By: Daniel McElroy
The March imprisonment and release of musician Sadiq Zazzabi in the Nigerian state of Kano has produced not one but two inspiring examples of community activism at work.
Zazzabi, a popular Hausa-language singer, was originally arrested by the Kano State Censorship Board on March 1 for releasing a song without the board’s approval that featured “seductive dance(s) by women.” Kano and eleven other states in northern Nigeria require adherence to Islamic tradition and strict censorship laws.
From the outset, Zazzabi insisted that his arrest was political because the song in question, “Maza bayan ka” (“All Men Behind You”), displays overt support for former state governor Rabiu Kwankwaso while criticizing incumbent Umar Ganduje. Clashes between supporters of the two politicians are not uncommon.
On March 6, the day Zazzabi was scheduled to appear in court, a large group of demonstrators entered the courtroom and refused to leave. Reports indicate that among these supporters were other local artists—musicians and filmmakers—and that many dressed in white and red, a standard show of pro-Kwankwaso sentiment. When Zazzabi’s supporters refused to leave the room, court was adjourned and the judge set conditions for bail, which Zazzabi promptly met to win his release. This show of support by the local artistic community was likely the biggest factor in winning some justice for Zazzabi.
More recently, new information has emerged that Zazzabi, along with some colleagues and friends, has personally posted bail for 35 other “wrongly detained” inmates of the prison where he was kept for a week early last month. “While I was in detention, I met many prisoners who were wrongly detained and some could not just afford a simple bail pledge. After I regained my freedom I was determined to make sure such people get their freedom back,” Zazzabi said.
Zazzabi was scheduled to return to court on the same charges on March 27, but information about the results of the trial has yet to emerge. Regardless, the level of engagement displayed by Zazzabi, his friends, and his supporters throughout this ordeal shows that community action and a bit of compassion can effectively counteract this kind of government-backed artistic censorship and oppression.