Monday, 22 November 2010

Ace Hausa Actress, Amina Garba, Dies At 52


The Hausa film industry was thrown into mourning yesterday with the death of one of the leading actresses, Hajiya Amina Garba (a.k.a. Mama Dumba), who died in Kano.
Mama Dumba, popular with her role as an elderly, responsible mother or wife of a rich man in the movies, died at the age of 52 three weeks after she had remarried.
Her husband of three weeks, Alhaji Abdulkareem Shehu Bauchi, told LEADERSHIP that she succumbed to a long battle with high blood pressure, diabetes and ulcer.

On Saturday, Mama Dumba had been taken to the Gwagwarwa Clinic in Kano metropolis, where she worked as a nurse till her death. She was treated and asked to go home. She was, however, returned to the hospital yesterday when her condition deteriorated and died at about 2:30 p.m.

Her remains were conveyed by her family members to her house at Kofar Kabuga area of the city, where parts of the funeral rites were observed.

She is survived by her husband and five children (two of whom are female).

Shell-shocked colleagues of the late actress showered encomiums on her as she was interred at the Kofar Mazugal cemetery in Kano City.

Administrative secretary of the Motion Picture Practitioners Association of Nigeria, Malam Ahmad Salihu Alkanawy, described the deceased as a true mother whose death has created a huge vacuum in the movie industry. “She has indeed left a large vacuum. She was a real mother who was responsible. We pray Allah in His infinite mercy to forgive her shortcomings,” he said.

On his part, famous actor, Alhaji Ibrahim Maishunku, said Hajiya Amina Garba “was indeed kind; a nice woman whose good manners can be attested to by viewers and those of us who work with her in the industry.”

According to him, the death of Dumba was symbolic, considering the fact that she recently got married despite other people’s opinion about her being too elderly for a fresh marriage union.

He said: “Some people thought she was too old for marriage but Allah has destined that she would die as a complete human being, a responsible married woman.”

Another actor, Malam Jibril S. Fagge, recalled the qualities of the deceased, saying, “Hajiya was a good mother, especially for those of us who knew her and came from the same place as her. I knew her as she knew my parents; she was a kind woman.

“Today is exactly three weeks that she got married, as if she had a premonition that she was going to die. But we believe this was the doing of Allah and we hope Allah will cover her with His infinite mercy.”

Published in LEADERSHIP today.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Still Living In Bondage

Succour appeared to have come the way of Nollywood penultimate week when, in a rare gesture of goodwill towards the arts in Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan announced a $200 million stimulus for the entertainment industry. The money is worth about N30 billion. Speaking in Lagos during the 30th anniversary celebration of the Silverbird Group, the famous entertainment company headed by former director-general of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Mr. Ben Murray-Bruce, the president said the investment was a lifeline "for the exclusive purpose of supporting artistes and developing our entertainment industry."

The move was hailed by many stakeholders in the industry as an intervention that couldn't have come at a better time. They saw in it a clear recognition and honour of the contribution of the talented men and women who have helped to put Nigeria on the world map of entertainment.

Nollywood, the nation's growing movie industry, which can now be regarded as a twin of the equally soaring, though older, music industry, is a global brand from Nigeria. According to a UNESCO report released in May 2009, Nollywood is the third largest movie industry on earth by value, after Hollywood and India's Bollywood. Worth about $250 million and employing about 1 million Nigerians, the industry has created artistes who are household names, nationally and internationally. Names like Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Ramsey Nouah, Kate Henshaw-Nuttal, Pete Edochie, Ali Nuhu, Segun Arinze, Funke Akindele, etc, are well known. Similar big names abound on the music scene. Consequently, Nollywood has attracted academics from across the world who consider its phenomenal rise worthy of study. Talk of African magic! Indeed, several satellite television channels, including the appropriately named Africa Magic, now offer Nollywood movies 24 hours a day, the way Hollywood movies are shown on stations like Fox Movies or Indian ones on B4U and Zee Aflam. These men and women, most of whom are young, lead comfortable lives in jobs they created for themselves.

For many others, however, the president's gesture was very odd. To them, he acted impulsively - having been begged to do something, anything for the industry, by Mr. Murray-Bruce. In the last two weeks, I have heard questions being asked by stakeholders: Is this a Greek gift? Is it political? Is Jonathan currying the favour of the entertainers as he faces stiff challenge to his leadership? Was his offer inspired by true nationalistic fervour? Is the government coming in to control an informal sector which can communicate political messages not favoured by officialdom? Who will collect the money on behalf of the stakeholders in an industry that has no formal structure or universally recognised leadership?

For now, it is not clear how the money will be shared. The president said the Central Bank governor and the finance minister will handle that. Jonathan, in his speech, alluded to a group called Nollywood, but who, really, is Nollywood? Many reserve it for only those entertainers based in Lagos and Onitsha, but what of the huge Hausa film industry up north, known as Kannywood? And what of other 'Woods' - such as the miniscule, but silently growing Nupe movie industry which does not see itself as a part of Kannywood, as well other small vernacular outfits? Also, what do we mean when we say Nigerian musicians? Do they include those singing in the vernacular, such as Nasiru Garba Supa in Kano and Musa Danbade in Kaduna, or only those Naija crooners such as Dapo Oyebanjo (D'banj), Abolere Akande (9ice), Innocent Idibia (Tuface), 2-Effects and Sound Sultan? Clearly, much needs to be done to sift the grains from the chaff and then determine the modalities for moviemakers and musicians to access the fund. If care is not taken, this government's bonanza would spawn the biggest leadership tussle ever witnessed in the industry and cause divisions between the various "Woods" in the country.

I believe that the industry does not need the largesse. Reason: it came out of the practice by successive regimes to throw money at problems. What the entertainment industry truly needs to develop is a conducive business environment. Remember that Nollywood was created from nothing by adventurous entrepreneurs about 18 years ago with the release of the flick, Living in Bondage, and has grown in leaps and bounds without government money. Of course, it is bedevilled by problems. It suffers from the "Nigerian factor", which includes anything from piracy and insecurity to the poor state of the economy. One of the biggest problems is piracy. The country's lax laws have made it impossible for producers to enjoy the fruits of their labour. They are held in bondage by these thieves. They should be rescued.

Nollywood's ranking by UNESCO's Institute of Statistics as number one in the world is on production volume rather than quality. Nigerian movies are shot on shoestring budgets with cheap equipment. Professionalism is rare because stakeholders lack training, hence the insensitive portrayals of our society as a haven of crime, fetish and exposed flesh. Lax laws and the get-rich-quick nature of Nigerians worsen the situation. Little surprise, then, that only a few Nollywood movies are of value to foreign audiences aside Nigerians in the Diaspora. Consider Tsotsi, the South African movie, or India's Slumdog Millionaire. Tsotsi was made on a $3 million budget and it grossed about $10 million. It also won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best foreign language film in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

But our movies have poor storylines and a predictable nature. Complaints, as a result, are reverberating across Africa. In Uganda, an MP, Sarah Wasike Mwebaza, blames an increase in witchcraft cases in that country on the influx of Nigerian movies. The Ugandan government is now mulling a bill to address the issue. This shows that our movie makers need to self-reflect and aim at quality in their stories, storytelling style, pictures and sound. They should show the world that their business is not only about making the quick buck but also about art. The bonanza from government should not, therefore, be viewed in monetary terms but as support and recognition. Once regarded as cool cash, it would divide and distract them from business.

Picture above: Artistes and crew shooting a Nollywood movie. Photo: BBC

Published in LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, today.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A Vote For The Youths

"Crabbed age and youth cannot live together;
Youth is full of pleasance, age full of care;
Youth like the summer morn, age like winter weather;
Youth like summer brave, age like winter bare"

– William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

"Youth is full of sport, age's breath is short; youth is nimble, age is lame; youth is hot and bold, age is weak and cold; youth is wild, and age is tame."

