August 17th, 2020, took a monumental turn as Nigerian actors, producers, singers, and the general populace began an online protest, seeking the reopening of cinemas.
The online protest, which was tagged #SaveCinemas, gained massive attention from the streets of Instagram down to Twitter with top entertainment influencers like Falz the Bahd Guy and Omotola Jalade Ekeinde taking the lead.
These entertainment giants flooded their timelines, airing their opinion, expressing their grievances on the effect of Covid-19, and the damage that an extended lockdown of the industry will cause the entertainment sector.
Nigerian Songwriter, Rapper and actor, Falz Folarin Falana wrote on Twitter: ‘Right now, we don’t see anything but a government that contributes little or nothing to its creative sector and continues to attempt to stifle the sector in every way.
Thousands of People have been left without any way to earn for several months. Restaurants have opened, airlines have been operating, places of worship have also been permitted to reopen. Let’s not even start to talk about all the videos that have surfaced of political rallies happening, clearly neglecting all safety precautions. The entertainment industry must be allowed to gradually get back in Business!!
Let’s start with cinemas reopening with all safety precautions in place!!’
Seasoned actress, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde wasn’t left out in the campaign, as she took to Instagram, sharing her lament: ‘I believe cinemas are easier to monitor and regulate. If other indoor places are open, why not the cinema? Temperature checks, masks, distancing, etc. We need to work together to ensure safer ways to keep the arts going. Many livelihoods depend on this. It can and must be done as safely as possible.’
Nigerian filmmaker, Steve Guska, buttressed on the importance of the entertainment to the society and how bad the extended shutdown will affect their revenue. He wrote: ‘The ability of the film industry to grow and sustain itself is gradually linked to how much money films earn in various windows. The cinema is a very important revenue source. Keeping them shut has dire consequences for the industry.’
Rita Dominic, Osas Ighodari, Toyin Abraham, Bellindal Effah, all threw in their support for the campaign. With texts and videos, they communicated the imminent death of the entertainment industry if the government doesn’t intervene.
The national lockdown, however, began in Nigeria on 30th March 2020 placing major cities like Lagos, Abuja, and Ogun on lockdown. Today makes it exactly 143 days cinemas have been closed, leaving over 5,000 entertainment inclined jobs empty, displacing millions of Nigerians.
Nollywood is recognised as the second-largest employer in Nigeria aside Agriculture, second largest film producer in the world, with a production rate of about 50 movies per week and 5% contribution to the nation’s GDP.
Lockdown and Locked Down
The beautiful rays of hope shone on the year 2020 for the industry. Between 17th – 19th of January 2020, cinemas generated about 75.9 million naira. However, the advent of the pandemic knocked the sector so hard to near crumble. The industry’s revenue dropped by 20.8% from 75.9 million naira to 60.1 million naira by the first weekend of February and a further drop to 54.9 million naira at the beginning of March, crashing further to 45 million naira at the second weekend in March.
The industry’s revenue keeps moving down the slope with each month of the extended lockdown. Tragically, as each month passes by, we wouldn’t know what will be left of Nigeria’s entertainment industry.
Nigeria currently has only 45 cinemas, all of which have been shut down following NCDC policy on social Distancing and restricted on social gatherings. The restriction has brought Zero Patronage to cinema establishments.
Diverse means have been tried to keep movies and songs afloat but efforts keep hitting the rocks.
Netflix streams of movies would have been an alternative saviour for Nigerian Film distributors as they could earn and market their art on these platforms, but the cost of expenditure makes it an expensive option. Netflix comes with monthly subscription plans; Basic, Standard, and Premium which cost $8.99, $12.99, $15.99. With the high rate of dollar pegged at 1 dollar to 382.69 naira, a Nigerian Netflix user will be spending an average of 3438 – 6116 naira every month, and about 57,324 naira yearly.
The lockdown really affected the performance and the general acceptance of movies by the audience. Movies that were expected to gain global recognition and accolades have been drowned in the waves of Covid-19.
The glamour attached to popular Nollywood movie ‘Sugar Rush’ has been snuffed out, ‘Living in Bondage’, ‘Merry Men’ and its likes—the producers of these movies wail for their losses just as cinema owners are in anguish over accumulated rent which they will have to pay for occupying halls they didn’t use.
According to Nairametrics, Mercy Johnson’s The Legend of Inikpi which was premiered on Silverbird Cinema on 24th January 2020 generated 7.4 million at its first show. With the pandemic threatening activities, its revenue dropped to 973 thousand naira by February with an estimate of 801 viewers. In the early days of March viewership reduced to 269, and later a loud fall to 126 viewers in the last weekend of March.
Hope and Relief
The dawn of every day brings pain to cinema operators as they watch their investments waste away. According to the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria CEAN, the entertainment sector has lost over 22.5 billion naira during these past 5 months.
The public outcry of investors, stakeholders, and consumers of the industry seem to be meeting deaf ears as the government of Nigeria is yet to give a direct response to their lamentations.
It could be recorded that Hadi Sirika, the minister of Aviation announced on Monday 17th, 2020 that international flights will begin operations from the 29th of August, 2020. Markets and religious centres have kicked off fully, the educational sector has not been left out as exit classes are already in session – WAEC exams and First School Leaving exams ongoing, with JUPEB and Post-UTME to kick off from September 7th – 17th, 2020.
It wouldn’t be a bad option if the federal government gives the entertainment sector an opportunity to function again with adequate safety measures put in place; mandatory temperature checks, use of facemasks and hand sanitizers, coordinated social distancing in the cinemas, and top-notch hygiene practices.
A delay in the reopening of these theatres poses adverse effects on the economy. Entertainment staff who have been out of jobs for 5 months might resort to diverse and questionable means for survival.
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However, it is necessary that proper health analysis is carried out before the reopening of cinemas, as hasty decisions will place the lives of Nigerians at the risk of getting infected by the virus.
Until proper strategies are mapped out, reopening of cinemas will still remain another pending national issue.
Chisom Nnachi is a student of University of Nigeria, Nsukka