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Nigeria: Omicron guidelines throw a wrench in entertainers’ wheels

By Ruth Olurounbi
Posted on Friday, 10 December 2021 08:52

Sensei Uche anchors an online virtual night party in Lagos
Sensei Uche anchors an online virtual night party alongside DJ Jimmy Jatt, as nightclubs remain closed to curb the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lagos, Nigeria May 15, 2020. Picture taken May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Seun Sanni

Nigerian entertainers and show producers waiting on the December 2021 events season to recover from the impact of the global pandemic, which decimated their income by as much as 90%, are going to have to wait longer as new policy guidelines to curtail the spread of the Omicron variant in Lagos now stand in the way.

Social gatherings in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city and commercial hub of 21 million people are henceforth to be registered with the state government and must only seat only 60% of the capacity limit, according to a directive from State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

Producers are also required to register their events and obtain “Event Safety Clearance” from the state’s safety commission, something analysts say presents a logistical nightmare.

“Everybody, irrespective of vaccination status, must be subject to [a] rapid diagnostic test (Antigen) to be conducted at the event venue or within 24 hours prior to the event at designated laboratories,” the governor said, as part of guidelines for the social events in the city.

Tunde Aluko, a producer whose company produced six seasons of the ‘Teju Babyface’ show, had an 11 December event already sold-out at 80% capacity by 22 November and will now have to refund not less than 20% of the tickets sold.

“It is a nightmarish situation. Shows planned for this weekend already made provisions for 80% capacity, [which] was the existing guideline for post Covid-19 events. Some events have sold out based on this 80% capacity projection and made provisions to the effect. Now we are dealing [with] capacity issue[s] […] 72 hours to events, refunding clients will normally not be a problem, but how do we selectively choose the 20% people to refund?

“These are fans or relationships that have been built for years, how do you call them about 72 hours to your events to tell them they cannot come, these are the issues we are currently dealing with,” Aluko, who owns Lagos-based 111 Media Production, tells The Africa Report.

2019: the golden year

2019 “was probably the best year for entertainment” with data from cinemas showing that several blockbuster movies at the box office did between N300m ($728,491) and N500m, Aluko says. “Concerts were lined up in a 12-day calendar and all sold out, some had venues stepping in to shut down access to avoid [a] stampede and we haven’t considered numbers from private screenings and parties.”

Nigeria’s arts and entertainment industries grew by 4.1% year on year in 2019, but contracted by -4.7% in the third quarter of 2020, according to data from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics.

The Nigerian entertainment and media industry, projected to expand to a $10.5bn market by 2023 from $4.46bn in 2018, per data from PwC’s Entertainment & Media Outlook report, “took a hit” last year when the global pandemic saw lockdowns and cancellations of social events across the country, losing as much as 90% of annual earnings of the Nigerian entertainment industry put that N730bn ($1.8bn) per estimates from the US Trade Department, according to Jide Taiwo, media analyst, researcher, and author from Lagos state.

“Approximately 40,000 jobs were lost as a result of Covid-19. This number includes the several thousand that provide ancillary services to entertainment events i.e vendors, caterers, stagehands, cleaners, gaffers, carpenters, and so on,” he says.

“The new guidelines mean that those venue owners who have been waiting to finally enjoy a take-off in the facilities after a long period of inactivity” are impacted, Taiwo says. “Events producers, as well, [will] have to contend with a reduction in their expected income. 60% capacity means 40% loss on gate takings.”

[With] an exclusive sponsorship or a commissioned show it will be almost impossible to make up for the losses…

“It definitely would also affect their revenue, bearing in mind that since March 2020, there hasn’t been an ‘event season’ at any point. An idea would be to hold those tickets and promise the patrons an upgrade at the next show. However, we don’t know when that would be or if there are still newer variants of the coronavirus on the way in 2022. Hopefully not,” he says.

On paper, Aluko could lose as much as N20m should any cancellations occur, he says. That could lead to a major financial setback, considering that his company is still waiting on refunds from some service providers on cancellations from 2020 shows. “We have dates, we are currently working with venues to have events rescheduled, if you consider how time-bound some entertainment contents are, these [losses] can’t be quantified,” he says.