– William Shakespeare

A significant stir is going on in Africa regarding the impact of age on the development of our nations. Induced mostly by the emergence, two years ago, of a youthful Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, the thinking presupposes that, in the management of nation, a young person is better than a grumpy old man whose bones and brains have grown tired and rusty. Obama is a reminder that the world’s youths have hope of attaining the pinnacle of leadership, be it in corporate bodies or in the presidency of nations. This prospect was further reinforced by the election of another youth, David Cameron, as British prime minister in May, this year. Suddenly, a reawakening began to take place amongst Africa’s youths, who have always been sidelined from leading their countries.

The reason for this is the concern that Africa is the global hub of gerontocratic regimes, where old men (and a woman) rule like the emperors of old. Africans are used to having oldies as presidents or heads of government, most of whom are sit-tight dictators who regard their countries as exclusive fiefdoms. They brook no opposition, even when running their own versions of democracy. Respect for elders, even if they have overstayed their welcome and are dictatorial, corrupt or murderous, is the norm.

Today, there is an overpowering urge to link Africa’s underdevelopment to the age of its rulers. Of course, there are other factors why our continent is the most backward on earth, but that we also harbour the oldest rulers cannot be denied. They superintend the thieving going on and seem unable to move with the times. Their vision cannot respond to the demands of modern leadership. The world is changing fast, but Africa’s despotic leaders are not, cannot and will not.

As I write, some statistics, which link Africa’s underdevelopment to the age of its leaders, are circulating on the internet. They are a startling revelation of how old folks – the men of yesteryears – stradde the leadership of the continent while their counterparts in the First World have receded to the background to nurse their health and ponder the end-times. The statistics, entitled, “Why Africa is 25 Years Behind the Developed World...”, are as follows:


•Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe ) - 86

•Abdullahi Wade (Senegal) - 83 years

•Hosni Mubarak (Egypt ) - 82

•Paul Biya (Cameroon) - 77

•Bingu Wa Mutharika (Malawi) - 76

•Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia ) - 75

•H. Pohamba (Namibia ) - 74

•Rupiah Banda (Zambia) - 73

•Mwai Kibaki (Kenya) - 71

•Muammar Gaddafi (Libya) - 68

•Jacob Zuma (South Africa) - 68

Average Age: - 75.6

Approximately - 76 years


•Abdullah Gül (Turkey ) - 60

•Angela Merkel (Germany ) - 56

•Nicolas Sarkozy (France) - 55

•José Sócrates (Portugal) - 53

•Stephen Harper (Canada) - 51

•Julia Gillard (Australia) - 49

•José L. R. Zapatero (Spain) - 49

•Barack Obama (USA) - 48

•Dmitry Medvedev (Russia) - 45

•David Cameron (UK) - 43

Average Age: - 51.1

Approximately - 51 years

DIFFERENCE: 25 years

What this list tries to show, in simple terms, is that Africa, a Third World entity, has not developed because it is saddled with old men who lack the vibrancy to lead their nations in the modern age. At the end of the tabulation, a question was posed: “Guys, how do we move forward with this old squad?”

To answer this question, each African has to look at the situation in their own country and see what is really changing. In Nigeria, a sea change occured in 2007 when Umaru Yar’Adua, 56, was made president at the end of the tenure of Olusegun Obasanjo, who was then 70. But Yar’Adua’s rule did not last as he succumbed to a debilitating illness and died this year. The current president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, is a 53-year-old. According to the standard set by current African leadership ethos, he is still young, but judging by the standard of developed nations, he has passed the mark a little. And if he wins next year’s election and rules for another four years, he would be 58 years old –– much younger than Obasanjo when he was elected but still on the wizened side.

It is heart-warming that there are, at least, two younger persons gunning for Nigeria’s presidency today. Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State is 48 years old while the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, is 50. Both have a record of integrity. While Saraki has made great strides as governor, Ribadu has shown that it is possible to fight corruption in Africa. Apart from Jonathan, the leading candidates for the presidency, however, are not these two but three men of yesteryears: Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, 69; Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, 68, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, 64.

