Censorship: Kano’s smouldering cauldron (1)

Schadenfreude, which means delighting in other people’s misery, best describes the feeling of those who oppose film-making in the Hausa language when an extremist Mullah was appointed to head the Kano State Censorship Board in 2007. The man, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem, had made a name as a fighter against various forms of immoral acts pervading the largest city in northern Nigeria, when he worked as a commander of the Sharia police. I was one of those, I must admit, who welcomed the appointment and soon became an adviser of sorts to him on how best to go about his new job. The movie industry, of which I’m an insider, had derailed from the path carved out for it by its pioneers, most of whom had been shoved aside by get-rich-quick youths who had succeeded in capturing the market with slapdash flicks that provided ample entertainment without much intellectual value.

Then a video clip, taken with a cell phone, of an A-class Hausa actress in a sex act with an unknown money changer based in Lagos, suddenly appeared. The resultant scandal almost brought the industry to its knees due to the outcry it generated. The scandal, known as the Hiyana Affair, inspired a sense of outrage among Muslims, at the same time engendering one of the deepest wells of schadenfreude I have ever seen in my life. Responding faithfully to the gallery hubbub, Governor Ibrahim Shekarau swung into action and appointed Malam Rabo to minister to the industry. The false prophets in and outside the state government went to town, promoting the self-righteous assumption that Hausa land could do without a movie industry. Only a few months earlier, however, the warmest of romances had existed between the government and the industry. On different occasions, Malam Shekarau and the movie industry had given each other awards.

Rabo happened to be one of those false prophets. No wonder, those who initially supported him were soon disappointed. They had expected him to midwife an industry that could be modelled into a bulwark against the frightening cultural invasion by foreign films in Hausa land, by devising standards and using the established stakeholders for the purpose. Besides, this was an industry of self-employed thousands in a state with the worst employment record in the north. They realised that either the man did not understand the basic reason for his appointment or he was dutifully carrying out a hidden agenda of his paymasters’ – which was to emasculate the budgeoning industry. His stock-in-trade was ceaseless harassment of actors, producers, directors, music composers, singers, marketers, etc. In the dubious name of cleansing the industry of immorality and lawlessness, he caused many to be jailed over spurious charges, just as his agents locked up studios, retail shops and cinemas. This reign of terror forced many industry stakeholders into exile in neighbouring states, where they continued producing and marketing their products, which ironically sneaked back to Kano, the biggest market in the business.

In the long run, Rabo failed woefully. The movie-making business could not be killed in spite of the hate campaign he and his agents mounted, using false pretences. The movies never stopped rolling out, and their audience never stopped patronising them. Also, aside their propaganda value and the scoring of cheap points, the Censorship Board’s court cases did not record any remarkable success. In fact, the bright-eyed knight in shining armour was soon derobed when he was arrested by the police in an uncompromising situation with a young woman on a Ramadan night last year.

The industry finally outlived its detractors, with the voting out of the Shekarau superstructure in the recent gubernatorial election. Now another government is in place, and movie-makers, many of whom had participated actively in Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso’s campaigns, are hopeful. They believe that Kwankwaso, who established the Censorship Board in the first place during his first tenure as governor, is their own and will not “betray” them. But will he really turn out to be the saviour they think he is? This is the question I wish to tackle in this column next week. God’s willing.

Published in my column in the current edition of BLUEPRINT newspaper.

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