• Saturday, July 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Ebola, malnutrition, starvation and Nollywood

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Nigerians are generally considered to be generous both by themselves and outsiders. This myth is further strengthened by the interest shown to members of the external family – although this interest may sometimes be exaggerated as depicted in many of Nollywood’s themes. There is no doubt that Nollywood is the third largest film industry in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood. There are many dissimilarities in each of these genres of filming and the industry backing it in Lagos, Bombay, Los Angeles.

The Hollywood celebrity, like the models in show business or in the coute hautre, tend to be generous, give time and money to worthy causes, are eager to be appointed United Nations ambassadors for one cause or another. European royalties are sometimes recruited for these causes. For example, Princess Diana was recruited to fight AIDS and to raise money to clear millions of landmines in Angola.

Bollywood and Nollywood have yet to see any humanitarian work of note. Many of the Indian actors and actresses are extremely rich and lead a lavish lifestyle. They and their Nigerian counterparts have “foundations” or so-called non-profit NGOs – pseudonyms especially in Nigeria for tax evasion or collecting money from US and European charity foundations. So natural disasters in India and Nigeria have not seen a sou or penny from these entertainers swimming in millions. Their lifestyles are followed slavishly by their adoring fans – what cars they drive, who is sleeping with whom, who has divorced this and that, where they holiday in Europe, the US, The Caribbean, Middle or Far East, etc.

During the 1990s when starvation nearly wiped out many of the children in Ethiopia, it was an English man Bob Geldof and an American, Bono, who got fellow artistes together to sing “Do they know it’s Christmas?”. Many black Americans were featured in that song – Steve Wonder, Michael Jackson, etc. The song raised consciousness about the ravages of starvation in Ethiopia and raised millions of dollars towards fighting it.

There was not a squeak from India and Africa. Ebola is here now and these same two musicians – Geldof at nearly 70 and Bono – are again in the forefront raising money for Ebola victims. Justin Timberlake has sent millions of mosquito-resistant tents to Africa; George Bush, for all his wrongheaded policies in Iraq, yet struck it right when he sent millions of dollars towards fighting AIDS in Africa.

What are Africans doing for Africa? I meet hundreds of Nigerians rushing around claiming they work or own an NGO. Scratch the surface and you are overwhelmed by the stench of greed and selfishness. This is 419 in a different garb.

Nigeria has had many natural disasters. The only concrete result, as in anything Nigerian, is a dusting-up of an old institution and renaming it the civil defence force. They now wear a uniform and try to model themselves along military lines – all with Federal Government money. They even asked for the right to bear arms!

Ebola is raging in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Two hundred and sixteen of our sisters and children were abducted by a terrorist organization. Who publicized these catastrophes – foreigners? Who is sending money and personnel to fight these evils – foreigners? Are we not ashamed that Nollywood played a significant role in getting Nigeria to be the biggest economy in Africa? Largest economy in Africa is unable to discharge its humanitarian obligations? It is true that the wives of several governors have undertaken one form of humanitarian work or another but the cynic in me does not feel that the activities of the governors’ wives are not self-motivated for selfish ends. I hope I am wrong but there is evidence to support my cynicism.

We had a disastrous flood a year or so ago. The president appointed Aliko Dangote to head the relief organization. He donated several million of naira which, of course, he could, to the scheme and we have heard nothing since. It would seem that his appointment was aimed at his donating money rather than for the grander goal of mobilizing public support for help towards alleviating the tragedy. On Chibok, why can’t Nollywood and the music industry put on shows the proceeds of which will go to the rehabilitation of the girls (whenever found), their broken-hearted parents and families?

The Europeans have again done it for us on Ebola. They are raising billions to fight it. Even Cuba has the largest contingent of doctors and nurses. The US is sending 3,700 military, Britain a medical ship and personnel, ECOWAS and AU have now belatedly sent doctors and nurses to these Ebola-ravaged countries. What is still lacking is public participation – because such participation would encourage a culture of humanitarianism.

I had an interesting debate with an African artiste in London on Ebola charity. He claimed that he and many of his colleagues have been having charity concerts for Ebola and Chibok but the wicked Western press had refused to publicize these efforts. That I should pay no heed to Bob Geldof and Bono, who, in the 1990s, were washed-out and washed-up failed rock musicians who used the starving children of Ethiopia to revive their flagging music careers as they are now doing again with the Ebola song – a repeat of “Do they know it’s Christmas?”. I asked him to take me to one of these charity concerts and I would make sure it was publicized in Nigeria. As for the flagging fortunes of Bob Geldof and Bono – well, there are many artistes in Nigeria whose fortunes are flagging – why can they not organize a concert to publicize and show sympathy for Chibok and Ebola victims? I do not know.

All our musicians go to parties organized by the president, governors, Senate president, etc. They strut their stuff, customize their lyrics to suit the occasion and go home heavy-laden with gifts and money from Government House. The Nollywood trade union went to see Mr. President who gave them a fat cheque of N250 million. I have no idea why they should need any money and what they will do with such largess. Predictably, the association, salivating at such amount, broke up into factions. Yet no concert for Chibok or Ebola!

I do not think members of the entertainment elite are any more wicked than the rest of Nigerians, but since they are avid copiers of all things Hollywood, perhaps the concept of humanitarianism should equally be copied.

Patrick Dele Cole