This means that it will take a long while before the “new breed” are able to upstage the old from the top post, unless, of course, Nigerian voters change the rules by electing a young person as president as their counterparts did in the U.S. and the U.K. Whatever the case, young people in Africa should begin to seek elective offices on their own merit. They should campaign for votes and not lean on the support of the so-called elders or godfathers. Any young person who is able to sway the multitude to his/her side would make the elders fall in line. They should have the will to do this.

The youths may not have the money to bribe the voters, but their will and goodwill would see them through. In 2007, at age 51, Pat Utomi campaigned vigorously for president on the platform of the African Democratic Congress (ADC). Although he did not succeed, he showed that a confident and competent young person can seek the throne and perform creditably. That’s what Obama and Cameron did and succeeded. So, why not an African?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Problem With Desperados

So much has been said about the propensity of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to count on the meaning of his first name to reach great heights in life. It is related that right from kindergarten, the man had leaned on a smiling providence to lift him up from obscurity to the limelight. The same streak of good luck has followed him right to where he is today.

It was in politics that his luck shone brightest. He never ran for an election on his own. He always skipped from being a deputy to a principal: the Bayelsa State governor found himself in trouble when Jonathan was deputising for him, and he gave way for the latter to ascend the throne; President Umaru Yar’Adua got into deep trouble with his health, and he died. Jonathan became the most powerful man in Africa. How much luck could one ask for?

All this while, there was no proof that the ever-smiling man coveted positions of power and influence. They dropped onto his lap from the heavens, like manna. Well, until now. Today, when the potentials power holds for him are most glaring, Jonathan appears to be running out of luck. For the first time in his life, he is standing in front of millions asking to vote for him. Now that he knows what it means to be president, he also knows what it could mean not to be president. Now he is working hard to remain in his seat. Hard luck, many persons are committed to snatching it from him. The desperation is mutual on both sides.

Jonathan, who might not have even worked hard to marry his wife, is no longer counting on good luck. He has to work for it the hard way. And he is not taking any chances. The presidency of Nigeria is not one you get through sheer luck. Political power is slippery, and those raising the stakes so high for him – the other candidates – are also formidable opponents.

But Jonathan does not want us to believe that he is desperate to get elected. It is those others that are, he tells us. It is not a do-or-die affair. In his Facebook update on Tuesday, he accused his opponents in the race of what he described as “dangerously anxious to the extent of hitting some of us below the belt.”

For me, it sounded like somebody saying, “Look, I’m the one who’s desperate, but don’t tell me I am.” This is because the president has exhibited this instinct on more occasions than can be counted, much more than those he denigrates. He also keeps showing that his desperation is growing by the day as the general elections draw near. I have a small list of such inauspicious moments:

• The forced resignation of national chairman of the ruling PDP, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, because he did not believe that power should return to the South because of Yar’Adua’s death. He voiced concern that some people were working on making Jonathan run in the presidential contest;

• The president encouraged a group of Northern politicians to sponsor a “national summit” in Kaduna which endorsed his decision to contest in the 2011 polls. This group was a crude counterbalance to another Northern group which had earlier said the region would not back any move by Jonathan to participate in the election because the North’s turn had not expired;

• Jonathan’s unintelligent denial of the zoning agreement within the PDP when even a primary school pupil could point it out in the document;

• The president’s absolution of the MEND from the twin bombing in Abuja on Independence Day when every fact before and after the attack had shown that it was indeed the terrorist group that carried it out. The ongoing trial of MEND leader Henry Okah in Johannesburg and subsequent investigations by Nigerian security organisations have fingered unequivocally at only one group for the crime – MEND. Jonathan had reckoned that a terrorist attack in the North by people from his own state would question his capacity and sincerity as president of Nigeria and so tried to deflect attention from them in such a disingenuous fashion.

