Interview with Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, Director General of the Kano State Censorship Board

Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim was appointed Director General of the Kano State Censorship Board by Governor Ibrahim Shekarau in August 2007 following the leaking of a phone video of a popular actress having sex with a boyfriend—a scandal that rocked the Hausa film industry and culminated in the Motion Picture’s Practitioners Association of Nigeria suspending shooting in Kano for 6 months. “Malam Rabo” as he is popularly known in Kano cracked down on the industry with stricter interpretations of the 2001 censorship law than had previously been enforced. Malam Rabo has a BA special honours from the Department of Mass Communications, Bayero University, and was formerly the commandant of hisbah, shari’a police.

I met him in his office on 27 January 2009, on the third floor of the Broadcasting House, Hotoro. I accompanied another journalist who did a brief interview with him, and then Malam Rabo asked me if I had any questions. I’m afraid I did, quite a long list, in fact, and I asked almost all of them. He was gracious enough to accommodate me, though by the end, as he pointed out, he had a long line of people waiting to see him. I’m grateful that he granted me such an extensive audience. After he completed the azahar prayers, we began. He speaks clearly and precisely with a voice that could have benefitted him in radio or television had he chosen that career path rather than one of regulation and enforcement. He grew more impassioned and impatient as the interview went on.

Since this is such a long interview, here is a “roadmap.” I first asked him about the mission of the censorship, his definition of culture, specifics on the ban on dancing and singing, and then on the Iyan Tama case (during which the battery on my digital recorder unfortunately cut out without me noticing it. I’ve attempted to reconstruct, to the best of my ability, what he said. I mark clearly where I transition from direct quote to summary and then back to direct quote again.) After discussing the Iyan Tama case, I went on to ask him about the jurisdiction of the mobile court, the Ibro trial, in which Ibro was convicted without a defense council present. I go on to ask him about the specifics of what the censorship board is censoring including films from outside, whether Nollywood, Hollywood, Bollywood, and what the board is doing about films available through satellite. I follow this up with questions about the specifics of a press release from November 2007 and the requirements that anyone involved in the film industry register individually with the board. I also asked him about the special restrictions placed on women in the film industry, and about the supposed censorship board “hit list” published by Fim magazine. Finally, I concluded the interview with a couple of questions about the censorship of books and literature in Kano state.

Would you mind giving me a brief summary of the goals and the mission and what the Kano State Censorship Board is trying to accomplish?

Kano State as an entity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is mandated by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the concurrent list of the Federal constitution, section 16, subsection A and B, to establish a censoring organ or agency. The entire federation units are mandated by the same constitution, meaning the state can have their independent censorship in addition to what the federal or central government has. So we are using that constitutional provision to benefit the regulatory measures presently under the state edict, the Kano State Censorship Board Law 2001. This law has been in operation for the last 8 to 9 years, and of course, yes, the mandate of the law is to ensure all filmmaking, film productions and related projects, cinemas, viewing centres, video, satellites, were properly managed, properly registered. And of course there is the marketing aspect of this business, and of course there’s the stakeholders, equally accommodated by the laws, to be regulated. So the other aspect of the law has to do with publications in general, including literary, especially creative work. This is where the law mandates that all literary projects should be censored, the original manuscript should be submitted, to ensure all these projects are all free of pornography, free of obscenity, you understand. Things that are unwanted, things that are not part of our societal values are checkmated, and of course there are things that are illegal, meaning things that violate the law of the land. So this is what is all about in the law in addition to other similar assignments. The law is quite broad, because there is the issue of pornography. Pornography in its entirety has been prohibited by the law, notwithstanding other electronic services. In a nutshell, media, film, broadcast, film inclusive are accommodated in the law, and this is what we have been trying to implement all the while. So this is the provision of the law and of course yes, it was made out of the original philosophy, cultural heritage, and our societal ideals. They were the major principles, the major issues that made the law to be a reality in addition to the constitutional mandate given to federated units.

I had a related question. This is a quote from one of the publications of the censorship board. It says “All productions must not jeopardize sensitivity of the general public, thus religion, culture, law, state, and ethics of the profession.” Could you clarify—and you had mentioned that the censorship law is based on cultural values—how are you defining culture?

How am I defining or rather how the law is defining what?

Culture.

The definition of the culture is in the hands of the original people, not adulterators. History is very favourable in this case. And of course, yes, the definition of culture goes with the people. We have what we call material culture. Material culture is very flexible and Hausa as a society, Hausa Fulani as a society, accept changes. We don’t have quarrel with any material culture that comes our way with regard to our accommodation, you understand, our housing, our environment, anything that is going to be developmental, constructive, even from our neighbors or from far, Sahara, Eastern, Middle East, you understand. We can welcome that kind of development because culture is flexible. But the uncompromising culture is the attitudinal culture, and it has to be well represented, and it has to be well portrayed in the course of any project, be it literary, be it electronic. Because that attitudinal culture represents the societal values. It is what is being transferred from generation to generation. It is not the individuals of contemporary Hausa society that represent Hausa as a community. They are all mortals. One day we are not around. Our forefathers are no longer with us. But the attitudinal aspects of our culture remains. So if it is being poisoned, or if it is being adulterated or if it is being misrepresented in this literary or in this creative arts, obviously there will come a time where Hausa-Fulani will have no place to be traced or to be placed, you understand. Now in the course of borrowing culture, we are very mindful of our societal values. We are a very good society of which we believe in dignity. Anything that will tarnish the culture of the Hausa Fulani when it comes to dressing, we will not allow it because it is a clean and respected clan—Hausa Fulani— you understand. So the same thing, when it comes to neighborliness, you understand, we are very good in treating our colleagues, irrespective of your religion, if you have opportunity to be our neighbor, we treat you well. So anything that will come undermining, you understand, such principles that made Hausa-Fulani as a society, we see it very uncompromising. Because when these projects are taken away, or rather taken to other continents, maybe to Europe, maybe to America, you understand, Hausa-Fulani will not be there, might not be there when people will be busy saying, “Ok, this is another society in entirety,” the way we dance in the film will mean that [this is the way] we are and of course we are not, because it is the culture of the Indian film—the influence of the Indian film to the Hausa society in the 70 years, you understand. The mass audience of the Indian films are the women and the youth, and of course, yes, now they are the bulk stakeholders of the Kannywood creative arts, so the influence of what they have been used to in the seventy years, you understand, make them to produce, or sometimes to plagiarize, or sometimes to copy or translate things that were done in another society, in another culture. So obviously that’s why you see that’s why all things were done in a misrepresenting way. So in a nutshell, the definition of culture has to do with the attitudinal culture we want to remain original. Anything that is not we, that is not Hausa-Fulani, shouldn’t be regarded Hausa Fulani. So that’s where we measure things in the context of culture.

Just one thing, and then I want to move on to a few other specifics: on the ban on dancing and singing. I know it was initially banned but then it said it would be all right if it was done in a cultural way. Could you clarify on that—

Yes, to be very specific. In the olden days before the new management of this board, dancing, the illicit dancing, the immoral dancing in a reckless dressed way, in a very obscene code of appearance, sometimes in a seducive and, of course, yes, abusive way, where the culture were the order of the projects, in fact were the 95% content of the Kannywood projects. Go and buy. You will see it yourself. You cannot imagine a film project that is supposed to be for the entertainment, education, and, of course, yes, enlightenment of the general public in accordance with the law and the societal values are now jeopardized. So that is what made the state government sue this board to ban all alien dancing, all alien cultures that were smuggled into our projects, the Kannywood projects, and were made to be representing the Hausa Fulani, where we may not be there. Let’s say in Australia, you understand, we may not be there when the people will assemble and start watching the Kannywood projects. So believe you me, we are saying original dancing, the rawan dab’e, you undertand, the lugude, you understand, which are original, the cultural play between the Fulani, you understand, and the Kanuri, you understand, the Fulani and the Tiv, you understand. In fact, there are other types of jokes, plays, between respective professions, the mahautas, and the fishers, you understand. All these entertainments are accompanied with some unique moral entertainment sort of things. Why shouldn’t it be packaged so that we are portrayed the actual way we are, the original way we are? So in as much as things will be [indistinguishable word] wrongly, and will be made on our behalf, then government is very unbecoming to allow such things to continue being spread, you understand, because the social responsibility of the government is to ensure the dignity of the people, the dignity of the subject is protected, because they can’t protect it themselves, unless if you want people to take law into their hands. This is it.

