The Nigerian video industry as an example of import substitution
While doing research in French speaking Benin Republic from 2003 to 2005, the author went
to watch movies in a small video cinema in a popular neighbourhood in Cotonou. Sitting on
planks under a corrugated iron roof in a small room, the locals were enjoying themselves with
a variety of films shown on a big TV screen. There were action movies from Hong Kong,
different genres of Hollywood movies, sometimes Indian movies and loads of Nigerian
movies, especially comedies. 1 Interestingly, these Anglophone Nigerian videos were
delightedly watched by an audience which speaks no or poorly English. Effectively, Nigerian
videos can be found across sub-Saharan Africa and even in the Diaspora abroad. These videos
are not compatible with Western notions of movies and in consequence are barely present at
movie festivals as the prime example FESPACO in Burkina Faso shows. In contrast to
African feature films these videos are part of popular culture. They are speaking directly and
effectively to a mass audience or, in other words, are creating a new kind of public sphere.
The Nigerian video industry developed out of a specific context directly related to the
domestic and international cultural, economic and political environment. It is a heterogeneous
industry that can be roughly divided into Yoruba-, Hausa- and Igbo-videos. These terms are
used to designate centres of production in Northern, South-Eastern and South-Western
Nigeria respectively. There is quite some scientific literature focusing mainly on one specific
production centre and its cultural specifities and on the reception of videos within Nigeria.
This paper focuses on three neglected questions: In the first place, it analyses the three
production centres with an economic perspective on the video production. Secondly, it
assesses the overall economic importance of the Nigerian video industry. Finally, it attempts a
basic approach to evaluate the relevance of Nigerian videos outside Nigeria, as these videos
are by far no isolated Nigerian phenomenon.
The end of Nigerian motion pictures and the rise of Yoruba videos
Nigeria, as other African countries, tried to build up a domestic cinema industry with financial
support by the government, but there is less international support as in French-speaking
African countries. 2 Going to the movies was in the 1960s and 1970s a popular activity in
urban areas in Western Nigeria, but the crowd preferred Indian movies, Asian action movies
and western films to the few Nigerian movies produced as the latter were often too intellectual
and extraverted (Ukadike 2000). However, the crowd was absolutely enthusiastic about local
cultural productions, as the Popular Travelling Theatre in shows. It has a longstanding
tradition: Emerging from in Victorian Lagos in the 1930s and 1940s, it soon combined church
plays with Yoruba masquerade performances and other influences. There is music, dance,
acrobatics and drama in the performances. The Travelling Theatre became popular in Yoruba-
speaking regions 3 and even throughout big cities of West Africa. In the late 1950, there was a
certain radicalisation of Travelling Theatres and an emancipation form its church background.
During its height in the 1970s and early 1980s, at least 100 troupes were travelling around and
performing in Yoruba language (Ogundele 1997:46f.).
In the 1970s, some troupes started to use brief film insertions to visual fantasy actions or
supernatural elements. The Yoruba cultural cosmos with its deities and supernatural forces is
an important element of these plays. They were produced by the lower classes in society,
without addressing class issues (Haynes 1995), 4 and having a broad audience (Haynes and
Okome 1997:22). Performances were also filmed and shown on television. As there was an
economic crisis, films of performances started to replace live stage performances. The
producer-director travelled around the region and showed these films, helped by members of
his troupe. Filming in 35mm was getting to expensive and the artists turned to other formats,
ending up with video. Videos in the Travelling Theatre tradition were produced for public
exhibition with video projectors or video monitors. In 1988, Travelling Theatre artists began
to produce and sell video films for private consumption. There were also some Yoruba
dramas produced for television and sold on video, using stage actors from the Travelling
Theatres. These actors used the videos as a mean of self-promotion, bringing from stage a
theatrical form of overstated expression. Again, the technical possibilities of film were used
for fantasy and the supernatural. The videos based on the Travelling Theatre tradition were
often concerned with conflicts disturbing the “harmony of a traditional community” and there
is often a political critique embodied in this kind of story, as the example of Ti Oluwa Ni Ile
(Tunde Kelani, 1993) shows (Haynes 2006:515). There is a discussion of traditional rulership
and the health of the community in a modernising world.
The oil-boom had made it possible for many Nigerians to acquire technical equipment as
television and video recorder (Ukah 2003; Balogun 2004). The end of this oil-boom had
several consequences. Especially in urban centres, security became an issue and people
preferred home-bound leisure activities as watching videos. Even if there are still sessions e.g.
at the National Theatre in Lagos which are social venues, public screenings became
increasingly rare. Video film producers rushed in to fill the gap and their films are either sold
or rented at video clubs. 5 The videos increasingly emancipated from its Theatre roots, and
resemble Igbo-movies in style, themes and production structures. Many of them are now in
English as those being in Yoruba can hardly be exported to regions beyond the Yoruba(-
diaspora). Furthermore, the use of Yoruba has changed, as a more urban Yoruba mixed with
English and Pidgin is preferred to the classical one used in the Theatre tradition (Okome
While the filmed Travelling Theatre performances had the same social setting as the Theatre,
the videos soon started to leave the lower classes background of the Theatre and to show the
world of upper middle-class. In these early videos the wealth of big men is often accumulated
with the help of witchcraft and other dubious ways, but not by the usual social virtues of that
class, hard work and thriftiness. The wealth is used for conspicuous consumption to attain
(political) status and male power, including power over women. As an analysis of three
Yoruba video films by Ogundele (1997) shows, there are different ways women are portrayed.
Furthermore, there was a certain shift from traditional ideas about womanhood having both
positive and negative aspects to a reduction of women to either wicked witches/prostitutes or
saints. The videos then increasingly left this middle-class focus to include stories about
peasants and the informal sector (Okome 1995). Besides these Juju-movies, there are of
course increasingly other genres as love stories in the Indian fashion, 6 Christian movies (Oha
2002), crime movies or comedy. 7 There is one genre called ere igbalode, where contemporary
themes in the urban setting are addressed (Haynes and Okome 1997:26). Furthermore, some
comedies are satirizing social, political and cultural phenomena in contemporary African life.
