Over the weekend, news came that Sugar Rush, the latest Nollywood blockbuster which started showing on Christmas Day, had been pulled from the cinemas. This was a curious move considering the film has already banked 100 million Naira at the box office. Films that popular don’t get pulled unless there’s something amiss.
So, what was the order from above?
The key players involved with the movie have been deliberately vague on their handling of the fall out. Banky W, one of the film’s producers, in a statement released on his Instagram page said : “If you saw @sugarrushmovie and loved it, or if you planned to, please read our statements… We are very hopeful and optimistic that the film will be back on screens in a few days, so please don’t give up on us, and please stay optimistic with us. Your love and support means the world to us. Thank you to @nfvcb for helping us rectify any issues… Pls stay tuned, by God’s grace you will see our film again VERY SOON. Pls stay positive people!! Love you all.” The MD of FilmOne, the film’s distributor, Moses Babatope, has also proved difficult telling eelive “Unfortunately I am unable to provide a position on the film; other than we are working very hard towards its reinstatement.”
That puts the ball in the court of the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFCVB). The NFCVB is the body responsible for the regulation of the films and video industry in Nigeria. Its board is empowered to classify all films, register all films and video outlets across the country and to keep a register of such outlets. Effectively, a movie cannot be shown in cinemas without its say so which would suggest Sugar Rush had passed its test and fulfilled its regulatory requirements. However, some questions need answering. Sugar Rush is conspicuously missing from the list of approved movies for the December 2019 period published on the NFVCB website. Said list was published on the 8th of January, 2020. Screenshot inserted below as proof. The Board in a statement made via Twitter suggested that the temporary approval given to the movie has expired.
Do we believe this?
Of course not. There’s no official record of the issue but on an objective basis, it’s hard to believe the producer, director and distributor would be so coy if the issue at hand was just a case of simple expiry of its temporary approval.
Reading between the lines and surveying the climate, a more instructive point emerges. Find below some quotes from a Sugar Rush review published by Premium Times.
“The film follows the Sugar sisters (Adesua Etomi-Wellington, Bimbo Ademoye and Bisola Aiyeola) who accidentally discover 800, 000 dollars in the house of a dead, corrupt man.
In the next couple of days, they spend the money in part only to meet their waterloo when some mafias come forward to claim ownership of the money.
Third, ‘Sugar Rush’ sacrificed crucial social engineering moments at the altar of laughter. It was unwise to have federal anti-corruption agents abduct the Sugar sisters for illegal interrogation given the present situation in the country.
In a nutshell, the gist is that a certain anti-corruption agency took offense to its portrayal and has consequently sought to respond by pinching the film’s promoters where it hurts. Were this a one off, perhaps the government and its agencies would get the benefit of the doubt. However, this is very relevant in our understanding of this administration and its methods. Regulators come up with a desired outcome and then proceed to work backwards to actualize that outcome. Governance by shakedown. In a supposedly civilian dispensation, this is particularly unacceptable as it again makes a mockery of any notion of due process. The lack of transparency on the part of the regulator also destroys public trust as it allows them to be portrayed as lapdogs of their paymasters.
The censorship of artists is as bad as it can get in what is supposed to be a democratic dispensation. Works of art are, perhaps, the most important tools of social engineering, for good and bad, and when they are shut off arbitrarily without cause or reason, signals are being passed across to the citizenry that something is off when stakeholders can come together to thrash out misgivings without the unnecessary show of belligerence.
The real concern, however, goes beyond the poor attempt at censorship of artists -it is poor because the attempt at a clampdown is only going to arouse curiosity and potentially help the movie rally goodwill – the real offense is the potential chilling effect this could have. The idea of a “chilling effect” takes its root in U.S jurisprudence on the basis that “the existence of an unconstitutional state statute might inhibit the exercise of first amendment freedoms was the primary justification for those decisions establishing a more receptive approach to affirmative federal court litigation contesting the validity of such legislation.” Bad laws are not just bad because they are bad -they are bad because they deter people from exercising their rights rightfully. What happens to that script writer writing a film about some well-debated moment in Nigerian history? She shelves the film because she deems the stress not worth her while? That is the real issue with the government and its attempt at censorship here and more prominently, the Sowore case. It’s also why though the obvious need to protect their investment necessitates the vagueness of the promoters, there needs to be a definitive account and a call to action in the future.