Nollywood as an innovation to transform society

Nollywood" is not a place. It is just a coined term from the word "Hollywood” that refers to movies produced in Nigeria. Nollywood  began after the success of Ken Nnebue’s Living in Bondagereleased in 1992. 

Kenneth Nnebue had an excess number of imported video cassettes, so he decided to use them to shoot a film. The huge success inspired others to produce other films or home videos.

The industry is worth N853.9 billion ($5.1 billion) as of 2014. It has become the second largest film industry in the world by way of  the number of annual film productions, placing it ahead of the United States and behind only India cinema.

Even though the name Nollywood has an uncertain origin, it apparently appeared for the first time in print in an article by Matt Steinglass in New York Times in 2002.  It has other competing names such as  ‘Naijawood’. However, Naijawood is not as popular  as ‘Nollywood’ among film audiences. 

Besides agriculture, Nollywood is credited to be the largest provider of employment in Nigeria. Figures released by the Nigerian Statistical Service at the end of its recent re-basing of the economy showed Nollywood alone contributes 1.4 per cent to the GDP. 

This is a confirmation of the fact that the industry is boosting and transforming the Nigerian economy through the provision of jobs.  Also, a report released in London  by Euromonitor International and Reed Exhibitions Limited, organizers of the World Travel Market (WTM), predicted a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in Africa as a result of the boom in Nollywood. This is contained in a report, titled: “WTM Global Trends Report 2012.’

The flexibility of distribution occasioned by the use of VHS, Video CDs (VCD) and Digital Videos (DVD) assist in no small measure in the development of the industry. It enables an innovation in marketing techniques.  The success of Nollywood  is a clear evidence that taking ‘cinema’ into the private space is a profitable endeavour.

Several things have aided Nollywood's growth. Inefficiently run state-run television and slow internet connections mean there is little competition for entertainment. Also, the law limits foreign content.

A fall in the price of digital cameras and increases in average incomes make for profit margins. Yet the same conditions exist in many developing countries, but this has not inspired vibrant film industries.

Insiders say Nollywood has a strong connection with its audience. Its movies are made for Nigerians and other Africans. The audience gets interested because they can feel the anguish and the passion of the characters. The movies are the experiences they face in their daily lives.

Additionally, many Nigerian movies have cultural undertones to them. The audience can watch, relate and understand the themes. They end up disappointed with movies that ape Hollywood and Bollywood, even though they understand what is going on. What appeals to Hollywood fans differ from what appeals to fans of Nollywood.

The businessmen behind Nollywood have followed a similar path from upstart to mogul. They collaborate to control supply. They fight to beat down production costs. They are building an entertainment sector without precedent in Africa.  But they are handicapped by the low unit price of their product.

Apart from this, there are few investors and no studios. Market traders have to act as financiers and directors to cope with the problem. All scenes are shot on location. Most of the financiers are based in the vast jungle of Idumota. Studios, in the physical and the corporate sense of the term, are unknown. There are no lots, no sound stages and no trailers for the stars. 

The next level is for structures to be built. Nollywood has to build a network of distribution, film festivals and capacity building initiatives. Experts say it has to go back to the basics. Without it, they say, Nollywood would be a thing of the past, just like the popular Onitsha Market Literature in Eastern Nigeria in the late 50s and 60s.

In a multipolar world, Nollywood’s growth implies that cultural diversity can grow as globalization persists. Its strength overcomes the belief of many scared that globalization will lead to the standardization of cultural production and shut out less powerful voices. Instead, Nollywood promises the growth of a multipolar world. It shows the possibility that smaller nations can withstand the onslaught of Western consumer culture.


Adetokunbo Abiola, Journalist, Benin City, Nigeria
Adetokunbo Abiola, Journalist, Benin City, Nigeria