• The government’s smear campaign against the strongest opponent of Jonathan in the 2011 race, former president Ibrahim B. Babangida (IBB), in order to discredit him and force him out of the contest. IBB has been called names by the Goodluck/Sambo Campaign Organisation and by some shadowy groups linked to the president. Only this week, “former leaders” of MEND were reported to have stormed Bayelsa, Jonathan’s home state, asking the Federal Government to investigate the murder of journalist Dele Giwa – as if the matter had never been investigated before. Besides, this looks like the case of the kettle calling the pot black – a group of “former” and proven criminals asking the authorities to punish a suspect;

• The smear campaign against IBB and his supporters included the failed to link him to the Abuja bomb blasts. We should also not forget the fact that Chief Raymond Dokpesi, the director of IBB’s campaign organisation, was disowned by some political leaders from his native Niger delta region because of his refusal to follow Jonathan. Chief Edwin Clark, the octogenarian leader of the group of elders, is the mainstay of the Jonathan presidency from the region. Dokpesi was further threatened by MEND, who said that they would hurt him, his family and his business outfits for his effrontery in backing IBB;

• Jonathan’s attempt to force an amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 to allow all his ministers and aides to serve as delegates in the forthcoming primary election. After the Senate had rejected the bill, another attempt of the president to sneak the bill back into the House of Representatives was reported this week;

• The attempted “coup” against Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State to remove him as chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum because of his refusal to back Jonathan in the 2011 election and replace him with a compliant Governor Gbenga Daniel. The move, which failed woefully this week, was orchestrated by some governors who are hell-bent on making Jonathan the elected president of Nigeria.

Need I provide more proof of Jonathan’s desperation to cling to power through the 2011 election? Yes, the president has a constitutional right to contest. The problem is his denial of his party’s internal agreement to which he was a signatory and all the other crude tactics he and his campaign team are employing in order to remain in office. One can understand that a man who has never won an election on his own merit would now want to prove his mettle in the ring. But should he be so desperate? The problem with desperados is that they can say and do anything in order to get what they want. And with the instruments of power in their hands, they can be dangerous.

Jonathan should prove his electability through good works now that he is in the saddle, as well as good conduct through his pronouncements and actions. The burden of incumbency has put more responsibility on him than on any other candidate. His campaign team’s spitfire reactions to the other aspirants are uncalled for. They only go to prove that the president and the people he gave the job of helping him win the election are not so sure of themselves, do not trust the good luck he has been known for, and would do anything to win – by hook or crook. That does not sound palatable to our young democracy.

Published in LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, last Saturday

Monday, 1 November 2010

Migration To The Digital Media

By Ibrahim Sheme

A tectonic shift is taking place right now in much of Europe’s mass media industry. The traditional media as they are known globally – print edition newspapers and magazines, as well as television and transistor radio – are transmuting into digital versions that reach out to audiences that were hitherto contemplated only in fairy tales and sci-fi. The reason for this is mainly due to the explosion of internet use and the coming of new media devices and the social networks, both of which have caused a sharp, life-threatening decline in the sale of printed copy news journals. This decline has brought a crisis among traditional media because a fall in revenue means only one thing: a reduction in staffers and eventual shrinking of departments, a feature which can only lead to closure of businesses. The war of survival began long before the arrival of the new electronic devices which brought a rosy side of the bad story.

But war and crisis are sometimes good for some businessmen. Consequently, eagle-eyed media entrepreneurs on the continent have since discovered the vision of exploiting the crisis faced by their newspapers by investing in the new media heralded by the amazing evolution of technology. Side by side with their ownership of traditional media systems, these entrepreneurs are building digital media companies that are making up for their huge losses in revenue and promising greater harvests. For those European innovators, the future is already here.

This much I discovered here in Istanbul, Turkey (from where I write), during a two-day conference this week, organised by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). I have heard from top managers how various media organisations are making a bold migration from traditional media to the emerging digital one. It’s like watching people rushing into Noah’s Ark while you are left standing alone on an island that’s being flooded. Speaker after speaker captured the event’s imagination with lurid tales of the humongous profits they are making from the vast market forged by the new technologies. And I wondered: God, where are we? I mean, those of us in developing nations where poverty, poor reading culture and lack of vision have combined to stunt our progress. In our countries, few media managers have woken up from the slumber of operating traditional media. The obsession is still with the printed copy tabloids, banner advertising, supplements and classifieds. The prospects offered by digital media are yet to be fully appreciated, and only a handful of operators are willing to step into the new genre. The imperfections of running a traditional media system is still tolerated as if it is a straight-jacket that cannot be changed or thrown off.

