ALHAJI SANI MU’AZU, a 1990 Mass Communication graduate of University of Jos, a director and film actor, is the National President of the Motion Picture Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN). He believes the way out of the conflict between film producers and the government of Kano State is the immediate removal of the Director-General of the Film Censorship Board, Malam Suleiman Rabo. He spoke to LAMARA GARBA AZARE, on a range of issues including the influence of other cultures on the Hausa home video industry, the lingering imbroglio between Kano State government and film-makers as well as the association’s vision of the film industry.

ART & STYLE: Film-makers in Nigeria are being accused of direct aping of other cultures. What will you say about that?

In literature or in art generally, adaptation is part and parcel of the evolution of that discipline. However, there are bad adaptations. I have said as a person that, singing songs the way Indians do is so inimical to the progress of films in the North. It is so terrible to the good image of Hausa people. We hardly encourage singing that way, in fact we hardly encourage man/woman meeting and relating in public or going to a garden to sing songs. So, yes adaptation has its own good side and it has its own bad side. I don’t want to hold forte for any person but whoever reads history of literature will know that Shakespeare is only important because he repackaged stories that were there before him very well. And if you adapt and you do it in a creative manner, it is said to be ingenious or original. What you have just said is true of every culture. Film-makers in Lagos are being accused of directly adapting American films; film-makers in India are being accused of adapting American films all over the place. I ask a very simple question -MAGANA JARI CE- is the classical Hausa literature book we have, all the stories in MAGANA JARI CE, are they Hausa stories? They are not! You see, that is the problem.

Film-makers and the state Kano State government have been at logger-heads for sometime now. What do you think is the way out?

Actually, the first way out is that Rabo should be removed from the censorship board. This is the first major thing that can resolve this issue once and for all. However, there are other issues that we have tried to mention that can really help us find a lasting solution to the problems within the industry. Our argument is this, film-makers source their money from all kinds of sources and then engage in this enterprise called film-making and what are the parameters they look out for to make a film? It is commercial parameter. How would I be able to maximize profit from this enterprise I am going into? All over the world this is one of the major engines that engineer film-making. However, any economy, and any government that is serious will know that you don’t checkmate commercial activity just like that. So, we now propose the idea of developmental approach to film-making. If, for instance, Kano is very much interested in promoting shari’a, nothing stops Kano from instituting a shari’a fund for film-making and putting clear conditions as to how film-makers can come and tap from those funds. For you to tap from that fund clear conditions will be laid that if in your film you are to teach or to show a particular thing about Islam then you will benefit from the fund no matter how little. Now, what I will tell you is that film-makers are muslims actually, they should do this even if the government is not giving them some attractive incentive but with the incentive, they will do it wholeheartedly and within a short time this cry about films not conforming to our culture or tradition will be over and done with. This fund can also be an endowment fund that can be launched annually to promote specific terms. If the Ulama discover that performing Hajj is a problem to our people, films can teach it. If they discover that performing the prayer is a problem films can also teach it and if they feel there is a particular moral issue within the community, for example, youth are going off hand, they are not conforming to certain set traditions films can teach that. So, what we do know is that in the future if Rabo is removed we are hoping government will look at developmental film issues and film will change for the better in the North.

It appears this crisis has pauperized your members. What are you doing to catapult them back to the economic prosperity in the event you are done with the current nightmare?

Well, our members were not even doing well in the past; it is just that they did not understand the power of the product they churn out. Where we were making films with half a million Naira elsewhere people are making films with five million Naira in this country. I am not talking about elsewhere. Where we were making half a million naira film and making 200,000 as gain, somebody is making five million naira film and he is making fifteen million naira as gain. Now what we are trying to do is to encourage proper film-making in terms of the professional sense of it and we are also trying to encourage marketing beyond the shores or beyond the borders of the North. We are looking beyond what was the tradition in the past and we are hoping that with serious interests and professionalism into film-making people will start to tap from sources that hitherto they were not tapping from. It is not the lacuna really that had been the hindrance, it is just that we have some fundamental problems – facilities down rated, we don’t have access to funds, our distribution system in terms of marketing is so shabbily handled, the marketing of our product, which is the prime job of the distributor, is left in the hands of the producer, so many things were undone in the past. We are hoping that with the level of interaction we are creating now for our film-maker to go to the National Film Festivals, International Film Festivals, creation of avenue where they interact and mingle with marketers from across the world, and we do get people now who knock on our door to say ‘can you make this kind of film?’ We have the Africa Magic accepting to show Hausa films now, we have some cable network stations around the world saying they want Hausa films. These are all avenues that we are going to tap from now. But we are not just excited about tapping from those avenues, we are also excited that we are going to put the culture of the Hausa man on the international scene properly. We are excited that we are going to show our religion properly, we are excited that we are going to show that whether there is western culture or not the Hausa man was well engrained in his own culture and he is the proud owner of a well developed culture before the coming of the west.

