Fidelis Duker started his career in 1988 writing drama for the Nigeria Television Authority. Since then, he has produced blockbuster movies. In 2003, he birthed the idea of the Abuja International Film Festival (AIFF), one of Africa’s biggest and longest-running film festivals held yearly in Abuja, Nigeria, for which he sits on the board as the Founder of the event holding for the 18th time in 2021. In this interview with Weekend Magazine, he speaks about the Inspector General of Police Usman Baba’s directive on filmmakers using police kits without permission, among other issues.
What is your thought on IGP Usman Baba’s order that film and skit makers should desist from using police kits without permission from the force?
One of the things that came to my mind when I read that the IGP will begin to sanction filmmakers and skit makers who use police uniforms and kits was that anywhere in the world, although you have a right to sow a uniform, with the security challenges in Nigeria, you need to get the police to give you permission before using their kits.
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Another issue I feel the IGP was talking about is the portrayal of the police in some films and skits. You see a policeman in uniform, putting on slippers. Yes, it is a comedy, it is a skit but how are you portraying the Nigeria Police Force? Even if you have to use the police uniform for comedy, you must also have to explain at the end of your skit that it does not represent the Nigeria Police Force. The reason is that when people who live outside Nigeria see these skits, they assume that is the way our police look.
An argument might be that we have seen some policemen who do not dress properly, but as Nigerians, we must portray our country in a good way. Personally, when I read the report on Daily Trust, one of the things that came to my mind was that it’s important for the Actors Guild of Nigeria, the producers and director’s guild to engage the Nigeria Police Force and see how we can have a conversation.
Kannywood has a liaison between filmmakers and the police to get permission when it comes to using their kits in movies. Does Nollywood have the same structure?
I think it does. I recall that the national president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, Emeka Rollas, had a meeting with the IGP and some other movie producers were in attendance. I am also aware that the movie producers’ association has also had meetings with the IGP on this same issue. I think what the IGP is saying is that there are still some film producers who do not want to go through the right channel like what happens in Kannywood. What the police is saying is ‘engage us; we will provide the uniform and even provide security’. Recall what happened recently where two Nollywood actors were kidnapped. Most of us were worried. You can imagine if we had a good relationship with the police, such an incident would not have happened. We will have security on set.
Do you think the IGP’s pronouncement may be a disadvantage to the police force because there are movies that also portray the police in a positive way, as such the IGP’s order can dissuade filmmakers?
In as much as we know that there are some bad eggs in the Nigeria police force, there are a lot of good policemen. In the last few days, we have seen some erring policemen dismissed from the force. The point I am making is that there must be this meeting point between the police and industry. Yes, some of these skit makers might complain that they will lose money and time in getting police approval but if there is a system like what happens in Kannywood, where there is already an intermediary through the office of the police public relations officers, then it will be good. I know that in Kannywood, they submit their script to the PPRO’s office, they look at it and have a conversation, especially on how to support the filmmaker.
I think the police is concerned about their image. Every agency of government wants to present a good image and for me as a Nigerian, to a large extent, there is a need for this nexus, a meeting point between the film industry and the security agencies.
Even in America, if you want to make a movie, you can buy the police uniform in a costume shop but when it comes to complicated issues where you need to use props like guns especially on the road, you need permission for security reasons.
Do you think the IGP was right with this pronouncement?
I feel the IGP wants a better image for the Nigeria Police Force and the major way it can be done is through entertainment — movies, music, and comedy. All the police want is to work with us to see how they can be portrayed in a good light. I am very happy about recent reports of policemen who were dismissed for harassing citizens in some states in Nigeria. It shows that the police are very concerned about their image.
As filmmakers, it is important that we support them, that is why I would say anyhow you look at it, the police want a better image and the IGP wants a better image for the Nigeria Police Force, so we should support them.
Don’t you think Nollywood should do what Kannywood has done by having a link between the industry and the police?
After those meetings held by the AGN and the Movie Producers Association of Nigeria with the IGP, I expected that by now there should have been an intermediary between the Nigeria police and the industry.
Interestingly, we recently saw what happened with the film censors board where they had this workshop with the Nigeria police, so there have been several areas created in the industry for us to engage with the police. It is for us to exploit it. People are in a hurry to make films and because of that they do not want to follow the due procedure. It is a process.
The police are saying engage us and we will support you. It has been done before. If you remember Tade Ogidan’s film in the early 90s, ‘Hostages’, everything was provided by the police. The Nigeria Police Force even provided him with a helicopter. The police have been supportive; it is up to you to apply, wait for the process and of course play the politics of getting it and you will get these things.
I made a film in 2004, applied for the police uniforms and they gave it to us. It has happened many times but people are impatient to go through the normal channel.
Some people feel that the directive by the IGP is directed to online skit makers. Do you share in their thoughts?
I have seen several arguments on this online but the truth is that some of these skit makers make more money than filmmakers? I have seen a Nigerian skit that has done more than 250 million views.
You must plan your shoot; you cannot just wake up one morning and decide that you need a police uniform to plan your shoot. I think where the challenge should be is the issue of funding. Assuming the police ask for some funds because they ought to ask as they also have to plan for some logistics. I think it is also very easy for us to go to them as an industry and not as individuals.
I expect that by now the skit makers should have an association where their leadership will go and meet the police and inform them that their members are making skits but they will need to know how the police can protect them. And whenever they do comedy skits, at the end of the video they will reflect that it is a caricature of the Nigeria Police Force, and that the project does not represent the police.
The problem they have now is that the skit makers do not have an association and so they are all operating on their own. It is because of the free environment and the fact that everyone is making their own money so nobody cares. It is only where there are challenges that people want to form associations. What I will advise is that as skit makers, they can have an association, engage the police and discuss the challenges they have.