Interview: Rabo, Hausa Movie Chief Censor

The following interesting write-up/interview was posted by Salisu Ahmed Koki on the listserves “[email protected]” and “[email protected]” today.

Much can be gleaned from the interview about the director-general of the Kano State Censorship Board, Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim. The title given to the piece by Koki is “Hausa Home Video Industry AND the Rabo Abdulkareem Phenomenon (The Exclusive Interview with Rabo Abdulkareem)”. The piece contains some grammatical and typographical errors, which I have not corrected. Enjoy

Hausa Home Video Industry AND the Rabo Abdulkareem Phenomenon (The Exclusive Interview with Rabo Abdulkareem)

By Salisu Ahmed Koki, Kano
[email protected] com

It is an industry that churns out roughly over 2000 sellable movies to the world annually; employing over 20, 000 hitherto unemployed youths and sometimes exports to the world the once ruined face of Nigeria. But turn the clock back to the years between 1975 and 1995 and the picture would have been different, very different, for that was the long, trying period when Hausa movie industry was struggling to establish itself as a viable showbiz hub equal in prestige and whim only to Bollywood that overshadowed the northern axis, then.

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.

Indeed, the Hausa Home Video industry is now an unstoppable phenomenon that serves as a medium exploited by NGOs and various governments to relay informatic messages to children and adults. To say the least about the interest shown by most NGOs and even Diplomatic missions within and around Nigeria on Hausa Movies, it pays to say here and now that it was alleged that the arrest and detention of one of the popular Hausa movie Producer going by the name Hamisu Lamido Iyantama couldn’t be unconnected to his allegedly unauthorized release of a NGO-sponsored Hausa film.

The fact that almost 40 million people around the world use the Hausa language medium to communicate and transact gave these movie makers an unprecedented opportunity to reach out to the world.

But of recent there has been a widespread complains about the modus operandi of the Hausa Movie makers most of which are accused of indulging in entertaining misplaced priorities, movie-making wise. They are said to be employing unorthodox, unprofessional and fluke-characterized techniques and methodologies in writing, acting and shooting their now widely condemned movies. The pomp and pageantry of films produced in the Lagos axis are more pronounced on Pay TV Channels like Africa Magic than that of their counterparts in northern Nigeria obviously because of the absence of quality and catchy storylines in them, although some of the Hausa movies are beginning to find their ways into the sister Magic Channel, the Africa Magic Plus.

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. There has been an almost general consensus that Hausa movies shot some 20 years ago and far aback are far better in substance and content than the present day Hausa movies which explain why many are of the opinion that there has to be some check and balances as far as Hausa movie making is concerned.

In ripping apart the genesis of the Hausa Home Video Industry popularly tagged ‘Kanywood’ one can hardly do away with two factors; one is the Colonial Film Unit factor that gave birth to some of the first produced feature films on celluloid made in Hausa and the other factor been that of the Hausa society which is theatre personified like any other society. As put forward by Haruna Aminu of the Institute of Education, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the Hausa society is so theatre personified so much that “in every aspect of the Hausa living tradition, one finds various manifestation of the dramatic indices, and this come in different forms due to the nature of the occasion that produces it. When one takes into consideration the idea of celebrating birth and death one can appreciate the impact of entertainment and imitation of life”.

Through the introduction of cinema or ‘Majigi’ as it is called in Hausa into the north via the Colonial Film Unit, the Nigerian colonial masters were given a sure medium for using the concept of ‘Massive Media Campaign’ to further their varying propaganda interests. Though a downside in some respect, it served as an upside for the Hausa movie industry as it served as a transiting medium from where traditional Hausa drama or ‘Wasan Kwaikwayo’ (‘wasa’ for ‘play’ and ‘kwaikwayo’ for ‘imitation’) have developed today into a full blown Hausa Movies/Films.

The first indigenous play ‘Wasan Marafa’ (the Marafa’s Play) by A.T Marafa made its appearance in 1949. Soon others followed, with the likes of ‘Malam Inkuntum’ (1954) and ‘Bora da Mowa’ (1972) as been the first to be staged before been reduced into writing. The first commercially successful Hausa movie was ‘Turmin Danya’ produced in 1990 in Kano selling about 100, 000 copies then and it was not until between 1997 and 2003 only that there was a massive surge in the production of these home videos. According to Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, a very popular and widely respected Change Analysts, so far about 800 Hausa Language Video- about 80% produced in Kano have been registered with the National Film and Video Censors Board in 2003 only. “Such high volume in a relatively short period of time indicates an underlying cultural change and transformation that requires a systematized study” Professor Abdalla hypothesized.