During the first tenure of Governor Shekarau, there was a very good understanding between the government and the governor in particular with the members of the industry, but now somehow somewhere there is a disagreement. What is your association doing about this?

Well, we are hoping to do something about it. What I always emphasise on is that a king tends to behave the way he is being guided by his palace staff, this is a Hausa adage. Why I am saying this is that at our meeting, a special adviser to the governor came, you know, in one of the meetings we held to sensitize the industry, and the man said, the issues we raised are serious issues, that he knows Malam Shekarau very well and he knows that Malam Shekarau will accept the interpretations that are being given at the censorship board, so he was going to lead us to see the governor. The next thing we saw was the governor burning foreign made blue films in the name of Hausa films. Each time we try to make a move to see the governor on this issue somebody is trying very hard to block us from seeing the governor. If the governor gives us an appointment and later cancelled the appointment what it simply means is that something is happening, boardroom politics is happening as well. Unfortunately, film-makers are not politicians and very unfortunately we are the ones bearing the brunt because we are professionals who are busy making one title or the other. While we are concentrating on making our language and our culture to be important in the face of the world some people are busy playing politics on an issue that is purely professional.

Why do you say that Malam Rabo and his board are not interested in the film industry?

It is clear from the antecedents of Malam Rabo. He was the commandant of Hisbah before he was posted to the Censorship Board and as the commander of Hisbah he had clearly waged war against films and he came into the industry he has been beating his chest to say that, ‘I have chased film-makers. I am going to move to another sector of the economy.’ Why is he doing what he is doing? He thinks he is promoting Islam or thinks it will help promote Islam. But what he is doing is scandalizing the religion; what he is doing is making people to look at Kano as a backward state; what he is doing is akin to the issue of polio immunization that some people ill-advised the governor on. He does not really understand that what he ought to do is to sanitize the industry. There are structures on ground that you can utilize to sanitize the industry.

You seem to have attributed this problem to one person. why?

Well, the Censorship Board was there before this one person was assigned to the place. The board had done some of its own beat before Malam Rabo got there; we also know that Malam Shekarau had been a supporter and sympathizer of the film industry before the advent of Malam Rabo. It is on record that he had attended so many functions organized by film-makers; he had aided the film industry with buses; he had given awards to notable film-makers from Kano; he had received awards from film-makers in Kano. So, you can’t say it is the government. What we do know is that time just changed and somebody, you know, is given an assignment that he is not fit to carry out.

You mentioned that the coming of Rabo has entirely changed events between Kano State government and the film industry in a negative way. Don’t you think he is only implementing an agenda of government?

