By Aliyu Jalal
Whenever celebrities from Northern Nigeria (Kannywood artists to be specific), interact with the public on social media, I feel a lot of shame on their behalf. These are people that clearly don’t seem to have great opinions of themselves, so they allow every Jack and Harry to drag them to the mud and they’re always ready to follow them there.
They’re public figures by every standard of the phrase. A public figure simply means “A famous person whose life is a subject of public interest” which they sufficiently fit by the very nature of their career. You were there when a less than three seconds nude video of an actress was leaked, it heatedly trended for over a week on Arewa social media communities especially Twitter. So those who laughed at the subject actress who in her statement referred herself to as a “public figure and role model” just chose to be carelessly ignorant.
But unlike their southern counterparts who operate on and off social media with grace and class, with a confidence radiating from their demeanour, who accrue a lot of respect and meaningful and meaningless controversies expected of every celebrity life, the North’s handle their public life as though they’re a people being privileged to be famous while they don’t deserve. Remember when the Lagos-based musician and actor Banky W married his beautiful actress Adesua, and how the southern media was bombarded with stories of the amazing glamour of their wedding events. How the wedding ashobi even tried to initiate a certain fad in modern Yoruba wedding culture. We heard the world clapping for them, politicians and other influential people congratulating them.
But is that obtainable in the north as regards to our own celebrities if not merely during elections where they’re used as tools and not as symbols of any respectable prestige? You may be quick to say it may have something to do with their level of education in contrast to the Nollywood, but I don’t think it’s strictly that. Many celebrities from the south are not also that well educated; they can just speak good English. I think for Kannywood artists it fundamentally has to do with our sociology and psychology.
It’s often agreed that individuals form their self-opinion not by themselves but by the social forces around them. Social psychological theories such as “Looking Self Glass” terrifies us by postulating that what we think of ourselves is a function of what we think other people think of us. So in essence, statements like “My life, my rules “, “I don’t care what you think of me” etc are often braggadocio and shallow and sometimes mere attempts to veil our insecurities. All of us care what other people think of us whether consciously or subconsciously. It’s a reality we absolutely don’t need to acknowledge for it to continue influencing our behaviour in ways we hardly figure out by ourselves.
The protagonist of the novel Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie hadn’t known that she was black until she went to the United States. In Nigeria she absolutely had no reason to have any opinion about the colour of her skin. People were more interested in the God she worshipped, her ethnicity, the part of the country she was from, her social class, etc. But never her skin colour. And she lived over a decade in the States observing how her blackness matters in almost everything.
My very good friend Dr Abdulbasit Kassim, even after having reasons to develop opinions about the colour his skin in the UK, had less reasons to be too conscious of his blackness until he later went to the US where in his words, “Everywhere I turned to was telling me: You’re Black!” Because of the history of America and its social configuration.
The two examples above more significantly demonstrate how individuals form their identities through experience, but for a psychological approach, I choose to see them as some of the ways people get to knit opinions about themselves that are either negative or positive through the dynamics of the social environment.
So the artists in northern Nigeria have a lot of crisis navigating their actual value and the validity of their career in the region they largely produce for. Recurrent cases of religious clerics holding microphones to question the morality of their entire existence as an industry, or to demonize it, is too rampant. Public opinions that continuously paint them as people destroying the moral decency of young people are too common. Individuals on social media calling them wayward, prostitutes, and those who would ask Rahama Sadau to make a porn video for the pleasure of one improperly raised young man, and another telling Hadiza Gabon that one of her breasts is bigger than the other are just examples of the way they’re being treated daily by the same society that calls them “immoral” and with a crowd of audience clapping and laughing.
We continuously tell them to be more decent and be aware of the cultural milieu of their audience, and dramatically failing to see that the Hausa term for their job is “Wasan Kwaikwayo” which means they’re people who simply reflect and mirror the setting of their creative productions. Their lips are almost sagging from explaining that when a character in a movie dresses in the way Hausa culture calls “indecent”, it’s not the actress playing that role that should be judged but the character who makes those choices.
But let’s even question the premise. Why we expect film artists to display some standard of morality that’s actually not the single story of our own social reality is very troubling. If you stand on the street of Kano or Sokoto, you’ll get tired of seeing young girls dressing the same way Sadau is demonized for doing in a movie, even though the latter does it purposely to mirror and narrate that reality.
I don’t know what the future has for actors and most especially actresses in northern Nigeria, but for now, no matter what they achieve materially and in terms of fame, it can be very difficult for them to feel self-fulfilled and self-worthy, because they’re not given good reasons to feel that way. And if you’re observant enough, their insecurities emanate from the way they handle social media interactions with the public, by continuously being defensive, and by continuously responding to every teenager who insults them because he wants their replies to get retweets and more followers.
Aliyu Jalal writes from Zaria and be reached through: email@example.com
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily