Saturday 7 May 2022

How Democracy Vibes articulated 'Protecting Creativity Through Participatory Reforms'

(L-R) Nollywood actor, Norbert Young; drummer, Aralola Olamiyiwa; Journalist, Jahman Oladejo; and founder/director, Abuja International Film Festival, Fidelis Duker... during the summit.

ON Saturday, April 30, 2022, Democracy Vibes, a summit on censorship and artistic freedom, was organized by Unchained Vibes Africa at the Freedom Park in Lagos.  It was a hybrid event with many delegates physically in attendance and others participating virtually via Zoom webinar. The theme of the summit "Protecting Creativity through Participatory Reforms" inspired meaningful policy dialogues and debates among stakeholders and delegates revolving around censorship, actions and inactions of state and non-state actors as well as laws and regulations hindering artistic freedom in Nigeria. 

The event was attended by a total of 302 delegates from across Nigeria, representing various fields of the creative sector, civil society organizations (CSOs) and relevant key government agencies. There were 247 delegates physically in attendance and 55 others who participated via Zoom webinar.

The government delegation was led by the Executive Director/CEO of National Film and Videos Censors Board (NFVCB) Alhaji Adedayo Thomas; the Secretary to the Commission, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Dr Igomu Onoja and the Chief Public Affairs Officer, National Human Rights Commission, Mrs Ivy Acka.

The artistic community delegation had in attendance veteran actors, musicians and theatre practitioners, including the matriarchal Dame Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, OON, Norbert Young, Ara, DJ Bola Browne and Eedris Abdulkareem. Leaders of the creative industries in attendance included the National President, Directors Guild of Nigeria (DGN), Victor Okhai; National President, Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN) Dr Ahmed Sarari; Executive Director, Abuja International Film Festival, Fidelis Duker; Executive Program Director, Culture Advocates Caucus, Jahman Anikulapo; National President, Association of Movie Practitioners (AMPRAC) Ifeanyi Azodo; National Secretary, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) Makinde Adeniran; Chairperson of the Nigerian Rastafari Community and spokesperson for the Rastafari African Continental Council, Myke Pam and the president of Creative Arts Students Association (CASA), University Of Lagos, Michael Akinleye. 

The CSOs delegation included the National Coordinator of the Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN) Emmanuel Ikule; journalists from Arise TV, The Nation, Vanguard, ThisDay and New Telegraph newspapers. There were youth delegations including the Chairman, Oyo State Chapter of the Society of Young Nigerian Writers, Kehinde Gbadeyanka; National Association of Political Science Students, University of Lagos Chapter led by the president Ayomide Madojutimi and Law Students Society led by the Secretary General, Tobani Akinwande. 

Stakeholders examined issues of concern over threats to artists’ creativity and freedom of expression as related to state and non-state actions, censorship policies, regulations and laws that restrict artistic expressions. 

Concerns: The Summit raised a number of concerns, including the following:

Artistic freedom of politically conscious artists who criticize policies and actions of the government have been (and continue to be) heavily restricted by state and non-state actors in Nigeria.

Music, film and video contents are being restricted with overly broad rules that threaten artistic freedom with justifications relating to claims of preventing religious and ethnic crisis, guaranteeing national security, prohibiting hate speech and incitement, and enforcing public morality.

In recent years, many artists, especially those in the north, have been arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned over political and religious views in their artistic expressions or for defying the requirement by censors board to submit their content for approval before releasing same.

With recent allegation that Nollywood (Nigerian film industry) is an influencing factor in the rise in ritual killings and kidnapping in Nigeria, state actors are driving new narratives that are unfounded and using it to justify the plan for tougher censorship policies that will further worsen the already restricted artistic freedom in Nigeria.

Stakeholders are not paying adequate attention to the issue of payola, an illegal practice in the music industry in which commercial radio stations are bribed to play certain songs. The illegal practice restricts airplay for conscious music whose creators refuse to bribe. This silences the voices of conscious artists from being heard and deny them of their artistic freedom.

There are genuine concerns about insensitivity of some artists to cultural and religious issues that may trigger violence.

Exposure of children and teenagers to excessive nudity, drug, cultism and gangsterism through music videos, are a major concern among all stakeholders.

There are concerns about continued sexual objectification of women in music videos and treating female artists solely as an object of sexual desire without regard to their talent, creative personality, dignity and abilities as professionals.

The menace of demanding for sex from upcoming female singers and actors by music and movie producers, record label executives, TV personalities and other influential practitioners in the creative sector remains a major restriction to women’s artistic freedom.

A section of audience during the summit. 

Observations: Criminal prosecution and conviction of artists for releasing videos without approval from a censors body, amounts to prior censorship, contrary to regional and international law. The United Nations (U.N) Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights has stated that prior censorship should be an exceptional measure, taken only to prevent the imminent threat of grave irreparable harm to human life or property. In most cases, artists pose absolutely no threat of this magnitude to anyone. 

As Nigeria approaches a season of elections and the planned strict enforcement of the broadcasting code to address allegations of fake news, ‘’provocative broadcast’’  and other issues relating to dissemination of information, the freedom of politically conscious artists remains a concern.

While the constitution guarantees fundamental freedoms from which artistic freedom derives its legitimacy, the summit reflected on the challenges posed by and misuse of Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution which provides exceptions where fundamental rights may be restricted.

Criminalization of defamation in Nigeria is one of the key factors hindering artistic freedom in the country. Defamation laws have been used to arrest, prosecute and imprison artists, whereas both the U.N and African Commission have condemned the use of criminal defamation laws and stated that they must be abolished.  While majority of delegates discouraged defamatory content, justification of defamation laws by authorities to seemingly punish artists for directly using music, poetry and other artistic expressions in protesting actions, inactions and policies of political office holders, is deeply concerning and goes against the fundamental principles of an open and democratic society where public officials by the nature of the office they occupy, should be subject to a higher degree of public scrutiny.

Blasphemy law in northern Nigeria is a major restriction to artistic freedom. It is inconsistent with Nigeria’s constitution. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has called on all States with blasphemy laws on their statute books to repeal the same in order to increase freedom of religion or belief, as well as encourage a healthy dialogue about religion. Furthermore, prohibition of what the Broadcasting Code refers to as ‘’casual use of names, words or symbols regarded as sacred by believers of a given faith’’, is problematic. Artistic expression which is also guaranteed under international law, opens spaces for citizens to "reflect upon their society, express their fears and grievances in a non-violent manner, develop resilience after violent or traumatic experiences, including human rights violations, and imagine the future they want for themselves..."

Anti-terrorism, Cyber Crimes laws and Public Order Act were also identified as some of the laws limiting the civic space that have had profound negative impact on artistic freedom.

The word ‘’censorship’’ in the official name of National Film and Video Censors Board, despite several advocacy efforts for the change, remains a concern. Censorship is a colonial legacy inherited and retained by military regimes to stifle freedom of expression.

Nollywood is being wrongly blamed for every contentious content created by other platforms which are not necessarily associated with Nollywood e.g. excesses in skits on social media and incitements on radio.  

Lack of proper structures and well organized professional bodies has continued to undermine professionalism in the creative sector and has worsened the perception of the sector’s practitioners as amateurs, thereby subjecting content created to regulation by government.

There are real issues of corruption, bad governance, insecurity and other vices that traumatize people. Through their works, conscious artists reflect the realities and amplify the voices of citizens to draw attention to the frustrations.

The so-called indecent music has become the dominant and mainstream music in the Nigerian market. It is sponsored and promoted by commercial entities and organized private sector for profit. Artists who are accused of making indecent music are only responding to the demands of the market.

The level of education in the mainstream music scene is low. Artists need music education and training.

Recommendations: In the light of the foregoing therefore, the summit thus resolved and recommended the following;

Guilds and associations in the creative sector should urgently be re-organized with proper structures and professional ethics that are backed by law to function like other professional bodies in Nigeria with mandate to regulate their respective creative industries.

A group should be set up to lobby lawmakers at the national assembly for the repeal of laws inherited from colonial and military regimes that restrict artistic freedom. Provisions that threaten artistic freedom in the ongoing amendment of the National Film and Videos Censors Board Act and National Broadcasting Commission Act should be reviewed and expunged from the  two bills.

Defamation should be decriminalized and made a civil offence in Nigeria. While defamation laws are important in protecting people from false statements that damage their reputation, such laws have been regularly misused in the country by political office holders and powerful people in the society. Criminalization of defamation poses risks for freedom of expression with a chilling effect on artistic freedom. If anyone is offended by a work of art, he or she should go to court to seek redress.

Censors boards’ statutory functions should be limited to classification of works to protect children. Presently, most parents don’t know how to perform parental guidance function. Censors boards should be renamed as classification boards and their priorities should be refocused from censoring artists’ activism to include investing in sensitization of the public on parental guidance to protect children from consuming content that are not suitable for them.

Artists and practitioners in the creative sector are encouraged to work more closely with CSOs as strategic partners for the collective benefit of the civic space rather than working in silos.

The practice of payola should be discouraged. NBC regulation should prioritize sanctions against the illegal practice. 

Artists and practitioners in the creative sector are encouraged to do more in projecting the image of Nigeria. While it is their fundamental right to address social and political realities in the country, reflecting only the bad things is harmful to the image of the country and consequently impact all stakeholders negatively.

Democracy Vibes Summit is an integral part of Defending Democracy Vibes program supported by National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Freedom Park Lagos, World Movement for Democracy, Lakreem Entertainment, Culture Advocates Caucus and Centre for Creative Arts Education (CREATE).

Communiqué signed by Ayodele Ganiu, Executive Producer.                                            

About the organization 

Unchained Vibes Africa is a cultural organization and social enterprise committed to developing arts and culture projects geared towards social causes. Our mission is to leverage the power of the arts to promote civic education, human rights, cultural diversity and the spirit of solidarity in Africa.

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