The Punch

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

$200m Entertainment Fund: Kene Mkparu is first beneficiary

Akeem Lasisi

At a session the World Bank recently held with some top players in the entertainment industry, the Chief Executive Officer of FilmHouse, Kene Mkparu, revealed how he secured part of the Federal Government's $200m fund for the sector, writes Akeem Lasisi

L-R: Radwan and Mkparu


Venue; Radisson Blu Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. Officials of World Bank were having a meeting with some select top players in the entertainment industry in the country. Purpose: to launch a book titled, The Untold Story of Growth and Employment Potential in Nigeria's Entertainment Industry.

The event also discussed matters that can advance the sector - to smoothen the path for a major financial intervention the bank intends for the fast-growing but embattled entertainment sector.

Discussing issues of funding, distribution, piracy and technical requirements, the session made a lot of progress because participants that included World Bank's Lead Economist, Ismail Radwan and another official of the bank, Chioma Nwagboso; Nolllywood's prime movers such as Kanyo O. Kanayo, Joke Silva and Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, were mostly frank and exhaustive in their submissions. Also in the house were songstress Onyeka Onwenu; the Managing Director, Mnet, Biola Alabi; and Chief Executive Officer of the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria, Mr. Mayo Ayilaran.

In the course of discussing ways to achieving an enabling environment for World Bank to put its money in, however, one thing led to another. For instance, challenges in accessing a $200m fund announced for the industry by President Goodluck Jonathan came up. Several film makers had complained that it was almost impossible to access the fund. Indeed, when Jonathan held a meeting with youths at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Lagos months back, celebrated actress, Rita Dominic, had spoken the minds of many frustrated stakeholders when she told the President that it was too difficult to make a headway at the Bank of Industry, through which the fund is being channelled. According to her, the practitioners had become helpless because the bank was demanding collateral they could not afford.

The digression at the World Bank forum was going to take the same direction when the Chief Executive Officer of FilmHouse, Kene Mkparu, pleasantly shocked his colleagues with good news that they found too real to believe. Although Mkparu would not disclose the actual amount, he informed them that he had secured a facility good enough to build eight cinema houses across the country. He urged others to obtain necessary information from the bank management, enlighten it where necessary as he conceded that the bank has very little knowledge of how the entertainment industry works.

"The fund is real. It exists. It happened," he declared.

He added that those who were claiming that the $200m fund was phantom were wrong.

Mkparu explained, "What I hear is a lot of hearsay. Many of our people are actually not going to Marina to get information. Some who go there just go with a script or a sheet of paper. It is not a grant. The bank expects you to state how the money will come back."

On the issue of collateral, Mkparu, a former Managing Director of Genesis Cinema, noted that it was also real, but it was, in his word, 'relaxed'.

"The issue is that they will ask for their own collateral," he added. "But you also go there with what you have. You then negotiate and try to convince them. I must note that BoI too does not understand this business. I have educated them in my own case and that is what everyone should do."

Silva enjoined the World Bank to invest in capacity building. According to her, the Nigerian entertainment industry needs a lot of grants.

"One million youths apply for admission annually. 300,000 can only be taken. That is where people like us can come in by training the youths in different sections of filmmaking," she said.

While she too noted that BoI was "looking at a lot of us favourably", the Chief Executive Officer of Storm Records, Obi Asika, noted that part of the dilemma was that the bank (BoI) was more interested in asset-based financing.

Although Kanayo and other participants were eager to know what concrete measures or programmes would come out of the World Bank's deliberation - they are tired of talking and talking at fora - it is obvious that the global financial institution still had to go back to the drawing board and develop a strategy based on the submissions made.

Among participants that gave insightful information at the session were the Principal Partner, Fountain Head Group, Babi Subair, who spoke on 'The Roadmap of the Nigerian Entertainment Industry'; Head of New Business Development, Universal Music Group International, Gerrard Foster, (Promoting and Positioning Nigerian Artists/Labels to a Global Audience); and a Partner at RaceCourse Capital, Chukuka Chukwuma, who spoke on Film Financing.

Music entrepreneur, Gbenga George, declared that his company has sold six million CDs/VCDs through retail - although he also lamented that piracy and other social problems were slowing down business.

Renewing the World Bank's promise, Radwan told the practitioners that it would deploy its stature to fighting piracy and help in the rebranding and upgrading of the industry.

He said, "Everyone agrees piracy is a problem. We are going to put most of our resources in fighting piracy. We will fight with the EFCC, the police, NCC, NFVCB and other relevant agencies. And we will assist filmmakers to go to festivals."