So if it is done in a culturally appropriate way, then…

We allow it, especially when it tallies with the storyline. There will come a wedding party, you understand, a wedding ceremony. I allow the process of wedding, you understand. That is where you will see modern cultures. People will come with their cars. We don’t have cars in the olden days in the Hausa Fulani, you understand. We have donkeys, we have horses. But now that we are in modern time, if you are trying to give a scenery of the wedding congregation, you will see people in their respective dresses, some in English wears, you understand, some with barbed head, some without barbing, you understand, we allow all those things, we see it material. But in the course of performing it, there are fundamental things supposed to be there. If you have Kalangu people trying to make what we call “rokon baki,” you understand, the town criers mentioning all what is happening there in a joking way, creating jokes, trying to extract money, you understand, from the wealthy individuals in the congregation, why must we quarrel with that, and of course there are some with their drums, you understand, so they are purely our culture…. I am talking where you see a girl, you understand, coming down from a mountain, kneeling down to a rose, to a flower, you understand, as if she is worshipping that flower, you understand. Somebody hugging a girl, making a dance, you understand, a rock way of it, you understand, a puff way of it, definitely it is not ours, it has to be out of our projects. That is what we mean.

I was wondering specifically about the mixing of men and women,  because I was at the opening of the Goethe Institute back in October, and the Koroso International Troupe—I believe there was a representative of the governor and also the emir there—and the Koroso International Troupe with men and women were dancing together. I was wondering what the difference was between the dancing in the films and that particular kind of dancing?

You don’t have to be wondering, you understand. To us, you understand, any person that is defaulting any side of the law, we see him as an offender, you understand. And of course, yes, whether it is an official occasion whereby, you understand, government representation is there, whether it is a public occasion where there is no government agents in attendance, it doesn’t implies. What it implies is what they are doing and what is the position of the law on it.

(and my battery died on my recorder without my knowing it, so I will  reconstruct the following portion from my quite detailed notes until I get to place where I realized by recorder had died and changed the battery.)

Malam Rabo further stated that the censorship is concerned about any individuals who are undermining the morality of the society. “It gives a bad picture of society.” He particularly focused on how “if women are commercialized, we see it as unbecoming, dehumanizing.” He also stated that the censorship board makes no difference between the individual and the government. So even if there was a representative of the government or an emir at an event, this does not mean it is exempt from the law. If it breaks the laws it is banned. He mentioned that last year, during Eid el Kabir, they took the government agency, the Zoological Garden, to court over some displays they had performing there. “Ours is not selective justice. If they breach our guidelines, the law disallows it.”

I then asked the following question from my notes:

I also wanted to ask about the case of Iyan Tama being charged. One of the charges against him is that he did not register his company Iyan Tama Multimedia with the censorship board, but there is a website where he has scanned in the receipts for payment to the censorship board in 2008. Why is he being charged with not renewing his membership?

He told me that he was glad I had brought up this case of placing receipts on the internet. He said that a receipt is evidence of payment; it is not a certificate. He asked if Iyan-Tama had a certificate from 2005, where were those of 2007, 2006 or 2008. He asked me if I purchased a form for admission into the university whether it was proof of admission. He said that he would have to return the forms with attached documents, and that the censorship board had not received further documentation. He showed me a stamped piece of correspondence and said that the board stamps all mail brought in to them, but that they did not have further documentation from Iyan Tama. He claimed that Iyan Tama “refused to follow up on the registration.”

I then asked this question from my notes: Part IV, item 16 of the 2001 Censorship law says that no films produced or issued by the diplomatic representative of a foreign country will be subject to censorship law. Why is Iyan-Tama’s film Tsintsiya, which was sponsored by the U.S. embass,y being censored under this law?

He answered that this was just one side of the law, and that elsewhere, there are other provisions and legal documents that follow up that law. He said the exemption process is spelt out as to what sort of content will be exempted and Iyan-Tama’s film is not exempted. When I asked him about these procedures for exemption, he said that in order to receive exemption, you must apply to the board. He said that the law was originally intended more for informational projects for projection, like teaching people irrigation and other such viable projects coming with nonprofit motivations. He said, “There was nothing like that in his film. It was a purely commercial venture.”

I mention that Iyan-Tama had stated publically, even before his arrest about how the film was not for sale in Kano. He said in an interview with Fim Magazine at the Zuma Film festival that because he did not want to have legal trouble with Kano state that he was not going to release his film in Kano.

This was his answer, as close to direct quotes as possible that I recorded in my notes—with some very rapid scribbling:  “As for his stating that the film was not for sale in Kano, he is our stakeholder, and if he has information like this we deserve to be informed. Was there that official communication? Was there any correspondence between his company and us? Even if he made a public announcement, we were not officially intimated of that. We found it in the Kano Market. Three stakeholders were selling films, without being liscensed…” The basic gist of the rest of his response was that if Iyan-Tama did not want to be responsible for any of the films being sold in the state, then he had to communicate officially with the board about his decision not to sell in the state and that a public announcement was not enough.

