(9): Hausa Film: Compatible or Incompatible with Islam and the Hausa Culture?

Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim
Bayero University, Kano


The world can no longer escape being ‘exposed’ through the media—print and non-print. It is no longer what it used to be. Globalization, now at its peak, is tied with media like a computer to its screen. Hence wars are fought through the media; election campaigns conducted there; products advertised; and there is virtually no place uncovered by the media. Films, as vital machinery used by the media, are accorded with ample efficacy, for via this much propaganda—for good or bad—of the so-called world superpowers were said to have, and are still being, sold to, and devoured by, people. This is possible for, almost everybody can understand the language of film and its universal appeal; film is endowed with the communicative power that can mobilize people to frenzy or lull them with dreams and illusions. This is very evident especially in Hausa-land where both its teeming youth and elderly so much used to watch Indian films many years back when the technique of subtitle was probably not known for a possible comprehensible English translation, and yet identified with the characters, laugh at their antics and feel sad for their agony. Indian film still enjoys patronage among the people, though not as before.

Therefore, the impact of film is overwhelming. But such as it is, filmmakers in Kano as well as other states in the Muslim northern states of Nigeria are often in ideological clash with the larger society, government and religious institutions. The filmmakers are accused of misrepresenting and attacking socio-cultural and religious value systems of Hausa people (hereinafter referred to as Hausawa), the major ethnic group in the region. Hausawa are strict followers of Islam, the religion, which, in a greater proportion, conforms with their culture; thus, both the culture and Islam frown at the film, especially such as those produced for, many of them contain plenteous quasi-Euro-American and non-Islamic ideas, practices and episodes, and so do not represent the culture and the religion of the people. This article quests to discover whether or not the film has a niche within the Hausa culture and Islam; it also offers advice on how to possibly better things.

Records have it that the colonial masters introduced the region to the world of film through establishing a company called Colonial Film Unit (CFU) at the beginning of the 20th century. The film unit of the Northern Region (present day Kano and other states) took over its activities years after. Thus new films were made to celebrate and, thereby, bond people to the Empire. Dan Arewa a London, for instance, is on ‘how the typical Northerner would conduct himself in London’ (Mohammed 1992:102). Other types of films included those on traditional/political personalities (like the late premier of the region, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello), on independence, on the political process (elections, etc.), and on political parties, etc. The post-independence period marked the emergence of private production companies and the appearance of a rash of historical and cultural documentaries like: Hausa Marriage; Hawan Sallah; Kano Heritage; The Sallah Dubar; A Ballad of Katsina; etc. (see Mohammed, 1992 & Ekwuazi, 2007). The company has, also to its credit, produced more films such as Ruwan Bagaja (1986) and Kulba Na Barna (1992), among others. But these are, however, not produced as an entity-film but as drama series/serials broadcast on the local television stations, for example the National Television Authority (NTA) and City Television, Kano (CTV), now called Abubakar Rimi Television Authority, Kano (ARTV). Some of those artists made the earlier actors and actresses of the present day films.

The famous American anthropologists, Brian Larkin (2008) traces that the production of Hausa videos did not surface ex nihilo, but developed out of older forms of popular culture in northern Nigeria. Wasan Kwaikwayo, or drama, has a long tradition in Hausa society and continues to be popular. Adamu (2007:77) also, asserts that: “The Hausa video film was literally born in 1990 with the first Hausa language film, Tirmin Danya in Kano, northern Nigeria”. The local film industry is called Kannywood (name-styled after Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood of the U.S, India and Nigeria, respectively). It was recorded that between 1990 and 1997, the Kano-Kaduna axis produced some fifty video films; and from a list of forty of such home videos, “thirty five ... are recordings (mostly on VHS) by drama clubs of their stage performances”. On another development, Adamu (2007:77) reports that: “When the National Film and Video Censorship Board, Abuja, started recording (and censoring) video films in Nigeria from 1995, a total of 1600 Hausa video films were officially recorded by the Board between 1998 and 2005”. According to the recent National Film and Video Censor’s Board figures, Hausa film industry makes up over 30% of the Nigerian film industry (McCain, 2011).

