Celebrity Entertainment

The Economic Impact of Nigeria’s Film Industry on the African Continent

Nigeria's film industry
Written by Robin Okwanma

Nigeria’s film industry (popularly called ‘Nollywood’) can no longer be relegated globally in terms of quality of content, and volume of production. The statistical figures of Nollywood’s success continue to make and break unforeseen national, regional and global records – particularly in the 21st Century. It is equally notable that Nigeria’s film industry now occupies the place of the second largest film industry in the world (after India’s Bollywood).


In spite of its shaky, poorly financed beginnings, Nollywood has now expanded in reach and capacity so much that it now attracts big financiers. The term ‘Nollywood’ became popular in the 1990s; but Nigeria’s film industry was birthed out of centuries of storytelling and oral traditions. Furthermore, the Nigerian film industry has built its capacity to the point of churning out no less than 2,500 movies every year. Additionally, there are now a crop of seasoned, globally recognised experts in Nollywood. From world-class actors and actresses, to notable skilled workers in cinematography, sound engineering, script writing, make-up, producing, and directing. 

Nollywood’s Contribution to the Nigerian Economy

According to a report presented by renowned global accounting firm PwC, Nigeria’s media and attainment industry is one of the fastest-growing film industries worldwide.  It is so prolific that it could easily become a major export product for the country. In 2021 alone, Nigeria’s film industry added no less than 660 million US Dollars to the Gross Domestic Product – a 2.3 percent share. Yet again, the projected annual consumer growth rate of the industry stood at 8.8 percent. Furthermore, Nollywood is projected to rise up to over 1 billion US Dollars in export revenue. And not surprisingly, Nollywood is one of the largest employers of labour in Nigeria – with over a million employees to date. 

A further icing to Nollywood’s cake is the increasing popularity of its content on global movie streaming and cable television platforms. The likes of StarTimes, Netflix, Iroko TV, and Amazon Prime Video (amongst others) have altogether attracted a huge consumer base. In fact, the year 2020 witnessed Nigeria exceeding South Africa in the number of cable TV subscribers. And by 2021, there were over 6.9 million cable TV subscribers in the country. 

Nigeria’s Film Industry: Cultural Impact

It is also noteworthy that Nollywood is now a well-known regional and global ambassador of Nigerian (and African) culture and heritage. Nigeria’s film industry has become increasingly popular across Africa and in the diaspora. The foremost reason being its regal depiction of Nigerian traditions, native wisdom, indigenous languages, and cultural attires. By showcasing ancient traditions and norms, the industry has become a means of preserving our multicultural heritage. 

The Origins of Nigeria’s Film Industry

Before Nigeria’s colonial era, storytelling, oral traditions, and performances at cultural festivals (especially by masquerades) were prevalent. Later on, Christian dramas were used by the early European missionaries to entertain and reach out to people. These traditional performances, strongly influenced by early Christian dramas, became the inspiration that birthed the travelling theatre groups (especially in Yoruba land). 

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed the emergence of celluloid films. At the onset, the Nigerian government and some foreign investors were willing to invest in the Nigerian film industry. But film production and distribution requires huge capital investment. The high cost of these ventures imposed a serious limit to how far these films could reach consumers. Nevertheless, s few pioneer filmmakers were able to evolve from stage plays and traveling theatre groups, into producing celluloid films on limited finances. These were the likes of Hubert Ogunde and Ola Balogun.

Fast forward to 1992, the era when video tapes were in vast supply. A certain Lagos-based Igbo trader named Kenneth Nnebue faced a dilemma about what to do with his excess video tapes (which he sold back then). Then he reasoned that he could put actors and actresses together to make a film, subsequently distributing it via video tapes. With the help of two colleagues who were in the movie industry, they produced the first-ever Nigerian film on video tape called ‘Living in Bondage’. The film eventually sold half a million copies and shot to national fame. The foundations of modern Nollywood had been effectively laid at that point. 

Overcoming the Challenges of the Nigerian Film Industry

Two key challenges in the way of Nollywood’s ability to scale global competitiveness and success remain accessing adequate funding, and piracy. Movie producers are hard-pressed to convince potential investors that their content can resonate deeply enough to attract a huge number of consumers. Many of them also lack adequate equipment and infrastructure to tackle big projects due to limited funding.

Luckily enough, the proliferation of 21st Century cinemas met midway with the cooperation of certain movie producers. These producers chose to provide them premium movie content before being released into the market. They include the likes of Kemi Adetiba, Kunle Afọlayan, Funke Akindele, and Mo Abudu. They capitalized on the latest rave for sampling films at cinemas, as eager Nigerian cinema goers became attracted to these movies. In no time, these movies began to break insane box office record sellouts. 

Yet again is the willingness of some key investors to financially support modern Nollywood projects – especially those targeted at cinema houses. Furthermore, a loan scheme was established to support youth creatives by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Along with the Bankers Committee, the Creative Industry Financing Initiative (CIFI) was set up as a form of youth empowerment. The initiative targets for key industries which are the fashion, music, film, and information technology sectors

Under the scheme, film production firms are able to access up to 83,000 US dollars in loans, and film distribution firms can access up to 1.2 million US Dollars. They are both allowed to repay the loan over a period of between 3 to 10 years, at an interest of just 9 percent per annum. They are also granted a minimum of a 24-month moratorium. 

On the other hand, film piracy has eaten deep into filmmaker’s profits, and further exposed much of Nollywood content as cheap. To curb this trend, a bill was passed by the Nigerian Senate in April 2022 to protect intellectual property rights and fight piracy. Thus, the Nigerian Copyright laws now deem it an offence punishable by law, to broadcast any digital production without the creator’s express approval. If found guilty, offenders are liable to be fined between 217 and 4,339 US Dollars, and up to one year imprisonment. 


There are still vast opportunities and potential yet to be tapped in Nigeria’s film industry. In all, there are great hopes that Nollywood will scale the existing hurdles to become one of Nigeria’s biggest export products in the near future. It is already an economic gold mine that can no longer be ignored. 








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About the author

Robin Okwanma

Hi, I'm Robin Okwanma. Software Engineer || Django, Python || React, React Native || Blogger. Technical Writer.