Plans for new studios in northern Nigeria have hit a snag after conservative clerics convinced the government to shelve the project.
Filmmakers are furious, and tough times lie ahead for Africa’s Nollywood.
Films from “Nollywood,” as the country’s film industry is known, and more recently from “Kannywood” in the northern city of Kano, have been among Nigeria’s top exports for years, loved by audiences in many African countries. The Nigerian government was set to support the boom with a new film village worth a billion Naira (2.8 million euros / $3 million), including studios, training rooms and a hotel.
But conservative clergy in the region opposed the plan. Muslim preachers warned that Allah would curse those behind the “unislamic” idea. “We don’t want it and we don’t need it,” Sheikh Abdallah Kanya said of the new film village. He said he would counter the construction plans with prayers that would render the project’s supporters blind and deaf.
Aminu Ibrahim Daurawa, head of Hisbah, Kano’s religious police, also objects. “They [government officials] did not consider the ills of this project to our religion,” he told DW. That’s why he decided to step in and take his complaints to the authorities.
President pulls out
Following the protests, President Muhammadu Buhari, who comes from the country’s mainly Muslim north, backpedalled on the plans, scrapping government funding for the project.
President Buhari had previously pledged to help the country’s film industry by cracking down on copyright piracy
The decision has left many people angry. In recent years, the Nigerian film industry has grown into a lucrative economic sector. It’s estimated to produce between 400 and 2000 films every year.
“People think the film village is a sort of hotel or brothel where everyone could go and live out their sexual desires,” said actor Mudassir Haladu. But that’s not the case, he adds. “We are Muslims and we know what Islam teaches us. We can differentiate between good and bad in this religion,” he told DW.
Loss of much-needed jobs
“Every progressive-minded person knows that the center would help in promoting investments and cultural richness in our society,” said journalist and blogger Jaafar Jaafar. “We believe the center is long overdue, because the film industry is very important for the Hausa-speaking people,” he told DW, adding that it could have created much-needed jobs for young people in the region.
“It’s easy to influence the masses, but they could have been better informed about the project beforehand,” Jaafar told DW. He feels it should have been the government, not local Imams, leading the debate about the film industry in Kano. Most people wanted the project to go ahead, Jaafar said, adding that the government should rethink its decision.
Film fan Hauwa Bukar Kumshe from Yola in eastern Nigeria was looking forward to the film village. “It would have been a milestone for us. We want to show what our country has to offer,” he said. “Hausa movies are popular all over Africa. They show how we love, present the culture and tradition of our country’s rural areas.” As Kumshe sees it, immorality can always exist, film village or not.
But others are concerned about the cultural impact of the film industry. Isaaih Kenza is worried that children spend too much time watching films which could be a bad influence. “There are films that glorify violence,” he said. “Killings and murders dominate, and out children might copy that.”
For the film industry, the decision to scrap the film village project is a heavy blow. Balarabe Murtala Baharu, press secretary of Kano Film Producers Association, says its a financial loss for the region. “The film Village was supposed to be realised from the taxes the government collected from the film industry,” he told DW. “Everyone would have profited from the project. The government from more taxes and the industry from better organisation and greater unity.”