I further asked him if Iyan-Tama was to be held responsible for any copies of the films that might have been smuggled into the state without his knowledge. That is when I discovered that my recorder had stopped and started it back up again. The remaining interview is transcribed from my recording:

He is in a position to testify how it comes in, but we know it comes in a business way, because we found it on sale, and that is how we apprehended the marketers. They were punished before the law, much earlier before he was arrested, meaning, whether smuggled, whether brought officially, now that is his own problem. That is why we are saying that knowledge should work in filmmaking because if somebody is knowledgeable and you have your project, you will strategize how to circulate your film, so that it will not be abused, you understand, so you can only strategize the marketing procedure if you are knowledgeable, if you are learned, if you know the marketing, the distribution strategy of film projects. So that is what we are saying, but if things are loosed and done in an ignorant and illiterate way, then obviously somebody might abuse your production, or you yourself you will be abusing the law unknown to you. So, we don’t know which one it was, all we are saying is that the law says anything that is intended to be marketed in Kano, in as much as it is a film or related project, must be censored by this board. If it is an exemption, application should be made to that effect, of which we will clear and we will grant that exemption certificate and then the project or the film will remain in circulation. None of this has been actualized, has been regularized, has been formalized with this board. Therefore we see it as very illegal. We see it as unbecoming and it deserves to be punished.

Ok, I have a question about whether there a publication available for purchase that I could get for my own research—a publication of the censorship laws?

Yeah we have it, you go to the Gazette Unit of Kano State. You will get our law. Our law is public. It is meant for public. You can purchase it there.

When was the last update to the law?

No, since the very day the law was made in 2001, up to this very moment, there has not been any amendment. It remains original, and the original authors of the law are no more around. It is not even this administration, you understand. It was made much earlier than now, my dear.

Ok, so I think I quoted part of the interview with Sani Mua’zu where it says “The law says that the fine should be no more than 100,000, whereas he has records that people have paid 500,000…

I think I can [only] partially answer this question because I shouldn’t assume the duty of a legal officer, a prosecutor, or a judge, you understand. To the best of my knowledge there are other provisions of which specific fines were spelled out. Some fine, or imprisonment with option of fine. There are some provisions which would combine all. There are also other sides of the law which fines illimitably. I am very aware of such sections of the law. If you go to your research you will see it. And there are other types of offences of which the imprisonment is not also spelled out. Some will say not less than one year, some will say not more than one year, as per issue of imprisonment, you understand. So for the one that you were asked by the law, as a judge, not less than one year, now is at your discretion as a lay man, to me, to quantify the gravity of the offences to make it one year, one day, you understand or make it one year, five days. So this is best to be answered by the judge of the mobile court, but to the best of my knowledge, there are other provisions that do not spell out specific amounts to be charged or to be fined. And above all, the issue of fine is not our affair, it is that of the judicial service commission. The board does not take any kobo. Even the receipts that were issued, is not that of the board.

Also, again, this might not be part of your jurisdiction, but could you clarify the jurisdiction of the mobile court, there have been cases where people have been taken before the court and sentenced, for example Ibro, I think, was sentenced to three months in prison without option of fine without having a lawyer present. So could you explain to me the jurisdiction the mobile court is given to convict people without the benefit of lawyers?

[UPDATE 14 March 2009: Please note that the following linked passages were quoted in the article “Hard Times in Kannywood” published in NEXT on 8 March 2009. The quotes are copyrighted to NEXT.”]

It is a misinformation for somebody to say that the board or our mobile court tries people without being given the right of legal representation. Over 85% of the cases dealt by the mobile court of this board were undertaken in the presence of defense counsels or respective accused persons, so it is a misnomer, it is mischievous and misinformation. But of course yes, if somebody pleads guilty immediately after a charge is mentioned to him, and, of course yes, there is not any council, and he did not intend to present any counsel, then obviously the judge has every right, you understand, to respond to his confessional statement before the court of law, because a charge is mentioned to the actual accused, and, of course yes, he confessed guilty and he has no representation and he is not willing to produce any. Such few cases were equally judged, judgments were fast, you understand. So in a nutshell, it is a misnomer to say that people were not given the right of having representation, a legal council to represent them in the course of our trials. This is misinformation.