In this sense, they are discussing contemporary (social) politics. But most videos are not
overtly political (Haynes 1995; Ogundele 1997). Some of them emphasise conservative
morals and most do rather sell “illusions of change” than alternatives (Lawuyi 1997:447). In
other words: they talk more about surviving with than changing the existing conditions.
Videos are reflecting society, but not shaping it. Social change must happen in society and
videos can at most amplify existing social movements.
There is not much information about the production structures and most scientific work is
dealing with the initial period of Yoruba-videos. Lagos certainly is the production centre.
Videos are very often made in two parts shot at the same time, as this lowers the costs and
increases profits. Two part movies are around three to four hours long and thus longer than
the Hollywood-standard. As when filming stage performances, even now the way of filming
is still very much static: there are long sequences and shots and far less cuts than in
Hollywood movies. The videos are focusing on the actors and their monologues and
dialogues. This talking pattern with lengthy dialogues is familiar from everyday life. Word
play and verbal skills are very important and appreciated. While filming, actors often do not
know what the film is about, as the producers fear a theft of their ideas. Furthermore, there is
not much of a proper scripting but more a skeleton of a script, not only because of the Theatre
Tradition, but also because of the pressure to keep production costs low. There is thus still a
lot of improvisation in dialogues, but not of the same kind as earlier in the theatre (Ogundele
1997:70). The characterisation is often quite shallow and the turns in the story are quite
predictable (Haynes and Okome 1998:110). While there are some highly paid stars, most
actors of the post-Theatre period are hardly paid. If they want to get some money, they have
to produce a video on their own without having the proper know-how. The videos resemble
soap operas with their subplots, emphasis on monologues and dialogues, and low-budget
production neglecting images and sound (Haynes and Okome 1997:26). The soundtrack is
often based on pirated western hits and cheap studio music, having a theme song which is
repeated throughout the story and integral part of the story telling and characterisation.
Sometimes Indian style songs are used as well. Increasingly, they make use of special effects
and more sophisticated production technologies, especially to create tension. Soon, product
placement was used to finance the movies (Haynes 1995). The Yoruba-videos are pretty much
a male business, even if there are some female story- or screenplay-writers, producers or
Videos with a cultural mission? The rise of the Hausa video industry
The production in Hausa lagged behind Yoruba, Igbo or English videos for long time, but is
catching up in recent times. Since the mid-1990s, there is a growing production of videos in
Hausa language (see for Hausa videos Adamu 2002; Behrend 2005; Furniss 2003, 2005;
Johnson 1997; Krings 2005a, 2005b; Larkin 1997a, 1997b, 2003, 2004, 2005). 8 As the
longstanding centre of media distribution in Northern Nigeria is at Kofar Wambai Road
market in Kano, which is also the centre for the production and distribution of Hausa videos,
the northern video industry is sometimes denominated as ‘Kanywood’. These Hausa videos
also developed out of a local theatre tradition, the ‘drama clubs’. They were originating partly
already in the early period of Hausa nationalism and having a revival in the early 1980s with a
young generation of artists. Some of these drama clubs started to get involved in the
production of television soap operas and in the recording of their stage performances on video
(Adamu 2002). The first successful Hausa home video was made 1990 and from 1993 on, the
production of video films emancipated from theatre.
In addition to the theatre, other cultural influences soon became more important for the
videos. They borrow some elements as singing and dancing scenes from Indian movies and
became even quickly more popular than those, creating a massive demand not existing
previously. There is still a demand for Indian movies, but the huge growth of the market is
mostly due to the demand of Hausa videos. Indian movies imported mainly by Lebanese and
sometimes Indian businessmen used to be the most popular movies in Northern Nigeria since
at least the 1950s, replacing American and British productions. 9 Indian movies are by far
more important in Northern Nigeria than they are in the southern regions. Indian movie songs
transcend into popular culture, as they are transcribed by playing the original rhythm with the
local drum bandir and replacing the original Hindi-lyrics into Hausa-lyrics praising the
prophet (Krings 2005b:306).
Interesting enough, the popularity of Indian movies is explained by the feeling that Hindu
Indian culture is ‘just like’ Muslim Hausa culture (Larkin 2003:183). There are some
affinities for example in iconography, but of course there are also lots of differences. This
feeling of similarity is founded in a cultural background emphasising a non-Western
modernity. Indian movies are often about the tension between ‘modernity’ and ‘traditions’,
between love marriage and arranged marriage, between individual freedom and collective
responsibilities and about gender relations. They way these themes are dealt with makes it
easy for Northern Nigerians to identify with these movies. They allow for an imaginative
exploration of tensions in a contemporary non-Western society as Northern Nigeria. There is
thus a feeling of understanding Indian movies, even if they are in Hindi, sometimes subtitled
in English without everybody in the audience having enough literacy in English to read
As Hausa videos, Indian movies are rather eclectic and not that much occupied with
originality highly valued in Western culture (Lequeret 2004). ‘Traditional’ and ‘modern’
cultural influences are easily mixed in Indian movies. Going to the cinema is in India some
kind of pilgrimage to confirm a world order, as Indian movies are in general not casting
doubts on the hierarchies in society. It is furthermore a family activity, in contrast to Northern
Nigeria. Indian as well as Hausa movies don’t follow the 90 minutes standard format of
Hollywood, as they are frequently longer than three hours. It is striking how static and
undifferentiated Indian movies are discussed in the literature on Hausa videos. Larkin
(1997a:413f.) is an exception as he points to a growing westernization of Indian movies,
while they still remain distinctively different to Hollywood movies. Some of the distributors
of pirated Hollywood and especially Indian movies started to get involved in the production
and distribution of Hausa-videos in the 1990s.
Other sources of influence on Hausa videos are as diverse as western feature movies or
traditional story-telling. Yet another source of influence is Hausa popular literature, known as
‘Kano Market Literature’ or littattafan soyayya (love stories) 11 . This literature form
developed as a revival of Hausa literature in the mid-1980s and was getting more and popular
especially among women readers at the end of the 1980s (Adamu 2002). While earlier Hausa
literature was written by well-educated authors, this new form was written by authors less
educated. It is subject to frequent public debate, including academics from Northern Nigerian
universities. These academics sometimes offer also advice and proof-reading for the authors.
