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Northern Nollywood, Southern Distorted Mirrors: Nollywood and the Rest of Us

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By Abdallah Uba Adamu

Recently, an extremely prestigious academic journal requested me to review a film made by a Nigerian. I was surprised as that is Muhsin Ibrahim’s forte. Further, I really don’t watch Nigerian films, aka Nollywood, personally preferring African Francophone directors. Nevertheless, I agreed to do the review. However, the link they sent for the film was password protected. I informed them, and they requested the filmmaker to send the password. Being a request from a highly prestigious journal, he sent the code and I was able to get in the site and watch the film online. I was surprised at what I saw, and decided to delve further into these issues. Before doing that, I wrote my review and sent it off. The film, however, set me thinking.

Like a creeping malaise, Nollywood directors are rearing their cameras into the northern Nigerian cultural spaces. Again. The film I reviewed for the journal was “A Delivery Boy” (dir. Adekunle Adejuyigbe, 2018). It was in Hausa language. None of the actors, however, was Hausa, although the lead actor seems to be a northerner (at least from his name, since an online search failed to reveal any personal details about him).

Nothing wrong with that. Some of the best films about a particular culture were made by those outside the culture. Being ‘outliers’, it often gave them an opportunity to provide a more or less balanced and objective ‘outsider’s perspective’ of the culture. Alfonso Cuarón, a Mexican successfully directed “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004) while Taiwanese director Ang Lee did the same with “ Brokeback Mountain” (2005), even earning him an Oscar.

In 2006 Clint Eastwood, an American, directed “Letters From Iwo Jima.” The cast was almost entirely Japanese and almost all of the dialogue was in Japanese. It was very well-received in Japan, and in fact some critics in Japan wondered why a non-Japanese director was able to make one of the best war movies about World War II from the Japanese perspective. Abbas Kiarostami, an Iranian filmmaker, directed his film, “Certified Copy” (2020) in Italy and contained French, Italian, and English dialogue, starring French and British actors.

British director Richard Attenborough successfully directed Ben Kingsley in the Indian biopic Gandhi (1982). The film was praised for providing a historically accurate portrayal of the life of Gandhi, the Indian independence movement and the deleterious results of British colonization on India. It took away eight Oscars. American director Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” (1993) on a German, Oskar Schindler, was equally a powerful portrayal of auteur genius by “non-native”. The film won seven Oscars.

In each of these examples, the directors approached their subject matter with clean, fresh and open mind that acknowledges the cultural sensitivities of the subject matter. My point is that a person, outside of a particular cultural context can make sensitive films that portray the culture to his own culture as well as other cultures. That is not, however, how Nollywood plays when it focuses its cameras on northern Nigerian social culture. Specifically, Muslims.

I just can’t understand why they are so fixated with Muslims and the north. If the purpose of the ‘crossover’ films (as they are labeled) they make is to create an understanding of the north for their predominantly southern audiences, they need not bother. Social media alone is awash with all the information one needs about Nigeria—the good, the bad and the ugly. You don’t need a big budget film for that. Or actors trying, and failing, to convey ‘Aboki’ accents in stilted dialogues that lack grammatical context.

Yet, they insist on producing films about Muslim northern Nigeria from a jaundiced bigoted perspective, often couched with pseudo intellectual veneer. To sweeten the bad taste of such distasteful films, they pick up one or two northern actors (who genuinely speak the Hausa language, even if not being mainstream ethnic Hausa) and add them to the mix believing that this will buy them salvation. For southern Nigerians, anyone above the River Niger is ‘Hausa’.

They started in the early 2000s, and people just ignored them. The directors then included Oskar Baker (Ɗan Adamu Butulu, Abdulmalik), Yemi Laniyan (Makiyi, Uwar Gida), Tunji Agesin (Halin Kishiya), Matt Dadzie (Zuwaira), I. Nwankwo (Macijiya) and many others. These came on the heels of the massive success of “Sangaya” (dir. Aminu Muhammad Sabo, 1999) when this particular film opened up the northern Nigerian film market. These Nollywood producers jumped in to cash on the popularity of Hausa films and made their own for northern markets. For the most part, these early ‘crossover’ films that I refer to as ‘Northern Nollywood’ were fairly mild, and evoked no reaction. They were still rejected, as the Hausa can be the most discriminatory people you can come across. If you are outside their cultural universe, you remain there. Forever.

