Friday, 31 July 2009

Taliban Leader Mohammed Yusuf - Portrait

By Ibrahim Sheme

The leader of the Boko Haram sect, Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf, was born on January 29, 1970 in Girgir village, Jakusko Local Government Area of Yobe State.

Not much is known about his educational pursuit.

In 2002, the 39-year-old self-proclaimed Islamic scholar founded the group that would eventually become known as Boko Haram, meaning "Western education is sinful" in the Hausa language; the group operated from its Maiduguri base under various sobriquets. It consistently showed aversion to 'boko' or western education.

Yusuf made a name for himself preaching against western education and consistently argued that the current system in Nigeria, symbolised by government, needed to be overthrown and replaced with an extreme version of Islamic law. Yusuf was also averse to other Muslims who disagreed with his methods and beliefs. He was soon regarded as an oddity by the rest of Muslims.

Nonetheless, he was able to attract huge numbers of followers from among the youths in many states of northern Nigeria, including Yobe, Bauchi, Kano, Katsina and Kaduna.

Contrary to the widely-held belief that Yusuf did not believe in Prophet Muhammad (SAW), he demonstrated that belief in his preaching, where he quoted from the sayings of the prophet to support his points.

And contrary to the thinking that he was a university graduate or drop-out, Mohammed Yusuf admitted, during a 2006 canonical debate with a Bauchi-based cleric and university lecturer, Malam Isah Aliyu Fantami, that he had never attended a western-type school.

In the debate, a DVD of which I obtained yesterday, the late Yusuf defended his group's position hotly, citing sources from Islamic history and jurisprudence, as well as from western science, making reference to the theory of evolution and giving off-hand examples from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

But it was obvious from the debate that his theories were faulty and easily debunked by his opponent.

En-route Brazil on a state visit early this week, President Umaru Yar'Adua revealed, to the surprise of many, that the Nigerian security agencies had been tracking the Boko Haram sect for several years, describing its members as a "potentially dangerous group" who have been gathering weapons and intelligence to try to force their views on Nigerians.

On November 13, 2008, Yusuf and some of his followers were arrested by the police for public incitement through preaching and were brought to Abuja for trial. A High Court judge in the federal capital granted them bail on January 20, this year, after they were handed over to the police for prosecution.

The stage, it seemed, was set for a showdown between Yusuf's group and security forces, especially on June 11, when police officers in Maiduguri fired on a funeral procession by Boko Haram, shooting 17. Yusuf, denouncing the shootings, vowed to take revenge.

During a joint press conference in Abuja yesterday, defence spokesman Colonel Mohammed Yarima described the Boko Haram leader as a motivational character who had four wives and 12 children.

He said the operation to catch Yusuf was already well under way. "We have his picture, we have his details and the long arm of the law will catch up with him," he vowed.

That promise was fulfilled last night when security forces captured and killed Mohammed Yusuf in Maiduguri, thus ending an era in the short but bloody history of the sect he commanded.

Published in LEADERSHIP today

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Mohammed Yusuf - Nigerian Taliban Leader

This is a photograph of Mohammed Yusuf, leader of the pro-Taliban group called Boko Haram, based in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Yusuf, 39, was killed today by Nigerian security forces after days of bloodshed. I got it from a video of a debate between Yusuf and another cleric on the pros and cons of western-type education, which Yusuf opposed.

Expect a profile of Yusuf later.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Nigeria needs radical action to bring its oil crisis to an end-FT

Written by William Wallis

Wednesday, 29 July 2009 08:24

Militants in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger delta have been tapping pipelines and illegally exporting crude for the best part of a decade. Their activities have grown into a multi-billion dollar racket with tentacles reaching far into state institutions and criminal connections that stretch from Abidjan to Odessa.

Now, inhabitants of the delta have started processing crude. In small, modular refineries they are producing kerosene and other fuel and selling to the local market from so-called mushroom enterprises in the creeks and swamps.

