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Our culture key to preserving our identity – Abdulkarim Mohammed

Abdulkarim Mohammed is not a stranger to the Nigerian film industry. He is a veteran film maker and the Managing Director/CEO of Moving Image Communications…

Abdulkarim Mohammed is not a stranger to the Nigerian film industry. He is a veteran film maker and the Managing Director/CEO of Moving Image Communications Limited. Mohammed is billed to receive Life Time Achievement Award on July 27 at the Lighthouse Theatre, Camberwell Road, London. Daily Trust’s Abbas Tijjani Madabo and Salim Ibrahim Umar spoke to the veteran film maker in Kano.

Who is Abdulkareem Muhammed? 

Well, Abdulkareem Muhammed is the managing director of Moving Image Limited in Kano, a media personality that has transversed the media landscape of Nigeria and indeed some international places. I started as a producer with the Nigeria Television Authority in Kano back in 1979. So, by December this year, I will be celebrating my 45th year in broadcasting.

I have written about four books and produced over a thousand feature films and documentaries, especially for agriculture extension and training. 

How will you describe the current entertainment industry?

If there is any sector that has grown in Nigeria, it is behind the film sector. Why do I say so? As far as back as 2009, I served in the “Vision 2020 committee of media and communications” and 99 countries were studied by the United Nations agency. It came up with the verdict that Nollywood has taken Nigeria to the third position in the world and at that time, we were visioning for Nigeria to be placed at the top 20 position in the world by 2020. But as far back as 2009, Nollywood had taken us to number 3. So, when you are talking of what Nollywood is in terms of contributing to Nigeria’s growth and development, there is no sector that has made such contribution to Nigeria other than Nollywood; and what makes it critical for me are two things.

In the first instance, it is one sub-sector that provides job opportunity for our youth more than any other, and it doesn’t require paper qualification. All it requires is talent.

Secondly, when you look at globalization, innovation and creativity are the moral of growth and development. As at today, Nollywood is in that circle and it is providing opportunities for Nigeria both in terms of gross domestic products and livelihood for majority of our youths.

Are you saying Nollywood is central to the entertainment industry in Nigeria?

Well, even if it is not, it is certainly a major element of entertainment; music cannot be discounted. We have celebrated musicians that have taken Nigerian music to great heights. You won’t believe it; I was in Athens Greece and a cab driver who was taking me to the airport was playing Nigerian music in the car because he knew I was a Nigerian. So, music is another aspect, and there’s also fashion. You can see how creative brands are in the fashion industry. So yes, Nollywood is a major factor but then there are these other factors that are contributing to the entertainment sector in large scale that cannot be disregarded. 

How can you rate the journey so far?

Kannywood is probably a mixture of blessings for Hausa land. The Hausa person averagely does not even acknowledge that Kannywood is something to celebrate. That is the unfortunate side of it but what Kannywood is doing in Hausa land, there is no other sector doing so. 

As far back as 2002, I was the first president of Motion Picture Association of Nigeria (MOPAN) and MOPAN is one of the five bodies registered, acknowledged by the federal government as an association that has to do with issues of film and over the years, MOPAN has grown to the level where it is presently.

In all the 19 states of northern Nigeria and the FCT, the membership strength was about seven thousand as at 2022. Why is it important to give this background? It is important because as at the time I was the president, out of four thousand practitioners, only five had tertiary level education; meaning 3995 either had Senior Secondary Certificate, or were SSCE students, JSSCE students or even had primary school certificate. Yet, they were offered a means of livelihood through the industry. So, this is not an imaginary contribution by any sense, especially when you look at the sort of problems bedevilling the Northern Nigeria of today; where our youths are very resentful because they don’t have means to exploit and explore their innate potentials to contribute or to become productive members of the society and Kannywood is giving that window more than any other sector that you can think of. 

Is it true that you are the brain behind KILAFF?

Yes, I am the founder of Kano Indigenous Languages of Africa Film market and Festivals, and that is what KILAFF stands for. 

And what is it about?

It is a platform I am nurturing to project the Hausa language because it is a major language in the continent. It is also meant to encourage our young people who are into film to produce in their own local languages. And why is it important? It is important so that we can tell original stories because we usually think in our local language. We can place it on what we call the information super highway, so that we can be talking to the whole world in our own languages.

Secondly, it will give us an opportunity to tell our own stories by ourselves. So KILAFF hosts people from wherever they are in Africa once they are producing films in their indigenous languages; it is the platform for everybody. 

