ART UNDER THREAT IN 2016: NIGERIA
SERIOUS VIOLATIONS: 15
ACTS OF CENSORSHIP: 3
The cases of violations of artistic freedom of expression seen in Nigeria in 2016 reflect the complex political and religious systems in the country. Violations are implemented by the government, local state authorities, religious institutions, families, artistic communities, militant extremists and lobbying groups, and violations take place in both the North and South of the country.
Artists face a complex system of censorship carried out by a variety of actors, further complicated by multiple censorship boards. In addition to the national censorship boards, states such as Kano in the North and Lagos in the South even have their own censorship boards, with the consequence that artists and cultural producers of these states face double censorship mechanisms.
In 2016, Freemuse registered 15 serious violations on artistic freedom of expression in the country, including one artist being abducted, three artists behind bars, the prosecution of nine artists, persecution of one artist and attack on an art village. Nigeria also carried out three acts of censorship, for a total of 18 violations on artistic freedom of expression in 2016.
Nigeria was not in the top ten of worst violating countries in 2015 even though the country registered a total of 19 cases in 2015, one more than 2016. However, in 2015, only one of the 19 cases was a serious violation – the imprisonment of a writer – and the remaining 18 cases were related to censorship. Thus, while the country registered one less case in 2016, the difference between the years is stark as all cases, except for three, were serious violations in 2016.
Nigeria consists of more than 250 different ethnic groups. The country is religiously divided between a Muslim-dominated North and a Christian-dominated South. The Southern part of the country is richer, has a more developed infrastructure and higher level of education than the generally poorer states in the North. The southern regions, dominated by the Yoruba and Ibo, have seen a rapid increase in Pentecostal churches and fundamentalist pastors since the economic crisis of the Eighties hit the country; while the Hausa-Fulani-dominated North has increasingly experienced a rise in a strict, conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam and the introduction of Sharia law now practiced in 12 Northern Nigerian states. The North is also effected by continued attacks by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, whose mission is to create an Islamic state.
However, the giant nation cannot only be understood through this religious prism. The Nigerian federation relies on a complex political system that mixes respect for religion, traditional chieftaincy and clientelism. From local government, right up to the highest circles of federal power, the nation’s political world continues to exercise coercion and corruption. Nigeria in 2015 ranked at number 136, very near the bottom, on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index; the most corrupt country being ranked 168.
Two main tendencies in particular seem to drive violations against art in Nigeria – violations against artists who address political problems or issues such as corruption, or are seen as challenging to national or local state authorities; and a mainly religious, morality-driven fight against indecency and sexuality.
A number of Nigerian artists were detained, prosecuted and one even abducted in 2016, because political authorities felt personally offended and challenged by their works of art.
The musician Ado Daukaka was abducted in Adamawa State in North-Eastern Nigeria on 25 June 2016 just after the release of his anti-corruption song ‘Gyara Kayanka’ (Put your house in order). Five days later he was found unconscious, 80 kilometres away from state capital of Yola. Daukaka told media that his captors played his new song before questioning and threatening him. Less than 24 hours after he was found, Daukaka was detained by local police allegedly due to a complaint filed by a member of the state house of assembly, who believed the song on corruption and inefficiency ridiculed him specifically. Daukaka was released on bail under orders to report back to police on 4 July. Another singer, Baba Iyali, was also arrested in the Adamawa state on 9 January 2016, for his song criticizing the speaker of the Adamawa state house of assembly.
Performance artist Jelili Atiku, along with five other artists, performed a piece called ‘Aragamago Will Rid this Land of Terrorism’ in the streets of Lagos on 14 January 2016. The play addressed allegations against members of the local Ejigbo royal family for property and development deals. Soon after the performance, a representative of the royal family filed a complaint with Nigerian police and the artists were arrested on 18 January and detained for four days, facing a series of charges, including disturbing the peace, intimidating the public and distributing publications likely to provoke the public. Judicial proceedings against the artists continued for six months until 18 July, when the Ejigbo Magistrate Court in Lagos cleared all six artists of all charges.
The fight against “indecency” and “sexually explicit” content is seen all over Nigeria, but with stricter rules and less tolerance being applied in the Sunni Islamic states of the North. The different levels of tolerance are mirrored in Nigeria’s two main film industries, with the South’s Nollywood being a lot more loose in what and how it chooses to portray characters and plots, while the North’s Kannywood produces films that have to adhere to strict Islamic Sharia law.
When actress Rahama Sadau was expelled for life for “immoral actions” by The Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN), which controls the North’s Kannywood; she was still able to star in drama TV-series produced in the South’s Nollywood.
The film ‘Ana Wata Ga Wata’ was banned by the Kano State Censorship Board because it was “against the religious and cultural values of the people of the state”. Three filmmakers behind the film, director Ali Gumzak, producer Abdulazeez Dan Small and executive producer Nuhu Abdullahi, were later summoned to the censorship board’s mobile court on 6 April 2016 because they had released the film despite the ban.
Nigerian hip-hop star Olamide has often had his songs censored by another Nigerian censorship mechanism, The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC). In 2016, his song ‘Don’t Stop’ was placed on NBC’s blacklist of songs because of its “obscenity, being indecent, [and having] vulgar languages, lewd and profane expressions”. To date the video has more than 2.5 million views on YouTube.
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