Those are rather young and write mostly about the stresses and problems of modern living in
an Islamic society or, more general, about the tensions between modernities and ‘traditions’.
Questions of morality, love, marriage and relations between men and women, but also about
equality and difference are very popular and were introduced into the public sphere by
popular literature and later video films. Soyayya authors seem to be influenced not only by
Western romances, but also by Arabian tales, Indian films and Nigerian magazines (Larkin
While most of the authors are male, there are also female authors; some of them are quite
famous. In the mid-1990s, a number of writers moved into the production of video films.
There is interdependency between Hausa popular literature and Hausa videos under another
aspect: Some books are made a film of and some films are made books of. Of course, there
are also original books and films. Some authors are also producers, but most producers (84%)
aren’t authors (Adamu 2002:209). There is also a flourishing market of Hausa magazines
about books, videos and their stars. This kind of merchandising is thus not restricted to
Southern Nigeria, and is even including the selling of Hausa movie sound tracks on audio
cassettes. As filmmakers from Northern Nigeria are neglected in the THEMA movie awards,
the ‘Arewa Film Producers Association of Nigeria’ started in 2001 to award the ‘Arewa Film
Awards’ for Hausa movies analogous to the Academy Awards (‘Oscars’). Several producers
and especially actors are famous stars in Northern Nigeria. While some of the producers and
actors have professional experience working for television, others did work for theatre groups.
In contrast to Tamil movies from India (Kollywood), there seems to be no direct engagement
of Hausa movie stars in politics.
There were attempts by retailers to limit the production of movies as they couldn’t cope with
the fast growing supply. Hausa movies in the beginning were very much exploring the limits
of social conventions. There is some kind of subversive potential even in melodramatic love
stories, as they deal with social change, particularly changing relations between gender and
generations. After the promulgation of Shari’a in Kano State in 2000, a ban of video movies
was discussed and production was stopped. But as several thousand jobs depend on the video
industry, a ban was not feasible. Thus, a censorship board including Islamic scholars was
established in February 2001, approving films and registering any enterprise linked to films.
As in Indian movies, love stories are in Hausa videos not told by showing explicit action, but
through performing songs and dances; elements that are rare in Southern Nigerian video
films. For years, this was undermining tacitly the ethics of Hausa society where no public
display of this kind of behaviour ignoring sexual segregation was allowed. In the new
framework of religious purity, this was seen as too offensive. Thus, the portrayal of body
contact between sexes – meaning holding hands – and mixed-sex song sequences were
banned and since June 2003 in principle also mixed dancing scenes. In practice though, there
seem to be more of a negotiation between producers and censors then of a strict application of
censorship especially for dancing scenes (Krings 2005a:72; see also the discussion of the
remake of Titanic in Behrend 2005). With allusions, the limits of the admissible under the
new framework are explored. Going to the or beyond the limits of censorship seems to be
publicity effective and promotional in Northern Nigeria, pretty much the same way scandals
are used for the marketing of movies or books in Europe.
Some filmmakers try to upgrade their position against critics by presenting actors as
‘instructors’ (masu fa’dakarwa), thus justifying the production of video films in an Islamic
society. There is a public reflection about the character of contemporary Hausa society
through the delimitation of what is not adequate in videos as well as in society. While
criticism for certain videos deplore the corruption of ‘Hausa values’ by the importation of
foreign ideas, other contrarily see videos as having a cultural mission by criticising the
erosion of ‘Hausa values’. For yet other critics Hausa videos are too didactic and too little
artistic. As soyayya books, they allegedly don’t address ‘the real problems’ of Hausa people.
The production of video films thus influenced the public critical discourse about Hausa
cultural values. Already the advent of Indian video films did alter the consumption of media
products. While going to a cinema or a public video projection is a male activity, the situation
is different with domestic video consumption. Video allow for women to participate in a
‘privatised female public sphere’ (Larkin 1997b:115) that is changing their expectations of
As a consequence of the religious revival and the introduction of Shari’a, there was a certain
boom of the new video genre of conversion movies after 2002 (Krings 2005a). Located in the
distant pre-colonial past, these movies show the conversion of pagans through Muslims.
Special effects visualise the power of the Muslim faith and the Qu’ran in the fight against the
magical powers of pagans in the same way they are used in Southern Nigerian videos to
visualise the fight between Christianity and occult powers. Of course, there is a certain
analogy to contemporary conflicts in the Nigerian Middle Belt. Some producers have
connections to radical Islamistic organisations as the ‘Muslim Brothers’ and use video films
to propagate their vision of religion. Recently, the popularity of those conversion movies
seem to wane and melodramatic love stories are in vogue again. This might be a consequence
of a certain disillusion with the political establishment after the elections in 2003. The rise of
this new genre is just one example for the growing differentiation of the video film market in
Northern Nigeria and the growing variation of genres. Beside remakes of Western and Indian
movies in the usual melodramatic style, there are also more and more crime thrillers, videos
about politics and corruption and even some involving magical practices by the films villains.
Borrowing movie convention from different other cultures, Hausa video films are
nevertheless differentiated not only from Hollywood movies, but also from Indian movies and
from Southern Nigerian movies. In comparison to Southern Nigerian movies, there are fewer
genres and the movies are more concerned with cultural values, although they are negotiated.
American and Asian movies as well as Southern Nigerian movies are still sold. The latter are
popular, but disputed.
In the beginning of the Hausa video industry, quite often the scriptwriter did write the
screenplay, produce and direct the movie and might even perform a (minor) role – as with
soyayya literature, where the authors in the beginning were also publishers and sometimes
even printers. There was little capital invested in these videos and producers still attempted to
show them at cinemas. What didn’t start as a commercial endeavour increasingly became one.
With the growing market for Hausa video, the production process was increasingly
differentiated and specialized. Nowadays, there are different professional associations. While
there were a few female writers of soyayya books, there are no female directors of video
films. Some women are executive producers and others are actresses. The later are usually
non-married young women enjoying some kind of ‘prolonged adolescence’ (Krings 2005a:64,
translated by the author), having a certain independence from their families due to their own
income and thus being able to exhaust societal restrictions.
