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Nigeria Needs a Better Arts and Culture Town

Can Nollywood learn about agglomeration effects from Hollywood?

Nigeria is known for its oil wealth. Abuja, the current capital, was built in the 1970’s by the federal government during an oil boom and the country moved most government offices and civil servants there from Lagos. However, in addition to building Abuja during that boom, the Nigerian government also took on another audacious relocation project, Festac Town.

Festac Town was built in 1977 to host around 45,000 visitors, along with Nigerian employees, for the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC). The town was built to evoke modernity and it was equipped with all the necessary infrastructure and services. At the conclusion of the festival, the Nigerian government allocated the housing and landed properties via a raffle.  

Although the festival itself was a grand event with performers such as Stevie Wonder and Gilberto Gil, Festac Town today is generally considered a failed project. The town is an isolated residential community that causes significant stress on its residents due to arduous commute times, failure to maintain the infrastructure, and disputes between the federal government and Lagos State over revenue collection. Most of its residents complain about the distance between Festac and the parts of Lagos where most of the commercial activity takes place. Put another way, there aren’t a lot of ways to earn money in Festac Town.

While wrong policies and excesses arguably led to Festac, the original ideas around the importance of black and African art and culture are still important today. Nigerian music and movies are popular globally and Lagos is generally seen as a cultural hub.

A clear example of this is Netflix’s active role in Nollywood, Nigeria’s movie industry. Nigeria’s National Bureau for Statistics estimates that the Nigerian film industry accounted for about 1.4% of GDP in 2013 and 2014 and employed over 250,000 people directly. The World Bank estimates that Nollywood produces 50 films each week, surpassing Hollywood’s output. 

 Despite the wealth Nollywood has created, there is no arts and culture hub in Nigeria that fans can drive through and stare at the grand studios where the movies are made or the mansions where the celebrities reside. Ironically, in commercials for early Nollywood movies, the addresses of the distributors were often announced and addresses such as 51 Iweka Road Onitsha will ring a bell for most Nigerians. Onitsha, a trading city in south east Nigeria that was an important trading port for the Royal Niger Company, was critical to the physical distribution of Nollywood cassettes and DVDs.

Today, Nollywood production has gotten bigger and better and the content has gone global, however, there is still no such address. Obviously, internet-based distribution requires no physical address. However, production does. This, in my view, presents an opportunity for the injection of long-term capital in the Nigerian entertainment industry.

Lagos is overpopulated and expensive. There is an opportunity for Nigerian movie production to find a new home. There are benefits from agglomeration effects. Having all of the Nollywood talent in one place could improve production quality and quantity. Not to mention, there’s the cultural value of having tourists visit and see the studios.

A new hub for Nigeria arts and culture could be in the outskirts of Lagos, or in Ekiti and Ondo, which have a vast topography and business-friendly atmosphere well suited to moviemaking. Many towns in Nigeria are starving for the sort of economic activity that movie production can bring to an area. Some towns that were previously sustained by activity such as groundnut and cotton farming would benefit greatly from Nollywood’s presence.

Just like the early investors moved to Hollywood because of its cheap land and scenic views, long term investors in Nollywood should consider concentrating their production studios, perhaps in a growing city, to create the foundations for a growing entertainment industry.

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