In the context of an industry in precipitous decline, beset by a campaign of sabotage and a crisis in funding, this might seem a detail. It is indicative, however, of fast eroding state authority and the failure of government to regain control of a resource on which the nation's development depends.

It is not quite business as usual in Nigeria. Far from leading an African economic renaissance, the country from which one in five black Africans hail is hovering close to the brink. Nigerians have lost faith in the ability of President Umaru Yar'Adua's government to govern in their interests.

One manifestation of this has emerged this week in the north of the country where security forces are battling followers of an Islamist sect that has thrived on poverty and despair. Another is the slump in oil production.

Nigeria should be producing upwards of 3m barrels a day, contributing to global energy security and using its gas reserves to power an industrial revolution at home. Instead, it is Angola, with a third of the reserves, that has taken over as Africa's leading oil producer.

Nigeria's oil industry has been crippled by a campaign of theft conducted by militants demanding, and increasingly taking, a greater share of oil wealth. Amidst uncertainty over broader policy, fresh exploration has ground to a halt.

Not since the late 1960s has onshore output fallen so low. Nigeria is exporting less than half the crude it did in 2008 by some estimates and selling at about half the price. Moreover, most production is now offshore where the state has far less lucrative terms.

There is one school of thought that sees Nigeria consistently muddling through such crises. Its political leaders often approach the brink but step back to close ranks when under sufficient pressure. But Nigeria's ability to muddle through has depended to a great extent on oil and on the patronage system it spawned and which has glued elites together.

That system has long since reached its sell-by date. It is matched now by parallel criminal networks, such as those exporting oil illegally, which are eating away at the state.

With oil production in decline, the funds with which government could create a system in which power stations and refineries function, businesses thrive and services are delivered, are in dwindling supply.

Mr Yar'Adua has two plans on the table to bring them back. The first is legislation - in parliament this week - which promises transformation of the oil business. This would break up the corrupt state company into commercial ventures able to raise funding on the market, open transactions up to public scrutiny and deliver better terms for the state through contract renegotiation.

The western oil majors don't like the change because it would make operating in Nigeria more expensive and foster competition from China.

Furthermore, inhabitants of the Niger delta are not impressed and are threatening to scupper the president's second plan: an amnesty for delta militants with daily stipends to persuade them to lay down their arms. This might bring a pause in the violence. But a far more ambitious approach is needed if the Niger delta is to be persuaded of the federal government's good intentions.

One way would be to devote a percentage of any oil output recovered from current lows into a fund for the development of the region. This would give its long-suffering inhabitants a stake in the renaissance of the oil industry. Radical plans, although needed, are unlikely to fly. A few, powerful Nigerians profit from the status quo. Even as it becomes less and less viable, they are clinging on.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Nollywood Sans Kannywood

I think when the world (or even Nigerian federal officials) talk about Nollywood, they are not thinking about the Hausa film industry, a.k.a. Kannywood. Nollywood is simply the Nigerian movie industry WITHOUT its Hausa component. Surprisingly, Nollywood includes the Igbo and Yoruba productions. The question is: why are Hausa movies not included? In my view, it has to do with the fact that federal officials working in the culture sector - Ministry of Information and its parastatals such as the National Film and Videos Censors Board and the Nigerian Film Corporation - hardly remember Kannywood when they are designing policies. Until in recent years, they scarcely included Kannywood stakeholders in their programmes.

Of course, things have been changing in recent years. Kannywood stakeholders have been making an in-road into the federal culture sector - participating in film festivals, awards and meetings. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go before we get THERE, largely due to the dominance of non-Northerners in the sector and in the mainstream mass media. If you take a look at the entertainment pages of Nigerian newspapers where news and gossip about the Nigerian movie world are told, you will hardly see anything being said about Kannywood. That is, with the exception of northern papers like Leadership, Trust, New Nigerian and Triumph.