Yes, we feel so. Actually, we came to this conclusion that Kano state government is very much behind what Rabo is doing. But what we kept on saying is that, the government is being ill-advised, quote me anywhere, ill-advised. A few things happened. I will give you an example: I was quoted as calling Rabo deceptive. Deception as clearly established when pornographic films were siezed in Kano. These pornographic films are foreign films, not Nigerian, which came into Kano from Alaba, Onitsha and other places. Rabo siezed the films, took them to the governor, and told the governor this is what Hausa film-makers are producing in Kano. Now, there is no sane leader, there is no responsible leader that will come out, take a look at the jacket of those films without feeling aggrieved or getting upset and that made the governor to set those films ablaze. Is that not deception? So, it is simple, when you are dealing with somebody, a crafty person who wants to pull down a structure, he will certainly give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. He is setting up the industry. Here is a man who will go to the Ulama and say film-makers have refused to accept Islamic conditions of making films but he will never tell them what those conditions are. One of the major areas of disagreement between MOPPAN and the Censorship Board is registration. He said he must register every individual member and one of the documents he will give you to register is for you to sign that he can take a punitive measure against you if you don’t do what he tells you to do. There is nowhere in the world where a professional organization is subjected this kind of measure. And we as an industry, as a professional industry said to him, there are doctors but their code of practice is not being controlled by the government but by the Medical Council; there are journalists whose code of conduct is being set by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) not by government; there are engineers whose code of practice is being set by the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE). We as professionals we set code of practice for our own members, not the government. We have governments at different levels – at the federal level, our association was registered by government but the federal government didn’t say every film-maker in Nigeria should come individually and register. At different states there are states that have their censorship boards but they deal with the associations. So, why is somebody in Kano insisting that he would have to deal with individuals? Now, this is not an Islamic issue but Rabo will go out and say we have refused to accept Islamic way of doing film. Meanwhile, he did not say this is an Islamic way of doing film, he had never said to film-makers, ‘come, let me show you how to do films to conform with Islamic teachings.’ so, this is confusing. What I am saying therefore is he is setting people against us. You know, we had a meeting with him and I stood up and said, “You keep saying Hausa film-makers are making pornographic films, now clearly explain what you mean by pornography, because people that do not understand the kind of films we make are accusing us of making blue films, and I said it is not fair, you are making people to think we lack basic morality, basic upbringing, we are not responsible people, we are not parents, we don’t have daughters, we don’t worry about what our parents think of us.” The man said that he cannot do that. That as far as he is concerned what we are doing is pornography. You have watched Hausa films, for goodness sake, tell me are these films pornographic films? So, why can’t somebody call a spade a spade, why is somebody hell-bent on calling a spade a long spoon. This is the problem, the man is not agreeing to what is happening on ground, he is always creating confusion and creating diversionary tactics to make people feel he is championing an Islamic cause. Meanwhile, it is nothing, it is a selfish thing.

We gathered that your association has gone to court. What are your prayers?

Well, we have just gone to the federal high court here in Kano, and it is now that we are seeking the injunction; actually the case is yet to be heard. However, a judge has just been assigned to handle the case. What we are seeking for on behalf of the entire film industry in the North under our umbrella association known as the Motion Picture Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN) is for a clear interpretation of issues bordering on one contradictory law – if the National Assembly has the power to make laws and it has enacted a law that established the National Film and Video Censorship Board which takes censorship of films as well as classification of films in Nigeria – how clear is it for a state like Kano to have its own censorship board? Now, if there is a clash between a state law and federal law, which one takes precedence over the other? These are clear interpretations we want. But as you said, these whole things stem from guidelines issued by the Kano Censorship Board under its new leader, Malam Rabo, to do with film-making in the North and these guidelines are so contradictory and archaic in nature that there is nowhere in the world where film is being done with those clear guidelines. Some of these guidelines, somebody said you can’t shoot in the night, this is confusing. You see, you cannot say films cannot be done in the night. Any film-maker anywhere in the world would think you are mad because it doesn’t make sense. But we understand the reason behind the need for such a guideline, the only thing is, it is coming from the wrong quarters and it is being implemented by somebody who does not really want the film industry to thrive.

Now, in the event you get the injunction from the court, do you think that will be enough?

The injunction is just to ensure that we have stability in the industry. There are serious issues on ground. The issue of morality within the industry is a serious issue. We as muslims; we as Hausas worry about the content of the works we do and we are the ones that move on to say it is time to sanitize the industry. We are the ones that started thinking it is time to stop singing and dancing like Indians. We have been concerned about the activities of our members. Rabo or no Rabo, we are hell-bent on sanitizing this industry; we know that for sure a muslim cannot make film for the sake of entertainment. Our religion does not allow a community that will get completely engrossed in entertainment, we have serious issues. As film-makers or muslim film-makers, we know that if we don’t use film to propagate the religion or to help in shaping the society towards the right path, God will ask us in the hereafter, what we have done with the talents and the creative abilities he gave us in this world. So, we know the injunction will not stop us or derail us from trying to achieve this very objective. After sanitizing the industry, we hope to make film-making one of the major parameters that people can use the world over to see how developed the Hausa man is. We wish to create a window of opportunity for people to see the Hausa culture or the culture of a muslim from the kind of films we make so that they will say, here is a community or here is a society that is well-guided by proper morals.