“Stop it, stop it,” a dark-skinned lady says as she races towards a blood-seeking mob who had broken into the premises of her father’s company. “Who is in charge here?” she asks as she tries to bring calm to the chaotic scene. A man who apparently is in charge steps forward. “Quiet,” he signals to his crew to pause their show of violence. A light-skinned man dressed in a brown native attire watches from a distance as the dark-skinned lady listens to the man in charge.
And so did the opening scene for Lionheart come to view.
The worldwide distribution rights of the movie, which is the directorial debut of Nigerian actress Genevieve Nnaji, was purchased by global streaming platform, Netflix, a day before it premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. This move by Netflix made Lionheart the first Netflix original film produced in Nigeria and this was no ordinary feat as the deal meant that no one aside the global streaming platform had the rights to display, sell or distribute the movie.
“Nollywood stands a good chance of going global anytime soon, but language is the only problem that stands as a barrier,” Genevieve told CNN’s Richard Quest on 'Quest Means Business', when she spoke on how the movie was funded.
However, while for Genevieve, language may be the only barrier for Nollywood’s international status, back home in Nigeria, piracy is one vampire feasting on the blood of the industry.
Acting on a tip-off that physical copies of Lionheart had hit the streets, SaharaReporters decided to investigate and find out if there was any truth to it.
Market within a Market
In Nigeria, markets are sectioned according to the goods one wants to buy. If one wants to buy cattle at an affordable rate, Wudil cattle market, Kano is the place to go to; in need of vehicle spare parts, Ladipo Mushin is perfect; for electronics, Alaba International Market, Lagos comes to the rescue. However, in the past years, Alaba market has become infamous for the thriving business of piracy.
On Wednesday, January 16, 2019, SaharaReporters journeyed via Isheri/Lasu Road to Alaba International Market, Ojo, with the hope of purchasing several copies of Lionheart and other movies. Our reporter acted as an unemployed graduate seeking to invest in the marketing of movies.
Alaba International Market is a very busy place, as transactions, both legal and illegal, begin as early as 6am, according to a guide this reporter met upon arrival at the market. The market is divided into sections, so as to allow buyers navigate easily. There are sections for clothes, electronics, musical instruments, furniture, among others.
Referring to a disco light on his left side, a trader who came to act as guide, pointed out the entrance to the movie and music marketers' section. He also had a shop in the area.
In case you decide to visit the music and movies section of the market, once you see several banners and flyers displaying adverts of the different movies hanging between two shopping complex buildings, just know you at the right place.
“Do you have Aquaman?” we asked the shop attendant. Aquaman is an American movie currently showing in Nigerian cinemas. The first three shops our reporter visited did not have Aquaman. The next two shops we went to had Aquaman, but Lionheart was unavailable. One copy of Aquaman was bought from one of the shops in order not to draw any attention.
The search continued for Lionheart at different shops. “Wetin you wan buy?” a voice inquired on seeing the confusion on the reporter's face. “You get Aquaman?” came the answer. He signalled in the affirmative and asked the reporter to follow him to his shop.
There is no empty space in Alaba market. SaharaReporters followed the trader to the back of a shopping complex, which would have been filled with darkness but for the light coming from the generating sets of traders. After a few seconds, he pointed to a man seated in the shop. Apparently, he worked as a scout. He went off to get other customers.
The following conversation ensued:
SaharaReporters: Oga do you have Aquaman?
Shop attendant: No.
SR: What about Lionheart?
The man givesa stern look as though reading the mind of the reporter to know if he had good intentions. He stretched his hands to remove a disk placed under a table beside him. Lo and behold, he fished out Lionheart.
SR: How much?
Shop attendant: N200
After much back and forth, with the shop attendant insisting on N150, the reporter went in search of a lower-price alternative. Unfortunately, no other shop located within that vicinity had the movie. Our reporter went back to the shop where he had earlier seen the movie.
Another round of bargaining began and after much deliberations, the reporter agreed to pay N150. However, at this time, the shop attendant suddenly changed his mind. He was no longer interested in selling.
Our reporter continued his search, visiting about four different shops, until he met a man who showed interest. He directed the reporter to another shop.
Inside the shop was an assortment of compact discs. This time, the shop attendant was female. People kept trooping in and out of the shop such that it took some time to get the notice of one of the sellers.
Here, Aquaman sold for N100. And Lionheart was also available.
The shop attendant stretched her hands towards the shelf where copies of the movie were displayed. At this point, SaharaReporters asked about the possibility of investing in the business.
"So you are buying to resell?" the woman asked after listening to the reporter.
SR: Yes, ma.
Shop attendant: How many copies do you want to buy?
SR: We would like to buy seven for now to test the market.
Shop attendant: Since you are buying to resell, we sell it N60 per copy.
This reporter reached for the movies and counted seven copies. A sum of N500 was handed to her for the seven copies. However, in the process of trying to get the balance of N180, the price was jacked up from N60 to N70. According to her, the movie sells for N70 each and not N60. All appeals to her to sell for N60 hit a brickwall. That was Lionheart was purchased for N70 per copy. Having transacted and carried out the major business of the day, the reporter inquired about recent Nigerian releases such as King of Boys and Chief Daddy.
"We don't sell Nigerian movies. The only reason we sell this (Lionheart) is because it is Netflix. They usually arrest anyone who sells Nigerian movies, especially those that are showing in the cinema," she said.
What the Law Says
Piracy is an epidemic hitting the Nigeria movie industry and Genevieve Nnaji's Lionheart is the latest fall victim of the infamous 'Alaba marketers'. According to the Copyright Act, which is embedded in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, piracy is a crime punishable by imprisonment or a fine.
No. 42 of the constitution states as follows:
"Any person who sells, rents, hires or offers for sale, rent or hire any work in contravention of the prescription made pursuant to subsection (1) of this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both such fine and imprisonment.
"Any person who without the permission of the commission imports into Nigeria or has in his possession any anti-pricay device prescribed under this section or any machine, instrument or other contrivance intended for use in the production of the anti-piracy device, is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N500,00 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both such fine and imprisonment.
'Any person who without the permission of the commission is in possession of; reproduces; counterfeits any anti-piracy device prescribed under this section is guilty of an offecne and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N50,000 or imprisonment to a term not exceeding five years, or to both such fine and imprisonment."
Sahara Reporters reached out to the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) for comments, but when the number (07098812628) on the commission's website was dialed, the response was that it was "incorrect".
Attempts were also made to contact Genevieve but her reply was still being expected as of press time.