The few Kannywood actors eager to be seen on ‘national stage’ allowed themselves to be used to deconstruct Islam and Muslims on the altar of filmmaking in subsequent Northern Nollywood films. Let’s not even talk about character misrepresentation, which Muhsin Ibrahim has written extensively about. In these scenarios, the usual tropes for northerners in Nollywood films is that of ‘Aboki’ (a term southern Nigerians believe is an insult to northerners, without knowing what it means), ‘maigad’ (security), generally a beggar. If they value an actor, they assign them an instantly forgettable role, rather than a lead. Granted, this might more of astute and realistic marketing than ethnicity because it would be risky to give an unknown Hausa actor a significant role in a film aimed at southern Nigerians. Few of these types of portrayals in Nollywood included Hausa speaking actors in films such as The Senator, The Stubborn Grasshopper, The World is Mine, Osama Bin La, Across the Border and The Police Officer.

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When Shari’a was relaunched from 1999 in many northern Nigerian States, it became an instant filmic focus for Nollywood. A film, “Holy Law: Shari’a” (dir. Ejike Asiegbu, 2001) drew such a barrage of criticism among Hausa Muslims due to its portrayal of Shari’a laws then being implemented in northern Nigeria that it caused credibility problems for the few Hausa actors that appeared in it. With neither understanding of Islam or its context, the director ploughed on in his own distorted interpretation of the Shari’a as only a punitive justice system of chopping hands, floggings, and killings through foul-mouthed dialog. As Nasiru Wada Khalil noted in his brilliant essay on the film (“Perception and Reaction: The Representation of the Shari’a in Nollywood and Kanywood Films”, SSRN, 2016) “the whole story of Holy Law is in itself flogged, amputated and killed right from the storyline.”

“Osama bin La” (dir. MacCollins Chidebe, 2001) was supposed to be a comedy. No one found it funny in Kano. Despite not featuring any northern actor, it was banned in Kano due to its portrayal of Osama bn Ladan, then considered a folk hero. The film was banned to avoid reaction against Igbo merchants marketing the film. I was actually present in the congregation at a Friday sermon at Kundila Friday mosque in Kano when a ‘fatwa’ was issued on the film. Even a similar comedy, “Ibro Usama” (dir. Auwalu Dare, 2002), a chamama genre Hausa film was banned in Kano, showing sensitivity to the subject matter.

The reactions against crossover films seemed to have discouraged Nollywood producers from forging ahead. They returned in the 2010s. By then northern Nigeria has entered into a new phase of social disruption, and Nollywood took every opportunity to film its understanding of the issues—sometimes couched in simpering distorted narrative masquerading as social commentary—on a society and culture they have absolutely no understanding of.

In “Dry” (dir. Stephanie Linus, 2014), the director developed a sudden concern about ‘child marriage’ and its consequences. Naturally the culprits of such marriage, as depicted in the film are sixty-year old men who marry girls young enough to be their granddaughters. The director’s qualification to talk about the issue (which was already being framed by child marriage controversy in the north) was that she has ‘visited the north’ a couple of times. With the film, if she could get at least “one girl free and open the minds of the people, and also instruct different bodies and individuals to take action, then the movie would have served its purpose.” The ‘north’ was living in darkness, and it requires Stephanie Linus to shed the light of ‘civilization’.

“A Delivery Boy” (dir. Adekunle Adejuyigbe, 2018) that I reviewed was about an ‘almajiri’ in an Islamic school who was kidnapped to the school to begin with, and repeatedly raped by his ‘Alamaramma’ (teacher). The almajiri somehow acquired sticks of dynamite to create a suicide vest and vowed to blow himself up—together with the teacher. The Alaramma in the film lives in an opulent mansion, far away from the ‘almajirai’. In this narrative universe, the ‘almajiri’ do not learn anything and are unwilling rape victims of their teaches who actually kidnapped them and forced them into the schools.

“The Milkmaid” (dir. Desmond Ovbiagele, 2020) evokes the idealistic picture of a Fulani milkmaid, and became a basis for a Nollywood film. Instead of focusing on the political economy of Fulani milk trade, the film focused on the trope of terrorism. “The Black Book” (dir. Editi Effiong, 2023) touted as ‘Nigeria’s John Wick’ shoots a significant portion in ‘the north’ – with ‘Islamist’ hijab-wearing females touting assault rifles hidden underneath their hijab. “Jalil” (dir. Leslie Dapwatda, 2020) visits the recurrent theme of kidnapping for ransom. In the north, of course.

Then came the latest, “Almajiri” (dir. Toka McBaror, 2022). Claimed to be a true-life story (although not clear on whether it happened to specific people or based on what the director believed to be a common event), it featured muscle-bound badass types of thugs with guns and dreadlocks as Almajirai. The film reinforces the southern Nigerian trope of any beggar in the north being an Almajiri. Such ‘almajiris’ are kidnapped and sold into virtual slavery and horribly abused. The idea is to blame parental irresponsibility of northerners.

