AN OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNOR IBRAHIM SHEKARAU
I am sending this letter to you through an open forum because I believe it will get to you faster than through the formal ones, given the urgency the matter requires. If I had to submit the letter at your office it could take days, or even months, before it could reach you, and by that time you might not have been fully briefed by an independent source on the gargantuan injustice some of your appointees are committing on your behalf.
Secondly, the matter has since been in the public domain, generating such a storm of negative publicity in the last few months. Now it appears to have been settled through a dubious process of adjudication, which some self-serving zealots have pinned on the canvass of your administration’ s well publicized mantra of humanism, non-deceit and Islamic values. Moreover, writing publically would give anyone interested in the issue an insight into what is happening in a key aspect of your government.
Sir, I am very conversant with this case, not only because I have been following it up in the magistrate’s court in Kano where it was exhausted but also because I am an insider in the Hausa filmmaking business. I do not have to stress here that Kano has been the hub of Hausa filmmaking for the over 10 years since the trade began.
I am very certain that you are not totally unaware of the court case between the Kano State Censorship Board (KSCB) and a movie producer, Alhaji Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama. The latter, Your Excellency, is an indigene of your state who played a key role in the development of Hausa filmmaking, doubling as an A-list actor. Indeed, he was the first elected national president of Arewa Film Producers Association. It is a well known fact that he has never produced or acted in a movie that ran counter to the cultural and religious beliefs of Kano people. His roles have consistently been mature; he insists on quality of production, sensitivity in the representation of culture in the movies, and he is always law-abiding. His movies have won top awards.
Your Excellency, if you are opportune to read this letter today, Iyan-Tama has spent two days in Kano Prison so far, having been indicted on Tuesday on two offences by a magistrate court that had played adabracadbra with his case for the past few months. By the court’s ruling, he is going to spend three months in jail without an option of fine. In addition, he is to pay a huge fine or spend an additional year in jail.
Many of us observers would not have batted an eyelid over this verdict if the offences had truly been committed. I for one believe in the rule of law, knowing that it is the cardinal principle of any workable democracy. Nobody should be above the law. Observing this rule is one of the requirements for the survival of democracy and a guarantee for the well-being of the nation. The truth, however, is that the offences for which Iyan-Tama was “found guilty” were cooked up by the Censorship Board and the guilty verdict passed by a compromised judge best known for jailing anyone dragged before him even if innocent. The not-so-funny thing is that this atrocity is perpetrated under your name and the hallowed provisions of the Islamic Shari’ah law. From my reading of your pronouncements and personal attitude, I am yet to be convinced that you would support injustice in whichever mode or allow anyone to play politics with the Islamic law in order to settle some personal score.
Let me summarise the case for you, Sir. Iyan-Tama was arrested in his office in Kano by members of a task force from the KSCB and taken to the mobile court established to adjudicate on matters of filmmaking and book writing (widened to include all forms of publications) . Curiously, the court is the only one of its kind; there are no special courts for achaba, prostitution, gambling, homosexuality, etc. Iyan-Tama was charged on two “offences”:
1. Releasing his movie, “Tsintsiya” (meaning Broom) in Kano without having it vetted by the KSCB as required by law;
2. Operating a production company, Iyan-Tama Multimedia, without government registration.
Now all these counts are false and his attorney did work hard to convince the senior magistrate, Alhaji Mukhtar Ahmed, to believe so. It took months before the verdict, which has shocked most residents of Kano State and beyond, was passed.
Let’s begin with the second charge. Iyan-Tama Multimedia was duly registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), which is vested with the responsibility of registering all companies in Nigeria. KSCB insists that Iyan-Tama did not renew his annual registration with the Board. Again, this was proved to be false as he had filed an application on that months before his arrest and obtained the relevant receipts. Having made that move while operating a federally approved business venture did not speak of a lawless business man eager to flout the provisions of running a filmmaking venture in Kano.
The first charge was even more absurd. Your Excellency, Iyan-Tama did not release the said movie in Kano State. He even ran advertorials and did radio and newspaper interviews prior to the movie’s premiere in Abuja, in which he stated unequivocally that “Tsintsiya” would not be distributed in Kano State.
When the KSCB decided to “deal with Iyan-Tama”, members of its task force broke a shop, HRB, in Tarauni quarters of Kano and obtained a CD of the movie, hidden inside a desk drawer by an actor who says he bought it in Kaduna and wanted to give it to a fan. The CD was not displayed for sale. Its presence in Kano was not linked to Hamisu Iyan-Tama. If you read the transcript of the cross-examination of the KSCB’s two witnesses (the task force members) in court, you will believe without any doubt that they could not link Hamisu to the presence of that CD in that shop.
Clearly, the case against Iyan-Tama was a vendetta. It was a part of the “get him at all cost” campaign which the KSCB seems to be running against some selected film industry operators. KSCB’s warped thinking is that through this campaign it could help wipe out the whole idea of movie -making in the Hausa language. It uses crude propaganda, trades in misinformation, unleashes a deliberate misinterpretation of the 2002 Censorship Law, and brandishes the name of Islam in its entirely unIslamic approach to reforming the entertainment arena in Kano. Your Excellency, all this is against your avowed commitment to social justice. And it comes with a high price, which I will, with all due respect, Sir, tell you.