It started with thematic preoccupations which in many respects were appreciated and upheld by both the populace and the government. The prime subject matters in those nascent productions are virtually similar to the usual, olden days’ produced Indian films. These include: 1) instilling morals and values in the audience through the presentation of such habits, and portraying the bad end of anybody that deviates. By extension, this means to claw back the audience into social/religious conformity.; 2) romantic relationships, for instance: a boy meets a girl, falls in love…then encounters obstacles – mostly from their parents – they avoid/overcome the obstructions, get married and live happily for ever after; 3) some fantasies of varying subject matter such as love, comedy, even tragedy, et cetera; among other themes.

The rift was created when the focus of the artists changed, and changed for the worse, as reckoned by the majority of opinions. Adamu (2006a) mentions that: Two strands showed in some Hausa video films produced in the mid-2000s led to the clash—[the] exploration of the family conjugal space, and the re-enactment of the erotic elements of [the] female in song and dance routines that are mandatory in commercial Hausa video films. In this process, the storylines included specific scenes with bedroom encounters, often including semi-nude actors in sexually suggestive poses on the same bed. The first three films to explore this were Alhaki Kwikwiyo, Saliha? and Malam Karkata.  And this is a direct effect of westernization, which to them means modernization. The local populace especially with media penetration and accessibility (e.g. through satellite TV; stations like Farin Wata), have no power whatsoever to impose any strict code of values consumed by their youngsters. They are always simply left with the debate on the correctness, appropriateness or otherwise of a certain film released.

In contrast to the many non-film-making peoples’ perception, the filmmakers, the actors and actresses are said to have been influenced by the Western form of globalization. To many of them, one scholar in cultural studies says they see that “westernization as modernization”. It is historically factual that Hausawa did not know dancing and singing, among other alien portrayals, by a girlfriend and her boyfriend as that is not in their culture; but almost all Hausa films contrarily subscribe that to Hausawa. This, eventually, (mis)leads them to a series of discord with their mostly targeted audience at both authoritative and ordinary levels – more at the authority level. Thus, both the culture and Islam censure and condemn the films in some ground. Many researchers believe that film made in a particular society should be the society’s cultural and, marginally, religious reflector and influencer. This dispute kicked off the ideological confrontation between the two parties. Ali Nuhu, an ace Hausa film actor, director and producer, has this to say in an interview in relation to the above:

The political systems in Nigeria and Niger Republic are based on Western models. Why didn’t these countries create their own unique political systems? The Western society is the most progressive in the world, and everyone is trying to copy them. Even Arabs, who are strongly attached to their religion and culture, are now aping Americans, in their mode of dress and other things. It is modernity, and you must go with the times, or you will be left behind. (Interview with Ali Nuhu, Ra’ayi, Vol. 1 No 1, February 2005, p. 7. quoted by Adamu, 2006:52)

This and more necessitated the government to establish a formal code of practice called the Censorship Board to monitor the relationship between films, imported or indigenous, and society in Kano. The Board is empowered by the state to approve or disapprove a release of film by the Kannywood; and to ban any film released without its consent or in case of any foreign film found obscene or harmful.

The Kano state censorship board was established to regulate, monitor and, therefore, censor the activities of the people of/in the film industry and beyond. Soon after its inception in the early 2000s, during the first tenure (1999-2003) of Governor Engr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, the board completely banned the activity of the film industry in the state because, as Haynes (2007:7) reports, “it offended Hausa culture and Islam”. The ban included “prohibition of the sale, production and exhibition of films in Kano state because of the introduction of the Sharia”. It took the intervention of the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN) to re-establish Kannywood (McCain 2011); or, according to Haynes (2007:7) the ban was lifted “when it was pointed out that the film business provided work for some 5,000 people and the filmmakers threatened to throw their political support to opposition candidates”. Since then the industry has enjoyed a relative ‘peace,’ which was to be interrupted by an unprecedented, shocking event in August, 2007.

