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Fake Chinese movie now money-spinner in Lagos

BY Nurudeen Oyewole / University of Lagos (UNILAG) | 18-Mar-2017
It is hard to walk through the streets of Lagos or any other Nigerian Cities these days without coming across roadside marketers who specialise in the sale of all manner of films and musical disks. Of greater notoriety among such discs on sale are those of Chinese origin which have been pirated and translated to Nigerian local languages. The writer investigated how this has become a "thriving business" with marketers making lots of money even as their acts make mockery of the country’s Copyright Law.
Beside the Nigerian Police Station at Pen Cinema, Agege, Lagos is an array of shops with owners selling different products and wares. Among these shop owners is a movie and musical marketer who specializes in selling both fake and original CDs and DVDs. And with the aid of two big television screens connected to two loud speakers fixed at the entrance of his shop, onlookers and passersby are often treated to unsolicited films and musical records from time to time.

Interestingly, more than any other local or foreign movies this marketer often preview for his would-be customers, the Yoruba translated Chinese movies appear to be the “hot-selling” favourites, attracting all cadres of passersby. Many who do not have money, especially children will gather by the roadside to see these movies being slot in and out of the DVD players. The adults among them, after seeing what could be taken as appetizers, will be lured into asking and buying such discs.

In these films are Chinese actors and actresses “speaking” smooth Yoruba language, spiced with slangs and all forms of lewd languages that easily evoke laughter from the viewers. The more laughter a movie draws from the roadside viewers, the more excited the marketer is. For him, any movie that evokes laughter and generates interest among the “free-watching viewers” has potentials to draw closer more customers and invariably, more money.

“It was really incredible for me the first day I saw one of such movies,” Jide Cardoso, a translated Chinese movie enthusiast said. “I couldn’t really imagine Chinese speaking flawless Yoruba. I kept wondering how it was possible and that alone tricked me to buy three different’ discs at a go.”

Cardoso said his experience was three years ago; thus giving credit to the assertion that large scale piracy of Chinese movies have been on for sometimes, especially among roadside films’ marketers.

“There is hardly any latest translated Chinese movie in the market we don’t have in our house,” Mrs Wasilat Aremu, a local herbal vendor at Pen Cinema Motor Park shared her experience in Yoruba language with our correspondent. “My children like those ones that are acted by Chinese kids with karate’s skills like the popular ‘Oba awon Obo’ series which I bought sometimes ago. It was indeed a thriller.”

Though both Cardoso and Wasilat care less where their “thrillers” are coming from, Daily Trust checks point towards the direction of the notorious Alaba market, where similar acts of piracy have been established in the past.

Unlike the less-stressful process of many Nigerian movies that are often mass-produced to earn quick money, pirates of Chinese translated movies have more to contend with. It was gathered that apart from mass-producing these films, they need to secure their own casts and crew who make voiceovers that would replace those of the actual actors and actresses in the movies. Those voiceovers are what the likes of Cardoso and many other gullible enthusiasts are tricked with, believing Chinese are truly speaking Yoruba language in their films.

As there are single-clip movies, so there are multiples ones. The multiple-clip offers the viewers the opportunity of seeing three or four translated movies stored in a single disc.

Another film marketer’s shop beside the entrance of the popular Oluwole Estate, Ogba has also become a film house of sort to a number of passersby who gather in the evening to see previews of “new” or more recent on the stable of Chinese translated movie producers. Here, the marketers sell more of the multiple-clip types.

“This moves faster than any other type,” an attendant at the shop said when this reporter approached him as a willing customer. “You will enjoy it because as you finish one, so the other begins. This is actually more interesting than the singles”.

Interestingly, the prices are ridiculously affordable. The multiple-clip movies of the famous Hong Kong actor and stunt artist, Jackie Chan, titled: “Ye Ori e”, meaning “Safe you head”, which Daily Trust correspondent asked to buy was sold for N150 because it has about four other varieties in it. However, a copy of the single-clip goes for N100.

Wondering how they break even with such price tags, another marketer who simply identified himself as Emmanuel, smiled in response.

“Oga, if we no dey make gain, you no fit see us dey sell the market na,” Emanuel, whose make-shift shop is adjacent to the rail line/road intersection in Agege, replied in raw pidgin. He said if there are no profits on the sales of pirated copies of the Chinese movies, they (marketers) will not be in the business. He further explained that for each copy of the movie being sold, there is N50 profit.

“I bought each of the copies at N50 and if I sell at N100, it means I am gaining N50. But sometimes, we do notice that some customers are buying for the first time or are not even aware of the fixed price. When they come, they will ask how much a copy is and I may just say N200 or N150. If they refuse to negotiate the price down I will sells to them at the amount I told them,” Emmanuel said.

On the number of copies he sell on daily basis, Emmanuel said though the sale is sometimes unpredictable because there are days when they make more sales and days when they have few sales. “On a good day for me, I sell between 80 and 100 copies of different varieties and sometimes, I sell as low as between 40 and 50 copies,” he said.

Ben Chuks, another roadside film marketer in Iyana Ipaja area, does not seem to make as much as Emmanuel do, but he said he hardly goes home with nothing less than N4,000 in his pocket on daily basis.  

Daily Trust on Sunday correspondent observed that among the translated copies brought out by Emmanuel are titles such as: “Onibudo”, “Adio Ijangbon”, “Monsuru Alapata”, “Tango (Yoruba version)”, “Agbamu rere” and “Orente”, among others.

Whereas Emmanuel sells his translated Chinese movies in Yoruba dominated area of Agege, Lagos, film marketers in Hausa and Ibo speaking dominated areas such as Moshalashi  Alhaja, Agege, Mile 12, Abattoir,  Ojo, Alaba, Orile Aguda, Okota, among other places, are also smiling to the banks.

When asked to avail this correspondent with the address of the “movie producers” in Alaba, Emmanuel said he deals with distributors and not producers. Pressed further to give the address of the distributors, he declined saying: “brother, you can go and find that out elsewhere”. And when confronted if he realizes that sale of pirated movies is criminal, he fired back, asking: “what is criminal translating Chinese language to local Nigerian languages? Are Mexicans films not often translated to English language even when we all know the actors and actresses are not speaking English? If it is criminal, let them find us another job na.” 

The cartels who speacialise in providing “jobs” for numerous roadside film marketers, are known to be brute and merciless if you attempt to stop them, a top executive of marketers association in Alaba market disclosed to Daily Trust on Sunday. The man will not even agree to discuss the situation except his anonymity is guaranteed.

“I know these boys, they are mean. Sooner than later they will come after me and if they can’t get me, they will attack my shop,” an executive of the market association said.

Among other things, the source said his association is strongly opposed to the menace of piracy. He noted that on many occasions they have collaborated with regulatory agencies and security operatives to raid notorious hideouts of the market where they are convinced the pirates often mass-produce films.

“I think there are two reasons why the scourge might not be defeated overnight,” he said. “The first being that there are two categories of people who are in the business of mass-producing translated Chinese movies. Both are so lumped together you can hardly separate those who are genuinely licensed and those who are not. To earn the license, you will have to travel to China to get permission from the producing companies and then return to mass-produce after translating the films. Oftentime you have Chinese nationals who work with such people here. Don’t forget Alaba is an international market.”

Our source, however, confirmed that the real pirates are those who will only get a copy of the lawfully permitted translated copy and simply mass-produces it. He also said there are others who on their own just pick on any movie and in collaboration with some “criminally-minded Chinese nationals” who understand the language engage in fake productions.

“The second reason is in the market’s vastness. It is the largest of its kind in West Africa, so sometimes, when some of these perpetrators come around, they may claim to be doing a particular kind of business and after securing office space, they will go into full time piracy. By the time they start attracting enough attention and perhaps some of us who are executive decided to picket them, they will relocate to another section of the market to continue their nefarious acts.

“Ours members don’t engage in this because we know ourselves as members of the same section of the market but aside our section, there are 11 other sections of the market that people can always run to. We have electrical electronics, music and films, among other section in Alaba market and each have their executives,” the source said.

He further disclosed to Daily Trust on Sunday that in a bid to separate real and fake movies marketers as well as curb the rising menace of piracy, his association has embarked on the process of establishing a television station, aimed at laundering the image of the market as one that harbour genuine marketers and not pirates. He added that plans are at advanced stage and the television station will begin operations anytime soon. 

Indeed the marketers are not the only ones having a difficult time to yank off pirates in the business. The regulatory agency, the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) - which said it has waged many unrelenting battles against pirates, is not finding it easier either.

“We target piracy on the spot. We target contraventions and we do act on information when people supply them to us. We do tackle them from the source,” Aderemi Adewusi, a Deputy Director and Head, Public Affairs Department of NCC, said.

“We have carried out raids on many occasions in Alaba, particularly and other piracy-endemic spots… But I will acknowledge that what we have done so far could be taken as highlights because of the vastness of the country and the people we are dealing with. It is a huge problem but the personnel are few. As an agency, we have a working population of above 500 personnel. And when you look at the fact that we are the ones to police a nation of about 200 million people, you can see that the commission is still doing a good job.”

If anything, statistics made exclusively available to Daily Trust on Sunday portend a grim future for the country’s fight against piracy. Between January 1, 2011 and April 30, 2016, the Commission’s seized a total N7.9m of pirated works their. When put at market value, they would amount to a staggering N8.1bn. The seizures were said to have been made from a total of 430 anti-piracy surveillance and 250 anti-piracy operations launched within the period.

Within the five-year period under review, a total of 25 containers loaded with pirated films were said to have been intercepted at seaport. But while some 577 persons connected with the developments were arrested, only 54 convictions have so far been secured.

Aderemi added that in policing the country, the agency has had to go into partnership with a number of law enforcement agencies including Nigerian Police, Civil Defence and other “arms-bearing agencies” of government. He added that the agency also have task force departments across all of its state branches and zonal offices.

He further lamented that aside the challenge of using few personnel to deal with thousands of pirates, lack of adequate intelligence from other stakeholders and continuous disrespect for intellectual copyright among Nigerians who often patronize the pirated copies, have all combined to give bite to the menace.

The NCC Head of Public Affairs, however, expressed optimism that the agency is determined to rid the country of the menace. He disclosed that beyond enforcement, the agency has also approached the National Assembly to review existing copyright provisions of the copyright law and replace them with modern provisions that make sanctions more stringent and accommodate digital copyright violations.