One of the industries that gravely suffered during the COVID-19 lockdown was the entertainment industry. The lively hoods/revenues of those in was the entertainment industry were put on hold as the world tried to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. Cinemas, clubs, restaurants and live shows were put on hold until further notice. Cinemas were shut down for 6 months, and on August 11th as Nigeria announced the reopening of restaurants, cinema goers wondered how long will the government keep cinemas closed? This is a question that has been on the minds of many, including actors, cinema houses and movie-loving Nigerians.
Going to cinema and film houses is one of ways Nigerians love to relax and have fun, but this option was taken away in March when a total lockdown of the economy was imposed and cinemas had to be shutdown to curtail the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
As refreshing as it is to hear that cinemas re-opened on the 11th of September 2020, Lagosians and Rivers state’ residents were, however, not as excited as the cinemas in those states will remain closed till further notice. This was disclosed by the Chairman of Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria (CEAN), Mr. Patrick Lee, who further expressed high optimism around how soon an agreement will be reached.
In an interview with Business Day Media, Co-CEO, JORG Technologies Ltd/ Nairabox, Tokunbo Adetona mentioned that “cinema-goers in other states have been welcomed back since Friday 11th as government validated safety protocols have been implemented and online ticketing through Nairabox had commenced”.
No specific reason has been given by the Lagos state government since they took to their Twitter handle to say that the restrictions on the opening of bars, restaurants, lounges and cinemas despite the relaxation of the curfew by the presidential task force.
This is coming less than a month after the trending hashtag #saveourcinemas, which saw many Nigerian celebrities take to their social media accounts to appeal to the Federal government of Nigeria to re-open cinemas.
Popular actress Omotola Jalade Ekehinde on the 17th of August 2020 took to her Instagram page to appeal to the government to reopen cinemas. Her Instagram post read “I believe cinemas are easier to monitor and regulate. If indoor places are open, why not the cinemas? Temp checks, masks, distancing e.t.c. We need to work together to ensure safer ways to the Arts going. Many livelihoods depend on it”.
Ama, a 25 year old young lady who loves to go to the cinema, every Friday night with her fiancé has said “not being able to go to the movies in the last six months has turned my fiancé and me to Ludo lovers, as this game has stolen our Friday cinema ritual”.
Some other film lovers when asked how the cinema closure experience has been pointed that NETFLIX became the new normal for them and by the end of April; the majority said that they had literally seen all the movies showing on the platform.
In Adetona’s opinion, “Lagos State has excelled in its efforts towards curbing the spread of the pandemic in the state but honestly, I believe at this point the benefits of opening now outweigh the challenges considering all the safety measures have already been put in place”.
“The safety measures implemented by cinemas varies but we see most operating at only 50 percent capacity, maintaining social distancing for queues and seating, more online ticketing to encourage contactless payment, use of face masks and gloves by staff, sanitization of the screens and a redefined concession stand”, Adetona mentioned.
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Nigeria’s film industry is the second largest in the world with respect to the number of films released annually and this sector contributes about 2-3 percent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), from its annual revenue of over N200 billion. BusinessDay can therefore say that for the 6 months cinemas were closed, a minimum of N102 billion has been lost as far as revenue is concerned.
The film industry is also a large employer of labour and has been estimated by the World Bank to provide as much as one million jobs to Nigerians.
In the face of the lockdown, it, therefore, means that many had been made jobless since the job opportunities provided in this industry was halted.
The shutdown of cinemas has also negatively affected the intense multi-million dollar investments made in cinemas in the form of MX4D, IMAX & 4DX theatre halls, as investors have pulled out while the others are pushing to get their money back.
Nairabox like many other movie ticket seller was deeply affected by the closure of cinemas in Nigeria.
In the words of Adetona, “the closure of cinemas was a bummer for us at Naira Box. Food delivery became our saving grace during the lockdown as online food delivery became a lot more in demand by restaurant owners and customers alike. Luckily we were able to pivot to that quite fast, redirecting our resources towards Nairabox food”.
We can only hope that all cinemas in Nigeria are open when deemed fit, as over sixty countries around the world with more severe statistics on COVID-19 have re-opened their cinemas.