In Nigeria, however, there is a small stir among media organisations towards the new appreciation. Some companies, notably Leadership, The Punch, Next and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) have begun to break new grounds by introducing ‘‘news on the go’’ through cell phones. For a small price, you get headlines of the major news stories of the day. But for these companies, that small fee, translated into millions of subscribers, can simply mean huge revenue at comparatively lower cost of production. This small step exemplifies the immense potentialities embedded in digital media business.

In Europe, the new media groups are not satisfied with uploading news stories onto their websites as most Nigerian newspapers are doing or hurling one-liner news summaries at subscribers for a tiny monthly fee; they are selling not only content to their millions of subscribers but are also attracting advertising from business organisations. In doing this, they launch separate internet companies specifically for the purpose of promoting the new media business. All over the continent, internet traffic is exploding. New devices such as the iPod and smart phones like BlackBerry are presenting great opportunities that are ready to be exploited. These devices, which work like hand in glove with social networks such as Facebook (which has 5 million users worldwide and growing), Twitter and Myspace, can be fully exploited by the hard-nosed entrepreneur.

Moreover, the “new” media networks are not really new in the real sense of the word. They are only diversifying, using the knowledge they have garnered across the ages, and building separate operations that can work with the new trend. This means that traditional media groups in Nigeria and other developing nations can do the same. Already, the internet market is opening up ever more rapidly. Internet use is growing fast and the new devices are becoming increasingly available. Anyone familiar with internet use in Nigeria knows that the two trends have grown tremendously in the past two years or so. Facebook is a familiar playground for a great number of Nigerian youths.

One secret of success in the field is to be both proactive and different. As Hanzade Dogan, chairwoman of one of Turkey’s leading media groups, Dogan Gazetecilik A.S., said at the Istanbul conference, in order to make yourself attractive to the .com generation, you as a media organisation must be able to make your digital products different and ensure to find the best ways to make use of the new digital devices. Another secret is to start early. Many of the media companies enjoying the goodies of the new genre in Europe are those that took the all-important first step a long time ago when their competitors were prevaricating. Bela Papp, group business development director at Ringier AG, a leading digital media company in Switzerland, spoke of how the 170-year-old family-owned conglomerate made the successful transition to the digital business model early enough and is today reaping millions from its investment. Another secret told by Mr Papp is that the company keeps a tab on mobile phone development. “We move fast with innovation, knowing there are big players out there who are interested in the same ideas,” he said.

Another secret is that you do not have to be a newspaper owner or big operator of an existing media house to be able to go into the digital media business. You could begin by launching a web site for classifieds, for instance, selling advertising space to car dealers, restaurants or used goods, and then diversifying into attracting clientele from banks, insurance corporations, GSM providers, etc. The important thing is to prove that the site is accessible to users through computers and smart phones.

The greatest beneficiaries, however, would be those that have traditional media systems in place. Reliable media names also count. Existing groups can sell themselves through self-ads on their own media outlets and can show that subscribers can derive other benefits, such as exclusive news of politics, sports and entertainment, as well as analyses and commentary by respected columnists. The important thing for existing media companies is to monetise their internet content through exclusive offerings to their subscribers. To achieve this, Nigerian media companies may need to collaborate through associations such as NPAN. But as it happened elsewhere in Europe, some companies may not want to play along for one reason or the other (mostly selfish). If that happens, however, nothing stops even one company from making the plunge. With time, as proof shows in the developed information societies of the western hemisphere, others would join the trend in the future whether they like it or not. This is because this is a great idea whose time has come.

Published in LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, October 30, 2010