Even that of Ibro you mentioned, you understand. He was the person—he pleaded guilty, and he repeated it. He was even asked what he was appealing to the court. He responded to the court that he wanted mercy, he wanted some sort of leniency. That is how the judge, you understand, went ahead to pass his verdict.

I don’t believe there was any person denied lawyers. Because we are known in a battle of law with various many chambers in the state, you understand, to tell you that, really, we allow legal representation.

The very rapid nature of the mobile court. Does that allow for people to procure lawyers if they need it. For example, I know Ibro was arrested and within maybe 30 minutes of arriving….

What we are operating is a mobile court. And our law was very categorical. Mobile court is of strict liability. You do this. You don’t do this. We have been campaigning, we have been enlightening our state holders to always have in their possession, certificates of registration, licensed for their business premises, so that if the law, if the court of law, if the mobile courts charge, you can immediately present that “this is my certificate,” you are free. For nonproduction of your certificate to the mobile court, you understand, you are bound to be charged. If you will plead guilty, you understand, the prosecutor has every right to tell the court that, yes, I am, rest assured that this person is guilty because he confessed guilty. Subsequently, after that the judgment must be fast. So this is how in certain cases, some people, we will ease things for them because they know they are wanting. They know they are faulty, they are defaulters, they immediately confess. So in that case, what do you do, especially if you haven’t expressed any interest in producing a legal counsel. So, in a nutshell, my dear, nobody was ever prosecuted by this mobile court without being given a fair hearing. Judgment is judgment. A count charge will be mentioned. If there is no fair hearing, why must he be told of the count charge? After you were told of the charge, then you will be asked for a response. If you say I will not talk until my counsel is around, nobody will force him to talk, you understand. If he says, yeah, I breached that section of the law, but I am pleading with the court to temper justice with mercy, this and that, no problem. Of course there’s the prosecutor, and things has been eased for him, he will just go with his last prayer to the court that the judgment should be passed.

One last detail about the Ibro case. I know Ibro Aloko, which was one of the films that was being charged with indecent dancing in it….

Point of correction. We did not charge him with a film but rather with an album. There is a film, really, earlier produced and certified by this board as Ibro Aloko, rest assured. But what we charged him to court was an album, which is entirely different with a film, and that was how he was prosecuted on that album because nor Ibro and his production company, neither the producer could produce certificate from this board that Aloko as an album was certified and censored by this board. So that was how he was charged.

Ok, so the compilation of his songs and dances from films….

I don’t know what was the compilation, whether it was originally from his company or from other joint productions, but all we know is that an album was apprehended in circulation in the market, you understand, of which, of course, yes, we did not certify, we did not censor. You understand. So the marketer, you understand, and of course, yes, the company, and, of course, yes, the key principle producers were apprehended.

Another question about the jurisdiction of Kano state censorship law, does this fall under shari’a law or under constitutional law—

Never, when we had this law in 2001, there was nothing like shari’a implementation in Kano. It was purely a constitutional and a literary law. And it is a global issue. You are aware everywhere there are censorship agencies. We are a regulatory body. There is censorship in U.S., you understand. There is censorship in Britain. The Hayes code of the U.S. censorship is even stringent compared to what we are exercising here in Africa, here in Nigeria, in Kano. So believe you me, when the law was established, there was not this campaign for shari’a, so it was not made out of the agitation for shari’a. No, the law was very much on ground before the shari’a agitations. It was coined and it was provisioned by the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, but our elected members of the house of the then 2001 were very mindful of our culture, were mindful of our philosophy, were mindful of the law of Nigeria before they came up with the law. So that is why the law fits Kano people.

So what exactly is the censorship board censoring. Is it all films in Kano or is it just Hausa films?

All films in Kano, including those that were produced outside Kano but intended to be marketed or to be sold in Kano. Obviously, if you are interested in Kano market, you must bring the film for us to view it, to censor it, to re-preview it, to be rest assured that [there is] nothing damaging to Kano society. If we see it free of immorality, if we see it in consonant with our Kano principles, if we see it contributive to our people, then we allow it, and you continue with your business. But if you bring something destructive, maybe you are producing a film that belittles holy Jesus, we don’t allow it because there are non-Muslims in Kano. If you bring a film, being a Christian, that belittles the Prophet Mohammed, we don’t allow it. If you bring a film that cast Yoruba as a clan, we will not allow it even if it is being produced outside Kano, because it is our social responsibility to ensure social respect, social dignity of the entire community that are living in Kano, whether they are original Kano people, or they are settlers, or they are passerbyes.

