Through the 60s to late 90s in the entertainment history of Nigeria , cinema plays a vita role. Cinemas are mainly found in the cities. Lagos , as the former capital of the country, has the largest and biggest, and these are always well populated by people who want to see , from Hollywood to Bollywood and Japan . Historically, artistes in Nigeria have not yet started documenting their creative ingenuity in the form of film for commercial purposes. and Ola Balogun who made their films in the 60s got their commercial successes from the cinema, although production costs were really huge.
Since Nigerian artists, as championed by Mr. Kenneth Nnebue with Living in Bondage in 1992, started documenting their own histories–folk-tales, fable-stories and fictional stories on tapes and cds for commercial purposes–Nigerians have come to feel at home with their own histories being documented and they troop out to see them in the cinemas. Although, they still appreciate the foreign films. Indeed, this culture of going to cinema to see both old and new films has drastically changed.
The Casino cinema in Alagomeji, Yaba, Pen Cinema in Agege, God Dey Cinema in Ajegunle, Odion Cinema on Lagos Island, Jebako cinema in Idi-Oro, and of course the Studio Cinema in Mushin are all presently ordained venues for church crusades and services. Some are under many years lease to the church that occupies them and others are completely sold to the church owners.
After a decade of the dead cinema culture in Nigeria , Ben Murray-Bruce the former Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority(NTA), and presently the Chairman of Silverbird Group, invigorated the cinema culture by building two cinema centres, Silverbild Galleria and The Ozone. And several cinema outfits suddenly sprang up like a cobweb afterwards. City Mall, Civic Centre and The Palms cinemas are a few of the Nigerian 21st century cinemas.
Today, Nigerians who can afford the elitist cinemas, that is the new city cinemas, pay between one thousand and two thousand five hundred naira to see either new or old films in the new age cinemas. But those who cannot afford the money troop out at night to watch films of their choice on the streets of Lagos . Actually, the street cinema has not erupted from a vacuum, it came out from the new marketing strategy by the film-sellers, scattered on the streets of Lagos .
Returning from work every night, I see a multitude of people crowding before a mini TV set, which is normally placed on a high shelf, to see a film – from the Island to the mainland and the suburbs of Lagos. At first I had thought that these sets of people were those who had no home to return to– the scavengers, the cart-pushers, the load-carrier, but when I began to take proper notice of the bulk of these , I realized that most of them are responsible people, with office jobs in some cases.
However, when I asked a couple of friends and neighbours about this development, some were of the opinion that anybody who could stoop low enough to see a film on the street at night when he/she should be at home resting for the coming day’s job is not responsible in anyway whatsoever. Some on the contrary agreed that there are responsible people amongst them, but they had this to say: “I cannot do it!” One even asked me if I could do it for any amount of money and I flinched.
Ideally, one cannot talk about this decadence in our entertainment life without pointing a finger to the Satellite TVs, which became the first source of cinema culture breakdown before its resurgence under Nigeria entertainment business men. The story is different now that if you cannot afford DSTV, which usually come with big dish when the satellite television newly came in the 90s, you can now buy HITV, a Nigerian own company.
But as a low income earner, if you struggle to buy satellite TV decoder, either DSTV or HITV and it cost five hundred naira to fuel your mini-generator every night, why would you not decide to join the street cinema club?
Is it now that the effort of Nigerian filmmakers is being recognized worldwide that the entertainment industry, film in particular, should be faced with this kind of plague? “No!” will be my candid answer if asked.
PHCN, an offshoot of NEPA has proven not to be the answer to our epileptic electric power problem, which is the foundation stone on which the street cinema culture is built. Although, campaigns have started on the “light out Nigeria syndrome,” the popular tendency is “LIGHT UP NIGERIA,” which appeared on I-report website, an arm of CNN.
Indeed, if the “responsible” amongst the street cinema goers can have light to watch their films at home, they will rather buy the film than to join in the promotion of street cinema culture which is detrimental to the growth of our film industry and the cinema culture.