Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ken Nnebue: Father of Nolllywood


here is a much used and slightly cliché saying that goes “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. This has been the metaphor used to describe the modus operandi of many entrepreneurially and otherwise successful persons across the world. Many famous, infamous, influential and very well respected media and communications moguls such as Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Silvio Berlusconi and even the very late William Randolph Hearst, in some way or another, have been noted to have formed their empires out of seemingly abject and sometimes sordid circumstances. Nevertheless, whether by divine intervention, sheer luck, opportunity or intense effort – these entrepreneurs have made names for themselves for sustaining very lucrative businesses, while setting standards and creating blueprints for younger aspiring media practitioners and business owners around the world.
Kenneth Nnebue, a Nigerian born and raised video store salesman had a consignment of imported blank cassettes in his video store stock for which he thought he had no use. His first instinct was to attempt to sell them, and he tried, but to no avail - because at the time there was no market for such an item. Nnebue, pondering on what he could do to get rid of the blank tapes, came up with the idea of putting some kind of content on the tape in order to make them more appealing to people. This enquiry on his part led him using that resource - which was those tapes, to record a ‘home movie’ titled ‘Living In Bondage’ in 1992. The expectedly low-budget film chronicled the actions of a man who kills his wife as a ritualistic act to gain wealth and power, but is tormented when she returns as a ghost to haunt him. It was an entertaining mix of comedy, drama, suspense and of the supernatural.
This venture on his part yeilded in the sale of some 750,000 copies of his movie across Africa. He, under his production company, NEK Links, had overseen the making of up to ten of the most popular and most lucrative home video films like ‘Glamour Girls’, ‘The Maid’, ‘True Confession’ and ‘Lost To Lust’. He had enjoyed the dominance over the entire industry until the idea was adopted by others. Kenneth Nnebue today is considered by many in Nigeria to have given birth to the now explosive Nollywood Industry – the third largest film industry behind the likes of The United States of America and India and its famous ‘Bollywood’ movement (Ogbor, 2009).
Nigeria currently has a $250 million US dollar movie industry, producing an appoximated amount of 200 home movies per month, which is a cultural staple within households in the country and among the diaspora. This industry was born out of an era full of odds where film-making was an extremely elitist activity with back-breaking production costs, the images that were being disseminated were either from a colonial standpoint or from an Indian or Oriental feed, and where the government had been putting some restrictions on their beloved theatre industry.    
Nnebue’s sense of innovation behind this particular venture is seen in the fact that no other product like this was in existence at the time and there was an absolute need for people to have a tangible representation of a cultural staple at the time which was their beloved ‘street theatre’ in their homes, schools, and other public forums.
What is intrinsic of the entrepreneurial practices of some of the aforementioned media tycoons is their determination, adaptability, and their ongoing innovativeness that is absolutely necessary for the sustainability of the products or services they offer. Steve Jobs for example, up until his death, constantly sought to upgrade his products to suit the ever changing market and needs of his consumers. On the other hand, Nnebue, although he showed some traits or attributes of a person who was poised to become a very successful entrepreneur, seemingly failed to remain as resourceful and innovative as he was years after he made his first couple of films.
Regrettably, there is not much to be said about or much said by Nnebue’s personality or personal life, as he has managed quite well to remain ‘under the radar’. There doesn’t even seem to be any record of any direct quotes from the mogul pertaining to his thought process or reasoning behind making the moves he did. Many of the most successful moguls have been able to pass on the knowledge of how they did the things they did and what type of mindset is necessary to follow in their footsteps. Nnebue, although it was not completely necessary, failed to do this. As a matter of fact, I may be able to deduce from his actions or lack thereof after the release of his first film to corner the market by copyrighting his works and ensuring that he received full credit for his invention, that he was quite heedless to making any long term goals in the industry. I do not think that he remained quiet because he was a ‘private person’ like many wealthy moguls claim to be, or that he is simply shy. I do believe, however, that he may have been outsourced, overpowered, and forced outside of the very lane he had created for himself with this venture. This is an absolute shortcoming on his part, and is strongly recommended against in entrepreneurship or business on the whole.
Nonetheless, his initial vision, curiosity  and appetite for risk-taking allowed him to open the door for many other Nigerians who have taken to making their own living through the home movie industry within the country and other places on the African continent like Kenya and Ghana. Nnebue showed how salesmanship-oriented  he was when he was able to spot an opportunity to diversify or shift his stock in order to appeal to the masses and maximize his profits – if even on a short term basis. Although he is not currently ‘sitting’ on an empire, he has under his belt a wealth of movies to show, experience, and great respect for showing that entrepreneurial vision that has sparked a movement so great in his country that will enable economic stability for years to come.
The business of film in general, and home movies in this case, is plagued with problems of copyright infringement and extreme levels of piracy. It  is then understandable how the revenues for the film-makers like Nnebue who have churned out a number of films over the past years which have recorded staggering amounts of viewership, have not met its full potential. The ‘bootlegging’ phenomenon, coupled with the oversaturation of the home movie market, has put would-be wealthy entrepreneurs at a disadvantage where they are able to produce their own features but have to suffer seeing others profit from their work without prosecution or compensation.
The state of the home movie industry in Nigeria now, is such that the market is absolutely flooded with films that portray the same themes, have the same actors and actresses, filmed at the same locations, and are sold at the same price. It is a long cry from being in the ranks of innovative for this fact. However, it is not impossible for avenues to be opened up from which something new and fresh can emerge, just like it did at the inception of the home movies. The attributes then, that would be necessary for maintaining this hypothetical business successfully, that Nnebue may not have had a chance to combine to create a lucrative long term business for himself would include:
·        Focus
·        Adaptability (to the market, the societal surroundings and the economic climate, for example.)
·        Problem solving ability
·        Resoursefulness, and
·        Continued innovativeness - to name a few.
Kenneth Nnebue is admired today not for having a longstanding, lucrative, business and for building or creating his own tremendously wealthy empire – but for being curious, innovative and risk-taking in his quest to make a decent living. These traits had enabled him to act upon a simple idea which has sparked a movement that has spread widely across Africa – and changing the face of digital media and its consumption in Nigeria.


  1. Brother
    Kenneth Nnebue is now doing the work of HIS Heavenly FATHER - witnessing for our lord Jesus Christ. Halleluyah. This is a far better testament of him