Ok, so what about the Indian films, Hollywood films and southern Nigerian films that are being sold, are they all being passed through the Kano State censors’ board?

We have what we call secondary censoring. Films that were produced outside of Kano, and we don’t have access to original producers who we’ll ask to make some editing. Then the best of our own measures secondarily is to ensure that film is banned from circulation in the state. But for somebody who is producing a Nigerian movie, the Nollywood type of movie, and intends to circulate it in Kano, they have been submitting. In the series of films we have been clearing, there are a lot of Nollywood films, English films that we have certified. Of recent they brought three of each of which I cleared because they are interested in the Kano market. They were produced by the Nollywood producers, you understand. But of course there is the Indian films, this and that, if they are so reckless, if they are so obscene, if they are so immoral, then the next thing for us is to tell the marketers, don’t bring this film again, please, take it away from our Kano market. So this is the secondary way of it, because we don’t have the original producers as applicants before the board, for us to work on it. But if somebody brings it and is interested in the Kano market, we will censor it and we will make sure that he doesn’t blackmail or undermine our society, we will allow it.

I know I’ve seen these dvd compilations of Hollywood films, and I know there are sex scenes in some of them. I know part of the Kano State censorship law is no touching between men and women, no clothing that—

It’s not true. It’s not true. There are certain storylines that will allow. You understand, because if you are filming a scene, where it involves someone who is giving birth to a new baby. As you are aware we have multiple hands to ensure a woman delivers successfully, there will come a time an assistant to the doctor or assistant to the midwifery who may be an opposite sex, be it a male assisting a woman or a woman assisting a male. So for that, if it is intended to reflect—you see them forming shelters, working together, because it is not an issue of obscenity, it is not an issue of arousing sexual desire, it is a professional thing. Somebody is on a duty, dedicated, he doesn’t even think of things. But [if] you allow free mingling in a seducive and abusive way sexually, you don’t have to allow that. If you have such compilations, it is against the law of the land, Kano State Censorship Board and National Film and Video Censorship. We have been fighting these compilations of dvds by Hollywood because it is even undermining their projects. I know it is an act of pirates, you understand. It is something that is 100% illegal by all constitutive authorities. Copyright board is fighting that. National Film and Video Censors is fighting that. Our board is also equally complementing and fighting that.

So all these dvd compilations are illegal?

They are illegal. All these dvds in circulation. You will see a compilation of somebody’s project. I produced more than 10 films. Hard earned money is used to produce these films. But somebody is compiling them, at the cheapest rates. He is undermining my business. He is cheating me. I see it as very, very unbecoming.

So, as long as the touching between men and women is in the storyline of the film….

Apart from the storyline, it doesn’t entail any seducive. It doesn’t attract sexual harassment, it doesn’t pass any message, you understand. Sometimes, my dear, if you give me an extreme close up of a woman on a screen, with her lips wetted, you understand, costumed… Are you harassing me with her? Why must I allow that? Are you passing a message? It is somebody’s daughter, it is somebody’s wife next time. To our culture we don’t allow that. Because you are exposing her, you are abusing her. And imagine the scenery I am prescribing to you. It is not the issue of touching but herself alone, but being done in an abusive way. We will not allow that.

So it is up to the interpretation of the—

Of course and our interpretation goes with our society, goes with our locality.

Ok, you had mentioned at the very beginning of our interview that the Kano State censorship board is responsible for cable and satellite and that sort of thing, so what is the Kano state censorship board doing to—

We have a think tank working together at state and federal level to ensure we approach it in a global way. Now we have similar projects in Dubai, you understand, it is not all stations you see in Dubai. And we are part of the advocacy that really films should be attended in Nigeria. So our colleagues in the southern and eastern part of Nigeria are teaming up together to ensure that what we have been receiving through our satellite are in consonant with the Nigerian people, not something alien that will disabuse, or rather relegate the image of Nigeria as a people.

So for example, a satellite with Africa Movie Magic—

We have not come up with a position, I told you. We are in advocacy. We are trying to come up with a conclusion. So it is hard for somebody to say we mean this we don’t mean that. We mean this, we don’t mean that.

