Updated Sep 17, 2023, 9:05am EDT

Northern Nigeria’s Kannywood film sector says it’s being politically targeted

Hamza Ibrahim/Semafor

Sign up for Semafor Africa: A rapidly-growing continent’s crucial stories. Read it now.

Title icon

The Facts

Northern Nigeria’s movie industry, better known as Kannywood, is undergoing an administrative overhaul that filmmakers have said is politically motivated.

The industry’s regulator in July revoked the licenses of people registered to work. The move came in the wake of a fractious gubernatorial election in which actors, actresses and filmmakers publicly backed different political parties.

Title icon

Know More

→ What’s Kannywood? Kannywood refers to the movie industry in northern Nigeria which mainly distributes films via DVD and downloads. It’s a subset of Nollywood, the much better known Nigerian movie industry which produces thousands of films and TV shows every year.

The industry reflects the specific cultural, linguistic and religious practices of northern Nigeria. Hausa, which is widely spoken across that part of the country, is the dominant language of Kannywood unlike Nollywood, where English is spoken in a large proportion of films.

Kannywood takes its name from Kano, northern Nigeria’s economic and cultural hub. Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim and the industry operates against the backdrop of a more conservative religious and social backdrop than in southern states.


→ What’s happening? Kannywood filmmakers have been struggling to continue producing movies in recent months after the Kano State Censorship Board revoked operational licenses of all actors, actresses, directors and producers.

The head of the board said the move was taken to ensure everyone in the industry has “proper documentation,” adding that all licenses had to be renewed.

→Why does it matter? Critics of the sudden move said it was politically motivated, arguing that it was rolled out to punish celebrities who campaigned against New Nigeria People Party (NNPP), the political party that won the state gubernatorial election ahead of the All Progressives Congress, the party of President Bola Tinubu. Kannywood was split along political lines during the election.

→ What’s the movie industry saying? Abba El-Mustapha, executive secretary of the Kano State Film Censorship Board, told Semafor Africa the regulator is in the process of registering film practitioners. However, filmmakers that spoke to Semafor Africa criticized the registration process and continued to allege that the process was being wielded as a political weapon.

“We are a creative industry and therefore shouldn’t allow ourselves to be destroyed by politicians because of allegiance or our interest in them,” said Ahmad Bifa, a producer and director. He said his business has suffered because he has been unable to upload content for three weeks. “I have lost money and my channel stands to lose its audience,” he said.


Muhammad Salisu, executive director of Timeline Multimedia Film Production Limited, said the push to force registration in a fixed time period for a fee of 20,000 naira ($26) made it difficult for many in the industry who would struggle to afford the process.

Bifa said he hoped the administrative change “is not meant to extort us and generate revenue without improving operations of the industry.”

→ What are politicians saying? Kano state’s information commissioner, Baba Halilu Dantiye, denied accusations that the administrative overhaul was politically motivated.

“The cancellation of the licenses is not meant to go after anyone,” he told Semafor Africa. “Kannywood is a big industry serving good purpose and promoting culture, therefore the exercise is meant to ensure good content.”