An eight-minute private mobile clip, which was then christened “The First Hausa Blue Film,” went viral. Maryam Hiyana, an up-and-coming actress in the industry, was at the centre of this scandalous and controversial clip. She was shown involved in an explicit sexual act, considered by many, if not all, as catastrophically devastating taboo in the society, “which cannot tolerate a movie in which male and female actors have the barest of body contact, not even a handshake” (Ammani, undated). Following the incident, government under the leadership of Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, restructured the board and appointed a powerful and stern Director General (DG) in the person of Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem. The new DG imposed drastic measures to more closely ‘sanitize’ the industry; the scope of the board was further widened to monitor even writers, musicians, hawkers, et cetera. This subsequently led to the incarceration of many people, including some filmmakers, actors and actresses, creating a turbulent situation between them and the censorship board.

One of the sensational cases was sentencing the leading film producer and one of the earliest actors, and a former gubernatorial candidate, Alhaji Hamisu Lamido Iyantama, in December 2008, to 15 months imprisonment with a fine of N300, 000 for allegedly refusing to register his company, Iyan-Tama Multimedia with the board.  However, after serving some period in the prison, he was granted bail; but he consequently sued the Director to court… the drama ultimately died. (Sunday Trust, 17th October, 2010). Other equally startling cases include castigation and incarceration of the leading comedian, Rabilu Musa Dan Ibro; the arrest, trial and imprisonment of the famed musician, director, producer and actor, Adam A. Zango, among others.

The trend has not yet changed despite the leaving of office of that government and coming of a new, which many, including the film practitioners, consider pro-Kannywood. Engr. Kwankwaso was re-elected in the April, 2011 election as the governor of the state. But not long in office, on the 13th November, 2012, the “Kano state films and Censorship Board tribunal sentenced the famous Kannywood star, Sani Danja, a film producer, Rabiu Al-Rahus and one Bilkisu Bashir, to a one-year imprisonment each or a fine of N30,000, respectively” (Blueprint, 13th November, 2012 ). The star, Danja, was convicted for releasing his film titled Y’ar Gudille without the Board’s approval. Yet again, just a few weeks back, on Saturday, 21 September 2013 the board had to ban another film Kara’in Ibro and trialed its makers. This latest court case, despite all its precedence and full knowledge of the consequence of going ‘against’ the board by the accused people, left many people asking: when will this ever end – if it ever will? What could they do not to ‘offend’ the Board? What culture and religion are Hausa and Islam as the board always claims to safeguard these two phenomena?

One can hardly – if one ever can – talk of Hausawa without binding them to their major religion, Islam. This is inescapable, for the religion deals with both the spiritual and the material life of the Muslim. As far as Islam is concerned, there is no stone left unturned in the life of the Muslim. Hence, the inextricable attachment – and more, the culture of Hausa in many respects conforms to the religion. For instance, covering one’s body; both Islam and the culture of Hausa enjoin that. Records have it that even before the coming of Islam into Hausaland, the people did weave and used the products to wrap their nudity. The earliest Hausa films were, one could argue, in line with this before they metamorphosed to a more daring a la global themes due, among other reasons, to the massive inflow of many people from diverse culture into the occupation.

On this note, some scholars and public commentators question the identity of those filmmakers, the actors and the actresses, and, generally, the entire people of the film-making industry. They believe that the kind of behaviour portrayed in those ‘malicious’ films is not Hausa. According to the April 2000 edition of the Kano-based film magazine, Tauraruwa:

Whenever you mention Hausa home video, it is assumed these are videos made by the ethnic Hausa...The ethnic tribes that overrun the Hausa home video industry include Kanuri, Igbos and most significant of all, the Yoruba ... About 42% of the Hausa home video producers and artistes are of Yoruba extraction, 10% are Kanuri, 8% are Igbos ... Only about 40% are true ethnic Hausa. (quoted by Adamu 2005:13 in Ekwuazu [2007])

The issue, nonetheless, is not whether these films are made by the ‘true ethnic Hausa’ or by the “acculturated Hausanized Muslim and non-Muslim non-ethnic Hausa,” as far as the nomenclature of the films is Hausa. The issues rather are to find out what led to the said dissonance. Do these films represent or misrepresent the people and the culture they are an offshoot of? Are the grievances shown by those collective bodies towards the Hausa films well-founded? For instance, Adamu (2006a: 59) quotes well-expressed grievance of one viewer:

We the fans of Hausa video films have come to realize that it is the producers and the directors that are responsible for the corruption of culture and religion in these films. You know very well that every section of a woman is private. For instance, they are fond of allowing actresses without head covering, and straightening their hair; also making them wear skimpy Western dresses which reveal their body shapes, etc. In our awareness and education, we know these behaviors are immensely contrary to Islam. Don’t such actresses ever think of the Day of Judgment? Don’t forget their claims that they are educating or delivering vital social message. Is this how you educate—by corrupting Islamic injunctions? Please look into this and take remediate measures immediately. Aisha D. Muhammad Gamawa, Bauchi, Fim, Letter Page, March 2004, p. 6.

Basically watching films, drama and the like is permissible as long as they do not present what is contrary to Islamic teachings like immorality, irreligiosity, licentiousness, etc. But, going by its origin in this context, some people perhaps hate the art of drama and, later, of films, because it was largely brought and promoted by the Christian, western colonial masters in Nigeria. Ideal Hausawa consider Islam not only relevant in their lives but a necessary panacea for the multi-dimensional problems of the modern world. Hence, for the film to function ‘effectively,’ its umbilical cord has to be severed from its originator’s—the West; or, the second option is to push the status of Islam to a lower ebb, which is what is collaboratively chosen by the majority Hausa video film-makers and their artists. Some filmmakers give all avenues for all sorts of religiously-generated criticism. For instance, they excessively copiously copy from Indian films, and subtly from other foreign films. They cleverly and without any copyright permission re-enact an Indian film that captures the attention of the audience.

This issue is actually an intricate one. This I say, for there are many self-called and pseudo-religious scholars who have taken it up with passion and as fashion to go on the media and crucify all actors and actresses as transgressors and promoters of unrighteousness. They largely and almost always ground their accusation on some sayings of the Prophet and Qur’anic verses, like:

And I have not created the Jinns and Mankind except that they should worship me” 51:56

 “We have left out nothing in this book…” 6:38

The two verses, as far as those people believe, leave no room for the films. Muslims were created to worship God, not to be ‘misinformed’ and ‘misled’ by mere mimetic representation captured on camera. No one would tell them that I can ‘teach’ or ‘enlighten’ you through film, or the like. However, Islam, I dare to say, is not an unsophisticated religion; it rather moves with the trend. This is why in many Muslim dominated countries like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and others, their governments in conjunction with the film-making industries produce animated cartoon and normal dramas (usually as series and serials) and even full-length film for their citizenry. Unfortunately not so is done here.

  • Film is a double-edged weapon, where it could be used for good or bad. It thus remains a great challenge upon all film-makers and the Muslim intelligentsia, and the government too, to utilize the art for good and produce ‘Islamic’ films. The religious establishment, which Adamu (2006a:57) dubbed “the main litmus test of the acceptability of a popular culture in the Islamic polity,” plays a greater role in the said mission. Scholars of various sects condemn what are seen as sexual excesses, cultural misrepresentation and adulteration, and the like in any Hausa home video. But with coming and, if possible doing it, together, such would be threaded.

·        Film is a transmitter of cultural value and mores of people, hence, the need for it to reflect and not to refract the peoples’ ethos. The Hausa filmmaking and producing personnel, on the one hand, should be aware of this. For their products to be approved and well accepted, they ought to base and act it out in conformity with the larger societal expectation, desire, want and need, and as enshrined by the state cinematography law. The film is done not for self-consumption alone, it is rather meant to be consumed and appreciated by others. And, on the other hand, the government should outline categorically the mode as validation of films’ moral rectitude and therefore as fit for public consumption.

·        Films are believed to play an important role in forming ideas about, and attitude to, the world, in setting agendas, and enabling (or not)  other ways of envisaging the [society] and doing many other “amazing” things (Perkins, 2000). This calls for the film-makers to be more careful. They should know more about what is called Entertainment-Education. To borrow some scholars’ words, “the message is NOT the story”. I am not advocating for didactic films as that may lead to running the risk of being boring. Get an approvable story, create actions, other dilemmas, other conflicts and blend all of these with your message. It could be, though silently, but very effectively achieved this way.

