In an exclusive interview with TCN, Executive Director and CEO of the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board, Hon. Adedayo Thomas, speaks on sundry issues affecting the film industry in Nigeria and the interventions by his agency.
A new film, Ife, has just been produced in Nigeria exploring gay and lesbian themes. Are you aware?
I have read about it on the pages of the newspapers and social media. I am yet to see the film.
Has the film been submitted for censorship, if not how will NFVCB treat such a request for classification?
The film has not been submitted to us for censorship and classification. There is no special way of treating the film. Every film brought for censorship passes through the Board’s censorship criteria before it can be classified. The censorship criteria area set of guidelines that our censorship officers follow to enable them arrive at an appropriate classification for a film.
Will NFVCB be satisfied if explicit scenes in the film are removed or the general theme exploring lesbianism be deemed unacceptable and against the law?
The Board has not seen this film, it will be so premature to talk about removing some scenes. If we are to go by what the social media and some reports about the movie say, it is centered on lesbianism like you rightly pointed out. It is therefore not a case of saying you remove a particular scene. IFE as directed by UyaieduIkpe-Etim, centers on lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ). That is the central message of IFE. The board’s censorship criteria would firstly ascertain whether IFE promotes Nigerian culture, unity and interest. Does IFE expose African people to ridicule or contempt? Is IFE blasphemous? Does it indulge in profanity or vulgarity? Does it promote obscenity or is IFE from the commentaries read indecent? Finally, the Nigerian constitution doesn’t allow same sex marriage.
Under what conditions can this film be approved for screening and distribution in Nigeria?
The only condition IFE can be approved for screening and distribution in Nigeria is passing the censorship criteria test earlier highlighted and numerous others not mentioned yet. The Board has a very transparent method for censorship and classification. The Board even affords film makers opportunity to appeal if they are not satisfied with the classification result. In this case the Board sets up an Appeal Panel, with the Executive Director as the chairman.
Both the CNN and the producers of the film describe Nigeria as a “homophobic country.” Do you consider this a fair description or it’s pejorative and perhaps manipulative?
I will not be too averse to Nigeria being described as a homophobic country at this our stage of development. Besides, the constitution does not recognize lesbianism. There are good things we should emulate from the western world, not lesbianism at the moment.
Kenya went through a similar experience a few years ago when RAFIKI, a film that explored lesbian theme, became controversial. Do you think IFE is another RAFIKI, bringing foreign influences and pressure?
Maybe, because the message IFE is passing to me is very alien. We should not be copying everything from the western world. We are not at the same level of development.
A number of adult (sex oriented) films have been shot in Nollywood lately with their snippets online. Is NFVCB aware? Are such films graded and classified and if not what is the Board doing to curb this seeming menace?
The Board is aware of these films. The fact that they have explicit contents they cannot be classified by the Board. Obviously, the producers know the Board would not classify such films. The Board has field monitoring staff charged with tracking these films. Last year, no fewer than 150 staff of the Board attended Police training courses for three months in Lagos, Enugu and Kano on how to combat this menace. This year also, the Executive Director set up an Intelligence Team that reports directly to him. They track all these films that are being illegally distributed on line. The Board is also stepping up the monitoring of online distributors and punishing those found culpable. There are a lot that is happening. Some of the producers of the films that are distributed online have been arrested and charged to court. The fact remains that the country is large and considering our staff strength, it seems as if we are not doing much. That is in fact the opposite. The Board is seeking a legislation that would give us the power to pull down these films on these online platforms that circumvent our censorship and classification. We are also collaborating with Google in that regard.
If IFE is disallowed from being screened and distributed in Nigeria, would the producers be violating the law if they decide to screen it at international film festivals and distribute it on other digital platforms outside the control of the NFVCB?
Definitely they would be violating the law. As the apex film regulatory authority, every film produced or imported into the country must be classified by the Board. Besides, the film is produced by a Nigerian company, invariably it must be censored by the Board.
COVID-19 has affected production significantly in the last five months. By what percentage will output be reduced this year compared to the number of films censored last year? How will the Censors Board deal with the expected drop in censorship revenue?
Film production was not really affected by COVID-19 so much. The sector adversely affected is the cinemas because they require physical presence. The Board Is aware of this and is pushing for the gradual reopening of cinemas in strict compliance with NCDC protocols. Film production has been going on. DSTV and other major channels have been buying the films produced. More so, the Board reacted promptly to the yearnings of the filmmakers by introducing virtual censorship during the period of lockdown. The deficit in censorship revenue is being balanced by the reduced expenditure in field operation activities by the Board.
What are the chances of the advocacy/plea being championed by your good self towards having Lagos State reverse its conviction of actress Funke Akindele and her husband over their COVID-19 violation?
We are optimistic that the Lagos State Government will be favourably disposed to our plea and act accordingly. However, in fairness to the State Government, an appeal to the judgement has been filed by persons representing the couple. This may slow down the process as the government may want to await the Appelate Court’s judgement before taking any action, so as not to undermine court proceedings. Notwithstanding, we will be doing a follow up to our initial letter.
NFVCB recently won a suit that bars state governments from running their own censorship boards. Considering that NFVCB has worked harmoniously for years with Lagos and Kano censors boards, is this court victory a real progress for the film industry?
We may as well view it as a “No Victor, No Vanquished” verdict for the Federal and State Governments. It is however, a plus to the film industry. You may be aware that the regulation of the film industry is on the Concurrent Legislative List in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Federa Government is not out there to relegate the powers and functions of State Governments when it comes to regulating the industry, but the Court helped to clarify the contending issues and level of intervention of both parties, so as not to suffocate businesses and entrepreneurial initiatives within the film industry. This is a huge win for industry players. You will recall that the Federal Government is at the forefront of promoting investment sustainability, and removing bottlenecks, such as double taxation and over regulation. This judgment has energized that move. While both Federal and State Governments can legislate concurrent items, the court has further established that where there is a subsisting Federal law, the State law within the same context would not be rendered invalid, but would remain inoperative.