The Pan African Network for Artistic Freedom (PANAF), Nigerian Chapter, held a panel discussion during the just concluded Abuja International Film Festival which took place between 31 October and 4 November 2022.
The panel session was moderated by Dr. Charles Okwuowulu who introduced the programme and gave a detailed background of the incursion of artistic rights in the Nigerian creative industry. The speakers were practitioners from the creative industry including: Amb. Imaobong Abia (Former Chairperson Association of Movie Producers AMP, Abuja Chapter), Nze Frank White (National Publicity Secretary AMP), Chief Queen Julietta Ofuyeta, (President, Creative Industry Professionals Association), Mr. Holy Steve (CEO, Play TV Africa) and Prof. Gowon Ama Doki (National President-Society of Nigerian Theatre Artistes SONTA). Others were Dr.Victor Ohkai (National President-Directors Guild of Nigeria DGN), Dr. Camillus Uka (National President, Association of Nigerian Authors ANA), Madu C. Chikwendu (Former National President, Association of Movie Producers AMP) and Prof. Amanze Akpuda (Film scholar/Critic).
Okwuowulu underpinned the necessity of enacting laws that will restrain the government from impeding artistic freedom and liberty; so that artists can freely express themselves without fear of molestation and intimidation by the government. He cited examples of artists who have been molested and intimidated by the government for expressing themselves through arts and entertainment.
The panel event, which used a hybrid method (physical and virtual participation), included lively debates between panelists from across Nigeria who held opposing perspectives on artistic freedom. According to Akpuda, there is a strong need to enact an artistic freedom law, noting that when Cyprian Ekwensi’s Jagau Nana was published, it received widespread acceptance from both the government and the teeming Nigerian audience; however, when it was commissioned to be produced as a feature film after so many years, the same script piqued the government’s interest, which noted that it was pornographic in nature.
According to Akpuda, this occurred because the filmic medium is highly persuasive and can readily shift opinions, which is why the government censors film productions. Chikwendu, who participated digitally, highlighted that cinema censorship is a long-standing practice in many parts of the world. He offered a brief history of how the creative industry has engaged the Nigerian government in many areas throughout the years. According to him, this collaboration has not always been fruitful. While he believes that the government censors motion picture contents because of the powerful nature of film (towards opinion molding), he believes that artists cannot work freely in
a restricted environment. Chikwendu maintained that ongoing involvement with the government will necessitate a significant level of artistic freedom for Nigerian artists.
Likewise, Okhai, DGN National President, who also participated digitally, observed that if artists could get involved in advocating for the adoption of creative license laws, artistic freedom would be realized. He told the story of a goat that was unable to attend a conference when it was decided that goats would be sacrificed. Malam Abdullahi Danger (Former National President, Association of Nigerian Authors ANA), who represented Dr. Camillus Uka (the current National President of the Association of Nigerian Authors ANA), stated that while it is difficult for the government to allow artistes to produce without censorship, there is a need for a town hall meeting where artistes can engage the government on the subject.
Other panelists, including Abia, Nze Frank White, Ofuyeta, and Steve, mentioned numerous examples of artists who have endured various forms of brutalization and denounced the Nigerian government’s barbaric treatment of artists who oppose its activities and policies.
Finally, the panel proposed a framework that would bring Nollywood guild heads together for a robust conversation targeted at engaging the Nigerian government in order to develop feasible approaches for creative licensing legislation to be enacted in Nigeria.
PANAF in Abuja Film Festival 2022