By Jibrin Ibrahim
On Sunday, the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN), the organisation that controls the Hausa movie industry or Kannywood as its popularly called expelled one if its female stars, Rahama Sadau for life. Her crime was that she was seen dancing in a video in which she fleetingly cuddled a man. The 22-year old actress carried out the act in a music video of the musician ClassiQ who was launching his new song ‘I Love You’. MOPPAN’s secretary, Salisu Mohammed had released a statement on Sunday, October 2 citing Rahama’s appearance as an ‘immoral’ act and ‘a violation of the association’s code of ethics’ because she ‘appeared in series of visuals (video and pictorials) hugging and cuddling the music artiste.’ This expulsion happened when Rahama was in India receiving awards and accolades for her contribution to Kannywood. This expulsion from the industry has created a huge debate in the industry as well as in the larger Hausa movie watching community. Some have supported the move as a correct way to enforce morality in the industry while others have criticized it as unfair because many other artists in the industry have done similar or worse things and have not been punished.
Rahama is only three years old and in the industry and became a mega star in a very short period. Indeed, the day before her expulsion, Saturday Trust 1st October 2016 edition, the most widely read newspaper in Northern Nigeria had carried a three-page flattering profile on her captioned “I Never Knew I Would Be So Famous”. Within 24 hours, she became infamous. One of the issues that emerged in the interview was that she successfully straddles both Kannywood and Nollywood. Some people in the industry might have been unhappy about a Hausa star performing in the Igbo-dominated Nollywood industry. I found it interesting that the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria did not even invite her to defend herself before expelling her for life.
After persistent complains about their high-handedness, they subsequently agreed that she would be given an opportunity to defend herself on her return from India. Meanwhile, Ms. Rahama Sadau has apologized for appearing in ClassiQ’s 4 minute 19 seconds romantic musical video explaining that she did not realize that it would pose moral questions. The case might be more complicated than it appears to be. Sadau had earlier been suspended in May 2015 for six months by MOPPAN after she accused a popular actor and producer, Adam Zango of demanding sex from her for a role in his movie ‘Duniya Makaranta’. She later withdrew the accusation and apologised to Adam Zango.
Policing morality has always been an important aspect of the governance of Kannywood and it is important to understand the background. In the 1980s, a major cultural revolution happened in Kano. A burst of creative writing emerged with dozens of new writers flooding the State with hundreds of “soyyaya” (romantic) literature also known as Kano Market Literature. In the 1990s, many of the novels were transformed into films and Kannywood was born. Kannywood has been very different from Nollywood. It takes inspiration directly from Bollywood. Romance, singing and dancing governed its narrative in its earlier phase and persists up till today. It is a “feel good” production system in which the charming prince almost always married his beloved.
In keeping with the dominant Islamic culture of the area, actors were always expected to be decently dressed and social mores depicted in the films must be presented in ways that are not considered offensive to the culture and religion of the zone. In the beginning, it is true that many of the initial films were rather poor remakes of Indian films but over the past two decades, the quality of production has improved significantly.
The emergence of Kannywood was a cultural revolution because of its impact on social life. In an insidious manner, it started questioning the prevailing customs and traditions pertaining to marriage in Hausaland. It questioned the tradition of marrying off young girls to old rich and powerful men. It starting affirming the right of a girl to choose whom she wants to marry and it generated a debate about acceptable and unacceptable forms of intimacy. This frightened sections of the community and a war was declared against Kannywood by General Shekarau, the then Kano State Governor. The objective of the war was straight forward, if there is no writing or pictures of romance, young persons would neither know, think or dream about it. As one of Shekarau’s advisers, Lawal Galadima explained, their objection was on the way in which the good people of Hausaland were “portrayed as Romeos whose cultural love and courtship style is like the one in the modern Indian film industry, involving running after a girl, singing and rolling in the grass.”
Governor Shekarau’s war against Kannywood started with the appointment of Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem, an anti-Kannywood conservative as head of the Hisbah Board, which played the role of the morality police as head of the Film Censors Board with a clear mission of destroying the industry.
