industry, surpassed Hollywood as the world’s second largest movie industry by volume, right behind India’s Bollywood, and in 2014 was valued as a $3.3 billion sector – with minimal government contribution.

The unofficial modus operandi was simple, the Nigerian government focused on the oil and gas industry – and amassed great personal wealth from it, while the Nigerian masses turned to Nollywood as opium from the realities of their sufferings. The arrangement seemed to work just fine until the world woke up to the increasing financial riches of Nollywood. Now, it appears Mr. Lai Mohammed has arrived to dictate news terms of operation.

It is easy to empathize with the Nigerian youth, as well as the entire Nigerian entertainment industry towards the Buhari administration. However, it is equally difficult to fail to see reason to Mr. Lai Mohammed’s statement that the continuous outpouring of Nigeria’s resources into foreign economies only benefits those economies, not Nigeria.

There is a strong argument for the need to invest in the development of infrastructures we have long neglected instead of investing in the finished products offered by foreign markets. It is important to acknowledge that he did not call for a complete boycott of foreign products or services. Instead, he advocated for a larger percentage of direct investment into the Nigerian economy by businesses profiting from the Nigerian market.

A Middle Ground

A sincere public-private collaboration between the government and private businesses presents a more amicable solution to the underlining problem of mistrust and lack of investment in Nigeria’s entertainment industry.

If the Nigerian government, according to Mr. Lai Mohammed, is adamant in participating in the growth of the nation’s entertainment industry, it is paramount that the government shows good faith by investing in improving the nation’s decaying infrastructure, across all sectors – for example, enforcing copyright laws.

It is a daunting ask for the private industry to be financially responsible for the infrastructural development of the nation’s entertainment industry and still be expected to finance quality content that can compete in the global market. The government must be willing to mitigate the financial risk on the private industry to allow more direct local and foreign investment.

It needs no telling that any investment in the entertainment sector would be a direct boost to the 1.4% contribution it makes to the country’s £307bn GDP.

Equally, the private industry should be more conscientious in its responsibility and appreciation towards its local market.

Mr. Lai Mohammed had specifically mentioned Chivita as an example of a Nigerian company that makes its profit within the Nigerian market but re-invests in foreign economies. The company’s 2014 commercial partnership with English football club, Manchester United, is evidence of “misplaced priorities.”

There should be an obligation on the part of the private sector to recognize the local markets with as much respect and attention as they court to foreign markets.

Another example of the private sector’s negligence of its local market is in Sagamu, Ogun state. Sagamu is home to one of Nigeria’s major deposits of limestone, which is used in the production of cement. However, the small town with a population of approximately half a million people still suffers from shockingly bad roads, even though it has one of the world’s largest suppliers of construction materials, Larfarge, owning a mega limestone processing facility there. Ironically, Larfarge’s slogan is Building better cities‘.

Yes, Mr. Lai Mohammed is right to suggest more focus be put on re-developing the Nigerian economy. However, a conscious dialogue and immense political will between major parties involved – government, private industry and local consumers, will be needed to reach a viable outcome.

%d bloggers like this: