Time was exactly 2.02 pm on Monday, January 21, 2013. Kanayo O. Kanayo's knuckles were at my door. It was his first visit to my house. Eyes laced with surprise at my modest but spacious home, he entered with his quintessential swagger, shoulder high, the air of pride unmistakable. Many a Nollywood practitioner would say he is too proud, others say 'bloody arrogant'. But Kan, as I fondly call him, has no apologies for who he is and how he carries himself as he calls his gait a portrait of confidence and conviction about his destiny without a tinge of arrogance.
"The Presidency calls", he opened up, as he took his seat. "I've been asked to get in touch with you guys and so I decided to meet the Heads of Guilds, first".
The smile that caressed his lips as he said these words showed he knew he was making sense. He had led a group of 20 to commiserate with President Goodluck Jonathan over his brother's death and Nollywood was practically in turmoil over this adventure of a so called G-20 because they neither consulted nor carried along leaders of Nollywood. But this time is different. The man is now an apostle of due process.
"The Presidency wants to brief Nollywood on the celebration of our centenary as a nation", he continued. "I think we should embrace this. It's a recognition for our industry". By night of the same day, phones were abuzz. Enquiries about this meeting was the subject. Now, Nollywood is used to meeting with Presidents and the Presidency. But some of such meetings had ended on a moot note or cacophonous voices without a consensus on the benefits of such meetings. And so, some stakeholders received the news with delight while, others whose views were expectedly jaundiced would rather wait to see the prognosis.
And so a modest crowd of Nollywood stakeholders, by 6pm on Wednesday, January 23, had gathered at a most unusual venue. It was Yellow Chilli, a restaurant known essentially for its irresistible African delicacies and a few continentals, located at GRA, Ikeja, Lagos.
If there were any squeaky voices or somber air, they gave way as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation of Nigeria (SGFN), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim walked in casually with the Honourable Minister of Culture, National Orientation and Tourism, Chief Edem Duke. Dressed in a checkered blue shirt and trousers, Anyim like a political maestro moved from one table to the other shaking everyone, wearing a permanent smile like a good make-up, throwing banters, even claiming to be part and parcel of Nollywood. He had successfully relaxed the tensed air.
To crown his determination to reduce himself to the same level with everyone, he began to speak, not even asking for a microphone. And he did not bore his audience reading a long speech. Although he shared a 24 page paper tagged The Centenary project: Concept Document, his speech was concise, and hope inspiring. "We must all agree that the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914 was the foundation and beginning of our journey to a great future as a nation", he said without equivocation. "We must therefore affirm to ourselves that Nigeria is not an accident and it cannot be", he added for emphasis. He then reeled out some crucial reasons why we should celebrate this Centenary; reasons that one dare say, are easily taken for granted. He enunciated the fact that "our unity is the common symbol of our collective existence that has put this nation on the path of development and potential global ascendancy".
While the thematic essence of the Centenary is "One Nigeria, Great Promise", the vision is to "project a united, vibrant, progressive and respected nation eager to lead in world affairs", he stated. The celebration which begins this February with a presidential dinner, unveiling of the centenary logo, lottery launch and documentary on Nigeria's history, will run for one year with a climax on January 1, 2014 when Nigeria will be 100 years old.
Perhaps the most curious but powerful statement Anyim made on the night was on financing. He told an amazed Nollywood family that the federal government would not expend a dime, "not one kobo on this project". Without any circumlocution, he stressed that the entire project including the envisioned Centenary City in Abuja would be driven by the organised private sector.
While this could be a good development, Nollywood was apprehensive. In a nation where sponsorship of the arts and events comes quite niggardly from the corporate world, motion picture practitioners listened with squinted eyes while a few voiced their fears. For them, that offers only an epileptic hope. It is a tempest they would need the muscle of the government to navigate.
On their industry, Anyim told his audience that Nollywood represents the irrepressible spirit, the promise and possibilities of the Nigerian nation. In giving some reasons why the Centenary should be celebrated, the SGFN talked about the monumental significance of Nollywood. "Very importantly, these movies represent the first time in world history that Africans from Africa are telling the story of Africa by Africans from Africa through Nigerian movie makers", he summarised.
Succinctly put, Anyim told the motion picture and theatre arts practitioners that he came to brief them on the Centenary Project and to seek their contribution. But the movie makers would not make any contribution just yet. "We need to go back and deliberate on this crucial national event. Then we can get back to you", a voice speaking on behalf of the stakeholders said.
Nollywood at 20 and the Centenary Project...
The movie makers told the SGFN that the entire Nollywood would be celebrating 20 years of the industry, beginning in February and lasting till July 2013. Will the Centenary celebration not affect their own project? "This is a mega event that we are passionate about", they stressed.
"That is not a problem", Anyim quipped. I will like you people to go and work out how the two events can work together. You can integrate Nollywood at 20 events into the Centenary programme. It's all celebration and we can harmonise.
The atmosphere however changed and became tense when the Culture Minister told the audience that the president had already given a nod to the celebration of 20 years of Nollywood to some group, thinking perhaps that they represent the entire industry. "No way, no way, no", came voices of disapproval. "Nollywood celebration is an industry affair and not for some obscure group", they echoed.
They urged Chief Duke to tell the President that the industry will send their proposal and magnificent programmes for the celebration of Nollywood at 20 to him in no time, urging him to discountenance any furtive moves by any group to preempt the world class event being meticulously prepared by the entire Nollywood family in Nigeria. "It is our bold attempt to celebrate ourselves and our country, a courageous effort to bring the world to Nigeria and take Nigeria to the world", said one of the stakeholders.
Okafor, AMP President wrote from Lagos.