Interestingly enough for the reader to know is the fact that Sir. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the slayed pioneer Prime Minister of Nigeria was among the opportune-few to first wrote a book in 1933 which was later translated into film. Again, one of Nigeria’s most renowned sociologist and the person adjudged by many to be Africa’s best in that field, Dr. Ibrahim Tahir (Talban Bauchi) of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was the principal character in one of the pioneer Hausa films ‘Dan Arewa a London’ which if translated into English means ‘A Northerner in London’, a film that propagated the use of agriculture to propel growth. And with Adamu Halilu at the helm of affairs at the Colonial Film Unit in the early years of Nigeria’s life, some more Hausa feature films were produced among which are Baban Larai (1968), Shehu Umar (1976), and Kanta of Kebbi (1978) to mention but a few.

With most of the nations’ film regulatory agencies and some of the best public-owned film training institutions concentrated in the north, Hausa films and their makers were presented with a golden opportunity to propel themselves and attain success. Imagine, the National Film Corporation (NFC), National Film Institute (NFI), National Video Archives, National Film and Videos Censors Board (NFVCB), NTA TV College amongst others all are situated in and around Jos, the Plateau State capital. Also, with about 40 million Hausa speaking audiences spread across the entire African continent and beyond, filmmakers in the north have a great market potential; little wonder the rise among the Hausa filmmaking folks of some of Nigeria’s best in showbiz, the likes of Sadik Tafawa Balewa who Directed the winning feature ‘Kasar Mu Ce’, Sani Mu’azu who feature in many award winning films and TV series including Mr. Johnson (that featured the popular Hollywood actor, Pierce Brosnan) and NASCO-sponsored Riddles and Hope, Malam Abdulkareem Mohammed who Directed the film ‘Dan Adam Butulu I’, Dr. Sule Umar who directed the duos of ‘Maitatsine’ and yet-to-be released ‘General Murtala’, Ibrahim Buba who is the CEO of Newage Networks Kaduna and film stars Ali Nuhu the principal character in Amstel’s revered ‘Sitanda’ who won the coveted ‘Best Up Coming Actor Award’ at the AMAA Awards 2007, Sani Musa Danja, Ruqayya Dawayya, Safiya Musa, Ummi Zizi to mention but a few.

Considering the rising popularity and growth of Hausa films and its industry despite its prevailing complexities, controversies and allegedly unprofessional conjunction, a team of concerned practitioners and renowned academicians got together in the month of August 2003 to discuss the state of research on Hausa popular culture and media technologies, with particular reference to the Hausa home videos. It was an event chaired by the renowned Change Analyst, Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu of Bayero University Kano and was tagged ‘International Conference on Hausa Films’. The event was meant to be a brainstorming session with various inputs from members overshadowed then by the then current crisis in the non-marketability, and non-exportability of Hausa Home Videos beyond Hausa communities either in Nigeria or abroad. The event attracted scholars from close and afar including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Germany whom many considered an indication of the success recorded by the event.

Not long ago after sponsoring the International Conference cited earlier, the British Council Nigeria through its ‘Connecting Futures’ project gave 5 budding filmmakers first class training in filmmaking for two years, which culminated in the youth producing five winning short films. Also, the French Embassy in Nigeria in collaboration with Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN) it is that wholly sponsored a 4 day workshop on filmmaking in 2005, adding to the support the industry is now gaining from the international community.

The recent crackdown of filmmakers in the north particularly in Kano State by the authorities signaled a very interesting epoch in the history and relevance of this important industry in the north, and by extension in Nigeria.

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. On 22nd April 2007 the most talk about religiously- tense Kano state witnessed yet another attempt by some group of people at tying the hands of people of the same sex into the bonds of marriage, only that in this case it wasn’t masculine gays but a fair-looking and pleasurably hot lady going by the name ‘Aunty Maiduguri’ getting married to four sanguine girls- a sure feminine polygamy you can call it!

The contentious act swiftly invited the wrath of Kano state government whom since expressed bitterly its skepticism over the activities of those operating in the film industry. For a start, the venue slated to host the four modish brides alongside their groom for a party which also happened to be an open theatre where plays were staged was demolished beyond recognition alongside two adjacent theatres on the instructions of the state governor Malam Ibrahim Shekarau with their Certificate of Occupancies and Operating Licenses all revoked. 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! Then came the last, but expected one- order from the state government to the security agencies in the state to fish out and arrest ‘Aunty Maiduguri’ and her accomplices whom are already on the run.

Also, not long after the infamous Aunti Maiduguri Affair a video sex scandal involving one of the most popular Hausa actresses compelled the authorities to have a second thought on Hausa filmmaking and Hausa filmmakers not to mention a promiscuous music video released by one Adam Zango a background singer which leads to his detention for a prescribed period of time. What follows was a complete shutdown of filmmaking activities in Kano State for about a year now and the detention of the Hamisu Lamido Iyantama (a producer), Adam Zango (background singer), Rabilu Musa IBRO (a popular comedian) among others by Kano State Films and Videos Censors Board.

