I knew this day would come, the storm would soon gather for the controversial $200 million Grant Jonathan gave to Nollywood in the thick of his first election in 2010. But I never knew the first shot would be fired by no other person than Nollywood veteran actor Lari Williams in an interview published online.
Williams early in the week queried how the now controversial fund was disbursed. “There was a cash grant for the development of arts in Nigeria disbursed to the sector by the immediate past president but the practitioners do not know how the grant is being disbursed. We need to know how the funds given to the sector is being disbursed because the growth of Nigeria’s entertainment industry will be enhanced by such money if well utilised. Let’s restructure the industry to give a better foundation for the entertainment sector to grow the way it should,” he said.
It would be recalled that immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan on November 7, 2010 during the 30th anniversary of Silverbird Organisation, gave a grant of 200 million dollars to the nation’s entertainment industry.
The former president said that his administration was determined to pursue a policy that would assist and grow the nation’s entertainment sector from continental to global brand. He charged entertainment practitioners to use the loan to produce quality music and movies that would create more jobs for people and make the country proud.
The funds were said to be domiciled with the Bank of Industry (BoI) for eventual disbursement to artists who were able to come up with viable business plans. Williams also emphasized the need for the nation’s artists to be well groomed in the fundamentals of the craft they practice. “The decline in the creativity of sculptors, painters, poets, writers and musicians could be attributed to the lack of facilities on ground to harness these talents.”
Now that Williams had asked the question so many people have been eager to ask since the money was donated to the industry; maybe one should re-echo it for emphasis: Where is the money? What is the state of the money? Who has benefited from the grant since 2010? We are talking about $200 million here and not 200 thousand naira and if by now the impact of a whopping $200 million is not being felt across the entertainment industry, there is urgent need for the presidency of Mr. Muhammadu Buhari to beam his searchlight on the activities of the Bank of Industry as regards the fund.
There was an allegation some time ago that the soft loans were only being given to people that a certain actress close to the government of Jonathan ‘endorsed’ as a ‘friend’ of the president among entertainers. Letters of ’recommendation’ and verbal endorsements were being signed and given by this actress who according to sources had access even to the private quarters of Jonathan as she was regarded as a ‘daughter’ by both husband and wife. She was quoted to have threatened an actor who was perceived to be against the failed re-election bid of Jonathan with words like: “I will block you in this industry; you are working for opposition abi? Let me see how you will get that ‘thing’.” That ‘thing’ according to people in the know was the soft loan from the Bank of Industry.
So I agree with Lari Williams, president Buhari should find out what really happened to the money and why the industry is yet to experience some form of breather in terms of quality productions, infrastructural development among others. Nigerians deserve to know if Jonathan used the money as bait for entertainers to be loyal to him as well as become his chaperons during 2011 and 2015 elections as witnessed that period. It should be queried why it took almost four years and another election looming, for the few people that have got the loans so far, to get it.