Tag Archives: censorship

French Ambassador rejects the conditions of KS Censorship board for lifting ban on music festival, Punch Reports

Today’s Punch carries an update on the recent cancellation by the Kano State Censorship Board of KAMFEST, the annual music festival hosted at the Alliance Francaise. [It took my browser a long time to open the Punch link. If you can’t get it to open, you can also find the article by Oluwole Josiah at Online Nigeria, unfortunately not credited…]:

The French Embassy has said it would not accept the conditions given by the Kano State Film Censor Board for lifting the ban on the annual music festival known as KANIFEST.

It also said it was unsure of staging the annual festival this year or next year, as the position of the Kano State Government would determine the fate of the festival.

French Ambassador to Nigeria, Jean-Michel Dumond, told our correspondent in an exclusive chat on Monday that discussions with the officials of the censorship board revealed that they were targeting one of the participating singers who was said to have criticised the board for banning music within the state.

He said the board wanted the singer to be withdrawn from the concert, but that condition was not acceptable to the embassy.

“We don’t want to be involved in that kind of situation where it has to do with this person or that person. Ours is to ensure that we promote culture and get the festival to benefit the people.

“If it is reduced to an individual or dealing with one person or the other, we are not interested in that. We have been discussing with the officials of the government, and we do not really have anything to do with the censorship board,” Dumond said.

He noted that the Kano State Governor was not aware of the decision of the censorship board and would be seriously disappointed at the turn of events.

To keep reading the Punch article, follow this link.

When I heard about the closure of the event on Saturday, I was told by filmmakers the rumour that the reason the event had been shut down was because popular Hausa singer Maryam Fantimoti, called the “the box of songs” by Hausa comedian Ari Baba (as cited in FIM Magazine, July 2009, p.41)  was slated to perform. (Maryam was also one of the finalists in Partners in Transforming Health in Nigeria in 2009). In a July 2009 interview with Fim Magazine, Fantimoti responded to a question about registering with the Kano State censorship board (my translation in italics):

Ana ta zuwa ana rijista da Hukumar Tace Finafinai ta Jihar Kano. Ke kin je kin yi kuwa?

People are going to be registered with the Kano State Film Censor’s Board. Have you gone?

Ban je ba, kuma ban yi ba, domin ni dai ba kamfani ne da ni ba, koyaushe ina gidan mu; in ka ga na fita an bugo waya ne ana nema na sannan in fita.

I haven’t gone, and I haven’t registered, because I am not with a company. I’m always at home. If you see me go out, it’s because I have been called [to work], that’s when I go out.

Ai ba kamfani ba, wai a matsayin ki na mawakiya tunda mawaka ma duk su na zuwa suna yi.

Not that you are a company, supposedly it’s supposed to be done because you are a musician, since all the other musicians are going to do it.

Ni ban sani ba, domin ban ga takarda a rubuce ba, kuma ni komai nawa cikin tsari na ke yi. Kai, ni tun da na ke jin mawak’a, na ke jin labarin su, ban tab’a jin an ce Shata ko Garba Supa ko D’ank’wairo ko Hassan Wayam da Barbani Choge sun yi ko suna da rijista ba. Shi kenan kuma don mu aka raina sai a ce sai mun yi wata rijista?

Me, I don’t know, because I haven’t seen anything written on it; everything I do is done properly and in order [NOTE: the translation of this last sentence could be off.] Kai, ever since I have listened to singers and heard news about them, I’ve never heard that [a list of older “traditional” Hausa musicians] Shata or Garba Supa or  D’ank’wairo or Hassan Wayam or Barbani Choge were registered. So, now we are held in contempt unless we go and do some registration?

[Note, that on the question of individual registrations for musicians, writers, or filmmakers, Director of the Kano State History and Culture Bureau (a Kano state government agency which helped plan the music festival), Ali Bature opined, when I asked him, a few days ago, that there was no such specification in the Kano State censorship law. The entire censorship law can be found in the library of the Kano State History and Culture Bureau for those interested in looking through it. If this interpretation of the law is correct, Maryam’s understanding that it was only companies that were supposed to register with the censorship board would be correct.)

Although Maryam Fantimoti was not able to perform at the music festival that was shut down by the Kano State Censorship Board, you can hear her singing along with DJ Yaks on his song “Rukky,” one of the songs featured (timecode 12:09) during the recent 26 February interview VOA did with DJ Yaks. ” (The link to the sound file is here–the written interview here.) “Rukky” can also be found on DJ Yak’s myspace page. (Please note that DJ Yak’s music is not for sale in Kano.) I will link to any other of Maryam Fantimoti’s music I can find online, as I find it.

She is also the female voice in the songs featured in the Hausa film Zo Mu Zauna

Update: 3-day international music festival cancelled by Kano State Censor’s Board

Daily Trust, 1 March 2010, p. 7

In an update to my last post, I spoke briefly today with Alain Service, the director of the Alliance Francaise in Kano, and he confirmed that the Kano State Censor’s Board sent a letter to the Alliance Francaise about two hours before the three-day KAMFEST music festival, an annual event that has taken place at the Alliance Francaise for the last 6 years, was to begin. Service said the letter told them to stop the festival. He claimed that the letter gave no other reason for cancelling the event other than saying that they had no right to hold the event without informing the Censor’s Board.

There were also brief articles in the Daily Trust and by AFP about the cancellation of the three-day event, which was to feature artists from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and France.

The AFP news report says:

Sharia police ordered the closure of an annual music festival funded and organised by the French embassy in northern Nigeria at the weekend, local officials and diplomats said on Monday.

“We have banned the music festival for the reason that we were not notified and our permission was not sought,” Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, head of the film censorship board in the northern Kanoregion, told AFP.

The French embassy said they had been told they could not stage the event at the local French cultural centre as they did not have prior authorisation.

“Following a notification by the Kano state censorship board, the Kano festival of music is cancelled” the French embassy said in a statement emailed to AFP.

The embassy has organised the three-night KANFEST music festival for the past six years through its cultural centre in Kano, featuring performances from Nigeria and other African countries as well as French musicians.

It seems strange to me that the Kano State Censor’s Board had the power to halt the event, when another Kano State agency, the History and Culture Bureau had helped in planning the event. One person I spoke to at the Alliance Francaise said that she thought the Censor’s board was limited to censoring films, but that since the event was cancelled at the Alliance Francaise she had heard that the censor’s board is saying that even performances at weddings have to gain permission from the censorship board ahead of time. When I asked the director of the History and Culture Bureau, Ali Bature about the relationship between the two state agencies, he said that the History and Culture Bureau had a “cordial relationship” with the Kano State Censor’s Board and had in fact been instrumental in helping to found the board in 2000 as a way to protect filmmakers and allow them to continue making films after the establishment of shari’a law in Kano State. He did, however, note, when I asked him, that there was no legal basis in the Kano state censorship law, for the individual registration of artists. He said the expectation was that guilds would be registered with the censor’s board but that individual artists were the guild’s responsibility. A copy of the entire Kano State Censorship law can be found in the Kano State History and Culture Bureau, for anyone who would like to peruse it. According to film industry practitioners I have spoken to, censor’s board workers on multiple occasions(one such occasion is described in one of my March blog posts) have visited locations of films being made in Kano to check whether each member of the cast and crew is individually registered with the board. Although I was not able to confirm this with Mr. Service, the rumour I have heard from multiple sources is that part of the reason the Censor’s Board shut down the event was because Maryam Fantimoti, who is not registered with the Censor’s Board, was slated to perform at the event.

[[UPDATE 3 March 2009. In an article in today’s Punch, “France Rejects condition for lifting ban on Music Festival,” [If you have trouble getting the link to open, you can also find the article copied here] Oluwole Josiah reports:

French Ambassador to Nigeria, Jean-Michel Dumond, told our correspondent in an exclusive chat on Monday that discussions with the officials of the censorship board revealed that they were targeting one of the participating singers who was said to have criticised the board for banning music within the state.

He said the board wanted the singer to be withdrawn from the concert, but that condition was not acceptable to the embassy.

“We don’t want to be involved in that kind of situation where it has to do with this person or that person. Ours is to ensure that we promote culture and get the festival to benefit the people.

“If it is reduced to an individual or dealing with one person or the other, we are not interested in that. We have been discussing with the officials of the government, and we do not really have anything to do with the censorship board,” Dumond said.

He noted that the Kano State Governor was not aware of the decision of the censorship board and would be seriously disappointed at the turn of events.

Josiah also reports that:

The French Embassy has said it would not accept the conditions given by the Kano State Film Censor Board for lifting the ban on the annual music festival known as KANIFEST.

It also said it was unsure of staging the annual festival this year or next year, as the position of the Kano State Government would determine the fate of the festival.]]]

Today, I passed by a roundabout near the government house several times, and the banner advertising KAMFEST was still there, flapping abandoned in the breeze.

Kano State Censors Board bans films on the history of Islam and the prophets and shuts down 15 shops

"Kano films censors board shuts 15 shops," Sunday Trust, 14 February 2010, p. 33

Two days ago (my internet has been down for a day and a half–thus the delay in posting this), I read in the Sunday Trust and the Hausa language weekly Aminiya a story I had heard from filmmakers a week and a half ago before my trip to Abuja. I hadn’t blogged about it because I had only heard ji-ta-ji-ta (rumours) about it, but the newspapers confirm the story.

Apparently, according to Ruqayyah Yusuf Aliyu in the Sunday Trust, 14 February 2010, page 33, “Kano films censors board shuts 15 shops,” the Kano State Censorship Board closed 15 video shops over “selling tapes of the history of Prophet Yusuf.” (Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the link to the article online. If I find it, I will link to it here. In the meantime, here is a photograph of the article.)

The Director General of the Kano State Censorship Board, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, “said in an interview in Kano that

“banning the sales of such films has become necessary as it is against the teachings of Islam and therefore will not be allowed in the state.”

Rabo also mentions that

“under aged children who can easily be influenced are also involved in hawking such films along the streets without knowing the implications. He also said the ban was as well in the interest of potential customers who might not get to these children even if they found the films were bad.”

In response,

[S]ecretary of the Kano film sellers association, Malam Isa, described shutting down the shops by the censorship board as unfortunate as the director general of the board did not keep to the promise of briefing them on what stand it is taking on the sales of the film before acting.

“I can recall that the DG sometimes in October last year invited us for a meeting at A Dai Daita Sahu and during the meeting, one Islamic scholar, Malam Aminu Daurawa, mentioned that watching the film was not appropriate and after the meeting, we met the DG at his office on the matter and he told us that was just a dialogue among scholars which does not involve us. He then promised that he was going to inform us on any development thereafter but unfortunately he didn’t. The next thing we saw was the closure of the shops” he said.

Malam Isa said that the film sellers:

“have reported the case to the Emir of Kano and as Muslims we are ready to comply with the ban so long as it is Islamic scholars that will come together to prove that the film is contrary to the teachings of Islam.”

He also lamented the loss of business this was causing to the shop owners saying:

“business has been their major source of livelihood and now that the board has closed the shops, these people are finding it hard to survive.”

The Hausa weekly Aminiya, 12 February 2010, provides more details. I will provide a summary of the article in English here—please note that this is NOT a direct translation but a summary in my own words.

Bashir Yahuza Malumfashi writes in “Hukuma ta haramta sayar da fina-finan tarihin Musulunci a Kano” (p. 21) (“The [Censor’s ]Board bans selling films on the history of Islam in Kano”) that the director of the censors Board Malam Abubakar Rabo went to the Kofar Wambai market and closed four shops where they were selling films on the history of Islam, specifically the film on the history of the Prophet Yusuf [Joseph] and the film The Message.

In a radio program on Radio Kano, DG Abubakar Rabo said that “the censors board had closed 15 shops in Kano and he warned others who were selling the films.”

Aminiya reporters went to the Kofar Wambai market to see the shops that had been closed, and one of the film marketers, Musa Abdullahi Sanka who started selling film cassettes in 1976, said that the story was true. The Censors board had come and closed shops selling films on the history of the Prophet Yusuf and the history of Islam, The Message.

When Aminya asked Abdullahi Sanka what reason the Censors Board had given for closing the shops, he said that the censors said that they should stop selling the film because apparently there were some Islamic scholars who had issued a fatwa on selling films on the history of the prophets, saying such films were not appropriate.

The marketer responded saying that the businessmen wanted the well-respected Islamic scholars in Kano to come together and say whether the films were appropriate or not. If they said they were not appropriate, then how could they correct them? If they gave very strong reasons for banning the films, then the marketers would stop selling them.

The marketer told Aminiya that four shops in Kofar Wambai had been closed: that of Alhaji Salisu, that of Ahmadu Hussaini, that of Anas, and another Igbo marketer whose name he did not give.

He said that the film sellers got the films from Misira, others from Lagos, others were brought from Arab countries. He said that he had heard that the film on the Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) was made by Shi’a in Iran, and that is why the Censorship Board had cooperated with the fatwa of an Izala scholar against the film.

When he was asked if he had seen the film and if it seemed to be appropriate, he said that he hadn’t seen the entire film but that he remembered how when he had been fifteen years old, the late Islamic Scholar Sheikh Nasiru Kabara had told the history of the Prophet Yusuf, and what he had seen of the film followed exactly what the scholar had told them.

The Secretary of the Film sellers association of Kofar Wambai Market, Malam L. Isa said that the discussion with the Censors board had started last year. The Censors Board had invited them to a meeting organized by A Dai Daita Sahu (the government sponsored Societal Reorientation Directorate) on 24 October, where it was said that Sheikh Aminu Daurawa had preached a sermon in which he said that it was not right to watch this type of film on the history of the Prophet Yusuf. “When we heard this, we asked the director of the Kano State Censorship board about this. He told us we shouldn’t worry that it would not affect us. But we were surprised that day, without notice, without letting us know, people came to the market and closed shops belonging to those in our association.”

He said that after the shops were closed, they complained to Malam Rabo who did not listen patiently to them. This is why they went with their complaint to the Emir of Kano. “What is happening with us right now. We went to Director Malam Rabo, but he didn’t listen to us or give us any good answer. He even kicked us out, so we got up and we went to our father, the emir of Kano, and carried our complaint to him. Since there are big men in power, we should let them know what is going on with us—If they don’t know what has been happening, they will now know.”

The Secretary continued,” We called on the emir to negotiate between us and Malam Rabo because we have been obeying the government and the censors board, but now there is no understanding between us. People were sent from the board to us without anyone letting us know there was  such a law.”

Another marketer Alhaji Nasiru Ibrahim K’ok’i, better known as Palasd’inawa, also expressed his unhappiness at the actions of the Censor’s Board. He said that they had been watching films on the lives of the prophets since they had been children. On Muslim holidays, the Kano state television station used to play them.

“It shouldn’t be that the judgment of a single Islamic scholar becomes the basis of the entire Muslim culture. Now Malam Rabo should tell us what kinds of films that we should be watching, because they have banned Hausa films saying that they are spoiling women and children. So now why are they banning films on Islamic history, since no one can say they are spoiling culture?’

The director of the Kano State Censors Board, Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim explained the reason for the ban. He said that it is in accordance with the culture and the findings of Islamic scholars who said that such films were not fitting as they were not respectful to the prophets.

The gist of Malam Rabo’s statement was that the Kano State Censors Board was created keeping in mind Islam and the judgments of Islamic scholars who guide the community. The board had heard from the association of Islamic scholars and other religious organizations that people were trying to make money on offensive films made about the lives of the messengers of God. He also noted that they had called a meeting through a Dai Daita Sahu (Societal Reorientation Directorate) where one of the Islamic scholars had shown the danger of these types of films that were insulting to the Messengers of God and culture.

Malam Rabo said that this is the reason the Censor’s board said that the selling of these types of films must stop because it was not fitting to show another man in the film claiming to be the Messenger of God. He further said that the Board would continue to hunt down those who brokered and spread films in Kano state, especially, he emphasized, those who were selling films on the sides of the roads because this is illegal.

To read the article in Hausa, see the photo of the article here:

Board bans selling films on the history of Islam in Kano”], Aminiya, 12 February 2010, p. 21″]

Aminu Ala given bail on condition that he does not speak with media

Authors Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino and Ibrahim Sheme on the Finafinan_Hausa listserve both report that Aminu Ala was released yesterday, July 9, 2009, on bail, but on the condition that he does not speak with local or international media. The case was adjourned until 20 July 2009.

On his blog, Ibrahim Sheme reports on the granting of bail

But there’s a caveat. Ala was barred from granting interviews to local and international media – clearly a desperate attempt to muzzle his freedom of expression and the freedom of the press on the issue. The court ruled that his bail would be thwarted if he does so.

Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino gives a detailed summary in Hausa of the court case on July 9, which I will copy below. He reports that despite the large rainstorm of the night before and the water on the roads, the court was completely full at 10am when the case was scheduled to begin, including even “girls and married women who had heard the news of the case on the radio.” The judge did not show up, and they were told to wait or come back at 1pm. At 1:45pm, the judge finally showed up, and gave Ala bail until the court meets again on 20 July, except that (Gidan Dabino puts this in all caps) “THE COURT PROHIBITED HIM FROM TALKING WITH DOMESTIC OR FOREIGN JOURNALISTS.” He continues “We and those from outside will continue talk.” In the meantime the Kano branch of the Association of Nigerian Authors came out with a press release on 8 July 2009, which I will copy in it’s entirety after the report in Hausa by Gidan Dabino.

KOTU TA BA DA BELIN ALA
Barka da warhaka ‘yan’uwa, kamar yadda na bayar da bayanin yadda aka ce an daga zaman kotu sai 14 ga wata, baya ta haihu, domin an sami kuskure wajen rubutun da ma’aikatan kotun suka yi, amma bayan kai kawo da aka yi aka gano kuskuren ma’aikatan koton don sun rubuta kwanan watan da ba daidai ba, bayan kai kawo da ka yi an dawo da zama kotun yau kamar yadda aka ambata a baya.
Yau da misalin karfe 10 na safe jama’a sun yi dafifi sun cika kotu, cikar kwari kotun ta yi, duk da ruwan sama da ake yi, yau kotun har da matan aure da ‘yan mata da zaurawa da suka ji labari a rediyo, sun sami hallara. Amma mai shari’a bai fito ba, ya ce sai karfe 1, nan ma bai zauna ba sai 1.45 sannan ya zauna  kuma Alkalin kotun ya yarda ya bayar da belin Ala, sannan za a ci gaba da shari’a ranar 20/ga wannan wata.
Sai dai KOTUN TA HANA SHI MAGANA DA ‘YAN JARIDU NA GIDA DA WAJE.
Allah sarki! Mu da muke waje za mu yi hirar. Ai gari da mutane maye ba zai ci kansa ba!
Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, Kano, Nigeria

You can visit my blog Taskar Gidan Dabino at http://gidandabino.blogspot.com
The ANA press release is as follows:
Press Release
At an emergency meeting held at the Bayero University Kano, today, July 8, 2009, the Association of Nigerian Authors Kano State Branch, frowns at the arrest of one of its members Alhaji Aminuddeen Ladan Abubakar (ALA) over the alleged release of a song that has not been censored by the Kano State Censorship Board.
The Association is seriously looking at the implication of the arrest which is seen as an attack on liberty and freedom of expression. The Association has observed that the authorities in Kano are hostile to art and literature. This action and other past actions of the authorities are seriously undermining the position of Kano State as the leading centre of learning, art and literature.
The Association wishes to advise the authority to be cautious on the way it handles the matters of authors and other producers of art. Art and literature are part and parcel of every
society and no society can do without it.
Yours faithfully,
Dr. Yusuf M Adamu
Branch Chairman
Alh. Balarabe Sango II
Public Relations Officer
July 8, 2009




Recent news on the activities of the Director General of the Kano State Censorship Board

 Recently the Director General/Executive Secretary of the Kano State Censorship Board, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim has been receiving quite a bit of publicity from the local press about recent actions taken to control creative expression in Northern Nigeria.

Several news sources have reported that Alhaji Rabo has been on a campaign around northern Nigeria encouraging other states to implement censorship boards. Nigerianfilms.com (likely plagiarizing from another unlisted sources, as is their tendency—I’ve had my own experience with that…) reports  on May 14 2009 that he visited the Borno Commisioner for Information, Dr. Bukar Usman, saying, `

`We are in Borno to seek for collaborative efforts to tackle a menace that is ravaging the entire Northern states. I am talking about the Hausa Video Film Industry.” […]

He said the film makers had deliberately changed the original concept of Hausa culture by introducing elements from Indian films. 

“The characteristic of the Hausa film today is that of `sing and dance’ adopted from the Indian culture. 
“This no doubt has poisoned and adulterated the rich cultural heritage of the Hausa man which is cherished all over the world,” he said. 
He said the practice was a violation of professional ethics by the actors as it was not in consonance with the provision of the Nigerian constitution. 

[NOTE: Could someone please explain to me how singing and dancing is a violation of professional ethics or of the Nigerian constitution?]

“We have been misrepresented by the actors as a group of unserious individuals who have nothing to show but sing and dance. 
“This must stop now, because we are duty bound to ensure that the situation is rectified without delay,’’ he said. 
He said that the state government had taken drastic action to arrest the situation. 
“But most of the actors have shifted base to neighboring states such as Kaduna, Kastina and Borno. 

The Commissioner of Information from Borno state said in response that

“We are ready to team up with you to achieve the desired goal.’’

  Ibrahim Sidi Muh’d of Leadership of 9 June notes that the Zamfara State Commissioner of Information, Alhaji Ibrahim Danmaliki

described the efforts applied by the Kano censorship board as commendable and worthy of emulation by all Muslims,” urging for the “Federal Government to ban all pornographic satellite stations managed by some western countries.” 

[NOTE: Interestingly many of the people in the North I know who have satellite, have Nile-Sat, a satellite company based in Egypt, but which nonetheless includes  Western stations like Fox Movies and MTV in their satellite lists.]

Leadership of 22 June 2009 reports that in a paper presented at Ahmadu Bello University’s Centre for Islamic Studies, Zaria,  

 “Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, yesterday reiterated that the Kano State government will not allow Hausa film producers to destroy the rich norms, culture and religious standing of the people.”

 Jaafar Jaafar in the Sunday Trust 21 June 2009, p. 42, [I typed this from a hard copy so sorry there’s no link]  reports that the

“Kano State branch of Books, Stationary and Sports Dealers Association (BSSDA) has accused the Kano State Film Censorship Board of intimidation saying its members are being made to pay ‘illegal registration fees.’”

The chairman of the association Chief Victor Okonkwo says,

“We got a copy of the law from the Kano State House of Assembly and it clearly shows that their main area is film and cinema, as well as pornographic publications. I find it difficult to reconcile their position of wanting us to register with them. We deal in textbooks and exercise books for primary and secondary schools; we believe the books have been censored already by their publishers.”

Okonkwo said that “after all the payments to the local government and the ministry of commerce for sundry taxations” he said the court should “take the association to court for a better interpretation of the law.”

[Update 27 June 2009. This story was also carried in The Guardian on 14 June 2009. According to 

Adamu Abuh of the Guardian

Okonkwo who addressed journalists in kano yesterday disclosed that dozens of his members have been hounded and manhandled by officials of the board and the police without recourse to laid down rules.

Brandishing a copy of the law establishing the censorship board in 2001, Okonkwo described the imposition of registration fee of N5, 000 on the association as well as payment of N3000 per each of his member annually as unacceptable.

[…]

Reacting, the Director General of the Censorship Board, Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim faulted Okonkwo’s claim saying that officials of his board have not breached the provisions of the laws

He disclosed that his board is empowered by law to exercise oversight function on published works, vendors and distributors academic or non academic publications.

He said: “We are mandated by the law to make sure these practitioners are operating within the confines of the law which requires that they are registered and once they have been registered, we are required to issue them license to operate.

“it is in respect to that that we have been operating and we have been so magnanimous by trying to bring all stakeholders on board by the implementation of the law taking cognizance of the latitude that we should be humane ordinarily it is a popular saying that ignorance is not an excuse in the eyes of the law.”

Rabo waved aside the threat of any court action against his board adding that arrangement have been concluded to ensure that those who contravene the provisions of the law establishing the film and censors are made to face the wrath of the law.)

 The most dramatic news, however, was the ban by the censorship board through the “mobile court” attached to it on “listening, sale and circulation ” of 11 Hausa songs which directly or indirectly critique those who “prevent us from doing our work.” Here are the articles from Leadership (republished on Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz’s blog) and the Kano-state government owned Daily Triumph.

 

Rabo has recently given a few interviews related to these activities to Al-Amin Ciroma in Leadership Hausa, and to Salisu Ahmed Koki, who released the interview on the listserves “writersforumkano@yahoogroups.com” and nurul-islam@yahoogroups.com. Publisher of Fim Magazine and Editor of Leadership newspaper, Ibrahim Sheme, re-published the interview on his personal blog:

 In the preface to the Hausa Leadership interview “Manyan Fulogan Shekarau Biyu na Neman Fesa wa Juna Tartsatsin Wuta,” roughly translated as “[Governor] Shekarau’s administration fight among themselves” (sorry, I’ve lost the poetry of the original), Ciroma describes some of the songs recently banned by the board. He points out [as I did a few posts back] that after Adam Zango’s song “Oyoyo” was released was poking fun at the government for imprisoning him and only increasing his popularity, a song was released by the K-Boyz threatening and insulting Zango. [NOTE: The song repeated many of the critiques by government employees and other elite against the film and entertainment industry, albeit with more “batsa”—“obscene” language. For more information about the song and its relation to other of the songs that are now banned, see Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu’s analysis here.] According to Al-Amin Ciroma, the rumour was that the director of the Kano State Pilgrim’s welfare board, Sani Lawal Kofar Mata, a Shekarau supporter and stakeholder in the film industry who is vying for governorship in 2011,  had sponsored the K-Boyz song, in defence of  Shekarau. He is also rumoured to have sponsored Ala, whose song Hasbunallah, which asks God to curse with ill-health those who are persecuting artists, is also on the banned list. 

In the interview [Please note that this was all in Hausa, so I am here writing my own translations/summaries of the conversation. If anyone notices any mistakes, please correct me. Also, as I perfect my translation of the interview, I will try to add more/make corrections to this document], Rabo tells Ciroma that The Censorship board is looking for any offensive song which has made its way to the public without permission of the censorship board. He says these songs spoil culture, such as the translation of the English obsenity “mother fucker”  which “Europeans without proper upbringings use.”  He said that these were the types of songs that were being used to insult leaders, or even culture or religion.  He also gave the examples of songs that “lie to the masses” by “spoiling the reputation of the government” or “telling lies about the governor.” “These songs have been released without permission.” Rabo, however, stated that the court had banned the songs while he was out of town, even exceeding the total number of songs the board had planned to ban.

When Ciroma asked if the Board had a law preventing music without permission, Rabo said that “Our law shows that anyone in the entertainment profession whether praisesinging or film or books or singing has a duty, before he releases it to bring it to be vetted, and to have removed anything that could spoil religion, culture, customs or the reputation of tradition. But this doesn’t prevent those who feel like they can break the law—that is those who complain… that the laws of the people of Kano don’t do for them, so they can spoil the reputation of Kano people. For them nothing will do except a law that says they should continue to maliciously injure the reputation of Kano.[…]”

 Rabo said that “anyone who dreamed that he was too big to follow the law,” would be caught out.

 Ciroma pointed out that there are those who can say that those who sang to spoil the reputation of Adam Zango were not punished by the board but now that someone has done a song with Ibro’s voice saying that the government had harmed him, that’s when the board will move to ban the song.

Rabo answered that any song, even if it takes the perspective of the government, is banned if it uses obscene language. He said that particular song had been released while he was in Saudiya Arabia.

When asked about how Kofar Mata had hired the singer Ala to sing a political song on CTV (state television), and who then had his production company office “visited” by censorship board officials, Rabo replied that those who under the censorship board’s jurisdiction should expect the board to visit at anytime to make sure they are doing things correctly.

 

The  second interview with Rabo by Salisu Ahmed Koki and published on the internet site groups, can be found here.

Salisu Ahmed Koki prefaces the interview with an essay on the history of the Hausa film industry, starting out with a celebratory tone:

 “And just like the tiny and equally soullessly-wrapped up pupae growing into a beautifully designed and flip-flying butterfly that can fly to various destinations at will, the Hausa popular drama has transmogrified into Home Videos that evenly instigates cultural fusion and diffusion whose implications and impact on the Hausa culture critics posits is an area yet to be fully appreciated by researchers.”

 

The essay then moves to record the many complaints that have been made against “Kannywood.”

“They are said to be employing unorthodox, unprofessional and fluke-characterized techniques and methodologies in writing, acting and shooting their now widely condemned movies.”

 

Similarly,

 

“Most of the Hausa film makers are accused of distorting the closely guarded Hausa culture which by all indications served as the sole excuse ceased by the present administration in Kano State to take stringent majors in curbing the excesses of this so-called rogue Hausa film makers.”

 

Part of what was seen as the “cultural destruction” via the film industry were the sensational reports of a polygamous lesbian wedding apparently involving one or two film actresses:

 

Part of the symptoms of the alleged excesses of the present crop of Hausa filmmakers is said to be the almost uncontrollable pollution of the closely guarded and respected Hausa culture that leads to some female admirers of Hausa Filmmakers to publicly showcase their sexual orientation, meaning that some women did publicly declare that they are going to emulate Californians by getting married to each other publicly and fearlessly, an action viewed by many as a taboo. It is a story of awe and confusion and it is what can rightly be described as the most demeaning abuse of fame ever to bear its ugly head out of the now allegedly promiscuous Hausa film industry; a rare show of feminine crudity and a terrifying tale of rumpus manifestation of prevalent lesbianism that is eating deep into the fabrics of Kanywood.

 

(NOTE that in an interview with BBC, the supposed “groom” of the occasion, Aunty Maidugari, disputed the allegations, denying that the occasion was a wedding or involved lesbians. The BBC article reports that:

She said the elaborate wedding celebration held on Sunday was actually a ceremony to raise money for the women’s weddings to men.

She said: “One of them gets a husband to marry so I organised in order to get something sorted.”

The theatre where the ceremony took place has since been demolished by Kano city’s authorities.

Eyewitnesses said there was a large turnout and guests were given leaflets as a souvenir showing Aunty Maiduguri surrounded by her “brides”.

But she said the words on the pamphlets meant “love and understanding”.

“They are my sisters, what will I put apart from love and understanding or love and kindness?”

 

These allegations of “feminine crudity,”  “uncontrollable pollution,” and “alleged promiscuousness” of Kannywood stakeholders  indicate that one of the greatest fears about Kannywood, as indicated by popular imagination and in media propaganda, is an anxiety about women’s bodies and women acting independently of  male regulation. )

 Salisu Koki’s essay continues:

 “Soon followed an announcement that the government has sternly banned all forms of Gala and stage plays to be performed by men and women of the Hausa film industry, indefinitely!”

 

The essay that has gone from a celebration to the history of the Hausa film to a litany of current condemnations, transitions into an interview with Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, the self-identified Director General of the Kano State Film and Video Censor’s Board (although the law instituting the censor’s board makes mention only of an “executive secretary”) and also formerly Deputy Commandant of the Kano State Hisbah Board.  (To see  the interview I carried out with Alhaji Rabo in January of this year, click here).

 

In both the interview with Salisu Koki and myself, Rabo emphasized that the Kano State Censorship Board is not unique.

 

“it is because of the need in every responsible society or community to have moral values been upheld and things done the right way to the taste of the uniqueness of the individual community or society that censorship is accorded a unique priority in the history of mankind, this is why you see Censorship Board in the history of the Greeks, you see it in the history of the Persian Empire, in that of Europe, and in that of the United States America in particular which emanates from the need to build a ‘hays code’.”

 

[NOTE: For more information on the Hays Code, Rabo often cites, see this wikipedia article. The code was abandoned in 1968 for the MPAA Rating System.] Later on in the interview when asked about the court cases between the KSCB and the filmmakers, he raises this topic again:

 

I hope our stakeholders are not mistaking by seeing the KFCB as a home of punitive measures, as if we are the only one. Punitive measures taken by a censorship board globally is the tradition, even NFCVB use to take defaulters before a court of law, High Court of justice for that matter; our is ordinary Magistrate Courts where the provision of the law is very light and mild.

[NOTE: Readers may recall that film stakeholders Adam Zango, Rabilu Musa (AKA Dan Ibro) and Hamisu  Lamido Iyan-Tama were given the “light and mild” punishments of three months, two months, and three months in prison respectively, for varying percieved offences.]

  Now what I will like people to appreciate our own measures as excellent nd is better than that which is obtainable in the US for instance; the logic is this, employment preventive measures is far better than curative, because it is our tradition, it’s our religion to guide stakeholders, preventing him/her from defaulting or erring. Now, what we are doing is before you are allowed to go ahead and kick start the shooting you are required to first of all submit to consultants the proposed script for the film for their vetting, so after been vetted by the consultant, tell me who will complain on it on merit? Unlike allowing somebody accomplished the project, and allowing him to release it into the market and then when some foul are found in it, you then effect an arrest or ban order, is this wise? And believe me that’s what is obtainable in the US, that’s their version of censoring. Our preventive measures can be regarded as Shari’ah and also the tradition of the Hausa Fulani.

 

Rabo relates that the need for censorship in Kano State was precipitated by the

 

“confusion, or rather mix-up of cultural values which was largely attributed to foreign influence and the weird culture of blind copy-cating of foreign cultures by most of the Hausa filmmakers which results to public outcry in the 1999-2000 of then Kano”

 

He reinforces that the establishment of the Kano State Censor’s Board is constitutional:

 

And the interesting thing was the power giving to the state governments in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria whereby state governments are regarded or rather are given the leverage to go ahead and establish their respective state Censorship Bodies on film making and other thearitical activities and section 16 of the 1999 constitution of the concurrent legislative list is the main bedrock which result to this very kind of state Censorship Board Law, meaning that what we are doing is in consonant with the constitution of the federal republic

 

 [NOTE: The constitutionality of the board is, however, being challenged in a lawsuit by the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria against the Kano State Censorship Board and other bodies in a Federal High Court. In the most recent hearing, the high court judge threw out the objections to the lawsuit brought by the Kano State Censor’s Board)

 

In discussing filmmaking, Rabo says that professional education is necessary:

 

Considering film making as a profession just like journalism and accountancy, we don’t want to believe that illiteracy can bring the needed security into the filmmaking fold, rather the skill, and the knowledge. We are emphasizing on skill acquisition, this is our primary responsibility, and this is why all professional crew are mandated to have the basic training, to have the basic knowledge of filmmaking before they are certified to either direct, to produce, or act a professional role in a film. Of course there are artists that have abundant talent, and some can be special artistes, but notwithstanding how talented somebody is or gifted by the Almighty if he is taken to a film school where he will be groomed, if he is well shaped by the professionales that knows the film business bette, he will fare better in the film making business compared to when he or she is on her own.  

 

He also seems to see a certain amount of civil servicization of the film industry a way to move it forward:

 

“Also, the issue of a production firm to have the basic office accommodation where at least a computer system is there with a Secretary ought to be considered and checkmated. Most of the companies before we are here are nominal, nominal in the sense that they are nowhere to be found. Most of the so-called production companies believe you me, are mobile and they are not there. Believe you me, we would by God’s grace try to standardize things, and we can only do that with the cooperation and understanding of the stakeholders, that we are out for their betterment, and if they cannot appreciate that, then that’s their problem. Most of them exist without the knowledge of their local authorities; their respective local government authorities don’t even know them, because they don’t have office accommodation. What we are now insisting on is that, you must go back to the local government where you are located, be registered, and be introduced to us by your local government authority before we register you, that’s the best way for us to help the government fetch the required tax from the companies and that’s why we are saying that a tax clearance certificate must accompany your application, and the most astonishing thing to us is that all these to them are stringents, they consider every measure to sanitize and breed order to the system, a stringent measure. That’s why they complain and I don’t think we will compromise on this.

With regard to popular opinion about the actions of the KSBC as being a “personal” or “political” mission, Rabo claims that:

 

“We are on a professional and legal mission, not on political or related issues; I can assure you here and now that there is no any sentiment attached to our activities.”

 

Rabo also claims that with regard to problems faced by the board:

 

“ The problem of non-confidence by the general public in the products churned out by our crops of filmmakers is a central problem, and if confidence is lost, everything is lost, and that confidence is what we are assiduously working towards restoring. The crux of the matter is and will be the pursuit of excellence and professionalism in film making and that’s why we are all out to see to it that we will not leave stakeholders that are fond of dishing out all rubbish for the viewership of the teeming public unturned or alone, we will touch you, the way you molest the law; we will deal with you, the way you negatively dealt with the law;”

Mobile Court bans listening to 11 Hausa songs

A notice about the 11 banned songs in a shop . Photo courtesy of documentary filmmaker Alex Johnson.

Last week Mukhtar Ahmed, the magistrate of the mobile court attached to the censorship board, banned 11 Hausa songs. According the the article by Abdulaziz Ahmad Abdulaziz (originally published in Leadership newspaper, but also published on his blog, here,) the justice has “banned listening, sale and circulation of 11 Hausa songs, describing the songs as obscene, confrontational and amoral.” Included in the ban, apparently is

“selling the songs, playing them, and downloading them by any means. He said the order was issued by the court in accordance with section 97 of the state Censorship Board Law 2001 Cinematography and Licensing Regulation of the same year. Ahmed explained that by the provision of the said sections of the law, any person who for the purpose of or by way of trade, makes produces or has in his possession blasphemous, pornographic or obscene writing or object that will corrupt public morale can be charged under the law, among others.

I was also just forwarded an email from a listserve, that apparently re-posted from a Daily Triumph article (which I have not been able to find via google yet–my internet is very slow), from 4 June 2009, the following:

kano State Film censorship mobile court has banned the sales of some 11
hausa songs it describe as obscene in the state.

Announcing the ban order, the presiding judge at the court, chief magistrate
mukhtar ahmad, said the songs include:

1 Walle-Walle
2 Martani(bilio)
3Auta
4 Sauka a babur(ibro)
5Girgiza kai master9ibro)
6Oyoyo
7Ibro Sankarau
8kowa yaci Ubansa/uwarsa
9gari yayi zafi
10 Wayyo
11Hasbunallahu

According to him, the court is going to prosecute anyone found selling the
songs, playing it, downloading it by anymeans in accordance with section 97
of the state censorship board law 2001 cinematography and licensing
regulation of the same year.

he added that the law in the section states that any person who for the
purpose of or by way of trade, make products or has in his possession
blasphemous,pornographic,or obscene writing, or object that will corrupt
public morale, can be charged under the law,among others.

the triumph
jumadal thani 9/1430AH
thursday,june4, 2009

It is interesting to me that most of these songs (most of which I have heard) are subtly or directly critiquing the censorship board and/or Kano State government, many of them based on the experiences of the musicians. For example Adam Zango’s “Oyoyo” critiques the government of Kano State for imprisoning him.  See, for example, Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz’s analysis (published several months before this ban) of said “confrontational” song here.  d’an Ibro’s “Sankarau” similarly uses metaphoric language to skewer the Kano State government for imprisoning him. In a conversation I had with Nazir Hausawa about his song “Girgiza Kai” back in February, he explained to me that his purpose in the song was to point out the hypocrisy of critics by juxtaposing the “work” musicians are doing with “real social ills.” Particularly interesting is his use of the proverb at the very beginning of his song: Mai dokar bacci, ya bige da gyangyed’i. The one who says sleep is against the law is the one nodding off…….

I might add to this that it is fascinating that Justice Mukhtar Ahmed is responsible for proclaiming bans on these political songs in Kano State, when he was only a few months ago found by Kano State Attorney General Barrister Aliyu Umar to have not followed “due process” in the trial of filmmaker and former gubernatorial candidate Hamisu Lamido Iyan Tama. I quote again from Adbulaziz A. Abdulaziz’s 12 March 2009 article in Leadership:

The Kano State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Barrister Aliyu Umar, has cast aspersions on a Senior Magistrate, Muhtari Ahmad, for convicting a renowned filmmaker, Alhaji Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama, saying due process was not followed in the trial that led to the sentence of the movie practitioner.

The AG told a Kano State high court presided over by Justice Tani Umar and Justice Soron Dinki yesterday that the magistrate rushed to deliver the judgement before completing hearing on the case brought before him in which Iyan-Tama was accused of violating Kano State censorship laws.

The senior state counsel, who led a delegation consisting of the Director of Public Prosecution, Barrister Shu’aibu Sule, and the Assistant Director, Binta Ahmed, literally stripped the judge naked in the marketplace. He said the trial was “improper”, “incomplete”, a “mistake” and requires retrial before a more “competent magistrate”.

“I am not in support of the conviction in this trial”, said the attorney-general, “It is obvious that the trial was not completed before judgement was delivered but there and then the presiding magistrate went ahead and delivered a judgement”, he added.

The fact that musicians see their music as a form of “self-defence” is also interesting to me because I also just read in an article “Islamization of the Mass Media” published by Dr. Bala Abdullahi Muhammad, the Director General of A Daidaita Sahu (The Societal Reorientation Board) in the Bayero Beacon (May 2009, p. 28), that the Quran says “God does not like any evil to be mentioned openly, unless it be by him who has been wronged thereby” (S4:158).  Another article in this issue of the Bayero Beacon ,”Journalism in Islam” by Idris Zakariya (p. 19), quotes another verse: “God does not love the public utterance of hurtful speech, unless one has been wronged and God is hearing, knowing… (S 44:148-149).” Now I am certainly no Islamic scholar and I would welcome readers who are to enlighten me on the contextual meaning of these short verses, but it would seem to me that these songs (and indeed others by musicians talking about censorship laws which directly affect them) are speaking publically about events which they have been “wronged by.” [If I am taking these verses out of context, please correct me.] In this way, the statement by the mobile court judge is right on at least one thing. The songs are “confrontational.” But is confrontation wrong in every situation? And if the problem is obscenity, why is not the “Zagin A. Zango” by K-Boys included (perhaps it is and the name is different?)? In this song, the K-boys attack Adam Zango (whose song “Oyoyo” was on the list), calling him a bastard, d’an daudu, and other names. It is certainly one of the most “obscene” and slanderous Hausa songs I’ve heard. And it is not as if it has not recieved publicity either, as it was featured in Fim Magazine in November or December of last year.

Also, I’m certainly no legal scholar, but could anyone who knows the answer to this question let me know in the “comments section”: Is it actually legal to ban listening to something in the privacy of one’s own home, as long as one does not distribute or sell it? Constitutionally or under shari’a law?

The question arises, because I was just this weekend reading an article on the developments of the hisba in Kano state “The Search for Security in Muslim Northern Nigeria” by Murray Last and published in Africa 78 (1) 2008 (p.41-62). A few paragraphs from the article [all bold emphasis is mine]:

Only three  domains are seriously affected [by hisba sharia enforcers]: women in public (their dress, their proximity to unrelated men–in conversation, for example, or in public transport); alcohol and non-military music and singing. This last affects praise singing at weddings for example (where dancing may also occur), or at sports  such as boxing or wrestling, as well as songs used for spirit possession whether done in ‘play’ or in divination and diagnosis.  Technically no shari’a enforcer can enter a private house, nor can he act upon suspicion or rumour. (p. 51)

[…]

The Hausa text which is widely distributed in the shari’a states to explain the rules governing hisba goes back to 1788 AD, well before there was public transport to worry about. The text is a short book written originally in Arabic by ‘Abdullahi dan Fodio, the younger brother of Shaikh ‘Uthman dan Fodio, before their great jihad was successful. He wrote it, it seems, in Zamfara where the Shaikh was successfully preaching and teaching; as a result, new Muslim communities were setting up properly Islamic administrations there. Once the Caliphate was established, some twenty years later, so too was the institution of hisba: we know the name of the first muhtasib, the judge responsible for enforcing proper observance of shari’a in public spaces, but nothing of his actual work is recorded. It was clearly different from the ‘police’ (shurta) and from the role of gaoler (yari). But eyewitness accounts from visitors to Kano and Sokoto in the 1820s suggest that the muhtasib overlooked much improper behaviour taking place in areas of town where transport workers and off-duty servants or slaves found their relaxation. There is no suggestion there was a public hisba force out on the streets day or night looking for miscreants. Instead it was, I suspect, retainers from the major political houses who acted as peacekeepers in town as, when and where required.

I am posing these observations as questions because I actually would like feedback from Islamic and legal scholars who are better versed in the interpretation of Islam and of Nigerian constitutional law than I am. I think a conversation in the comments section of this post could prove quite fruitful.

Helon Habila speaks on censorship in Kano

Helon Habila liest, P02

Helon Habila liest, P02 (Photo credit: lutzland)

(a post in which I meditate on my research obsessions and recommend a recent opinion piece on “Art and Censorship in Kano” by multiple award-winning Nigerian novelist Helon Habila)

In Helon Habila’s first novel Waiting for an Angel, which was the subject of my MA thesis, he blurs the boundaries between his characters’ fictions and the reality of the world they live in. Originally self-published as a collection of short stories Prison Stories, the novel is fractured into stories told from multiple perspectives about “ordinary” people living out their lives in the “prison state” of Nigeria under the Abacha regime. The artist, Habila implies, provides a challenge to oppressive structures by gathering up the voices of poor ordinary people, so often lost in official propaganda, and putting them into print. The novel is not merely a litany of hopelessness, although the hardship of poverty is illustrated, but also captures the loud irreverent conversations in a Lagos “Mama Put” joint on Morgan street, which has been re-named “Poverty Street” by its inhabitants and the vivid dreams of ordinary people for a better life.

One striking scene shows the main character Lomba, a journalist and aspiring novelist, watch a fictional scene he had written for his paper come to life. Lomba’s characters reflect what his editor James tells him to capture: the “general disillusionment, the lethargy” of being trapped into a story where “One general goes, another one comes, but the people remain stuck in the same vicious groove. Nothing ever changes for them except the particular details of their wretchedness. They’ve lost all faith in the government’s unending transition programmes. Write on that”  (113). The story that Lomba writes is filled with “ubiquitous gun and whip-toting soldiers,”  “potbellied, glaucomatous kids” playing in gutters alongside the carcasses of “mongrel dogs worried by vultures” (118). This story does, indeed, seem to reflect the despair of life in a prison until the end of the story where he writes of “the kerosene-starved house-wives of Morgan Street. I make them rampage the streets, tearing down wooden signboards and billboards and hauling them away to their kitchens to use as firewood” (118). This moment suggests both the extremity of the environment, which has forced the people of Morgan street against the wall, as well as the agency of the women who take their futures into their own hands. And although James removes the celebratory conclusion before publication, telling Lomba he is “laying it on a bit too thick,” on his way home, Lomba sees an angry mob of women who “set to hacking and sawing” at a large billboard advertising condoms. It is Lomba’s knowledge of the script that allows him to tell the man next to him that “‘They are not crazy. They are just gathering firewood’ I explained to him. It was my writing acting itself out. And James thought I had had laid it on too thick. I wish he were here to see reality mocking his words.”

Although Lomba’s first reaction is one of hopelessness that “we are only characters in a story and our horizon is so narrow and so dark[,]” this episode is a revolutionary moment in the text (119). While Lomba, as well as the women outside the window of the Molue, may be characters in a story, this moment marks a remarkable departure from the prophecies of prison and death foretold by a marabout in another “story” in the novel. The porous borders between Lomba’s fiction and his reality that allow his writing to act itself out indicate the possibilities of the imagination—the possibility that while caught in a the literary metaphor of a prison, the “prisoners” might turn around and revolt. Lomba, and subsequently the mob of women, take the text into their own hands and appropriate the property of the state to sustain their own needs

In recently thinking about my research interests on Nigerian films and  “meta-fictions,” I realize that what obsessed me about Waiting for an Angel is also what obsesses me about Nigerian and particularly Hausa films, both in the reflection of the stories of “ordinary people” so often seen in these films and in a projective imagination that often (although certainly not always) challenges injustices by acting as what Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o mentions as a crucial aspect of art, that of a mirror, which “reflects whatever is before it—beauty spots, warts, and all” (1998, 21). People are rarely passive in these films. Beloved comedians like ‘dan Ibro often skewer the rich and powerful in their satirical stories.

I’ve heard people complain that there is too much “shouting” in Nigerian films, yet to me this “shouting” becomes a powerful metaphor for what Nigerian films have done for the “voiceless.” Gayatri Spivak has asked if the “subaltern can speak”? While I want to be over-cautious about over-romanticizing Nigerian films, which often do reproduce Nigerian society’s worst stereotypes of women and offer alarmingly unhealthy “solutions” to problems, I think one of the reasons I love the films so much is because they do seem to allow the “subaltern” to speak, both literally (in that so many of the film participants come from poor backgrounds) and metaphorically.

Attempts to suppress these films, therefore, seem like the attempts of the prison superintendent in Waiting for an Angel to suppress and co-opt the voice of the writer Lomba. The writer is imprisoned, seemingly muzzled, but attempts to suppress his voice ultimately prove to be impossible. Lomba smuggles stories about his “life in prison” through metaphoric language in his “love poems” commissioned by the prison superintendent for the woman he is woo-ing.

Hausa films are often dismissed for being “just love stories.” But stories of love can be powerful. There is often more going on than the reader of surfaces will find.

I was thrilled, therefore, this morning to find that Helon Habila has recently brought together my two research obsessions in a recent article in one of my favourite new publications, NEXT: “Art and Censorship in Kano.”  In the article, he both challenges simplistic critiques of Nigerian films and meditates on the “politics” of censorship. As Habila points out, while Nigerian films are not always polished “cinema” pieces, they have “made movie making a grass roots experience.”

[UPDATE: 19 October 2013. While I was doing a little blog maintenance, I was afraid I had lost access to this article because NEXT went out of business a few years ago and took all their content with them. Fortunately, Sola at Naija Rules had copied the article over on her site. I’ve previously been irked when Nigerianfilms.com and other such sites have copied my blog content without permission, but I am beginning to be grateful for these sites that make articles available long after the original sites have gone down. I am re-copying Helon Habila’s article here for archival purposes.]

Art and censorship in Kano

By Helon Habila

It is so easy to underestimate the achievement of the Nigerian film industry, and this is because we always measure such achievements using false parameters—we compare Nollywood to Bollywood and Hollywood.

Whenever we do that, Nollywood will always come short of our unreasonable expectations. How long has it been in existence? Ten, maybe 20 years? What of Hollywood, over a hundred years? And Bollywood, when was Sholay made, 1960?

The extent of what our film makers have achieved in the short time they have been here was pointed out to me by a Nigerian/South African director friend.

When I asked him to compare the two film industries, he said, South Africa has all the right tools and techniques, they make movies on celluloid and with multiple cameras and have the right post-production requirements, but Nigeria doesn’t have all that, yet South Africans can’t get people to watch their movies whereas the Nigerian movies are practically jumping off the shelves.

It is true South Africa makes great movies, like Tsotsi, every once in a long while, but Nigeria has made movie making a grass roots experience. That is the paradox: whereas movie making in Nollywood is nondemocratic and cliquey, yet the consciousness towards it, and the patronage, is widespread.

This mass patronage and consciousness is indispensable if any nation is going to have a viable film industry. And we are achieving all this without government participation, or should I say, in spite of government participation.

And government participation is what brings me to Kano. The industry here is called Kannywood (what else?) Most people outside the Hausa speaking world aren’t really aware of it, but it has been going on for a while. Just as Nollywood’s progenitors are the early Nigerian soap operas like “Behind the Clouds”, “After the Storm”, etc, Kannywood also grew on the back of popular Hausa TV ‘dramas’ like “Samanja”, “Karkuzu”, and of course “Kasimu Yero’s Gagarau”.

Other unmistakable influences are Bollywood movies. The Indian influence on Hausa films can at best be described as odd, at worst weird—here I am not only talking about the excessively romantic nature of Hausa movies, the love theme could easily have come from Hausa literature, but I am talking about the song and dance numbers. It seems each film has about three songs and dances.

I remember the first time I saw a Hausa film, nobody had warned me that there was going to be singing and dancing, and so when it came I was taken totally unawares, and yes, I was disconcerted to watch these Nigerians singing and dancing on the streets of Kano.

That was the first impression. The second impression was: Well, the songs are really not that bad, if you are a song and dance kind of person. All in all one wished the songs would end quickly so the movie would resume.

But this piece is not really about aesthetics, it is about art and politics.

These actors would have gone on singing and dancing in peace, and mostly unnoticed by most Nigerians outside the Hausa speaking world if not for what has come to be dubbed the “Hausa Film Porn Scandal”. It seems in August 2007, a popular Hausa film actress, Maryam Hiyana, was filmed making love to her boyfriend, by the said boyfriend. In their defence they said it wasn’t for commercial purposes, so that technically means it is not porn, but somehow the eight-minute clip was leaked to the public and this began a series of what can only be described as a siege on the film industry by the Kano State government. And to quote a source, “So far, according to Ahmed Alkanawy, director of the Centre for Hausa Cultural Studies, over 1000 youth involved in the film industry and related entertainment industries ‘have been arrested in the name of shari’ah and sanitization.’ … However, although shari’ah law is invoked, most ‘censorship’-related cases are being tried in a state magistrate court, a mobile court on Airport Road presided over by magistrate Mukhtar Ahmed.

Defendants are often arrested and convicted within an hour, without the benefit of legal representation. Some are given prison sentences while others are given the option of paying a fine.”

A popular actor, Rabilu Musa (Dan Ibro), was arrested for “indecent dancing”!

What I find most chilling is a book-burning ceremony staged in a girls’ school. Book burning, in a school! The government may as well close down the school, for by burning books in front of students, the whole aim of educating them is defeated.

Even individual writers were required to register before writing!

The most recent case is the arrest of a former gubernatorial candidate Hamisu Lamido Iyan Tama—a film maker whose film, “Tsintsiya”, is an adaptation of the Hollywood classic, “Westside Story”. He was first arrested in May 2008 for three months and fined 2,500 naira, then in January 2009 he was sentenced to 15 months with a fine of N300,000. It seems in the movie, he acted the role of a governor and carried out an investigation into the causes of sectarian violence.

Here, at last, the government is showing its hand. Whenever an art form begins to go beyond entertainment and to appeal to people’s political consciousness, the people in power become scared. That seems to be the case with Kano.

The question to ask is, are the censors working in the interest of the people, or are they using religion for political ends as we have seen so often in the shari’ah states? Any society that seeks to silence the artist is attacking the people, for often it is only the artist that can articulate the secret hopes and yearnings of the people.

NEXT