I also have a question about registration. In your press briefing of February 11, 2008, you say “every individual operator MUST register and be issued with a license to operate be it artiste, scriptwriter, designer, director, producer, and other related persons.” So, what if for example, an actor from Lagos appeared in the film, do they have to register with the Kano State Censorship board.

They don’t have to. We are referring to our resident stake holders, professional crew. You don’t have anywhere except Kano as your domain, domicile domain, where you registered to be in production, you understand. Then you deserve to formalize all what is expected of you as a stakeholder with the local authority where you are residing. So our expectation for a Lagos based producer is that all your things were duly formalized with the state government or the professional guilds there in Lagos. So we assume he is a very law-abiding producer. So when he comes here then we will absolve them. Unless, if he is now living here, then of course, yes, he has to register.

So anyone living in the state?

Of course, yes.

What about someone living in Kaduna and based in Kaduna?

No, our jurisdiction is purely in Kano. The same thing.

Also, in the law it says every practitioner has to have a minimum diploma. What of those, for example, who are not Western educated, but have the skill. For example, very talented actors—Are they not allowed to act?

We are not referring that to actors. Artistes are purely talented sometimes and are gifted, so you don’t have to, maybe, measure them from educational qualifications. We are referring to a professional crew, a producer, a director, a cinematographer. For that you are supposed to go to school. How to handle camera, how to direct artistes, how to actualize quality. But for an artist can be categorized into various many groups. You can have the naturally gifted artists, who you can’t produce without him, but if he is taken to school, he will be well polished and will do it better, you understand. So we are encouraging education because education is the best way you do it. So in a nutshell, it is not applicable to the actor or to the actress.

And related to this, you say that a director or producer must produce a diploma or certificate in the field of production from a recognized institution. So that means every director or producer must have this?

Either a diploma or equivalent. Because what we are now doing. We are considerate, we are mindful, can I say, of the baby industry we are operating this time. Things are now becoming better. Now if we insist on diploma almost everybody will be out of it. But at least maybe attended a seminar or workshop where he has been taught the basics of production, basics of directing, basic of lighting, sound, this and that, you understand. You will feel courage to give him the license because he knows A and B, some basics, I mean, of production. But if he has nothing, what will he want to be? He brings nothing. He will produce nothing.

Ok, and number 7 of that particular press release says that “female artistes, musicians, and lyricists must be under the care of her husband, parent, or guardian. Not independent as the case may be”… Could you clarify what you mean by that?

A freelancer in the industry who can be a lyricist, a musician, especially the womenfolk by our culture, by our tradition, by our religion, has to be under the custody of her parents or guardian, because of what we call historical factor. They were abused. There were [cases of] domination. There were a lot of sexual abuse cases to be handled by the board. That historical factor, that nasty experience made the board to assume the social responsibility to ensure the dignity of the womenfolk is to protected in this act. So this is why we say she will be brought to us as somebody certified by her guardian, you understand, so that if we absolve her, nobody will see her as a prostitute or a harlot because they have been passing all these nasty allegations by the larger society, and we can’t stand for her even in a court of law if somebody abused her by saying she is a harlot. Because we know that she did not come to us as a harlot, she came from somebody who introduced her and signed, you understand, that she is an operator and he is a guardian, with his consent the woman is producing. So we want to actualize her dignity and respect. That is why we are determined to do it that way.

Is there an age limit on that or is that for any woman?

For the woman only, because for the man there were not these nasty historical issues, like I mentioned to you.

So that refers to ANY woman or just women from Kano state—

No, you know there are some women who are very old and who are playing motherly roles in the film. You don’t expect all this abuse. That is what we are ever determined to ensure, you understand?  So for an old woman who is 55, getting to 60, what do you expect from her. On her own, she is also guardian for somebody. I am referring to teenagers, 13, 14, 15 year old girls in her puberty period, during her youthfulness, during her maybe promiscuous  period, people will harass her. Some of the stakeholders who are her seniors will harass her or rather will force her into forced sexual whatever, you understand. We are responsible, the government is responsible to ensure things are not done in an exploitive way sexually.

Then, just finally, to the issue of literature. I know you have talked to the ANA [Association of Nigerian Authors] national president. Do writers still need to individually register or is it just the associations now.