For southern Nigerians, especially the Nollywood crowd, an ‘Almajiri’ is a beggar, a product of a failed education system, a terrorist, a bandit, and an ‘aboki’. They use concocted figures bandied about by alphabet soup agencies to proclaim ‘over 10 million almajiri are out of school’ and therefore twigs of the terrorism inferno. How can someone who is part of a system of education for over half-a-century be considered out of school? But for Nollywood, if it is not ABCD, then it is not education.

“Northern Nollywood” films are the precise reasons why there will ALWAYS be different film cultures in Nigeria. Kannywood talks to its publics, happily churning out now TV shows that address issues it deems relevant—in its own way. Both the northern and southern parts of the country (covering the three major languages) were actively engaged. However, they were mutually non-legible to each other. This was essentially because they operate on virtually opposing cultural mindsets – making the emergence of a truly “Nigerian cultural film” impossible.

Quite a few writers seem to suggest that Kannywood is a ‘subset of Nollywood’ and indeed many would prefer for the term Kannywood (created in 1999 by a Hausa writer) to be dispensed with and replaced with Nollywood (created in 2002, created by a Japanese Canadian writer). It is to protect our cultural representation in films that I stand as a lone voice in advocating for a ‘Hausa Cinema’ to reflect the cultural universe of the Hausa.

Abdallah Uba Adamu is a professor of communication and cultural studies Bayero University Kano and former Vice chancellor National open university of Nigeria from 2016 to 2021

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Ibrahim Ayyuba Isah: From Journalism to Shaping the Future of PR and Digital Marketing

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Ibrahim Ayyuba Isah

 

Ibrahim Ayyuba Isah, a distinguished journalist with over a decade of experience, has made a significant transition into the dynamic fields of public relations, creative, and digital marketing. Known for his in-depth reporting and insightful analysis, Isah is now leveraging his extensive journalism background to make a substantial impact in his new ventures.

Isah’s career began with a strong foundation in journalism, where he worked with prominent media houses such as Africa Independent Television (AIT), Raypower FM, and Rahma Radio. His roles ranged from producer and presenter to a radio personality, earning him a reputation for delivering accurate and compelling stories. Currently, he serves as a Senior Reporter at TVC Communications, where he anchors the popular program “Kano Spotlight,” providing in-depth coverage and analysis of events in Kano State.

His educational background is extensive and diverse. Isah holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature from Bayero University, Kano, and a Master’s degree in Public Relations and Communication Studies from the same institution. Additionally, he studied Solutions and Data Journalism at Pan Atlantic University. He also earned a Professional Certificate in Digital Marketing from the London School of Business Administration. Recently, he completed a Master Diploma in Digital Marketing awarded by the Digital Marketing Institute Lagos, Nigeria, powered by Digital Marketing Skills LLC, United States of America. In the area of social media, Isah received a certificate from Avalocx University of Social Media in New York, United States, after completing a High Level Social Media Management Course. This academic prowess, combined with his practical experience, positions him as a versatile professional in the realm of public relations and digital marketing.

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Isah’s transition into public relations and digital marketing is marked by significant roles such as Knowledge Management and Communication Officer for the Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones Project, and Public and Media Relations Consultant for the Flour Milling Association of Nigeria. Currently, he is performing a lead role in managing the PR and communications as a consultant for the WOFAN-ICON2 Project in partnership with Mastercard Foundation. In these positions, he has demonstrated his ability to craft compelling narratives and strategic communications that resonate with diverse audiences.

As a Digital Marketing Strategist and PR Consultant, Isah is exploring innovative ways to blend traditional journalism with modern digital techniques. His expertise in SEO, social media management, website development, and video editing allows him to create comprehensive digital marketing campaigns that drive engagement and achieve tangible results.

Ibrahim Ayyuba Isah is also an Associate Member of the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON), as well as a member of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Kano Correspondents’ Chapel and the Sports Writers Association, Kano Chapter. His dedication to his craft and his continuous pursuit of excellence reflect his commitment to making a difference in his new field. As he explores the intersections of PR, creative, and digital marketing, he aims to shape the future of communication strategies in Nigeria and beyond.

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Rano Celebrates New Emir with Grand Procession and Festivities

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The historic town of Rano was abuzz with jubilation today as residents welcomed their newly appointed emir, Alhaji Muhammadu Isah Umaru (Autan Bawo), recently appointed by Kano state Governor Alhaji Abba Kabir Yusuf.

The new emir entered the palace in Rano town accompanied by hundreds of people who came out to celebrate the occasion.

The procession displayed cultural heritage with traditional drummers, dancers, and horse riders showcasing the history of the Rano emirate. The streets near the emir’s palace were adorned with colorful decorations as the people of Rano expressed their joy and support for their new leader.