Last year, when we had the sixth edition, we attracted the participation of 22 African countries. We hope by November this year (when we will have the 7th edition), we will increase to maybe 30 or 35 African countries, so that we can provide the platform where our youths that are making film in their indigenous languages can come and showcase them. KILAFF will be the platform that will appreciate them and give them awards based on what they are doing. 

What motivated you to become a producer?

Well, when the Kano State government was establishing its own state television (that is KTV), I was privileged to be one of the first employees of the station and we were sent to America. I was sent to Los Angeles actually and I did my attachment in KC office in Los Angeles. At that time (1982), a governor from Nigeria invited a lady who was a senator in California to Nigeria. She was a black American, and had never left America in her life. So, Governor Jim Nwobodo of Anambra State recorded her visit and gave her. He told her to watch it and appreciate her visit to Nigeria, and she was really happy with that. When she got back to America, she invited some of her relatives and friends to come and eat with her so she could show them her visit to Nigeria. Unfortunately, when she slot in the tape, it did not play. She was deflated, and she came to the station where I was doing my internship to complain to her friend who was my executive producer, a lady called Marylane Solomon. 

Marylane discovered that the tape could not play because it was recorded in Nigeria. Nigeria was using the PAL system while America was using NTSC system. So Marylane told her she could convert the signal for her so that she can reconvene her people to watch her visit.

Then Marylane said to her, ‘I have a Nigerian worker who is with me, would you want to meet with him’? She said yes and I was introduced to this senator. She conscripted me into her re-election campaign at that time, and she was making me speak in her campaign gatherings. What I didn’t realize was that black Americans were her major sponsors, and she will tell me, “Abdul, please can you tell them how you respect your elders back home?” It was one of the things she had never seen in her life if not for her visit to Nigeria. She had never known how an elderly person gets respected by the younger ones. So, she was making me talk about that. Through that, I was able to appreciate the fact that if you lose your culture, you lose your identity. 

Here were big people with money and everything but psychologically, I was much better than them because I didn’t lose my identity, I was still who I was. So, based on that experience, I told myself that we should not joke with what we have as a culture or trade it for anything. We should protect our culture and that is the essence of promoting KILAFF so that we will be able to preserve our language and culture in the process of promoting them to the world. 

Can you enumerate some of the challenges the film industry is facing?

First and foremost, I think that challenges come from within the home. Kano is the home of Kannywood; it serves as the centre of production for Kannywood, it serves as the centre for the distribution of Kannywood films but Kano State itself doesn’t appreciate the enormity of responsibility in the hands of Kannywood to create a healthy environment for the sub sector to thrive. That is challenge number one.

So, the state government needs to study the industry to understand it and know how it can intervene to help it. 

Also, education should not be compromised. Once you are educated, it will reflect on what you do and how you do it. Since we know there is knowledge gap within the Kannywood operations, we must strive to build their capacity to the level where they can be knowledgeable enough to see opportunities and ride on these opportunities. 

Would you say religion is a major impediment to the film industry? 

Of course, there are many other factors but the beauty of the religion is that Islam is a religion of all time, so if a modern-day Muslim can’t think and see that the opportunities are here and keep missing those opportunities, then it is our fault. We need to know that within the comfort of our religion, we are allowed a leeway to have consultation and even talk to professional who can clarify issues. I will give you one good example.

When Kano attracted N3bn to be injected into the economy of the state by coming up to establish a film village in kano, it was the Ulamas that shut down that idea but I laughed because it showed that they are also capable of being ignorant. They are ignorant of what a film village can do to the economy of Kano State and for the people they are trying to protect. There is no state in Nigeria that is ready for a film village more than Kano State. 

Why? Because Kano has a censorship board. So, it has a body that can monitor how the film business run.

Secondly, it has Hisbah. Hisbah is a body of police that is Islamically inclined to encourage you if you are doing the right thing, and to discourage you if you are doing the wrong thing. So, if you have the apparatus readily available, I don’t see how logical it is to shut down such an idea. A situation where Hisbah will be present to see how shooting of film is done, where the censorship board will be present also. It doesn’t make sense at all. It shows how ignorant some people are regarding certain issues. I have been to film studios in Morocco both Oasis and Atlas. These are about 100 film destinations as at the time I went there in 2009. Hollywood films are produced in those studios. How can you now tell me that there is an Islamic case in building a film village in Kano? I will never agree with you because that is a product of misunderstanding the whole issue. 

 

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