Nigeria: Kano’s “Kannywood” hurt by restrictions in the wake of a sex scandal

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Fury over a sex video in Moslem northern Nigeria has all but finished a flourishing local film industry that employed thousands of people, but was under scrutiny by clerics and officials. Nigeria is well know for its "Nollywood" video production in the country's south, which turns out about 200 films a month that play in English as well as the local Yoruba and Igbo languages, throughout West Africa.

The northern "Kannywood" industry (based in Kano) is less well known as it is accessible only to Hausa speakers, a language used among Muslims across the region. The sex video that triggered the scandal involved popular local actress Maryam Hiyana and was filmed in 2006 on a cellphone during a private tryst and never intended for public distribution.

But it got out, prompting the state government to slap a six-month ban on any video production in Kano, the biggest city in Nigeria's north and the one that gave "Kannywood" its name. Though it ended this month, the ban was followed by 32 new restrictions that, operators say, make production all but impossible.

"We were shocked when the pornographic clip appeared because we never expected such behaviour from any actress - we had been counselling them on the need to be careful about their private lives," said Aminu Sharif Momoh, head of the Kano Guild of Artistes, and himself a film director, producer and actor. "We knew there would be consequences but we didn't anticipate it would be this severe," he told AFP. "The ban has dealt a lethal economic blow to the industry. Some performers have become destitute."

Kannywood had already been under close watch by Muslim clerics and government officials who believed it promoted un-Islamic foreign values. So when the video clip did the rounds of nearly every cell phone in Kano state, it gave those lobbying for a clampdown the ammunition they needed.

During the six-month ban, the Kano-based industry lost about 3.5 billion naira (29 million dollars, 20 million euros), Momoh said. And operators say the new restrictions on actors and film companies are just as crippling. Among the most contested is a requirement for each film company to have capital of at least 2.5 million naira (around US$21,000 dollars).

Film-Maker South Africa