The war against filmmaking in Kano is wearing the toga of Shariah, however it is anything but Islamic. Those waging it are fellow conspirators mouthing the words of the holy Qur’an and the Sunnah but acting the script of Hitler. There is nothing in their actions that proves a commitment to the hallowed blandishments of the holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW). As I said last week, the systematic, violent strangulation of the movie industry is coming at great cost, not only to the industry’s operators but also to the Kano State government. I shall enumerate some of the high prices being paid:
1. Thousands of self-employed youths have been thrown out of work, with all the attendant difficulties faced by them and their families. They have not been provided with alternative means of earning a livelihood. “To hell with them,” your warriors would say, “half of them are not Kano indigenes!” But it goes against the grain of your administration’s stated commitment to providing jobs to the multitude of Kano youths.
2. The war is a drag on Kano’s already dismal economy. With the collapse of most of the manufacturing industries in the state, the movie industry should have been harnessed towards a viable, self-sustaining enterprise within acceptable moral and legal bounds. Instead, the strangled baby is being thrown out with the bath water.
3. A dark cloud of fear and uncertainty has enveloped the youths, with stakeholders turned into virtual beggars (’yan maula).
4. A rash of anti-Shekarau sentiment has been unleashed among the youths. This is visible in folk songs being produced in movie studios in Kano, Zaria and Kaduna. Initially the songs were targeted at the Kano State Censorship Board (KSCB) but they are now including the governor in their attacks. The most popular of such songs was written, composed to music and published in a studio owned by a very close political confidante of yours, yet the KSCB did not find it necessary to act on this because the sponsor of the studio is an ‘untouchable’.
This anti-Shekarau sentiment is gaining momentum and could well translate into a liability for ANPP in the 2011 general elections in the state.
5. Questions are being asked on the purpose and direction of your Shariah campaign, which millions embraced. A leader preaching equity and moral rebirth should not deny thousands of the young ones their means of earning a meal.
Your Excellency, I am a believer in sanitisation of society and inculcation of moral values in tandem with the beliefs and customs of the people. Hence my full support of your government’s Societal Reorientation Programme (A Daidaita Sahu), which our good friend Malam Bala Muhammad has been heading most admirably and with tremendous success. But the censorship regime in Kano is undoing what A Daidaita Sahu has accomplished. Reeling precariously on a wrong track, its approach is malicious and personalised. It has derailed from any moral, practical yardstick.
Granted that the Hausa movie industry has had some disturbing excesses that needed to be checked. This was even more expedient after the Hiyana Affair. But the involvement of the genuine leaders of the industry was a necessity if any success was to be achieved. Instead, they were excommunicated by the KSCB, which went ahead to create enclaves of fake loyalists, host diversionary dinners and organise purposeless talk-shows. No wonder the divide and rule tactics, the bitter carrots and stick method and the Nazi-style propaganda executed by the board have only created cataclysms and woeful failures in the task of sanitising the industry.
Pornographic movies and posters are still on sale in Kano. Also, most of the trickle Hausa movies produced by the so-called loyalists of KSCB and approved by the board (to hide the lie that filmmaking isn’t being killed) cannot pass an independent assessment, using the board’s own yardstick. Pray, how many qualitative, morally “acceptable” movies were produced under KSCB’s watch since the Hiyana Affair?
Sir, you will agree with me that the idea of filmmaking itself is not an anathema and should, therefore, not be killed. Movies can be made on all sorts of themes in line with cultural norms. Moviemakers should be guided, not denigrated or hounded out of town.
Sir, Hamisu Iyan-Tama is a political prisoner: he opposed you in the 2007 polls by contesting your gubernatorial seat. He didn’t pose any significant threat to you. You were re-elected. Yet for his effrontery, your appointees are punishing him. They say he is a braggart, pompous, talks too much and criticizes your administration. Fine and good, are they not bigger braggarts and even more pompous, acting as if they are almighty? Don’t they consider anyone who questions their decisions as an enemy or even an unbeliever, disloyal, or a non-indigene ignorant of all the issues involved? How more supercilious could one be?
And even if Iyan-Tama was a braggart or was your political opponent, was that enough basis to punish him with a jail term when he did not break any law? Is he as damaging to you as those angry talking heads on Freedom Radio? Where is the democracy we are talking about? Would the Prophet (SAW) or any of his rightly guided caliphs or the sundry righteous men that trod on their path treat an opponent that way?
Your Excellency, you should probe the Iyan-Tama case, please, especially the role of the magistrate that handled it and other cases of injustice. Why should a court be working for a prosecuting government agency? Why should a single magistrate who has shown his bias more times than can be counted remain the only judge on each and every case the KSCB is prosecuting? Is the man a God-fearing adjudicator or a mere grumpy politician?
You should also use your good offices to free Iyan-Tama by entering a nolle prosequi in the appeal case he filed before a higher court. I know you have such a big heart because you acted that way in similar cases, including the one in which your wife was maligned. You should not allow your zesty hirelings to fight your opponents unjustly because on the Day of Reckoning they will answer their own cases separately from yours.
Sir, till we talk on this and some other cases again, I remain your most humble observer and adviser.
ABOVE IS THE TEXT OF MY WEEKLY COLUMN PUBLISHED IN LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER, ABUJA, YESTERDAY (AND CONCLUDED THE FOLLOWING THURSDAY)