With an initial rolling budget of N100 million to Nollywood filmmakers to produce films on 35mm celluloid format, Ecobank is moving to properly position its brand within the informal sector, writes Kasie Okonkwo
The motion picture industry in Nigeria, popularly known as Nollywood, though widely eulogised in other African countries and beyond, failed to attract any sizable funding from the banking sector. Nigerian home movies produced by Nollywood are the rave of the moment across the length and breadth of the African continent, but the industry suffered neglect and rejection by the banks.
Yet the Nollywood phenomenon extended to the frontiers of Europe, North America and Asia with throngs of foreigners making the frequent pilgrimage to Nigeria to have a feel of the revolution known as Nollywood, an industry that is widely regarded to be the third largest film production trailing America’s Hollywood and India’s Bollywood.
Intent on solidifying its eminent status as the leading pan-African bank brand and perceptive enough to recognise the value of funding Nollywood, Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI) sponsored a set of Nollywood filmmakers on a project tagged Project Nollywood. Speaking on the intervention, Group Chief Executive Officer of ETI, Mr. Thierry Tanoh, noted that Ecobank is strategically positioned to play a leading role in the cultural renaissance of Africa with its presence in 35 sub-Saharan countries, adding that the best route to achieving this is through a story-telling medium like the film industry.
He said: “Given Ecobank’s heavy presence in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, it is only natural that we will collaborate with Nigeria’s film industry because the reach of Nollywood on the African continent is considerable.”
Initial Rolling Budget
In a rare demonstration of commitment to Africa’s informal sector, Ecobank provided an initial rolling budget of N100 million to Nollywood filmmakers to produce films on 35mm celluloid format. Tanoh disclosed that before this intervention, no Nigerian bank had ever lent such impressive support to the film industry. The quartet of Chico Ejiro, Fidelis Duker, Charles Novia and Fred Amata who benefited from the fund produced well researched, well interpreted, and technically sound movies, which hit the screens in Nigerian and other African countries’ homes. These movies include a romantic comedy, Caught In The Middle; an action packed adventure, 100 Days In The Jungle; a gripping drama full of suspense, Senseless, and a fascinating yet intriguing romantic drama, Letter To A Stranger.
With access to the fund, producers were able to produce movies shot on video in the world-acclaimed 35mm celluloid format to push their works into the mainstream of world cinema. This way, Nollywood filmmakers will no longer serve as observers or as idle bystanders at the many film festivals around the world. Interestingly, the movies produced through the Ecobank funding gave birth to a multi-million naira distribution network which has employed over 2,000 people to market the movies across the length and breadth of Nigeria and beyond. It was projected that within the first six months of release, the movies would have sold over five million copies.
Praises by Nollywood Actors
In recognition of the funding, Chico Ejiro praised Ecobank’s effort to fund the business plan for Project Nollywood, aside making available millions of naira for the production and worldwide distribution of the four movies. According to him, “Ecobank believes that only banks can jumpstart the potential of Nollywood, as can be seen from the multi-billion dollar Hollywood in America, which is massively backed by American banks”. He said Ecobank had pledged to continue to support Nollywood as well as other areas of the entertainment industry.
Another producer, Novia, asserted that it was the first time in the annals of the Nigerian motion picture that four top producers would agree to come together and form a vibrant entertainment company.
“I want to re-state it here that ours is a company with the sole aim of producing quality Nollywood movies that would give maximum entertainment and enjoyment. We are proud to be associated with this epoch-making venture and we want more corporate bodies to emulate Ecobank in supporting the nation’s entertainment industry.”
Nollywood has become an integral feature of the life of every Nigerian, and the joy is that the phenomenon has spread through the Diaspora, blazing through all of Africa. The hotel rooms of the major cities across the East and West coasts of Africa beam to audiences all over the world films featuring such Nigerian celebrated stars as RMD, Genevieve Nnaji and the hugely popular diminutive pair known as Aki and Pawpaw.
The viability of the industry has been improved by the support of Ecobank, which has made luminaries Hollywood director like Bill Duke to the respected acting coach Ms. Adilah Barnes, the international copyright expert Ms. Avalyn Pitts and the Paul Robeson Award director Prof. Shade Turnipseed to show profound interest in Nollywood.
A researcher on the economic viability on Nollywood said the revenue generated by sales and rentals of movies in Lagos State alone was estimated to be N804 million per week, which adds up to an estimated N33.5 billion per annum. In addition, demand for broadcast content in Nigeria averages 836,580 hours of programming per year valued at N250 billion.
Uptake of CDs at Alaba International Market, Lagos alone is estimated at 700,000 discs per day. The researcher added that “the market potential of the movie industry in Nigeria relative to the size of each state’s economy is at least N522 billion per annum.”
Ecobank is the leading pan African banking group in Africa with a presence in more African countries than any other bank. Ecobank currently operates in 35 African countries, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan,Tanzania, Togo, Uganda Zambia and Zimbabwe .
According to Group Executive Director, Domestic Bank, ETI, Mr. Patrick Akinwuntan, “in all the markets in where Ecobank operates, it is recognized as one of the leading banks, providing a full range of wholesale, retail, commercial, investment and transaction banking services and products. To achieve this, Ecobank implemented an International Technology and Shared Services Centre in Accra to provide standardized and automated transaction processing on a 24/7 basis to all affiliates of the Ecobank Group. The centre also has an integrated telecoms network which provides 24/7 connectivity, thus ensuring reliability of its products and services.”