“[With] an exclusive sponsorship or a commissioned show it will be almost impossible to make up for the losses. Cost of venues has increased, same for other service providers […] considering your prospective audience are also dealing with skyrocketing prices. What we have been able to achieve with this show selling out weeks before the proposed date is break-even on production cost,” Aluko says.

Counterproductive guidelines?

“Another issue many show producers will have to consider in regards to this new policy is the compulsory Rapid Diagnostic test (Antigen) that must be conducted at the venue. This is a logistical nightmare,” Joan Omionawele, a media and marketing communications expert, says from the United Kingdom. “It would have been ideal to show proof of vaccination and tests, but asking people to get tested on the day of the event is counterproductive.

“Entertainers in the country will lose so much because they would have made plans and secured the location and paid event companies, security personnel and even flown some of their colleagues from outside the country.

“…a layer of complexity to the already tricky event logistics angle of Nigerian (Lagos) organisation.

“Wizkid recently performed at the 02 Arena, which has a 20,000 capacity; it was a sold-out event, a sight to behold and the world was really proud of that moment. Also bewildering is the fact that the crowd will reduce by 40%. These entertainers have been patient all through the year and they don’t deserve this,” she says.

Taiwo sees the policy as exclusionary towards those who had been waiting to unwind at the end of the year. “The requirement of vaccination cards too will impact a great deal. I’m not sure what the current vaccination rate is now, but that means that a large section of the populace is by default excluded from all of the entertainment events this December,” he says.

The requirement of vaccination cards is not in itself a bad thing, but Aluko sees it as just adding “a layer of complexity to the already tricky event logistics angle of Nigerian (Lagos) organisation. It’s still quite cumbersome for people to get the vaccine in the first place. Vaccination centres are crowded and that hasn’t been sorted yet. Also, at typical December shows, ticket accreditations, seat allocations, etc take a long time to process. It’s one of the reasons that shows and concerts take a long time to start,” he says.

Omicron uncertainties

Though there are uncertainties as to whether infection with Omicron “causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta,” according to a statement from the WHO’s website, the presence of the coronavirus mutant has already led to travel restrictions and venue limitations.

Afro-beat singer Femi Kuti has been forced to cancel the remainder of his European tour. “Due to current travel[…] restrictions and venue limitations and cancellations, we regretfully have to cancel the remainder of our European winter tour 2021,” Kuti, son of the legendary Fela Kuti, said on Twitter.

Uncertainties around the new Covid-19 strain have led to some clients of an entertainment law firm in Lagos to either postpone or cancel events, The Africa Report has learned. “A client of ours was billed to travel to one of the European Countries for a TV commercial shoot this week; we received a notice that the trip had been cancelled after tickets had been purchased and visas obtained.  It is a huge loss as we were to have billed for the engagement,” Demilade Olaosun, lead solicitor at a media law firm, RBMM Solicitors, says.

Some entertainers, he adds, are having to proceed with a limited budget just to hedge their risk, corroborating Aluko who says “we are already running venues at half capacity which is dealing with our pockets. We have taken too many hits, the entertainment industry, in general, can’t take another blow.”

President Buhari’s optimism

Covid-19 led to the shutdown of public shows and concerts, however, there was an increase in internet music subscribers (154.3 million as of December 2020), digital song sales, and online streaming, according to the US trade department.

“Much of the music industry’s revenue potential, particularly from recorded music, remains untapped. Importantly, music streaming, which accounts for more than half the revenue of the global music industry, shows comparatively low penetration rates in Nigeria,” the US trade department says on its website.

The industry, according to President Muhammadu Buhari, is expected to contribute at least $10bn to the country’s GDP this year.

“After agriculture, the creative sector is the second largest employer of labour in Nigeria today. This is further underlined by a recent report on Nigeria’s creative industry which showed that the industry is positioned as the second-largest employer and has the potential to produce 2.7 million new jobs by 2025,” said Trade Minister Niyi Adebayo at Arise Fashion Week 2021 in Dubai, last week.

“There’s no doubt that Nigeria’s creative sector holds tremendous potential to unlock Nigeria’s economy and increase employment opportunities for young people. The projections are promising as the sector is expected to deliver over $10bn by the end of 2021, making a tremendous contribution to the country’s GDP,” he said.

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