There is a certain oligopoly in the distribution of Hausa movies with five main distributors
dominating the market (Larkin 2004). They are distributed in the surrounding countries where
Hausa is spoken: in parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana and
even the Sudan. From Kofar Wambai Road market in Kano, the videos are sold to retailer and
wholesaler in other major cities, from where they are distributed to smaller cities and even the
rural areas. This trade networks uses established trade networks based on the credit and trust
and thus the social capital of Islamic trade. It would be interesting to know whether Hausa
movies are watched also in non-Hausa Islamic regions, as in Mali or in Senegal for example.
The argument of being ‘just like’ the local culture could be valid for this context as well, thus
outweighing language barriers.
Videos as a commercial commodity: The rise of Igbo-videos
There is not much known about the first Igbo-videos, short comic videos sold at Onitsha
Market being the antecedents before the commercial boom of videos started (Haynes and
Okome 1997:32). The commercial potential of videos was recognised by an Igbo electronics
dealer and film promoter, Kenneth Nnebue. He produced in 1991 a Yoruba video, Aje Ni Iya
Mi, for Sola Ogunsola for a mere 2,000 Naira, making a fortune out of this small investment.
This video was also the starting shot for the Igbo video production: A year later in 1992,
Nnebue produced Living in Bondage, the first famous video in Igbo, later synchronised in
English and directed by Chris Obi Rapu (Haynes and Okome 1997:29; Okone 1997). 12 This
production was not only influenced by the success of Aje Ni Iya Mi and the early Ghanaian
videos like Zinoba, but also by the fact that a huge supply of empty videotapes from Taiwan
was not selling well. Nnebue thought they might sell better with something on it and finally
sold around 750,000 copies of Living in Bondage. 1994, Nnebue started to produce videos in
English, starting with Glamour Girls where the life of women in the town is contrasted with
the world of the village and its moral codex. Since then, the Igbo-production is mostly in
English, as there is a wider market. Nigerian English is more familiar to the audience in other
English-speaking African countries than Hollywood-English, but the audience is even wider
and frequently not fluent in English. Their language notwithstanding, these ‘Engligbo’ movies
still have a clear Igbo cultural template. Of course, this is an oversimplification, as many
artists come from minority groups from South-eastern Nigeria and as the cultural background
of an individual is not clear-cut. If the term Igbo is used here, it is thus designating an origin
in South-eastern Nigeria. An analysis of 36 Igbo-comedies showed clearly that the central
positions of executive producer, director, screenplay and story are consistently occupied by
people from South-eastern Nigeria (Künzler 2006). Most actors are also from South-Eastern
Nigeria, but there are a few Yoruba-actors and on rare occasions actors from Northern
Nigeria. The borders of the regional video industries are permeable, but the number of
individuals crossing them is rather limited.
The centre of Igbo video-production is clearly 51 Iweka Road in Onitsha (Anambra State), a
three storey building with uncountable shops, where videos are produced and purchased for
wholesale and retailing. Many Igbo production companies are (also) based in Lagos, either in
Idumota or at Alaba International Market. All three places used to be markets for electronics.
Roughly two thirds of the analysed production companies also have an office in Aba (Abia
State), but there seems to be less spatial concentration in this city. Most production companies
are probably owned by single proprietorship. As the analysis revealed, these production
companies often do not work with a fix set of directors, actors, and story and screenplay
writers. The positions of directors, executive producers, story and screenplay are in the
majority of the analysed videos carried out by different people, even if some cases of personal
union do occur (Künzler 2006). 13 The share of videos with people having different positions
simultaneously was declining from 2003 to 2004. This could be a sign of increasing
differentiation and specialisation in the video industry, but the sample and the period of time
analysed are both too small to generalise. The videos analysed confirm the supposition of
Haynes and Okome (1997:28f.) whereas the soundtrack consist mostly of pirated Western
music or cheaply produced studio music. The writing of this music is another specialised
function in the production of videos. Frequently, there is a theme song which is sometimes
developing along the story line. With simple words, these theme songs comment on the story
or assess its morale. There is not enough information available to decide whether there are
oligopolies in the production or distribution of Igbo-videos. The production is clearly
dominated by men, but there are some female story writers and executive producers (Künzler
2006). There is thus a similar picture as in the case of Hausa-videos (Adamu 2002:210).
Okome’s (2003) undocumented assumption about the underrepresenttation of women seems
to sustain. But women are better represented in video production than they used to be in
celluloid film production (Garritano 2000:165f.). Furthermore, most story plots are centred on
male lives and use many stereotypes.
Earlier prophecies of doom for Igbo-films based on their allegedly lack of tradition, absence
of creativity and commercial greed proved wrong: there is still a boom of Igbo-videos. The
alleged lack of tradition is probably due to the fact that in contrast to Yoruba- and Hausa-
videos, there is no Theatre tradition influencing Igbo-videos. But quite obvious narrative
performances close to oral traditions are important in Igbo-videos. Furthermore, Onitsha
Market Literature is just as well a source of inspiration for Igbo movies as soyayya is for
Hausa videos. Due to growing urbanisation, literacy and incomes, Onitsha Market Literature
had its bloom in the 1960s, before the civil war cut this production. There are many different
genres going from fiction about the social dislocations of modernities to different forms of
how-to-books on questions as traditions, love or money-making, selling up to 100,000 copies.
But caution is advised to explain the content of Igbo-videos with the alleged individualism
and achievement orientation of the Igbo.
Of course, achievement orientation and individualism are important subjects, half of the Igbo-
comedies analysed (Künzler 2006) were dealing with this subject. Already Living in Bondage
included important elements of many Igbo-videos: witchcraft, money, women, social success
and the life in the big city: The main character wants material success and joins a cult where
he has to sacrifice his wife (Ekwuazi 1997: 72; Okome 2004:211f.), a classical example for
the deployment of “magical means for material ends” or, in other words, for “occult
economies” (Comaroff and Comaroff 1999:297). There is upward mobility without
accountability or transparency, fuelled by the greed to support a glamorous urban lifestyle.
The main character gets very wealthy, but is haunted by her ghost. Close to getting mad, he
joins a Pentecostal Church. Usually denominated as Juju-videos, Wendl (2004) calls this
genre “horror movie”. In contrast to American horror movies, there is in African horror
movies not much of blood splattering and destroying of human bodies as an end in itself.