One resident, Malam Sani Rano, shared his excitement, saying, “We are very happy with the appointment of Alhaji Muhammadu Isah Umaru as our new emir. He is a man of integrity and wisdom, and we believe he will lead us towards greater prosperity and unity.”

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Hajiya Fatima Sani, another resident, echoed similar sentiments. “Today is a special day for us in Rano. The new emir has always been close to the people, understanding our needs and aspirations. We have high hopes for his reign.”

The new Emir on the throne,Muhammad Isah Umaru

The new Emir on the throne,Muhammad Isah Umaru

The appointment of Alhaji Muhammadu Isah Umaru has been met with widespread approval, with many residents expressing optimism about the future of the emirate under his leadership.

The procession at Rano Emirate

The procession at Rano Emirate

Bashir Ibrahim, a local trader, remarked, “Muhammadu Isah Umaru has a deep connection with our traditions and values. His leadership will surely bring about positive changes and strengthen our cultural heritage.”

As the celebrations continued into the evening, the atmosphere in Rano remained festive and hopeful. The people of Rano are looking forward to a prosperous era under the guidance of their new emir, Alhaji Muhammadu Isah Umaru.

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A tale from the north: the untold story of Hassan

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Hassan Auwalu Muhammad

In the central part of Northern Nigeria, there lives a man called Hassan Auwalu Muhammad who was born in the ancient city of Kano from the popular Hausa tribal clan.

At the age of 10, Hassan loss his beloved Dad, Late Sharu Muhammad (Memakoko) whose personality has been described by many, as an exemplary figure of humility, moral eminence, humbleness, and greatness.  To Hassan, his father is the most amazing person he has ever known.

Hassan grew up on a  lifestyle which premised on the quest for knowledge. To seek for knowledge, he was sent to Unguru village in Yobe state to acquire islamic knowledge and learn the tenets and fundamentals of his religion- Islam.

Surprisingly, Hassan’s inquisitiveness and curiosity began to developed which as a result, he eventually became a fan of media. Meanwhile, he developed interest in the Journalism profession. Thanks to BBC Hausa, VOA Hausa and DW Hausa programes which  remained the sources of inspiration and motivation for him to be passionate about journalism and even understood  the basic styles and standards of these prominent international media organizations.

From that moment, Hassan who was at his teenage age have already realized how the media could be used in a way to promote unity, peace and progress of his country. Hence, the media became his most preferred choice and the struggle to join the train just began.

After the completion of his secondary school, Hassan made several attempts to secure admission into a degree program at Bayero University, Kano but all attempts prove abortive because his scores were below the required average marks of the post-UTME . For that reason, Hassan had to apply for admission into Diploma programe in Mass Communication. Fortunately for him, he was admitted and years after, he obtained a professional and Advanced Diploma in Mass Communication from the pretigious Bayero University, Kano..

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Having obtained diploma certificates, Hassan decided to further his education and sat for UTME Exams  which took him 7years before he eventually scored the required marks that gave him the chance to be admitted into a Degree programe in 2015, at Bayero University Kano. Hassan graduated in 2021 with second class in Mass Communication.

In 2008, Hassan started his early career in Journalism Profession as a Freelancer with Freedom Radio Kano 99.5 FM. In 2010, he was an artiste reporter  for years until 2013 when he was offered a full time appointment as a staff member of Freedom Radio.

Hassan dive into the Profession as a preseter of Kano Music Expres – a programe which the idea was conceived and developed by him in order to promote Kano based Hausa rappers.

Hassan was there for a while and has achieved so much with that programe before he was  deployed to the station’s on- air studio to serve as a DCA- Duty Continuity Announcer. Being one of the best On-Air Personal , Hassan’s talents could not be left unused, as such he canvases news from different sources and translate it from English to Hausa for “Inda Ranka” programe.

What other passion for Hasssan ?

Initially, Hassan had always wanted to be a pilot, but his dream was shattered by the huge financial responsibility and expectations attached to joining the aviation sector.

But having joined the Media industry, Hassan understood the virtues attached to journalism profession and since then he has been a catalyst for development which through his media content he produces reports that help in changing the lives and mindsets of the teeming youths in a positive way.

However, Hassan believes that working in media has its challenges and requires dedication and sacrifices as well as being honest and true to people. Journalism is all about honesty and truthfulness to present facts that will bring about positive and progressive social transformation in the society.

Besides being a DCA, Hassan is currently presenting three different programes: “Allah Daya…”, “Mai Nema…” and also a co-presenter of “Barka da Hantsi” all from the famous Radio Station, Freedom Radio Group.

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