Freemuse report on censorship in Nigeria: “Which way Nigeria?”


FREEMUSE REPORT

30 April 2003


Jean-Christophe Servant
“Which way Nigeria?” Music under Threat: A Question of Money, Morality, Self-Censorship and the Sharia
Freemuse, Copenhagen, April 2003
ISSN 1601-2127


Many Nigerian musicians battle for economic and professional survival, as the NTBB (Not To Be Broadcasted) code at national radio/TV, payola, and Islamic Sharia Laws affects the freedom of musical expression in Nigeria. The report examines the different aspects and reasons that prevent musicians from expressing themselves freely through performing, recording, broadcasting and making a decent living out of their profession.

French freelance journalist, Jean-Christophe Servant covered musical issues for ten years before he turned to international politics. For the last four years,he has been making reportages on Anglophone Africa (Nigeria and South Africa mainly) for such magazines and papers as Le Monde Diplomatique, Liberation, Nord Sud Export, and Worldpress.org.


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Impressions from the launch in Paris, click
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Rapport en français
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ABSTRACT, English

“Which way Nigeria?” – Music under Threat: A Question of Money, Morality, Self-Censorship and the Sharia is based on an investigation done between May and June 2002 in Nigeria, from Lagos to Kano.The focus is on the relatively recent storyof Nigerian music and its intimate links with the country’s past. The highs andlows of its musical industry – from the expansion it enjoyed during the golden days of the petrol boom to the downward spiral it has suffered since the end of the Seventies – are a perfect metaphor for the economic abyss the world’s sixth petroleum power has fallen into. The constraints on Nigerian musicians and their freedom of expression are emblematic of new fault lines that threaten the futureof a country once considered Africa’s engine room.What used to be Africa’s musical leader now resembles a rudderless tanker caught in a sea storm.

New churches and religious currents have capitalized on political and economic disillusionment,and plunged into fundamentalist interpretations verging on irrationality that now threaten individual freedom. Meanwhile, the freedom of enterprise is promoted by a degree of ultra liberalism and deregulation rarely seen elsewhere in Africa… while over 50%of the population can only dream of the freedom to eat. As one of my interlocutors explained: “Democracy is a word but we can’t eat words”.

This report deals with direct acts of censorship, which have affected such musicians as Femi Kuti (for his song “Bang, Bang, Bang”)as well as Hausa artists Alhaji Sirajo Mai Asharalle and Haladji Waba Yarim Asharalle (for disrespect of the Sharia Law). Besides these acts, caused by a mix of political and religious reasons, “Which way Nigeria?” – Music under Threat: A Question of Money, Morality, Self-Censorship and the Sharia reveals the persistence of self-censorship throughout the music industry and the role of payola and other means of economic pressure, which indirectly affect freedom of expression.

For this investigation interviews have been conducted with different Nigerian artists and many figures of the music industry (labels, programmers, president of musician syndicate), civil society (journalists, human rights lawyers),as well as members of a parastatal organization supposed to restrain artistic expression: The Kano Censorship Board.

In these troubled circumstances that, unfortunately, show no signs of letting up, conditions of investigation were often extremely difficult. Many of the interviews took place in no-go zones, and encounters with Hausa musicians in the North were often furtive. The trip to Kano was often broken up by aggressive checkpoints, as were the night-time ventures into Lagos. But these incidents pale into insignificance compared to the daily trials and tribulations endured by most of those met in the course of my journey and I can only express gratitude for the frankness with which they answered questions. Indeed, their words underline that this country, so often described as being on the edge of the precipice, can speak as one when it comes to discussing essential freedoms, freedoms like that of playing music

“Which way Nigeria?” – Music under Threat: A Question of Money, Morality, Self-Censorship and the Sharia reports, unfortunately, that still too many Nigerian musicians are frustrated, harassed or even endangered for conducting their art: playing music and singing songs. And that the fate of the Nigerian musicians is only a tragic echo of the lives of the Nigerian people who are still waiting for the true benefits of the new democracy in Nigeria since 1999.

About the author

French freelance journalist, Jean-Christophe Servant covered musical issues for ten years before he turned to international politics. For the last four years,he has been making reportages on Anglophone Africa (Nigeria and South Africa mainly) for such magazines and papers as Le Monde Diplomatique, Liberation, Nord Sud Export, and Worldpress.org.



Jean-Christophe Servant, photo by Pia Laulund


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ABSTRACT, français

« Which way Nigeria ? » est le fruit d’une enquête commandée par l’ONG Freemuse et menée durant l’été 2002 au Nigeria parmi la scène musicale du géant africain aux plus de 120 millions d’habitants. De Lagos à Kano, ce rapport met en lumière les différentes pratiques de censure qui ont pu affecter ces dernières années et continuent à menacer, la liberté d’expression musicale, qu’il s’agisse du musicien yoruba Femi Kuti ( dont la chanson Bang Bang Bang reste censurée sur les ondes nationales) aux artistes haoussa tels qu’Alahji Sirajo Mai Asharalle, (réprimé pour avoir enfreint la charia). Quatre ans après le retour de la démocratie au Nigeria et l’élection du président Olusegun Obasanjo à la tête de la fédération aux 36 Etats, et alors que le pays retourne devant les urnes en ce mois d’avril 2003, « Which way Nigeria ? » révèle par ailleurs la persistance des pratiques d’autocensure dans l’industrie de la musique tout comme la récurrence des pots de vin et autres sources d’oppression économique, qui affectent en partie cette même liberté de pouvoir chanter ce que l’on veut et se produire ou l’on veut.

Si la situation des droits de l’homme s’est notablement améliorée depuis la fin des régimes militaires liberticides et l’élection d’Olusegun Obasanjo « Which way Nigeria ? » rapporte, malheureusement que trop de musiciens nigérians restent aujourd’hui frustrés, harassés, voire dans certains cas menacés, pour ce qu’ils font : jouer et chanter. Et que dans ce pays, le sort trop souvent réservé aux musiciens nigérians n’est que l’écho de celui vécu par une population qui, dans sa majeure partie, attend toujours les rééls dividendes du retour en démocratie du Nigeria.

Jean-Christophe Servant, January 2003


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Freemuse report on censorship in Nigeria: “Which way Nigeria?”
Music under Threat: A Question of Money, Morality, Self-Censorship and the Sharia.
Read or purchase the Freemuse report on music censorship in Nigeria. French and English version available
30 April 2003