There is always an economic motivation in these occult melodramas. Even if the quest for
wealth, power and pleasure is still important, there is an increasing differentiation of genre in
the Igbo-videos. There are of course also love stories and videos about the tension between
love marriage and arranged marriage. In Igbo-videos, the variety in how this subject is
discussed is broader than in Hausa-videos. Many movies as American Husband, ‘am in Love
or Apian Way clearly advocate the individual choice of marriage partners, while in others as
Love Nwa Ntinti girls insisting on their own will are punished. Either way, many of these
videos are too explicit for the Northern Nigerian market.
Yet another genre is the epic film, often set in a pre-colonial past where autochthon religions
are conquered by Christians (Krings 2005a:77). Also very important are contemporary
Christian videos. There are several strands: the Pentecostal, the non-Pentecostal and the
independent, the last one just taking narratives without having a religious background or
interest. Already Living in Bondage had Pentecostal elements with its rhetoric of salvation
(Ukah 2003:212). The genre of Christian videos “developed from a tradition of staging the
World of God” (Oha 1997:94). This tradition began with church services, developed to
festivals and concerts and ended up with videos addressing individuals especially from lower
economic classes. These videos are also commodified, as there are obviously also economic
interests linked to them. As they should sell, they often treat the popular topic of the family
life being threaten by some evil forces and the woman in the centre of the family struggling
against this as she is most adversely effected by it. At the same time, these videos are
expressing consumerist values and orientations (Ukah 2003). Another genre is more action
oriented and settled in the bloody adventures of vigilante-militias in South-eastern Nigeria,
with the real existing Bakassy Boys as role models (Servant 2001; McCall 2002, 2004). 14
There are some Igbo-videos overtly discussing political events, as Haynes’ (2006) discussion
of Stubborn Grasshopper (Loved Power, Died in Power) 1 + 2 by Simisola Opeoluwa (2001)
shows. This Igbo-video with two parts is surprisingly sympathetic to a political organisation
dominated by Yoruba. Another video from 2000 by the same director initially called Guns of
Biafra, discussing the Nigerian civilian war, had to be cutted and the title had to be changed to
the Battle of Love to pass censorship. There seems to be also some pornography made in
Nigeria, but there is not much information about this available. Of course, there are more
genres than discussed here. More and more, the “cross-over” of different genres is becoming
the dominant genre (Wendl 2003:66). Videos visualise (urban) stories, legends and rumours,
seize ideas from theatre, popular literature and movies from Nigeria and abroad.
Again, an early gloomster stating that “the Igbo businessman instinctively shies away from
the film industry” proved pretty much wrong (Ekwuazi 1997:71). The film business needs
capital investment and bears a certain risk. It is thus especially in its early stages not a
bankable project and the money has to be acquired elsewhere. Igbo-videos are not financed by
struggling artists as in the beginnings of the Yoruba videos, but often by merchants. Some
producers started with the distribution of videos and later entered production and/or the
rentals and sales of moviemaking equipment. There is also capital acquired by piracy
involved and probably also some money-laundering by drug dealers, advanced fee-frauders
(‘419’) and other dubious businessmen (Ekwuazi 1997:81). 15 These producers provide a large
number of copies of the cassettes at once and distribute them at the same time through
numerous channels to avoid piracy (Haynes and Okome 1998:114). As in Hollywood
productions, most money is made in the first week after release. There is obviously also some
sponsoring and product placement by fashion houses, real estate brokers, car dealers and other
suppliers of the lavish lifestyle. There are stories going round about huge profits made with
video productions, as the producer Okechukwu Ogunjiofor claiming to finance a luxury car
and a comfortable house with the production of one video. Some producers and actors did get
star status and exhibit a corresponding lifestyle. A few famous actors are recognised across
sub-Saharan Africa and do (commercial) performances abroad. Some of the top actors earned
as much as one million Naira for one movie (roughly £4,000). 16 In 2005, film producers tried
to ban these top stars in an attempt to cut down production costs. Indeed, the hype cooled
down a little bit. Some stars went to TV, others started to produce music. 17 The ban was lifted
later and business seems to continue as usual. Actors, producers or directors with a certain
name of course also help to get capital necessary to produce the video and to attract the
audience. There is a growing merchandising around the videos with advertising on posters, on
the radio and on TV, where there are specialised shows about the video industry. Furthermore,
there are magazines and reports in newspapers. The prospects of getting famous attract actors
and would-be actors from State Arts Councils, universities and elsewhere. Many try to start as
waka pass (movie extra).
The style of Igbo-videos is quite close to the Yoruba-videos with quite simple stories, 18 an
emphasis on dialogues and overstated acting. For the latter however, their cultural background
is more defining. Sometimes, the allegedly individualism of Igbo is seen as the cultural
background of Igbo-movies. But the Igbo-comedies with the small in stature actors Chinedu
Ikedieze and Osita Iheme can be found across sub-Saharan Africa even in regions where
English is not spoken (Künzler 2006). It is thus very unlikely that the Igbo-template is
explaining their popularity. Some of these comedies showed Trickster figures which are well
known across Africa and thus easily recognisable for a wide audience. Furthermore, these
comedies address central questions of the African everyday life, e.g. the tension between
modernities (love marriage) and traditions (arranged marriage), corruption, the relations
between old and young, men and women, poor and rich or the occurrence of new symbols of
success (businessmen, rapper, and pastors). The life of the characters is constantly affected by
global influences and they try to cope with these modernities and making sense of them. They
adopt goals of success, but often don’t have the means to achieve these goals and struggle
with immediate problems. This tension between ambitions and realities makes them inventing
their own means, selectively using traditions and modern ways of behaviour in an
opportunistic blend. Modernity is the context of their behaviour, not an option (Meyer 1999).
Modernity is just something to cope with, not something to be criticised or to be reversed in
some kind of back to the cultural roots. Videos are allegories of cultural and economic
transformations caused by modernisation processes.
Most Igbo-videos reflect the lived-in worlds and thus talk about topics many Africans can
relate to. As they affect Africans more than foreign films, their immense popularity is
comprehensible. The same way, Indian culture is seen “just like” Hausa culture (Larkin
2003:183), these Igbo-videos show situations “just like” those in other African countries.
They supply wants that cannot be supplied fully by Western or Indian movies. Without having
surveys at hand, it seems quite sure that people across Africa know what to expect from Igbo-
videos: a mirror of familiar stories in a world of tensions and contradictions. This benefit is
more important as the fact that they have a large market size being in English. It enables this
kind of videos to be watched in places where English is not or barely spoken. Even genres as
comedies or horror movies articulate the contradictions of African modernities and can thus
be seen as forms of social and cultural criticism (Wendl 2004:21f.). Since the end of military
rule in 1999, there are more videos on directly political subjects. Censorship because of its
political content is a rare event (Haynes 2006:513). Of course, Haynes (2000:16f.) is right to
state that videos turn a blind eye on any possible „way out of the situation“. Videos reflect
nevertheless the struggles of Africans in everyday life and an analysis might help to
understand popular discourses. This approach seems far more fertile than complaining about
the poor artistic quality of Nigerian videos or the fact that they are like “television
programmes packed in movies” (Adesanya 1997:19). “Nigerians are not unaware or uncritical
of these technical and aesthetic shortcomings, and (…) discussions (…) usually included
mention of their dissatisfaction with poor sound quality, misrepresentations of cultural
practices, and the mechanical unreliability of the tapes themselves” (McCall 2002:88).
The neglected economic dimension of the Nigerian video industry
It has become quite clear that the Nigerian video industry is differentiated and offers videos
for different audiences on segmented markets. 19 The output of the industry is matter of some
dispute, and sales figures are “inflated for publicity purposes, or deflated in order to defraud
partners” (Haynes and Okome 1998:114). As a proxy for the output of the industry, the
number of films censored by the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) is taken.
Even this number is problematical, as the NFVCB is not able to censure all movies produced
in Nigeria and as they do also censor foreign movies. The NFVCB has in 2005 verified 1,568
locally produced films and approved 82.4% of them for commercial release. From 702 foreign
movies verified, 90% were approved (http://www.nfvcb.gov.ng/statistics.php). Between 1994
and June 2006 and including foreign films, by far most films classified were in English (4,445
from 9,136), 2,683 were in Yoruba, 1,501 were in Hausa and just 55 in Igbo. Furthermore,
there were 307 films in Hindi and films in mixed or minority languages. Figure 1 shows the
massive growth of the industry from 1994 to 2005 as far as data are available.
Figure 1: The output of the Nigerian video industry from 1994 to 2005
Number of movies censored
1500 (local and foreign)
Number of local movies
(censored or estimated)
1000 Hausa Movies (estimated)
Number of movies censored (local and foreign): http://www.nfvcb.gov.ng/statistics.php,
Number of local movies (censored or estimated): Haynes and Okome (1998:106) for 1996,
Furniss (2005: 89) for 2000, http://www.nfvcb.gov.ng/statistics.php for 2005,
Hausa movies: Furniss (2005:89) for 2000, Larkin (2004:299) for 2001, Krings (2005a:63) for
There are two main ways of consuming Nigerian videos in Nigeria: Home consumption and
public presentation. People might buy Nigerian videos on VHS (especially in the north) or on
Video-CD (more common in the south) for domestic consumption and later share the videos
with friends. Or they might go to rental clubs and rent a video for around 50 Naira, which is
considerably cheaper than the purchase. The private consumption is mainly by women and
children. As in Ghana, particularly married women from the middle classes constitute indeed
the bulk of video-film buyers (Ukah 2003). They have the money for the equipment, and also
the time to watch. There are estimated 57 million video recorders in Nigerian households
(D’Anna-Huber 2006), and also cheap Video-CD players are not uncommon. The lower
social classes without these facilities at home are probably the main clientele for the video
parlors, where videos are shown on ordinary televisions at low prices (around 20 Naira). The
audience is dominated by men and rather young, ranging from the mid-teens to the mid-
twenties. There are also rather run-down cinemas showing Nigerian videos on larger screens
for roughly 100 Naira, which is rather expensive compared to rental and video parlor. The
later should register at the NFVCB and pay royalties, but the majority is probably not
registered. Anti-piracy trailers are frequent and show special squads arresting fallibly
individuals (Künzler 2006). In Pidgin English or wrongly spelled Standard English the blaring
trailers promote also other videos by the same production company which is frequently not
limited to one specific genre. While some videos have no or hardly any trailers, for others, the
trailers add up to 20 minutes for a 90 minutes video.
The growing output of the Nigerian video industry led to a certain market saturation and
dwindling profits. There were attempts by producers to limit their output, but copy cats make
this self-limitation impossible to work. After an escalation of production budgets from
roughly 50,000 Naira up to several million Nairas around the turn of the century, these
production budgets for Igbo-movies started to decrease as a consequence of this market
saturation. They average currently around two million Nairas or £8,500. The production
budgets are highest for Igbo-movies, followed by Yoruba- and Hausa-movies. The latter cost
between 300,000 and 600,000 Naira (£1,300 to £2,600) (Krings 2005a:63). Analysing the
economy of video production, Adesanya (1997:17) states that 22% of the costs for a video are
production costs, the bulk is taken by the blank tape with two thirds of the costs, leaving a net
profit of 70 Naira for each video sold. There is no newer breakdown available for the
production of videos on Video-CD.
There is broad variety of estimates about the sales of the video industry. The sales for Yoruba
videos seemed to be the smallest, followed by the sales of Hausa videos and for Igbo-videos.
The top as well as average sales certainly dropped due to the saturation of the market. Earlier
average sales are estimated at 100,000 copies, but already in 1997 the 50,000 benchmark was
regularly missed (Adesanya 1997:18). Haynes and Okome (1998:114) put the average at
30,000 sales. Servant (2001) estimates sales at 30,000 copies at least and 300,000 for top hits.
D’Anna-Huber (2006) rates the sales in her newspaper article at 200,000 for hits and an
optimistic average of 50,000. For the Hausa market, the average is at 40,000 copies, passing
the mark of 100,000 for top hits (Krings 2005a:63). The average price to buy a video is quite
constant at around 250 Naira (£1). Putting the production at 1,500 videos a year, the estimated
sales in the newspaper article by Lequeret (2006) of 200 to 300 million US dollars (£107
million to £161 million) seem to be over the top, as average sales would have to be 70,000 to
105,000 copies. These high estimates are shared by Sylvester Ogbechie from the University of
Santa Barbara and by Jahman Anikulapo, arts editor of the Guardian newspaper in another
newspaper report (Bures 2006). Suggesting average sales of 32,000 copies sold for 250
Nairas, the annual production of 1,500 videos would generate a turn-over of 12 billion Nairas
(£52 million). This turn-over is not including the money made in video parlors and with
rentals. Wherever the truth lies, it is quite clear that the video industry is economically
Conclusions: An example of import substitution
In Africa’s largest country Nigeria there emerged within a decade an industry producing more
videos than Hollywood or its Indian counterpart Bollywood produce feature movies (D’Anna-
Huber 2006; Lequeret 2006). Nollywood is releasing roughly the triple of Hollywood’s output
(MPAA, 2006). It is certainly exaggerated to estimate the number of jobs linked to the
Nigerian video industry at one million, as the NFVCB does (Lequeret 2006). But there are
certainly thousands of people living from the video industry and this industry became an
important employer in Nigeria. The large-scale growth of the video market in Nigeria is
mostly due to locally produced videos. They substituted foreign movies, as people prefer
Nollywood. There are still foreign movies watched in Nigeria, but their share dropped
dramatically. What was happening in Nigeria was import substitution without involvement by
the Nigerian government, as yet. This is in contradiction to conventional sociological theories
about economic development as summarised for example by Künzler (2004). Furthermore,
there is no foreign capital involved in this industry, which is increasingly differentiated. After
a start-up financing by people involved in media piracy, the production is now mainly
financed by the revenues generated.
Most money is made in the domestic market, but the product Nigerian video is even suited for
exportation. There is additional income generated with the sales and especially broadcasts of
Nigerian videos in foreign countries. In view of the sales outside Nigeria, the Nigerian video
industry which was growing out of piracy is itself a victim of piracy. A broad range of people
are involved in this, including the distributors and the operator of rental clubs. In the domestic
market, a good distribution system allows for the quick distribution of the videos before
pirates can copy them and thus helps to reduce the impact of piracy. Most money is thus made
in the first week after the release. Outside Nigeria, the distribution is less quick and thus more
prone to piracy. That doesn’t mean there are no distribution networks established. Especially
Igbo-videos can draw on the extensive network of Igbo traders across the world. As
described, there are also smaller networks for Hausa-videos, and to a limited extend even for
Yoruba video. Igbo-comedies can be found without problems across sub-Saharan Africa
irrespective of the colonial language, e.g. in Lomé (Togo), Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of
Congo), Kigali (Rwanda), Manzini (Swaziland), Durban (South Africa) and even in remote
areas as Marsabit on the edge of the Chalbi desert in Kenya. This cutting across several inner-
African divides is very rare. Furthermore, internet is used to sell Nigerian videos directly to
consumers in the Diaspora, but there are no data available on the amount of these sales.
Wholesale and retail sales as a form of exportation are not yet very lucrative.
Nigerian videos are also shown on television in other African countries, e.g. on Zambia
National Broadcasting among others. A South African satellite programme (Africa Magic)
broadcasts them across Africa and even in Asia. There is also a European satellite programme
showing Nigerian videos (Lequeret 2006) and a London edition of the magazine Nigerian
Videos (Haynes and Okome 1998:119). There is also quite a potential in the US market, as
there is living an estimated million Nigerians in the US. As with other Diasporas, these
movies help them to cope with nostalgia. The Nigerian video industry is furthermore having
links to Europe and the USA for the production and sometimes also for post-production. It is
generally difficult to estimate the turn-over generated by exports. They are surely by far not as
big as the domestic market, but there is a certain potential.
The diverse cultural influences on the production of Nigerian videos and their distribution
across Sub-Saharan Africa show clearly that the reality is far more complex than simple
centre-periphery-models or notions of economic dependency and cultural imperialism
conceptualise. The Nigerian video industry is in this regard not an exceptional case, as for
example the successes of Latin American (telenovelas) or Egyptian soap operas in other
regions show. There are several global non-Western culture industries and there is thus no
simple levelling of cultural differences and growth of a global homogenous western culture as
a consequence of globalisation.
There are other ways the Nigerian video industry is influencing other sub-Saharan African
countries. In several African countries, the popularity of Nigerian videos led people to think
about producing their own videos, without other video industries yet emerging on the same
scale. Another influence is concerning Ghana particularly. Ghana has also a domestic video
production, even if the term Gollywood has yet to be coined. The story of its beginning is told
in several versions depending on the informant (Ukadike 2000:249). These versions have in
common that the individuals involved had no experience in film making before. One among
them, William A. Akuffo, worked as operator in a cinema in Accra. There, he learnt about the
needs of the audience and which themes are familiar to them. Together with Richard Quartey,
he made the first video Zinabu in 1987. Ghana was thus earlier than Nigeria to produce
videos. Zinabu as well as its three serials were about the subject of witchcraft. So was also
Diabolo, another series of four films (Meyer 2003b:17). These videos were extremely
successful and attracted other Ghanaians to this growing industry. Analyses of the earlier
production agree that much was done in personal union with skeletal scripting (Meyer 1999;
Wendl 2001). As there are no newer analyses, we do not know whether some kind of
specialisation in the production process occurred in Ghana as it did in Nigeria. Among the
earlier producers, there were more ambitions about the cultural level of their productions than
in later productions or in the Nigerian counterpart.
