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Inside the controversy that cost ‘Anikulapo’, ‘Eleshin Oba’ shot at Oscars

The Nigerian Official Selection Committee (NOSC) made it official in September that no Nollywood film would feature in the International Feature Film (IFF) award category at the Oscars in 2023. In October, the NOSC reached a no-revote verdict, even after the Oscars organisers extended its submission deadline, allowing the NOSC to reconvene and revote.

In a leaked video published on October 20, 2022, the committee voted 9-6 in favour of the initial vote of September 3, 2022, as the NOSC operates a simple majority voting system. Members of the committee who wanted no revote included Chineze Anyaene Abonyi, chairperson of the committee; Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde; Stephanie Linus; Bruce Ayonote, CEO of Legend Box Office; Adetokunbo ‘DJ Tee’ Odubawo, a cinematographer; Izu Ojukwu, scriptwriter, a cinematographer and director; Yibo Koko, a theatre practitioner; Meg Otanwa; and John Njamah, an actor, director, and producer.

Mahmood Ali-Balogun, the committee’s vice chairman; Shaibu Husseini, an academic and culture journalist; Mildred Okwo, a filmmaker and talent manager; Ego Boyo, an actress and filmmaker; Moses Babatope, managing director at FilmOne Entertainment; and Kenneth Gyang, a filmmaker, wanted a revote. In the video, which was later deleted, allegations of bribery and intense lobbying were cited as the major reason for the unrest in the whole voting process.

In September, the committee voted for three films that made it to the finals, including ‘King of Thieves’, ‘Anikulapo’, and ‘Eleshin Oba’. The association, which was supposed to bring people of diverse creative portfolios into the dynamics of selecting the very best from Nigeria for the Oscars, soon became a body torn apart by this controversy and has seen the resignation of three of its members: Husseini, Okwo, and Gyang.

Kunle Afolayan, the producer and director of ‘Anikulapo’, tweeted a veiled criticism of the body’s decision, saying he would “keep doing my own thing”.

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The NOSC, since its establishment in 2013, has submitted only two Nigerian titles to the Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars: Genevieve Nnaji’s ‘Lionheart’ in 2019 and Desmond Ovbiageli’s ‘’The Milkmaid in 2020. The Academy disqualified ‘Lionheart’ on the claim that it did not meet the IFF’s language criterion as the movies for that category should be more than 50 percent of non-English dialog track; ‘The Milkmaid’ was accepted but did not reach the Oscars’ nomination stage.

As it is described on the NOSC website, an international film is a feature-length motion picture with over 40 minutes, produced outside the United States of America and its territories with predominantly more than 50 percent non-English dialog track. The criteria also allow for animated and documentary films.

The three films the NOSC snubbed were produced outside the US, run for over 40 minutes, and are predominantly non-English dialogue tracks. This has raised the question of whether the committee’s voting patterns were based on the films’ quality or, as the deleted video suggested, through intense lobbying and bribery.

It is the NOSC’s goal to ensure that the awards process is conducted in a fair and ethical manner. The NOSC requires that its members make choices solely from the standpoint of the artistic and technical merits of the eligible films and achievements.

Under the campaign regulations of the NOSC, contacting NOSC members by telephone to promote a film or achievement is expressly forbidden. It remains to be seen if it was for that reason that the committee was unable to submit a movie that would represent Nigeria at the Oscars.

Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, a Twitter user, said the committee had behaved shamefully with its silence and lack of accountability. He tweeted: “This is the question: Does the Nigerian Oscars Selection Committee have to select a film with a chance, no matter how little, of getting an Oscar nomination, or does it have to only consider the basic eligibility criteria set by @TheAcademy? If it’s the former, the people criticising them for not presenting #Anikulapo are misjudging the film and the situation. If it’s the latter, then the decision to not submit a film in 2022 is indefensible; heads should roll. Whatever the case, the @officialnosc needs to explain.”

The regulation also stipulates that any NOSC members that violate the regulation will be subject to a one-year suspension of membership for first-time violations, and expulsion for any subsequent violations.