Nigerian Movie Industry Rocked by Sex Scandal

Stephen Yagielowicz
KANO, Nigeria — A sex scandal involving a popular actress has led to government-imposed regulations that have all but eliminated film production in Nigeria.

The scandal involves a private 2006 cell-phone video of Maryam Hiyana that has become public, much to the ire of the local Muslim community in northern Nigeria, whose clerics were already upset over what they see as a lack of morality within the booming local film industry which employed thousands of workers.

As a result, the government ordered a six-month ban on moviemaking in Kano, Nigeria's largest northern city and namesake of the "Kannywood" film district.

Hiyana has also been barred from acting for five years, her previous movies censored, and dozens of unreleased films that she has appeared in will now not be reviewed by the Censor Board — a situation which is causing some producers to go out of business.

Nigeria has two distinct production regions: "Nollywood" in the south, with around 200 films each month in English and the locally-spoken Yoruba and Igbo languages, and the larger "Kannywood" in the north, which produces movies in Hausa, the language spoken by Muslims throughout the region.

"We were shocked when the pornographic clip appeared, because we never expected such behavior from any actress," said Aminu Sharif Momoh, head of the Kano Guild of Artistes. "We had been counseling them on the need to be careful about their private lives."

While the production ban expires this month, after costing the industry $29 million dollars, nearly three dozen new regulations will make production nearly impossible, say insiders.

The new requirements mandate that every film company have at least $21,000 in capital — a prohibitive amount for many operators in the African nation — and impose a ban on singing and dancing in movies.

"We knew there would be consequences but we didn't anticipate it would be this severe," Momoh said. "The ban has dealt a lethal economic blow to the industry. Some performers have become destitute."

"The government was unfair to the industry by using one person's private life to judge thousands of her professional colleagues," actor Kabir Maikaba said.

"I want to make it categorically clear," former deputy chief of the Hisbah, Kano's religious police, and now head of the film censorship board, Abubakar Rabo, said, "that religion, culture and public dignity cannot be compromised by any good government in the name of economic interests pursued by a segment of society."