The cinema of Nigeria, known by its nickname “Nollywood,” has a rich and varied history. It’s one of the largest of its type in the entire world. As of 2015, Nigerian cinema is rated as the second largest film industry in the world, in terms of volume.
Yet there was a time when you’d have been hard pressed if trying to learn about Nollywood on Wikipedia.
That’s where volunteer Wikipedia editor Sam Oyeyele, known on the site by the moniker Jamie Tubers, stepped in. “Before I started editing Wikipedia, I was able to find most, if not all, of the information I needed on films from the U.S., U.K., India, and others on Wikipedia,” he says. “This wasn’t the case with Nigerian films.”
Bringing Nigerian cinema to Wikipedia
This state of affairs did not sit well with Oyeyele. For him, Nigerian cinema is something that “I have been in touch with since my childhood … It’s only natural for me to be drawn to it.” An avid film watcher, Oyeyele began writing articles on Nigerian films in 2011. By 2015, he produced an entire series of articles about the country’s cinematic history. This is one way Wikipedia works: People with drive, dedication, and a passion for a specific topic donate their time towards closing content gaps and improving the free encyclopedia.
The history of Nigerian cinema
Oyeyele’s articles have divided the history of Nigerian cinema into four parts, though there is some overlap between them: the Colonial era, ranging from the late nineteenth century into the 1960s; the Golden Age, from the 1950s to 1980s; the Video film era, from the 1980s to 2010s, and the still-emerging New Nigerian cinema.
It is that last era that interests Oyeyele the most. “Nigerian cinema is quite interesting at the present time,” he writes, due to its “relatively fast-paced technical development, industry restructuring, and a rush in investments.” While elements of New Nigerian cinema emerged in the mid-2000s, news sources have pinpointed the 2009 film The Figurine as its harbinger. The supernatural thriller did not make back its budget at the box office, but received acclaim both within Nigeria and in international film circles.
“At the time when The Figurine was released in 2009, audiences were getting really tired,” Oyeyele writes:
“Film quality had stagnated, and the stories had been watered-down. People wanted more … Then The Figurine came and was perfectly suited to satisfying that thirst. After its release, the industry was transformed, and even better films have since been released. The Figurine is often referenced as the ‘revolutionary film’ which led to the growth and development that the industry is enjoying once again.”
Outside these big-picture articles, Oyeyele has written or helped write dozens of articles on Nigerian cinema, and took up an important role on the global Wikimedia Ombudsman commission.
Challenges along the way
Doing this hasn’t been easy, especially for films that were released more than a decade ago, before the emergence of New Nigerian cinema. Many Nigerian news outlets do not maintain archives, which leads to a significant amount of lost knowledge and a much more time-consuming process for Oyeyele.
He usually resorts to doing research in physical paper sources, which are much better maintained; of the digitized news and research papers that remain, “they usually don’t top the search engines. You have to go through double-digit pages [of search results] before you can find usable sources.”
Expanding Wikipedia across Nigeria
Over the years, Oyeyele has gotten involved in Wikimedia outreach in Nigeria. He’s a co-founder and active member of the Wikimedia user group in Nigeria, for which he has coordinated or helped coordinate dozens of workshops and “edit-a-thons,” events where people join together to edit Wikipedia articles about targeted topics. He’s also worked to establish a “hub” for the user group in Ilorin, the sixth-largest city in Nigeria.
Oyeyele is also a key figure in working to expand awareness of Wikipedia in Nigeria. He and a local marketing group partnered with the Wikimedia Foundation to design two advertisements which went viral, racking up millions of views; ran a contest on Instagram asking people to post about why they love Wikipedia; and helped organize several “Wiki Loves” community outreach campaigns, like the Nigerian component of Wiki Loves Africa 2017.
Internationally, Oyeyele is on the program scholarship committees of Wikimania 2018, the annual gathering of volunteers from around the world to celebrate Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects. He’s also working on a new project focused on cinema from the continent of Africa, aiming to fix both historical and contemporary content gaps related to the topic, and hopes to continue these sorts of outreach work.
“I just feel that although it’s cool that I’m creating all these articles and contributing this much, I can’t do it alone,” he writes. “Wikipedia’s content gaps would be closed much faster if I can get more Nigerians to do the same things I do. We’d get many more topics and interest areas covered.”
Oyeyele’s increased participation in community initiatives doesn’t mean an end to his writing contributions. Nollywood continues to thrive, and new films continue to be released. Oyeyele is still keeping up, making sure new films still get in-depth Wikipedia articles.