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By Frankie Edozien

Monday, April 19, 2010


LAGOS, Nigeria. 

When ‘Living in Bondage’,  _ a film about a man who sacrifices his wife to gain wealth, only to repent when her ghost haunts him _ gripped Nigerian audiences in 1992, it ignited the creative juices of artists here..

A lot has changed since that movie, which sold over 750,000 videocassettes was made. When there was virtually no filmmaking, one million plus people are employed by it now.

And, Nollywood productions are seen all over the continent like Bollywood offerings and Hollywood blockbusters, with . an estimated 2,000 films made annually.

 But even with its explosive growth, the themes of its bestsellers have remained constant.

Witchcraft or ‘juju’  in local parlance, and cultism are heavy favorites, reflecting get rich quick schemes to explain how folks go from being poor to millionaires.

For years though, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, the founder of the nonprofit Communicating For Change (CFC) has sought to use Nigerians love of drama and entertainment to change behavior.

She has produced internationally acclaimed documentaries on female mechanics, Nigeria’s leading women market traders, know as ‘Cash Madams’ as well as programs promoting democracy and good governance.

Recently, she began collaborating with Nollywood directors.

“Documentaries reach a certain segment of the population but not everyone is attracted to documentaries, so halfway through we said lets try and be more popular, she said from CFC’s offices tucked away on a quiet street in Ikeja, a commercial hub here.

Back in 2002, CFC produced an attention grabbing 52-part radio drama on conflict resolution, exam fraud, cultism, health education and more.

Their  method is simple.

CFC  makes programming aimed at changing behavior, but using research data on problems in the country. 

When the HIV/AIDS began to severely impact Nigerian youth CFC produced seven dramas  based on the experiences of youth in the oil producing Bayelsa state.  

Many dealt with navigating safe sex issues on college campuses, unplanned pregnancies where the young fathers disappear, and the severity of not seeking counseling testing for HIV after unsafe sexual behavior.

 “The films are a synthesis of the research. Everything that came into the film you can trace it back to something someone said in the field.  That link with the audience, what works, what doesn’t what is believable and what is not has been a big factor in our success,” Obiago added.

When U.N. statistics showed the Nigeria had the second highest rate of maternal mortality in the world with some 144 women dying daily attributable to pregnancy related complications, CFC embarked on its most ambitious project yet.

They brought in health experts and  screenwriters and took all of them to a seaside resort for some solitude and brainstorming and three issues emerged.

Cultural barriers to seeking treatment included complications of early marriages; getting the husband’s permission to go to a hospital and indecision as to when to seek prenatal care.

The idea was to teach screenwriters how to produce dramas using research findings on safe motherhood.

 “It was now up to them to find out how do we pull all of this information together and come up with a fantastic script, not just to inform people or educate people but also to entertain them,” said Bolaji Fati, a producer.

Three shorter films were produced and a 90-minute feature is in development. All were screen in December 2009 at the Silverbird cinemas in here.

The production got a boost when Nigeria’s best known and highest paid director, Teco Benson, agreed to direct two installments pro bono.

Benson is known for his horror movie Six Demons and hit Mission to Nowhere.

“I was attracted by the topic and the credibility of CFC,” Benson a former head of the Association of Movie Producers.(AMP) who also runs TPF studios.

 He said his own interest in public health made him accept the job even though he had a big project on hand.

 “They have really done works that touch on virtually all works of life. And the amazing thing is that they spend a lot of time and resources in research with a view to educating the viewers and changing their bad attitudes,” the director added.

 CFC is a nonprofit and its maternal mortality project was made using some funds from the New York based, Ford Foundation.

In February 2010, at least 60 of the some 100 TV stations executives saw the films.   CFC is providing the series as usual to them for a nominal fee (about $300). The stations will air the works repeatedly for the next year.  TV stations rarely commission their own work.

Silverbid Cinemas, the largest movie chain in sub-Saharan Africa, is supporting the project by airing them in its cinemas as previews to its main events.  Its television arm, will air them.

 Even with the 100 TV stations and close to 5,000 cinema screens CFC keeps looking for means to get its message out.

It has partnered with luxury bus companies that transport the bulk of Nigerians from city to city and provides DVDs or videocassettes to drivers to screen the films.

“The whole point is that  we are trying to be popular, we are trying to reach out to the grassroots, we are trying to use visual language that is understood,” Obiago said.

Going forward, CFC has signed agreements to have its films translated and broadcast in East Africa and marketed elsewhere as they try to change attitudes around the continent.

Edozien is the director of the Reporting Africa program at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Institute. He also edits the African Magazine.



Photo Captions: CFC team at their Lagos production facility.  Phillip Mmuo, Bolaji Fati, Padma Ugabe, Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago and Chichi Uzuegbu

External links

ON YOUTUBE  Bayelsan Silhoettes)





Communicating For Change Fan Page





Unesco Institute of Statistics




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