The leak of a sex video involving popular celebrities may prove a good omen to celebrities in the Western world, but from the harsh treatment received by the leak of the Hausa celebrity’s sex video; it is obvious that the reverse is very true for celebrities in northern Nigeria.

Most of the stakeholders, especially the filmmakers, actors and actresses condemned the actions of the Kano State government alleging that it was the wrong decision for the government to take considering that most of the people, young and old that are having a means of livelihood via Hausa filmmaking process are rendered jobless and penniless by the government’s action, worst they claimed, the government has failed to provide jobs for these people and has shown little interest in the Hausa filmmaking business which leads to its lackluster attitude towards Hausa filmmaking and Hausa Filmmakers.

In the midst of all these controversies this writer deemed it fit to get to the source of the matter and to achieve that he went all the way to interview the Director General of the Kano State Films and Videos Censors Board. The following is the outcome of our interview with Malam Rabo Abdulkareem which was initially meant for a national daily that requested for it but after reviewing the content and weighting the importance of the information embedded in it, I deemed it wise to distribute it via a medium that can allow for wider readership which is why the online platform is chosen.

A Brief on the Director General, Kano State Film and Video Censors Board.

Rabo Abdulkareem: Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem are my names, I am the Director General Kano State Censorship Board, I am 35 years old and hail from Chiromawa of Garun Malam Local Government of Kano State. Earlier before my appointment here, I was the Deputy Commander of the Kano State Hisbah Board, much earlier I was a school teacher but of course I have my first and second degree in humanities.

What Specialization or area of study to be a little specific?

R. A: My first degree has been in Mass Communications- Special Honors (Broadcast) and my second degree is in Developmental Studies all from Bayero University, here in Kano.

What little can you say authoritatively about the history of and rationale behind the setting up of Kano State Censorship Board?

R. A: Historically and globally censorship is not a new thing, and of course 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’. Coming back to Africa, I believe as Africans revered as the custodians of some of the worlds’ most treasured and respected cultures we cannot be an exception, most particularly in Nigeria going by our populous nature and standing in the world. Here in Kano, particularly in the year 2001, there was this law established by the State Assembly and accented to and endorsed by the then executive arm of the government of Kano State and of course what informed the decision of the then government to come up with the law was a 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, and of course that was how the then administration sanctioned activities of filmmakers in the state. In fact, most of the filmmakers were suspended and entire cinematographic activities were suspended, of course after that very suspension there was the idea of coming up with a regulatory body and that was how the Kano State government then came up with the present Kano State Censorship Board Law 2001. 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 and of course in it we can see some virtues, we can also see some positive results out of what we have so far established, because at least, the social responsibility expected of a government in ensuring and above all the outcome and output of the film project is becoming this time around very professional in nature, ethical and of course there is quality, quality in the content and quality in the critique of what is churn out for the viewership of the general public. Being a federating unit here, we are empowered and we have every right to have a very unique mechanism of governance, to have our uniqueness and peculiarity very well accommodated and reflected in the way we do our things in the state. We are trying to conform with the arrangement of the federation, been a federating unit, we want to have our own unique good governance, our unique security and of course, not undermining the constitution, not undermining national interest, but above all, we want to contribute to the growth of our GDP, this time around economically to tally with the vision 2020 of the present administration.

Can you please shed more light on your board’s modus operandi?

R. A: The modus operandi or rather the goal is to ensure that things are done the right way. 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. Be it may, what we are now saying is professionalism is emphasized in our modus operandi. The context, essence and the fundamental aspects of censorship, are to ensure that the younger ones, the future generation are not misguided or rather are not feed-up with destructive items (values).

What can you say about the success your board recorded so far?

R. A: What we’ve achieved by our own majors so far is a very good way forward because we are now censoring films and we are now correcting things not ours. Notwithstanding, other cultures must be seen in own films, because we are not living in isolation, but they are to be portrayed the way they are, we wouldn’t allow other cultures to be belittled in any way in the process of censoring, we also wouldn’t allow other ethnics or religions to be belittled because it is duty bound on government, especially the Nigerian government which has a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society to rationally and wisely manage. This is why I say by God’s grace, sooner or later, we would have what is called maximum output.

The recent visit of the duos of the Managing Director, Nigeria Film Corporations Jos and the Director General National Film and Videos Censors Board marked the beginning of the spread of the prevailing rumor that your board is gradually attracting national attention. What can you say about these visits?

