A rather curious drama is playing itself out in Kano. That the government of
Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau has been waging a war on stakeholders in the fledgling Hausa movie industry is no longer news; what is news is that his government has, in the past few weeks, pushed the war beyond the borders of decency and constitutionality. It's ferocious, devil-may-care and cruel. Curiously, this is happening at a time Governor Shekarau is running from pillar to post in his quest to become Nigeria's next president.
Before I continue, let me sound a caveat: I have been an ardent admirer of Malam Shekarau mostly because of his A Daidaita Sahu (i.e. Fall in line) programme. The programme, which is coordinated by the Kano State Directorate of Societal Reorientation, is aimed at instilling sanity in the society. It confronts social ills such as prostitution, begging, uncouth behaviour, road traffic, child labour, you name it. The success or otherwise of the programme is a subject of debate, but I am one of those that believe it was better the residents of Kano (including myself, a part-time resident) have had it in place. At least, it has made us think about who we are, what we do and the repercussion of our individual and collective action. The man who heads A Daidata Sahu, Bala A. Muhammad, knows his onions, and he has proved his mettle in this difficult task. Given a choice, I wouldn’t mind recommending him as the next governor of Kano.
Shekarau has also committed himself to rebuilding the collapsed infrastructure in Kano, especially in his second term in office. This has endeared him to a large segment of the society, although whether it is large enough to secure his party a victory in next year's general elections in the state remains to be seen. Curiously, while Shekarau is working to revamp the infrastructure and solve social problems, his government is committing the most brutal human rights abuse ever seen in the history of Kano State. His war against moviemakers, which spilled beyond Kano borders with a resounding failure, is full of doublespeak and religious pretence. With the lifespan of the government already in a countdown, the war worsened in recent times, resulting in a rash of legal cases in Kano and Kaduna. The current fire was ignited, expectedly, by the controversial director-general of the Kano State Censorship Board, Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem. He it was that claimed in a live television interview that Hausa moviemakers had begun to produce pornographic movies. He also called on the good people of Kaduna to rise against the moviemakers in their midst and flush them out. It is unlikely that Rabo, who parades himself as Mr Know-All in movie matters, does not know the exact meaning of porn products or the implication of his seditious call for a public uprising. In any case, six moviemakers that felt aggrieved by his statements took the matter to a magistrate court in Kaduna.
Apparently, Rabo also considers himself to be above the law. He refused to honour the court's summons on two occasions, compelling the court to issue a bench warrant against him. He acted the same way last year. Enjoying his above-the-law status, he must have laughed when he was sued for criminal defamation by the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN), Kano State chapter, over his claim that members of the association were gays and lesbians. He did not honour the court summons, and the case petered out when state officials reportedly intervened and scuttled it.
That was a man who used to boast that anyone who disagreed with his methods should go to court - exactly what the moviemakers did. While the Kaduna moviemakers waited for the police to arrest him, Rabo dashed to the High Court in Kano and secured an injunction against the police. He also sued the commissioners of police in Kano and Kaduna, the deputy inspectors-general of police in the two zones, as well as the magistrate that issued the warrant of arrest. And while the substantive case in the Kaduna court was not vacated, the chief censor also lodged a complaint with the Kano State police command against nine moviemakers, including those that sued him and have a running legal case against him. In his complaint, he said that he received text messages from two telephone numbers in which it was said that he would be killed. He fingered the nine persons and called upon the Kano State police commissioner to arrest them.
Complying, the commissioner dispatched two cops to Kaduna last Wednesday to effect the arrest. They went straight to the offices of Fim, the Hausa movie industry’s leading newsmagazine, and arrested Aliyu Abdullahi Gora, its editor. He was one of the six that had sued Rabo and was among the nine Rabo accused of sending the offensive text messages. For over a decade, the monthly glossy magazine has been unflagging in its coverage of events in the Hausa film industry, and I have it on good authority that Rabo is looking for ways to kill it. It is significant to state that there is a pending High Court order against the arrest of the nine persons accused by Rabo as those responsible for the so-called text messages.
The policemen locked up Gora at a police station in Kaduna. On Thursday, they did not bother to search for the other eight suspects but drove him in a commercial cab almost 200 kilometres away to the police headquarters in Kano. From there, after interrogation, policemen took him to a magistrate court. But the judge who was supposed to hear the case, Hajiya Halima Nasiru, did not go to work that day; she was said to have been ill. She told the lawyers that met her at home with an application for bail that she could not attend to the matter in her house and advised them to meet her in court the following day. The editor was, therefore, taken to prison. Yesterday, the judge did not go to work again. Attempts to reach her failed as she was said to have gone to the hospital. Her phones were switched off up until the time the courts closed. By this morning, Gora will have spent his third day in detention without trial. Since the courts do not open during weekends, it means he will remain there till Monday (his fifth day in detention) when another attempt would be made to secure bail for him.
I will not comment on the merit of the various court cases in this matter or the integrity of the judges involved in it. But I posit that the whole scene is permeated with the acrid smell of vendetta. Rabo's comments in the TV interview were couched in his well-known campaign of calumny against an industry that will surely outlive his tenure as a power-drunk government official.
Does Mallam Shekarau really hope to become Nigeria's president while fighting an unjust battle against fellow citizens? The unemployment rate in Kano is the highest in Nigeria, and the crackdown on moviemakers has sent thousands more into the labour market. The taste of the pudding is in the eating.
Published in LEADERSHIP, on Saturday, July 3, 2010