The opportunity to kill Kannywood provided itself in 2007 over what came to be known as the Hiyana sex tape mega scandal. A man had taken his phone for repairs and the nosy phone repair man started watching stored video on the phone and made a major discovery. There was an eight minutes sex clip of Kannywood mega star – Maryam Usman popularly called Hiyana, the theme song of her most famous film. The person discovered that people were ready to pay to copy the video and the rest as they say was history. Within days, the clip introduced Kano to the genealogy of the smartphone. Overnight, the ancient city decisively embraced blue tooth and infrared devices as hundreds of thousands of people transferred the clip to their handsets. Hiyana’s curves, which had only been imagined in her films, were now available to all who could pay. No one asked the appropriate question of why good well brought up Hausa people were paying a lot of money to see the image of a naked woman. What was unfortunate about the incident was that it turned out that Hiyana was drunk on cough mixture and was not even aware that her boyfriend was filming their immoral act. No one posed the question why a private act, filmed illegally and distributed by an unscrupulous repairman man should be the basis for shutting down the industry.
The Government found the opportunity to be an open door to enter and destroy Kannywood. Hiyana was castigated as the devil incarnate and as the war rolled on, she and 23 other actors who had been known to associate with her in the past were suspended from the profession. Filmmaking of all types was banned in Kano for six months from August 2007 to review the legal and institutional framework for the industry. Hiyana herself started receiving death threats and had to go into exile. An unsuspecting Hausa hip-hop singer, Adam Zango was jailed as an example for releasing a hip-hop video in Kano. The Kano State Film Censors Board came up with ridiculous regulations governing film production. All scripts must be vetted before shooting. Schedules and locations for shooting must be approved before production. The behaviour of actors and actresses were to be closely monitored by the authorities. All film companies that had a capital base of less than 2.5 million Naira were closed down. All actors were required to have post-secondary professional qualifications as a precondition for working in the industry. Even technical crews without formal specialized qualifications were banned from further working in the industry. Kannywood was forced to move from Kano to Kaduna to be able to function.
The industry suffered from massive harassment. In March 2008 for example, the Kano State Hisbah Board raided the house of a popular actress, Zainab Umar and arrested her at 11 p.m. The Hisbah came with five truckloads of officers for the arrest and kept her in detention for 20 hours. They called her a prostitute and threatened her. Her crime was that she was not married and was not living in her father’s house. In explaining their perspective, the Assistant Commander-General of the Hisbah Board, Sammani Salga explains that: “According to Islam, film-making is legal but film-makers can do something unlawful in the process of making the film. What we want Hausa film-makers to do is Islamise their films.”
The agenda therefore was to transform Kannywood from an industry organised around love and romance into Islamic missionaries, a new vocation. In mid-2008, the war against Kannywood entered a new phase with the release of pamphlets from some conservative organizations. The pamphlets were distributed in mosques all over Kano alleging that Kannywood was in a conspiracy with Jews and NGOs to undermine Islam in the State. It was at that stage that industry actors that wanted to continue with the profession had to leave the State. The Shekarau Administration started celebrating the end of “soyyaya” and romance in Kano.
It was nemesis that saved Kannywood from Governor Shekarau’s attempt to kill it. The Sunday Trust newspaper of 29th August 2010 broke the story that Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, the Director-General of the Kano State Film Censorship Board, was caught red handed apparently having sex with a minor on Sunday, 22 August 2010. Policemen on patrol had seen a car parked suspiciously in a wooded area along Maiduguri Road in Hotoro quarters in Kano and approached the vehicle. The driver sped off on seeing the policemen and was caught after a high speed chase round town.
He was found with a minor in the car. According to the report: “When the car was searched, the police found the girl’s pant but you know, when such issues involve big people in town, it dies a natural death but he was actually arrested for alleged sex relationship with the girl as well as for hitting a moving bike.” Mysteriously, he was allowed to escape and leave the country before his trial began. The Abdulkarim case was very embarrassing to the Kano State Government especially as he was a former Hisbah commander and the moral policemen charged with eliminating immorality in Kannywood.
After the incident, Kannywood was left alone for a long time and thereby saved from imminent death.
Jibrin Ibrahim, PhD, is Senior Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja, Nigeria.
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