Nigeria: Prosecution of Musician Sadiq Zazzabi is a Political Witch-Hunt


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Sadiq Zazzabi is a Nigerian Hausa-language musician who was arraigned on March 1, 2017 by the Kano State Censorship Board. Sadiq released his new song, “Maza bayan ka” (“All Men Behind You”), in late February 2017 while it was still pending approval from the board. He was brought to court on charges of both distributing the song without approval and indecency, because the song’s music video features “seductive dance(s) by women.”

Sadiq is well known in the northern Nigerian state of Kano, which is home to many Hausa speakers but also has been subject to strict censorship based on Islamic tradition since 2002. His music often tackles themes of love, social issues, and politics, and “Maza bayan ka” is no exception.

On the face of it, Zazzabi, 38, fell foul of the powerful censorship board that approves films, music and literature for decency in the conservative, Muslim-majority region. He was taken to court in the city of Kano on a two-count charge of releasing a song the prosecutor described as “containing immorality by featuring seductive dance(s) by women”.

Sadiq maintains that his arrest in March was a direct result of the song’s support for former Kano state governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, a bitter political rival of incumbent Umar Ganduje. “Every singer has his hero, and my hero is Kwankwaso,” Sadiq said. “I sang an album for him which I sent to the Kano State Censors Board [sic] on the 6 of January 2017. The censors’ board censored my song and asked that I will need to remove some part of the music. They never sent the part they wanted out till today [February 28].”

On March 6, Sadiq was released from prison on bail after a crowd of supporters packed his courtroom and forced the judge to postpone his trial. The proceedings were rescheduled for Thursday, March 27, 2017.

“My arrest is political,” he told reporters after a court appearance earlier this month. “I was arrested for my political support for Kwankwaso.” Ganduje’s government has dismissed the claim that it ordered his arrest. Kwankwaso was Kano state governor from 1999 to 2003 and 2011 to 2015, with Ganduje as his deputy. In between, he served as defense minister in former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s federal government. Kwankwaso, now a senator, and Ganduje now stand out as Kano state politics’ top rivals, both long on ambition and jockeying for power. Kwankwaso, who lost a bid to be the All Progressive Congress’ (APC) party candidate for president against Muhammadu Buhari two years ago, is also being tipped for a fresh shot at the country’s top post in 2019

Widespread support – R&B star Zazzabi has long been known as a staunch Kwankwaso supporter. By claiming a politically motivated arrest, he was widely seen as pointing the finger at Ganduje. The head of the Kano censors board, Ismail Afakallahu, called the claim “cheap blackmail”. But Zazzabi’s view appears to be gaining traction. Huge crowds of supporters, including filmmakers and other musicians, have flocked to court in a show of solidarity with the singer.

View the controversial video here: Sadiq Zazzabi – Maza Bayan Ka

Many were dressed in white kaftans and red hats — the trademark uniform of the “Kwankwasiyya” (pro-Kwankwaso) political movement. During one appearance, the judge ordered them out of the courtroom to allow him to read his ruling but they refused to budge. Zazzabi’s controversial song played constantly outside from car stereos and posters of the former governor were prominent, much like at a political rally. Proceedings were then abandoned and the singer was granted bail. – Power base – Kano’s censorship board was set up in 2002 to regulate the city’s booming film and music industry popular among Hausa speakers in the north and across west Africa.

Approval is mandatory before release to ensure films, music and literature confirm to Islamic law that runs parallel to the federal and state justice systems in 12 northern states. Physical contact between men and women in films is prohibited, as is singing and dancing by women, and any lewd display of amorous affection. Filmmakers have fallen foul of the censors, as have singers, whose songs tackle social issues such as forbidden love and political discontent. Last year, Dahiru Daukaka, a popular singer in the northeastern city of Yola, was kidnapped days after releasing a scathing anti-graft song against the ruling party.

He was released unhurt. Zazzabi’s predicament appears to be along similar lines but observers suggested it may backfire on Ganduje, since the musician’s arrest has piqued interest in what the song might contain. Observers say that could cost Ganduje as the politician looks to shore up his base to run for a second term as governor in 2019. “Whether he is guilty or not, Zazzabi’s arrest will continue to be seen as political witch-hunt because of his leaning to the Kwankwasiyya camp,” said political analyst Adamu Musa.

Everyone should be deeply concerned with the charges brought against the musician Sadiq Zazzabi for releasing a song without the Kano State Censorship Board’s approval which was claimed to be featuring ‘seductive dance(s) by women.’ On March 1, 2017, he was arraigned by the board, spent a week in prison, and had his trial postponed. The song in question, ‘Maza bayan ka,’ expresses overt support for former Kano State governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, and the charges brought against Sadiq are an unjust restriction on his right to freely express his political opinion.

Freedom of expression and peaceful criticism of one’s government are the cornerstones of any free society. The subjection of any art to state censorship is a limitation on this freedom, but the persecution of artists whose work disagrees with their state’s current government is deplorable.

The charges against Sadiq are in direct opposition to Chapter IV, Article 39, Subsection 1 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which states that ‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.’

Furthermore, these charges violate internationally recognized norms of freedom of expression without regard to political opinion as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, to each of which Nigeria is a party.