R. A: Much earlier before the visit of the DG NFVCB, there was that of the MD Nigeria Film Corporation, Mr. Afolabi Adesanya. When he was here, he pleaded with the board on a lot of things, and of course, out of our stakeholders meetings, we resolved to went back and start censoring films, while been very considerate of our contemporary regulations and guidance or rather guidelines, because we will not undermine what we believe is the best solution to that public outcry that I stated to you earlier. When the DG NFVCB was here, we came up with a very good and formidable position; in fact, he is a very good representation of the nation because he was emphasizing on locality and the positive side of local content generation and integration while also insisting on originality in film projects. Above all, he was saying that every public servant must be like what we are in the state, acting as a guardian, or rather custodians of national legislations and state legislations. So, he was trying to make a point to the filmmakers, that if they find ease in belittling the law, if they see no harm in belittling the state legislations, that means they are not helping matters, above all, they will continue to be at logger leads with authorities and of course by so doing, they are but becoming deviant elements of the Nigerian society. So, I respected his submission or rather proposition, not withstanding his appeal that we should be very considerate of the baby industry, a.k.a Kanywood in trying to relax some measures that might be employed in the next ten years not now, for instance, on the issue of digitization, he is not saying we should relax our stance on digitization, but that we should try to revisit our measures so that we will not make filmmakers close shops needlessly and prematurely. We are emphasizing on erecting and maintenance of excellent and equally professional facilities; what we are saying now is that all production companies must be registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission like any other business entity or rather body, but to ask them to do this, they say is a stringent measure. But the reality is, you ought to be registered, because you are in a business, and film making is an investment with its attendant risks and prospects. 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.

Is it true that your board is given the opportunity to censor films that are not made in Kano?

R. A: You see, we have a very good point here and I want them to stick to their promise. I told you much earlier that in Nigeria we are a federating unit; there are customary laws in the west and in the south; there is the Shari’a penal code in the north and above all there is the constitution. The issue is this, if national agencies or organizations will accord recognition, respect and certain privileges to specific agencies like ours on the area that we are more primaric, then this we can say is a very positive development. Let’s assume, in the NFVCB’s Preview/Screening Committee there is no, single typical Hausa-Fulani there representing the people? But if we do it here, I mean if we censor Hausa films here, and at the end our certificates are presented to NFVCB during a submission of a Hausa films projects for their own preview, it will be easy for them to censor and nationalize the film project.

What can you say about the controversies surrounding the recent court cases between your board and the film makers in Kano?

R. A: 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. 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. In our tradition, you don’t allow somebody to breach a law, rather guide him, educate him and saying this thing you are trying to do is consequential, illegally, anti-religious, economically and culturally implicative. By so doing, you are making it less damaging; you are making it less difficult for someone. If you are told on how 3-5 minutes clips are made in a film, you won’t be happy asking someone to remove it after he or she is done with the project and we don’t want our stakeholders to be in this big loss, that’s why we are preaching the preventive approach to censorship. What I am now saying in that, these known of controversies has maliciously emanated from people that feel they are above the law, and we believe that nobody is above the law (a principle of democracy ‘rule of law’). So our so-called punitive measures, is meant for NFVCB. So what we are saying in essence here is that we will make sure that anybody who feel like he or she is arrogant, or he or she is above the law, face the wrath of the law.

Irrespective of your caliber and status in Kanywood, I am sorry for you, if you breach the law. As per as my own style leadership is concerned, I believe nobody is above the law and above all the most respected element among the stakeholders in our eyes is he who obey the law religiously; somebody who will respect the law however minimal, however insignificant, and however basic he is in the industry, believe you me he is a very big person, but he who sees little harm in breaching the law, however well placed, however influential he is, be he a marketer, be he or she a producer, I am sorry for that person, because, he will find us very uncompromising.

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.

What can you say about support or otherwise that your board is receiving from international bodies?

R. A: Immaterially, we do have support from NGOs and foreign bodies because we use to have intellectual fora, sometimes organized here locally and sometimes we are invited outside the country and sometimes we invite resources persons who are not Nigerians to give transfer skills and modern discoveries to production, just like what happened in the SHOOT 2008 (Jos), which we are there in numbers that not a single state of the federation can match. What I am trying to say is this, as par basic working tools, we are very grateful to this administration of Malam Ibrahim Shekarau. We also have a very good pledge, in fact we make the government to believe that it is high time for the government to invest money in filmmaking and to impact knowledge through seminars, workshops, training, and to sponsor various stakeholders to courses in Nigeria and abroad; all this things we are doing is to complement government accomplish its social responsibilities to the industry.

What about problems?

We don’t have any believe you me. I am not saying we don’t have any in the context that really there are not problems but what I am saying in essence is that the problems we are facing are tolerable. 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; in a nutshell this is my prayer, this is my call and in as much you will do it, the way we are urging you to do it, you will have our support.

Indeed, Hausa Movie Industry has its own teething problems- but as Professor Abdalla put it; “that is natural, because it is (still) in its infancy. However, it has the potential of a giant buried in a tiny acorn.”

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