I received the following email his morning:
Last week on Monday, a wildly popular Hausa comedian Rabilu Musa (aka d'an Ibro), who often satirizes government and religious authority figures in his films, was arrested, tried in a Censorship Mobile Court in less than an hour, and sentenced to two months in prison without bail and a fine of N20,000. I spoke with his manager two days ago, and he said Ibro was not presented with a warrant for his arrest. Neither was he asked if he had a lawyer or given a chance to defend himself against the charges.
The charges seem to be that he was dancing indecently in the film Ibro Aloko and Ibro Kauranmata. However, both films were released before the advent of the current censorship law and seem to have passed through the Kano State censors board at the time they were released. The other charges are that he did not register his production company with the Kano State Censor's Board. Ibro had registered individually as an actor and has the certificate to prove it. He also claimed that he did not have a production company. The magistrate, Mukhtar Ahmed, found him guilty anyway. Ibro was taken to prison but is currently in the hospital for a pre-existing illness.
Whether or not Ibro actually did break any laws, the speed at which his "trial" took place and the absence of legal representation at such a hastily conducted court case seems to be a clear violation of Nigerian federal law.
NOTE: The Kano State Censor's Board is a separate entity from the National Film and Video Censors Board. All films in Nigeria pass through the NFVCB and are given ratings. The Kano State Censors Board was set up in 2001 following the implementation of shari'a law in the state to censor films being sold in Kano State; however, they appear to only be censoring Hausa language films.
Following a cell phone sex scandal involving a Hausa actress last year, a new director general Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem began a war on filmmakers, writers, musicians, and other media distributors in the state. Ibro is the third Hausa actor/filmmaker to be arrested and imprisoned in the past year, the first one being the musician/actor/director Adam A. Zango for marketing his music video cd Bahaushiya during a ban on filmmaking in Kano (also for naming his album Bahaushiya, which was seen as "libel" against Hausa women); the second was pioneering Hausa filmmaker Hamisu Lamido Iyan Tama, who was arrested on his return from the Abuja Zuma Film Festival where he had won best Social Film for his film Tsintisya and accused of selling his film in Kano without passing it through the Kano State Censor's board, and finally Ibro.
However, these are just the big names. Apparently there have been over 300 arrests by the Kano State Censor's Board of "smaller" people, including video vendors and those who sell "traditional" medicine (for apparently using "vulgar" language over loudspeakers and having 'pornographic' photos advertising herbal aphrodisiacs.) In the meantime, you can still buy foreign films with explicit sex scenes from street vendors—no problem.
In addition, writer/journalist friends of mine have been receiving threatening text messages and late night calls from blocked numbers. One of my friends tells me that the latest pamphlet distributed in the mosque was railing against the Daily Trust and Freedom Radio. Previous pamphlets have targeted Leadership newspaper and its editor Ibrahim Sheme.
At issue seems to be newspaper coverage of alleged government corruption. During the Eid al-Fitr celebrations, I was in the Fagge neighborhood watching the parade of the emir and other district heads. We nearly didn't go out on the street because there were rumours about the 'yan daba (area boys) planning to cause trouble because they were unhappy about the government spending billions of naira on buying new vehicles for the emir and district heads.
The 'yan daba did, in fact, come out with knives and rioted for a few minutes before the police came. (I was back inside by that point). Apparently similar unrest occurred on the Friday of the Eid celebration at the sarki's palace, where crowds pelted the governor and sang songs from an Ibro film (the song made fun of a certain kind of striped material that apparently the governor is fond of wearing but does not directly mention the governor) to mock him.
Unfortunately, there has been very little national news coverage of what is going on in Kano, especially on Ibro's arrest, and there seems to be little awareness from the Southern Nigerian filmmakers about what is going on in the North, perhaps because of the language gap. Therefore, what seems to be needed the most is to raise national attention in Nigeria to these human rights violations, especially among Nigerian entertainers and government officials. I think probably the only way to get the Kano State government to put a stop to the Censor's Board is to get the Federal Government to put pressure on them. This is a tricky situation as far as raising awareness. Writers and filmmakers have already been accused by shadowy organizations distributing fliers in mosques of being "agents of Jews and the West." So, there needs to be some way of raising awareness within Nigeria without creating an international brouhaha that oversimplifies and exacerbates the situation.
For links to articles about this, see the following:
Editorial in today's Leadership, here.
Other articles about the Ibro case:Here
this is a link to the coverage from the Kano State government paper. Note the tone.Other articles about censorship in Kano:
(A piece by the director general of the censorship board - here)
I've gone on google and have gathered the addresses and contact information of some important national organizations/ministries which might be able to put pressure on the Kano State government. If I can access more personal information, I will try to update this note. I have also contacted the Nigeria chapter of Amnesty International. I would welcome any other ideas you may have on how to raise awareness about this.
[end of email]