What we are said is that we are to register all our stakeholders. They are plea-ing with the board and we accepted their plea that after they perfect registration at the association level, we have our own procedure, you understand, for registration. We register them through the association. A compiled list is sent to us by an association that has registered with the board. We don’t have any right to reject unless if that very individual in the list is a lawbreaker. If that individual in the list is a cultist or a secret society agent, you call on the leadership of the association, you caution them, why are you with this? We are government. We relate with other law agents, intelligence agents as well. Our information about so, so, and so person is that he is illicit, he will destroy the image of your association. Please take him out of your list. We guide them to ensure that they are operating a very good and responsible association, free of anything that will tarnish their image of membership.

Ok, and how is the government aware if a stakeholder is a lawbreaker?

My dear, my dear, we have dossiers for all our citizens. We know where you reside. We know where you are a counselor, we know you are a ward head. We know everybody. Come on. If we want to know that you are illicit, we know better than anybody. It is not government that you get things that you [indistinguishable words] people. I have my file everywhere, personally, talking to you. I have my file in the SSS. I have my file in the police. I have my file everywhere, and they know all my dossier there. If I am mischievous, it is there in the file. It is very easy for a government to tell about her members, the members of the society, I mean. You understand? Very easy.

So, you check the list of writers against—

Yeah, we vet it, we make sure that, yeah, what they are submitting is something that is pertainable. But if they are racking the list with somebody who we know is causing an ignoble  element, then we caution them, that “why for this man? he is not supposed to be registered.” It is we that maybe will educate them. They’ll say “lalala you are helping us. Please, we will fish him out.”

Ok and also just related to the idea of a list. Fim Magazine in November 2008 published a list of 32 people that they said censorship board wanted to catch.

That’s what they said, according to them, but to every, maybe, partial reader will conclude it the way you do. But there was no that interview. It was a junk journalist reporting, and it was mischievous to distance our stakeholders from the board. This is how I see it. They were called. They apologized. They were making fishy explanations. But be it whatever, we are a forgiving agency, you understand. We are very considerate of the atmosphere. We don’t have to be on court cases on everything. We want to be on court cases with something that is objective, you understand. Not misinformation. It is not all misinformation that you react to. So, it is not true. And of course, yes, those that were published and those that were not published, we regard everybody equal. In as much as you will not breach the law, you are free, but if you breach the law you will be corrected for the first time. We have that benefit. We will call you and call your attention. If you refuse or rather if you persist to be breaching the law, I’m sorry for you. Whether you are published there in the magazine or whether you are not published, it is your own palaver.

One of the writers explained to me that there is a way of printing the books where the writer doesn’t have a lot of money. So they gradually raise the money to print the books. So they print the plates first when they find the money, they’ll print the cover. So they said, what if they had printed the plates before this latest issue of having to bring everything to the censorship board?

A loss to a stakeholder, as an individual, is better than for someone to publish unwanted material that will tarnish the entire image of our society. I hope I am well understood. We better, you understand, sanction that person and he lose whatever he is losing, then to allow his publication to go on circulation belittling the society in its entirety, wherever Hausa Fulani is will be blamed for that. Because the power of media cannot be quantified, my dear. So we will not allow that because somebody is losing. He is in a market, so it is an adventure. He can lose or he can gain profit. We are very aware of this.

And finally, are books and films produced before the censorship laws were enacted, can they be sold freely or do they also need to be censored?

They have been in circulation. For those that were very, very serious, you understand—even much earlier before this law, we have Kano stakeholders, who our bound duty to ensure that Kano is well represented in media. So all sorts of things that were very unbecoming for long have been pitched out. But yet, if there is anything that was being produced in the forty years or fifty years and are still very alarming, we are appealing to the general public to get back to this board and ask us to please reconsider the circulation of such things. If they are worthwhile for editing, for re-preview, we will go ahead for that. If they are to be banned, we are ever determined to do that because ours is quality service to the general public.

Finally, does the censorship board have any plans to establish a publishing company, perhaps in conjunction with A Daidaita Sahu, to publish the kind of literature you would like in Kano state?

We have our printing agency already on the ground and it is meant for the state government, of course, yes. But of course, the general public is equally benefitting from it. The charges, the ideals are easily respected and observed there because it is also a government agency. So believe you me, we have where we can publish all we have, because it is the only government owned publishing company in the north. It is the only government-owned publishing company, the Kano printing press, and of course, yes, there is also the Triumph publishing company which is for the media and of course has been used to assist in other publications, both government and other stakeholders in other literary works.

Thank you very much. You’ve cleared up a lot of things.

Ba komai, ba komai, Talatu.

(c) Carmen McCain, 13 February 2009

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10 responses to “Interview with Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, Director General of the Kano State Censorship Board

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