The story, which very quickly attained folklore status, is often told of an African American resident of the Big Apple who owns a club in New York. One day, he placed big television screens in strategic corners of the club and as long as the leisure facility remained opened, he played only Nollywood movies on them, non-stop. When asked why, he said that he wanted to show New Yorkers and other Americans that Africans don’t live on trees. He had never been to Africa but watching Nollywood movies got him filled with a sense of pride that Africans are human and in Africa, there are beautiful people, homes, cities and a rich cultural heritage. Talk of the power of storytelling!
The launch of AfricaMagic Igbo could not have come at a better time. M-Net, owners of the AfricaMagic channels that avail Africans with platforms to tell their stories from their perspective, is following a tradition of excellence that has long trailed its operations. The launch of AfricaMagic Yoruba was hailed as a highly strategic move which helped to display the rich Yoruba culture in all its glory to a global audience. Thereafter followed the launch of AfricaMagic Hausa, a development which surprised quite a few people who were hitherto unaware that a vibrant movie industry existed in the northern part of the country.
Long seen as a region that had a monolithic culture and language, even in Nigeria particularly down south, the channel exposed the rainbow cultures and peoples of the North to people in other regions. While the business sense of launching channels for Yoruba and Hausa language content is self-evident, as these languages are spoken far beyond Nigeria’s borders and would therefore naturally help to expand Multichoice’s subscriber base beyond the country, the Igbo channel also poses a strong business case as the Igbos are naturally migratory. They are usually found in large numbers in virtually all African countries, driving business and commercial activities.
Long before the coming of the AfricaMagic channels, Nigerians had no choice but to be served content from other places. Remember Good Times, The Jeffersons, Some Mothers Do Have Them, among many others? Although there was a movie industry then, it was largely restricted with a very small target audience. Not only was the content on TV alien to the culture, language and lifestyles of Nigerians, there was also a dearth of opportunities for talented Nigerians to showcase their craft to the rest of the continent and indeed the world.
With the availability of eight AfricaMagic channels, there are boundless opportunities for content providers – movies, sitcoms, drama, documentaries, music, name it. All of a sudden, there seems to be an explosion, or renaissance, of the African people and their cultures. Perhaps it is not happenstance that the availability of platforms for self-expression for Africans is directly linked to the phenomenal growth in the entertainment industry across Africa, with Nigeria rightly referred to as the entertainment capital of Africa.
The AfricaMagic Igbo channel is already expected to rival existing channels in the AfricaMagic channel line-up as the Igbo people are deeply rooted in their culture which is quite colourfully and richly expressed in proverbs and wise sayings. A glimpse of what the channel will offer has been seen in the influence of the Igbo culture and nuances on Nollywood movies. If the great storyteller, Chinua Achebe’s portrayal of the Igbo culture in Things Fall Apart is anything to go by, then viewers are set to be regaled with flicks ranging from drama, dance, movies and general entertainment. The Igbo culture is renowned for its food, tradition, and language; but perhaps most prominent is the culture’s affinity for proverbs, a feature which many viewers can expect to get a healthy dose of on the new channel.
Beyond the entertainment value that AfricaMagic Igbo will serve is the business potential particularly around the entertainment industry in the eastern part of the country. AfricaMagic Igbo is expected to have the same positive impact on businesses in the entertainment sector such as content providers, leisure, among others in the same fashion that AfricaMagic Hausa and AfricaMagic Yoruba had on businesses in the entertainment sector in the northern and western parts of the country. While mainstream Nollywood is based in Lagos, there is a vibrant movie production business in Kano, Jos and Kaduna, feeding the AfricaMagic Hausa channel, while the Ibadan-Abeokuta-Akure axis also has a thriving entertainment industry feeding AfricaMagic Yoruba.
M-Net, while announcing the coming of AfricaMagic Igbo, stated that the channel will be a 24-hour general entertainment channel dedicated to showcasing the best of Igbo language entertainment content from Nigeria. This, the company announced, is part of its on-going development strategy. Igbo entertainment content has always played a role in the development of the Nigerian film and television industry and it is only proper that this content, which showcases the rich Igbo culture, is given a platform where is easily accessible by audiences in the country and across the rest of Africa. The channel brings to eight the total number of Africa Magic channels, and is the third indigenous Nigerian language channel, after Africa Magic Hausa and Africa Magic Yoruba.
Perhaps one of the strongest contributions of the AfricaMagic brand is in the area of linguistic diffusion. The channels have since served as a tool for both speakers and non-speakers to learn a new language or better the speaking knowledge of either Hausa or Yoruba.
With the launch of the latest AfricaMagic channel and its potential to kindle growth of Igbo content and businesses in the entertainment sector, not only in the eastern part of the country but also in Lagos where there is a large population of Igbos, contribution of the entertainment industry to gross domestic product is expected to keep growing. Estimated at 1.2percent of Nigeria’s rebased GDP of US$510billion, this figure is set to rise as there is a direct correlation between platforms that spur the growth of businesses and businesses taking advantage of the opportunity to grow. At Multichoice’s 20th anniversary event, the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission, Mr. Emeka Mba, while recognising the pivotal role that the company is playing in the booming entertainment industry, stated that the company has brought world-class broadcasting to Nigeria and in the process unleashed an economic multiplier and a wave of enterprise development schemes on Nigeria’s socio-economic terrain. The launch of AfricaMagic Igbo will undoubtedly help to maintain that growth trajectory.
Akeem Ogunlade is of the Centre for the Promotion of Enterprise and Business Best Practice, Plot 908 Njamena Street, Off Aminu Kano Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja