Censorship: Kano’s smouldering cauldron (2)

The abject failure of the censorship regime in Kano State under Governor Ibrahim Shekarau was due to the lack of sincerity that dogged the whole project, as well as a deliberate policy of subjugation which aimed at throwing away the baby with the bathwater. The notion that the people appointed to administer the Kano State Censorship Board were on a pedestal where they could not be faulted was erroneous; just because they were brandishing religious cards did not mean that they were unassailable. They were promoted as saints because doing so fitted snugly with the simple mentality of the common man, who is thought to be manipulatable by the false prophets in that government.

Had the censorship board wanted to promote Hausa film-making and make it amenable to the cultural and religious heritage of the people of northern Nigeria, it could have done any of the few of these ways to go about it. The board would have formed a partnership with the right stakeholders in the industry in order to, first, put a stop to all the “undesirable elements” of movie content and, second, replace them with more wholesome productions. Instead, the chief censor, Rabo, adopted divide and rule tactics, selecting only yes-men though they could not help spearhead genuine changes. At the same time, he waged a brutal campaign against those he regarded as rebels, arresting and jailing them at will, as well as tarnishing the image of the industry in general. What followed was counter-attacks between him and his opponents; the war of attrition led to nowhere but the eventual failure of the board to sanitise the industry. At the end, Rabo himself was demystified, his holier-than-thou mien discredited.

Now, a new era appears to be on the horizon. Engineer Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso was the one who created the censorship board in 2001, during his first tenure as governor. Under him, the board was said to be lax, thus giving way to all sorts of misdemeanours which critics linked to the deterioration of both the quality of Hausa movies and the moral rectitude of movie practitoners. Shekarau tolerated much of the lapses, probably because he needed a re-election in 2007. It took the Hiyana sex scandal of 2007 to startle him into action, with the view to pleasing the mullahs.

Now that Kwankwaso is back, expectations in the industry are high. Stakeholders see him as their won. Some of them want him to appoint one of them as DG of the censorship board. They are almost doubly sure he will not “betray” them. But will he? Or won’t he?

However, it would be foolhardy of anyone in the industry to suppose that the carefree days of the past will return in this dispensation. The films will be censored because they are a veritable weapon of commiunicating ideas that impact on the society, with overarching consequences. Kwankwaso is expected should a technocrat who knows the movie business and the relevant matters of censorship. It should be somebody who can midwife the industry towards a level of professionalism not usually seen in these parts. It should be someone who will make our films competitive not only on the national scene but also continentally, from where they will be uniquely attractive universally.

This task should have no name-calling, campaign of calumny and policies that could weaken the business. Remember that one of the serious challenges facing the new government in Kano, and by extension all governments in the North, is reducing the huge army of unemployed youths roaming the streets. Kano has the largest population of unemployed youth, many of whom are not indigenes of the state – or even Nigerians. The movie-making industry has sucked in thousands of such men and women, thus contributing to the economy of the state and to its wellbeing. Governor Kwankwaso should create ways of encouraging this entrepreneurship while ensuring that it conforms to the norms of the society. There are many competent hands in Kano who can do it. Any attempt to kill the film-making business would be counterproductive and futile, just as we saw during the last censorship regime in the state.

Published in my column in the current issue of BLUEPRINT, the weekly newspaper

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