Any way, Ghanaian videos soon started to replace foreign productions that disappeared
(Meyer 1999; Wendl 2001). While they were initially screened in the cinemas and in smaller
video theatres, they later were more marketed for the home video market and shown on TV
(Meyer 2003, 2004). There seems to be more involvement by governmental agencies than in
Nigeria. As in the cases of Yoruba- and Hausa-videos, there is also in Ghana a cultural source
of itinerant theatres called Concert Parties and a certain involvement of media pirates (Meyer
2001). The output of these films that are primarily in English is estimated at 40 to 50 videos
each year (Wendl 2004:18). They audience seems to be very involved and expects a “hidden
truth revealed and some morals to be taught, or affirmed” (Meyer 2003a:14). Moral lessons
are also expected by the Censorship Board in Ghana, as sex, violence, bad treatment of
women or ridiculing of minority groups and religions can only be depicted if it is necessary
for the narrative and punished (Meyer 1999). It seems to be easier for Nigerian videos to (by-
)pass censorship. They are more explicit and about lavish life. There certainly was a mutual
influencing of Ghanaian and Nigerian videos. Lately, the Nigerian videos became more
important on the Ghana market and challenge the local production (Meyer 2003c).
As the video industry in Ghana, also its Nigerian counterpart is an example of a whole new
legal industry growing out of a once illegal piracy sector (Larkin 2004, 2005). 20 With the
exception of a few early Yorbuba- and Hausa-videos, in all three production centres most of
the capital needed for this industry as well as the professional expertise was accumulated
during the oil boom with the illicit mass importation of foreign films in the framework of a
complex system based on trust and international trade networks. Those pirated movies
reached the Nigerian market within one week after the première of the movie in India or the
USA. Marginalized by the official distribution networks, there would have been hardly any
movies available in Nigeria without piracy. 21 Piracy was thus in the case of Nigeria a
prerequisite for rather than an excess of the consumption of globalizing media contents. Since
the end of the 1980s, there has been a shift and some of the former producers and distributors
of pirated films are now engaged in what became a whole new industry with specific film
genres, forms of reproduction and distribution. Out of something looking at first glance rather
destructive can thus grow something new and creative. The video cinemas in Cotonou often
showed Nigerian videos on televisions labelled Sonii or Sonny. Why not a productive industry
growing out of the imitation of electronically, pharmaceutical, or plastic goods? Referring to
figures from the US State Department and in full awareness of the statistical problems linked
to them, Larkin (2004:297f.) estimates Nigeria as “the largest market for pirated goods in
Africa”. The Nigerian shadow economy is already highly organised and well connected to
networks across sub-Saharan Africa and abroad. The pirates of Nollywood used this situation
and proved that import substitution without the involvement of the state or foreign capital is
The author would like to thank Dan da Silva for repeated help on questions related to Nigeria and Hakeem
Jimo for sharing his information on the Nigerian video industry. Parts of this paper have been presented at the
Ad Hoc Session on “Africa and the Future of World Society” at the XVI International Sociological Association
World Congress of Sociology, Durban, 26 July 2006 and at the Sociological Institute, University of Bergen
(Norway), October 30, 2006. The author is grateful for the valuable comments during and especially after these
The short boom of Nigerian movies could not lay the base for a sustaining film industry and in the early 1990s
as the currency fell in value the production declined from an average of four feature films per year to close to
none (Adesanya 1997:15).
Outside Nigeria, Yoruba is important in Benin and to a smaller extent in Togo and Ghana.
The term class is used here to simplify matters, conscious that its appropriateness for Nigeria is a matter of
For video clubs lending Nigerian videos and the circulation of videos, see Lawuyi (1997).
Some Yoruba videos even borrowed the story line of Indian films, inlcuding the dancing and singing
Some of these comedies show Trickster figures as can be found frequently in Igbo-comedies (Künzler 2006).
Hausa is the next widely spoken language in Nigeria after English, is also spoken in some neighbouring
countries and a lingua franca. There are broadcasts in Hausa by international radio stations as BBC for example
and software giant Microsoft is planning Hausa editions as well.
Indian movies can be found across sub-Saharan Africa, but the popularity varies.
Pirated copies sometimes have even less understandable subtitles, as Arabic for example.
There is of course a wider range of themes in Hausa popular literature (Furniss 2005:100).
To be more precise, it is an urban variation of Igbo which is spoken, already including words in English and
Pidgin (Okome 1997:83f.).
This seems to be more common in Ghana (Wendl 2001:285).
There are also videos about the Yoruba equivalent, the militia of the O’odua Peoples Congress. Whether there
are also videos about the Arewa Peoples Congress (APC) of the Hausa-Fulani is beyond the knowledge of the
419 is the section of the Nigerian penal code for fraud. Generelly, advanced fee frauds take advantage of
greedy victims by wangle advances off them by promising them a much larger gain. These frauds make use of
global information technology in different ways: they are sent by e-mail to complete strangers in Western
countries, use international financial institutes and exploit paradoxically enough Nigeria’s bad reputation for
corruption and crime (Larkin 2004:293). In 2005 alone, an estimated one percent of the people addressed fell
victim and lost an estimated 3 billion US-Dollars (Foglizzo 2006). It is one of Nigeria’s main currency
earners.The victims come from all over the globe and Nigerians often don’t pity them, as they were greedy for
quick money. Ironically enough, there are also videos about these 419s, e.g. the Master by Andy Amenechi
(2005), Stalk Exchange 419 by Don Okolo (1997), Dirty Deal by Kenneth Nnebue (1993) or Circle of Doom by
Vic Mordi (alias Chris Obi Rapu, director of Living in Bondage, 1993).
The conversion from Naira in other currency is a little bit difficult, as the inflation is quite high in Nigeria and
old exchange rate are not easy to come by. The indications in British Pounds are thus approximative rather than
Nkem Owoh for example had a huge smash hit with I go chop your dollar, the soundtrack to his movie the
Master (2005, Andy Amenechi) which is about 419s.
Even if in these videos flashbacks and subplots are increasingly used, there is still a quite simple story told and
simple cuts link one scene to the next.
There are also attempts to create a high-priced market for the local elite still preferring imported feature films.
A new multiplex cinema with prices at an European level has been built in Lagos and more are planned in other
towns. These cinemas are part of a multinational company and built with foreign capital invested. Earlier
attempts to create such a market for Nigerian videos were not working as proper facilities lacked. Furthermore,
the elite has often access to satellite TV also showing mostly foreign feature films.
Of course, there are a lot of well known negative effects of media piracy that don’t need to be repeated here.
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Daniel Künzler is lecturing Sociology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. His research
and publications focus on economic development, education, social movements and popular
cultures in Africa.