“A society can endure kufr but it cannot endure injustice”
-Shiehk Usmanu Dan Fodiyo
The Nature of the conflict
Sometime in June 2008, the Kallabi Writers Association, a Hausa female authors association was launched. The Director General of the Kano State Censorship Board was invited. He attended but did not stay up to the end of the occasion was finished he left. There were insinuations as to why he left before the even is concluded, but the information we received rightly or wrongly was that he was angry with the organisers, (being a literary event), for not ‘taking permission’ from him to organise the event and that he even made some statements that made authors jittery.
Later, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and other Authors Associations operating in Kano State were invited for a meeting with the Board. The meeting started well but later it turns out to be something else. The board requested that all Associations must give details of their membership and that all books published from the time the Board was established must be registered before they are “legal” and sellable within the borders of Kano State!
What actually made the writers angry was this rather awkward proviso that every member must register with the board individually. This means that every author in Kano State must be licensed by the Board to be able to write, this is despicable indeed. Remember Orwell’s 1984? This is in addition to the one month ultimatum given for all authors to register and also register their books otherwise; the board will start raiding the market and arresting authors, publishers, booksellers who are not licensed by the board or whose works were not registered.
After the meeting the chairman of ANA Kano State Branch gave interviews to the Hausa service of the BBC, Deutschewelle (Voice of Germany) and Radio France International protesting the position of this powerful DG of a Kano State Government Agency. The authors met and discussed the issue trying to find a middle ground, (because authors are law abiding but not idiots). So, they wrote under the umbrella of ANA Kano State Branch using its letterhead (being the mother Association of Nigerian Authors), to the board requesting the board to send to them in writing what they really want from them instead of verbal commands and instructions (as if the military is controlling some agencies in Kano State)
The bias and injustice that characterized the response from the Board is what prompted this article, as argued Man Ray (1890-1976) “Each one of us, in his timidity, has a limit beyond which he is outraged.” The DG replied some of the Associations in the league, deliberately excluding ANA arguing that ANA is not registered with the holy Censorship Board and so not recognised by “Kano State Government?”
The reply to our letter which is circulated to ‘registered association” read as follows:
Pursuant to your letter dated June 5th 2008 on the above subject matter being registered associations with this Board, I am instructed to communicate to you that, the laws and regulations of this Board are public documents accessible to our stakeholders and general public. These documents are strictly guiding the activities of this Board over its stakeholders hence provides the do’s and don’ts for compliance.
Further to remind you on the joint meeting held on July 3rd 2008 between this Board and your associations which was purposely conveyed to:
i) Guide your association and individual members on the impact and virtues of literary works
ii) Educate you on the powers of the Kano State censorship Board on the registration of members of literary works through your respective associations. As primary agency the board finds it Cogent to have comprehensive data, contribution in the literature and the society and the likely benefit/incentive from government to the registered members.
iii) Obtain comprehensive membership strength of each association.
iv) Re-emphasis the importance of censoring your projects with Kano State censorship Board as mandated by the law
More over, the meeting was meant to educate you and your members on respect to law and order (regulations), constituted authorities and professionalism of literary works.
Find attached partial extract from the laws for guidance, please.
The letter was signed by a senior officer for the grand Director-General,
The over personalisation of civil service, raw over zealousness and brute lack of civility by the refusal to reply ANA is outrageous. Since we wrote, we deserve a response, but this is a DG of a powerful government agency refusing to reply a registered and respectful Association simply because he thinks it is not registered with his agency. This makes no sense to any sensible and trained bureaucrat, one wonders what the seasoned civil servants in the agency are doing. Perhaps, they are working under instructions.
In the first instance, as Nigerians, the 1999 constitution has given us the right to associate enshrined as a fundamental human right. ANA being a professional Association has no business registering with any kind of Censorship Board, if any one needs to, it is publishers and not authors. Yet the current chairman of ANA Kano State Branch Ado Ahmad Gidan-dabino has compromised and registered ANA with the Board, he has paid the required money at Afri-bank for the registration. He made another compromise by submitting to them a list of ANA Kano State Branch registered members and also encouraged ANA members to individually submit their books for “puritanical certification” even without consulting the national body; wai duk don a zauna lafiya, yet, the Association he heads was denied a reply simply because he insisted that writers do not need a license to work as writers.