  • Why even at the level of the community, the filmmakers and the artists are, on many grounds, regarded with negative attitude, stereotype, disdain and contempt; though they are hailed by others in some instances. To amend this, I believe they should interact more with their audience, for neither can exist without either. Even in their ‘senior woods’—Hollywood and Bollywood—many stars are self-sacrificed humanitarian workers. For instance, Angelina Jolie has reportedly adopted children from around the globe, and she and others like Shah Rukh Khan have been making various and vast donations to the needy. Kannywood film-makers and artists should follow suit with however little they could offer. This will certainly get them the faith of the audience.

  • And many more other ways.


As it might have been deduced from the foregoing, the three—Islam, culture and the Hausa Home Video—could be harmonized, and thus will be of great benefit to the populace. The government, as the number one warring party, and the film-makers have to find a common ground for peace and progress. The case of Sani Danja and that of Kara’in Ibro talked about, happened, and will very much likely and possibly continue to happen in the future until and unless a kind of mutual understanding is built between the filmmakers and their warring forces. However, the agreement to be reached may not be a win-win one for both parties; one or both has/have to relinquish some ‘claims’ and let things be.

Large portion of this article was culled from a paper of related content but different title I presented at the 7th Conference on Literature in Northern Nigeria Organized by the Department of English and French, Bayero University, Kano, 3rd to 6th December, 2012


Adamu, A. U. (2006a). “Transglobal Media Flows and African Popular Culture: Revolution and Reaction In Muslim Hausa Popular Culture.” Mary Kingsley Zochonis lecture for the African Studies Association, UK Biennial Conference;  School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London, London; 12th September 2006.
­­­­­­_____________(2006b). “Divergent Similarities: Culture, Globalization and Hausa Creative and Performing Arts” in Ahmad, S.B. & Bhadmus, M.O (Eds.). Writing, Performance and Literature in Northern Nigeria. Proceedings of the 3rd Conference on Literature in Northern Nigeria; Bayero University, Kano.
_____________(2007). “Currying favour: eastern media influences and the Hausa video film” in the Journal of Film International; vol. 5, no. 4: p. 77-89; 2007

Ekwuazi, Hyginus (2007). “The Hausa Video Film: the Call of the Muezzin” in the Journal of Film International; vol. 5, no. 4: P64-70.
Haynes, Jonathan (2007). “Video Boom: Nigeria and Ghana” in Postcolonial Text, Vol. 3, No. 2; p. 1-10.
Jephthah, Joshua (2011). “Film as a Tool for International Diplomacy” in Etuk, Brion (ed.) (2011). …In Developing the Nigerian Motion Picture and Industry. A Compilation of Winning Essays of Nigerian Film Corporation Annual Film Essays Competition, 2007-2011.
 “Kannywood Star Sani Danja Jailed by Kano Tribunal” at http://blueprintng.com/2012/11/kannywood-star-sani-danja-jailed-by-kano-tribunal/ (Accessed on: 29th November, 2012)
McCain, C. (2011). “The ‘second coming’ of  Kannywood”  at: http://carmenmccain.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/the-second-coming-of-kannywood (Accessed on: 29th November, 2012)
Muhammed, Bala Abdullahi (1992), “The Hausa Film: A Study of Slow Growth, Problems and Prospects”, in H.O. Ekwuazi and Yakubu Nasidi (eds.), Operative Principles of the Film Industry: Towards a Film Policy for Nigeria, Jos: NFC.
Nelmes, Jill (Ed.) (2003). An Introduction to Film Studies. London: Routledge.
Nowell-Smith, G. (2000). “How films mean, or, from aesthetics to semiotics and half-way back again” in Gledhill, C. & Williams, L. (Eds.) (2000). Reinventing Film Studies. New York: Arnold.
Perkins, Tess (2000). “Who (and what) is it for?” in Gledhill, C. & Williams, L. (Eds.) (2000). Reinventing Film Studies. New York: Arnold.


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