The senseless attacks on Kannywood operators by officials of the Kano State Censorship Board in the bogus name of sanitising the industry appears to have taken Kannywood back in reckoning. That's the actual target of the censors. But theirs is a futile exercise because only a dimwit will presuppose that a censorship regime can destroy the progress of the new information technologies, of which movies are a significant part.

This is more so in a democracy, which has a preset tenure. As the Hausa say, "Zalunci ba ya karewa!"

Thursday, 9 July 2009

ALA: Korafin Marubuta Mata

A yau din nan marubuta biyu mata sun yi magana kan tsare Amiunu Ala da aka yi. Ta farkon su ita ce fitacciyar marubuciyar nan Rahma A. Majid (wadda hoton ta yake kan shafin nan) sai kuma Malama Maryam Ali Ali, wadda ita ce sakatariyar kudi ta Kungiyar Marubuta ta Nijeriya (ANA). Sun yi magana ne a Majalisar Marubuta ta Yahoogroups. Ga abin da su ke cewa:


"Lokaci ya yi da zamu hada karfi da karfe ta kowane sashi na adabi mu yaki gwamnatin
zalunci da manufofin ta. Kullun sai sharhi muke kan abinda muka rigaya muka sani kan manufofin hukumar zaluncin amma mun kasa jajircewa mu yi aiki kai tsaye. An kafa hukumar tace-tace domin ta tato duk wanda zai yi amfani da ganga, majigi, ko alkalami ya tona asirin manufofin ta na murdiya. Na jima da aka sinsina min haka tun a lokacin da ba a kafa hukumar karara ba inda wasu masu daure da irin zanin ta suka yi ikirari a jaridar New Nigeira cewa sun ba ni tallafin karatu sanda nake jami'a da sunan littafi na bai dace da fiqihu ba(don tsananin jahilcin kasa bambance shara'a, adabi da fiqihu). Amma a wancan lokacin Rahma wadda take bakuwa bata sami wanda ya tayata hangen abinda zai faru a yau ba har sai da yayi nisa.

"To! Ko a yanzu in an mike ba a yi laifi ba. Kira daya da zan yi na neman hadin kan uudabaĆ¹ shine a yi wa Allah a yi wa adabi, kada a bar wannan fafitika ta zamo ta neman a saki Ala kawai. Don Allah ko da an wanke shi mu katange junan mu baki daya daga sabon cin fuska da dauki-dai-dai da wannan hukuma ke mana a sanadiyyar son girma, ko neman gindin zama ko rashin hadin kai, ko hassadar mu ta tsaga wa kadangare bango.

"Hakika a watan Nov. insha Allahu na shirya dawowa majalisa with full force, amma saukar da wannan sako ya yi a gadon bayan zuciya ta ya sa dole na karya doka ta."

"A gaskiya yadda Ala ya bauta ma wannan gwamnatin da baiwar sa, abin ya zama abin
tsoro in har za a yi mai haka, to lallai kam, abin da razanarwa, kowa ma ya shafa
ma kansa da gemun sa ruwa."

Aminu Ala released, but...

Hausa singer and novelist Aminuddeen Ladan Abubakar (ALA) was released on bail by the "mobile" court in Kano today. I told you about him yesterday.

The case was adjourned to July 20.

But there's a caveat. Ala was barred from granting interviews to local and international media - clearly a desperate attempt to muzzle his freedom of expression and the freedom of the press on the issue. The court ruled that his bail would be thwarted if he does so.

This case has generated a lot of heat in Nigeria. The Association of Nigerian Authors has condemned it, so also a wide spectrum of analysts who see the issue as an injustice against a man of letters who has contributed positively to Hausa culture.

I feel that Ala will not be silenced by the Kano State Censorship Board through the use of its draconian court instrument. More songs are expected to come from his pen.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Abubakar Imam: My Personal Odyssey

This piece was written last night on the occasion of the one-day colloquim being organised today in Kaduna by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA)

In 2008, Alhaji Abubakar Imam’s best known literary work, Magana Jari Ce, clocked 80 years of publication. That year (Thursday, June 19 to be exact) the sage himself clocked 27 years in death. At that time, all one could hear among the Nigerian literati was the well-deserved hubbub over the 50th anniversary of the publication of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Just as I savoured the joy of having one of Africa’s leading works clocking 50 years in print, moreso with its writer being well and alive, I also agonised over the sad neglect of Imam’s attainment on the literary field even by those who should be holding his banner aloft.

This kind of neglect had pained me for ages. On a Saturday in 2004, I had published an opinion in my literary column in the Weekly Trust, ‘Bookshelf,’ which was a rework of a piece I had earlier written in Majalisar Marubuta (Writers’ Forum), a listserve in Yahoogroups. In it, I lamented that the late Imam had not been suffiently honoured by the northern intelligentsia in terms of doing things that could immortalise him. My hunch was that with the modern information technologies, especially the internet, a lot could be done to sell this unique genius to the world and put him permanently on the global map of information dissemination.

To prove the point, I told of a story about my attempt to compare my own humble exposure to the worldwide web to that of Imam, using Google. I had typed and clicked on the words “Abubakar Imam” in order to see the number of entries available on the grandfather of modern Hausa literature on the net’s most popular and reliable search engine. I then entered my names. Disappointingly, I beat Imam by a ratio of 9:1. And who was I, a mere shrub, on the field of Hausa literature compared to a poplar like Imam? There are quite a number of other yardsticks one could use, of course, in gauging Imam’s pre-eminence on our collective psyche. But the truth was that Imam wasn’t on the map.

Imam should have been celebrated by writers, academics, journalists, politicians, businessmen and the commoners, especially those of northern extraction, because he had worked for all of them during his lifetime. Others were, indeed, members of his family.

Imam was born in Kagara in the present day Niger State in 1911. Nigerlites could claim him as their own, but Imam was a man of many climes. His roots were in Borno. His great-grandfather had migrated to Sokoto during the Jihad era. I could claim him to be mine, because he was raised by his elder brother in Katsina. The brother, Alhaji Bello Kagara, was a member of the Katsina royalty, having served as the Wali of Katsina. Imam was educated in Katsina and grew up there. Imam was a school teacher there. He was also discovered there by the Briton, Rupert M. East, following the first Hausa literary competition in 1933, which Imam won.

The people of Zaria could claim him as their own, and they did so more than anyone else. Imam spent the longest period of his life in Zaria. He first went there in order to write books under Dr East’s tutelage. Subsequently he continued to live there - writing books, working as editor of Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo newspaper, engaging in politics and religious activities, and raising family. By the time of his death on Friday, June 19, 1981 in Zaria, he had become a complete Zaria man. He was survived by a wife, 14 children and 42 grandchildren.

His impact on Hausa literature is still felt today. Many a writer aspires to write like him. There have been many attempts to be like him, in terms of linguistic craftsmanship and title output, but none has successfully worked. Reasons abound: we live in a different world, under a different intellectual and moral clime. Politics, the economy, exposure to values, everything, have changed. Nonetheless, many of the attempts to be like Imam were heroic. They have ensured that Hausa remains the most fecund indigenous language in our country. Its culture is strong. Its communication channels have been modernised, but they are yet to lose their pristine colorations completely.

This morning, Imam is going to be celebrated in Kaduna, courtsey of the Association of Nigerian Authors under the able leadership of Dr Wale Okediran. The ANA executive council has said that the campaign I waged in the media and on the internet was responsible for its decision to organise this colloquim. It’s not only an honour for Imam, therefore, but the honour is also mine.