Why we respond
We as authors have deep respect for a couple of people who are in the act of Governance of the State among them is the SSG, a fellow writer, who has always been supportive of ANA whenever any national activity is taking place. Yes, the SSG has supported ANA Kano State Branch to host the best annual convention of the Association ever in 2005 which re-affirms Kano’s adage Ko da me ka zi an fika. We have respect for Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa a brilliant author, who happens to be one of my literary mentors and an ardent supporter of ANA and literary activities in Kano State. We also have respect for Malam Bala Muhammad the DG of A Daidaita Sahu; he is a friend, associate, colleague, comrade in arms a great mentor of ANA. He is a great friend of writers being a writer himself. Ibrahim Ado-Kurawa, a fine scholar and scientist is also admired and respected in our midst. All these people are greatly respected in our midst and because of them compromise and are open to dialogue on literary matters. Despite our respect for them, in a situation like this we as writers and authors cannot look the other way; because their colleague is all out to suppress creativity and kill the many years of hard work and dedication recorded so far in this beloved State of ours. We are sorry the battle line is drawn between us and the DG of the Kano State Censorship Board. George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) said “A man never tells you anything until you contradict him.”
The Board verbally, told us that they want to censor vulgar and obscene language (batsa) from our works. Fine, it is good to ensure that the public read only that which is good. In any case we see ourselves as Muslims before becoming writers (see my article Faces of Islam at www.tagarduniya.blogspot.com for details). As Muslims and Hausawa we want our writings to be sane and safe for our kids to read. As authors also, we want to have good editors that would edit our works. But the questions begging for answers about this ghost called censoring that are not answered about censorship include among others the following:
What guaranty do I have that if tomorrow I or any author writes a satire about a fifth columnist politician who betrays the trust of those who supported him when he was nobody only to bow to his enemies and eulogies and even worship them, that my manuscript will pass the many hooks and nails of the uncompromising DG.
What would happen to a manuscript that exposes the immorality, decadence and contradiction in an institution that claims Puritanism and decency?
What would happen to a play that criticizes the corruption that characterised a polity that claims transparency and prudence? This sledge hammer has no modus operandi.
Does the almighty DG have competent hands to censor good works of art?
Isn’t it funny that the boss of the censorship board employs his wife to censor books and he would unashamedly tell an author that “wallahi matata ba ta gama dubawa ba” or when an author goes to collect his certificate he would be told “Ka yi hakuri yaran da suke duba littafin ba su zo ba yau” and other nonsense of this sort.
Has he done his homework? Has he read his history books well or has he studied his papers to know about ANA’s internal censorship mechanisms (let him refer to the first draft of the censorship edict prepared under the military at the Ministry of Information and their encounter with ANA then) before beating the drums for war?
Not until these questions are sufficiently answered, ANA is left with no option than to conclude that His Excellency the DG has a level to score and only the Agency provides him with a platform to launch his attack. But the innocent Agency is a wrong place for this.
Why is the censorship board confronting the writers now?
What are the reasons for the Censorship Board’s recent outburst? I spoke to a number of people and a couple of authors about the probable reasons for opening a new frontier by the over zealous Censorship Board. Many opinions were expressed among them, three are outstanding. Whether these reasons are correct or not, they are opinions held by a number of people and authors especially.
The first opinion is that the Director General wants to remain relevant because he wants maintain his chair that is why he must remain in the news, the easiest way is to open a new front, this time confronting those who can really make noise. It is noise he thinks that could help him remain there perhaps without end. Those with this view support their view by saying the DG of censorship board has said in public that “na gama da ýan film saura marubuta” Just like the proverbial “After communism what next?
The second opinion is that the outburst was part of a master grand plan of a foreign government who is looking for ways to gag Muslim scholars by censoring what they teach or preach, that is why censoring began with filmmakers where the players feel big, rich and influential. After them they would tackle writers. Perhaps after writers, malaman zaure or malaman makarantar allo would come next.
The third view is that the DG has failed his employers some how, he is now confused and wants buy time by distracting the attention of his employers and the public elsewhere, so the best target and presumably the softest one are the writers. “why do you think Bush wants to attack Iran while his country is stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan?” someone opines.
Whatever is the reason or motive for the this approach, it is ill timed and ill conceived and I am afraid, your Excellency might not be in torch with history, a war between the sword, and the pen always leave the former in disarray. In any case, Robert Rubin once said “Doing nothing is the wrong thing to do if there is something to do that is clearly the right thing to do. But doing something that is not sensible...is a very bad idea.”
Writers are like any other human being in their nature, however, their predictions sometimes come true because they almost all the time put their situation into the framework of a fictional story. We are now at crossroad, how would our story end? Assuming we are putting our scenarios into the fabric of a story in progress. There are many possible scenarios on the dimension the conflict will take. The first is that the censorship board would use the ‘divide and rule tactics’ which they have already shown indications. It is possible that some writers might be tempted or forced into recognition the Board’s infamous licensing requirements and even go public in support of the action. It is also possible that ANA might be polarised if the ‘Kano emotion tactic’ is invoked. This tactic would lure some writers into believing that ANA is an Association of ‘the other’ (to be modest) so writers who are Kano State indigenes should have their own independent Association.
