Sadiq Zazzabi is a talented R&B singer in northern Nigeria, popular among Hausa speakers across the country and beyond for his songs about love, social issues and politics.
But for several weeks he has been caught up in a bitter rivalry between two of the region’s most powerful political figures, one of whom is tipped for a tilt at the presidency.
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”.
Zazzabi, however, maintains he was charged because the song, “Maza bayan ka” (All Men Behind You), expresses open support for former state governor Rabiu Kwankwaso and criticises the incumbent Umar Ganduje.
“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 defence 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.
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.