Imam’s family have done their best to help immortalise their father and grandfather. A few years ago I was involved with their efforts to establish the Abubakar Imam Centre in Zaria, a kind of personal museum of his work. Dr Haroun Adamu also funded the setting up of one of my proposals - the Imam website: Malam Dalhat has just completed a Hausa translation of Abubakar Imam Memoirs. But a lot needs to be done.

Sadly, today’s event is coming just when some pretenders to a certain moral crusade are jailing writers, moviemakers and other artistes in Kano. This morning, a Hausa novelist, Aminuddeen Ladan Abubakar (ALA) has been in jail for two days, having been sent there by a mobile court working for the Kano State Censorship Board. His offence: the alleged release of a song (one of the best Hausa songs this century!) which lampoons the evil regime of censorship in Kano. (More on this later)

All persons of conscience should use the occasion of this colloquiem to not only celebrate Imam’s incredible attainments but also to ruminate on the war against the arts going on in Kano. This event would be worthless if in celebrating our grandfather we forget or refuse to lament the persecution of his grandsons and grand-daughters.

•This piece was published today in LEADERSHIP under the heading: "Abubakar Imam: My Personal Odyssey"

Kano Censorship: Aminu Ala Arrested, Jailed

It has been two days now since a popular Hausa novelist and singer, Aminuddeen Ladan Abubakar (ALA), was sent to prison by a mobile court which works for the Kano State Censorship Board, in Kano. The writer/singer best known simply as Ala (after his initials) was arrested by the police on Saturday night in Kano after he had closed from work at Hikima Multimedia. He was, however, released on bail at the police station, on the pldege that he would attend court on Monday. He was not told what his offence was, but not everybody was left guessing.

Ala had composed a song, "Hasbunallah," with four other singers, in which they lampoon the regime of censorship in Kano. Moviemakers, singers and writers must submit their works to the censorship board for vetting. Though Ala had not released the "offensive" song, it had found its way into people's GSM handsets and computers, from where it was replicated into other forms of media.

Recently, the police and opratives of the censors board had swooped on Hikima Multimedia, looking for evidence that would link Ala to the release of the song. Consequently, Ala went into hiding; he was said to have gone to the neighbouring states. Two weeks ago, he returned home. And the censors attacked.

During the sitting in court, Ala pleaded not guilty. He was promptly sent to jail by a magistrate, Mukhtar Ahmed, notorious for jailing and or fining anyone that was brought before him under any kind of charge.

Writers and moviemakers, as well as millions of their admirers are livid with rage. Many view the arrest and detention of Ala as an attack against freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution. It is felt by a wide spectrum of the populace that Ala is innocent. Like Hamisu Iyan-Tama, an actor/producer jailed for months by the same court, he did not release the song. Even if he did, it does not contain anything negative as to warrant an arrest. The case is gaining a lot of attention in the media, in internet chatgroups, and other fora.

Ala is due to be returned to court today to hear his application for bail. But I was told by a close associate of his that the prison authorities in Kano have revealed that a separate order from the court had said that the accused would be held till Tuesday next week. That would be against the pronouncement of the judge in the open court on Tuesday.

Yesterday, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Kano State branch, issued a statement on the matter. It goes like this:

Press Release

At an emergency meeting held at the Bayero University Kano, today, July 8, 2009, the Association of Nigerian Authors Kano State Branch frowns at the arrest of one of its members Alhaji Aminuddeen Ladan Abubakar (ALA) over the alleged release of a song that has not been censored by the Kano State Censorship Board.

The Association is seriously looking at the implication of the arrest which is seen as an attack on liberty and freedom of expression. The Association has observed that the authorities in Kano are hostile to art and literature. This action and other past actions of the authorities are seriously undermining the position of Kano State as the leading centre of learning, art and literature.

The Association wishes to advise the authority to be cautious on the way it handles the matters of authors and other producers of art. Art and literature are part and parcel of every society and no society can do without it.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Yusuf M Adamu
Branch Chairman

Alh. Balarabe Sango II
Public Relations Officer

July 8, 2009