A group of renegades might be enticed into believing that those who support the board might be rewarded with money, because as their letter and actions shows government has some money to dash out. After all it is political era, an era of ci-mu-ci, there are many Toms, Dicks and Harrys that are willing to auction their conscience for some coins.
But the above scenarios are the soft options, there could be others options. The censorship Board has a lot of power and its boss is known to be thorny and uncompromising aficionado neglecting the fact that “Extreme trends are breeding grounds for equally powerful countertrends” as argued Stephen S. Roach.
The Board which has already begun a census of books in the market may enact a decree that would make the sale of all “uncensored books” a crime as the case with filmmakers. Anybody found selling “uncensored books” can then be jailed just like it happens to some film marketers in Kano State . This can work for a while and it can prevent book sellers from selling “uncensored books” therefore, forever closing the pages of the flourishing literary market of Kano, after all who is really interested in making Kano State prosper again as a center of industry. Can’t you see that Kano State no longer produces any thing, isn’t Singer Market the only symbol of Kano’s industrial past, the only thing that we do in Kano State , tireda!
The board may also decide to arrest authors, publishers and distributors of all “uncensored books”, and within weeks, Kano central prison would be celebrating having tens and tens of authors as inmates. They have the power the State government is behind them 101%, what else do they need?
Another scenario can be covert, the Murtala Mohammed Library Board supports ANA, in fact, our office is located there and we meet once every month there free of charge. The board can ensure that our office is revoked. The hall we get to meet once in a month may also be charged, that can put us in a difficult situation.
Possibly also, is that the support we enjoy from the State government during major events may cease. ANA Kano State Branch was given the mandate to organise the 2nd Northern Nigerian Writer Summit in 2010. The powerful DG may convince Kano State Government not to support it. Up north, Katsina is on standby, Jigawa is also on standby not to talk of Kogi and Benue States down North-Central. If this happens who lose, we as authors, or and its people?
There could be other scenarios which we are thinking about but which we also making plans for, but until then, every author living in Kano State, every publisher, every book seller, and in fact every intellectual is in danger.
Censorship Board is supposed to be diplomatic, polite and people oriented and not a battle ground of anti-creativity. The DG is playing with a fire that could consume him, and his chair, Luo Guanzhong, a 14th century Chinese author and playwright once said “Anyone using fire depends on the wind. This is now winter and only west winds blow...I am on the northwest and the enemy is on the south bank. If they use fire they will destroy themselves. I have nothing to fear.”
The militaristic attitude of the Censorship Board DG is capable of eradicating the remaining sympathy the state have in the heart of intellectuals in the State and outside, he is capable of turning the friends of the government into its foes. I am sure the State Government is not a bunch of fools that would simply sit down and fold their arms and watch this disoriented figure marring its name. He is miscalculating and wants to take other reasonable people with him into a voyage on a ship that is destined to wreck. If the State Government and other responsible citizens of Kano State decide to take a siddon look attitude,we want to warn that this battle is a battle without end. ANA would not fold its arms and watch this bully destroy its membership nor any writer resident in Kano State. Despite this well deserved stance, we want to let everyone know that we are open to dialogue.
This article is a preamble and because the battle line has been drawn, our pens are sharpened and we would use every media local and international at our disposal to fight this oppression and madness. This article is already on my blog www.tagarduniya.blogspot.com and we shall soon dedicate a whole blog for this battle. I want to appeal to all writers, fellow journalists and blogers wherever they may be on this Earth and in the cyber space to put their weight behind us. If the pen is mightier than the sword, it shall certainly be mightier than injustice. The struggle has just begun.
It will be nice to conclude with an excerpt of a poem by Hafsatu Ahmad Abdulwahid, (an unlicensed poetess) the first Hausa female novelist and author of So Aljannar Duniya from her unpublished collection of poems Ancient Dance:
Cross road, I know I have come
One laced with thorns
The other bare and safe
And although the choice is mine
I dare walk the thorny road
For the yearning of my heart
A desire so potent
I crave to follow my wretched heart.
Dr Yusuf Adamu, former ANA kano chairman, is a Senior Lecturer in Geography at the BUK, a blogger and columnist with Sunday Trust Newspaper.
July 11, 2008.
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- Professor Yusuf M. Adamu
- Kano, Kano, Nigeria
- Dr. Yusuf M. Adamu is a Professor of Medical Geography at the Bayero University Kano. He is a bilingual novelist, a poet, and writes for children. He is interested in photography and run a photo blog (www.hausa.aminus3.com) All the blogs he run are largely for his hobbies and not his academic interests. Hope you enjoy the blogs.