Why are some Nigerians so offended by a hug?

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Rahma Sadau and ClassiqImage source, Finesse Entertainment
Image caption,
Rahama Sadau was criticised for being hugged in a music video

A hug between a man and a woman may not raise eyebrows in some cultures, but reactions in northern Nigeria to one of their favourite actresses engaging in such affectionate behaviour have been full of rage.

Rahama Sadau's appearance in a music video where she was hugged by Nigerian pop star Classiq has led to her being banned from the Hausa-language film industry, known as Kannywood.

The industry body, the Motion Picture Practitioners Association of Nigeria (Moppan), was responding to comments from many people including other Hausa actors.

One of them, Nura Hussain, took to Instagram holding a sign calling for Ms Sadau's punishment. The picture got hundreds of comments supporting his demand.

In Hausa culture, any open show of romance is frowned upon, and this was where Ms Sadau slipped up.

But the actress also has her fans, some of whom have tried to fight back on social media setting up online groups to show their support.

She herself has apologised to anyone she may have offended, but described what she did as "innocuous touching".

And she seems less than remorseful, posting repeatedly on Snapchat a photo of herself being hugged by a man on her recent visit to India, where she was when the row erupted.

A typical Kannywood film:

Image source, AFP

As the film opens parents are seen discussing who their successful city-dwelling son should marry. They decide on a cousin who they deem meets all their expectations of a good wife.

But there's a hitch, their urban, and urbane, son is in love with an educated city lady. He wants to marry her.

The family confronts their son with their choice of wife for him. The dispute generates tension and finally the parents force their son to marry the cousin.

He goes through with the wedding but stays in touch with his preferred partner. They go on romantic outings during which he mentions his loveless marriage.

Throughout the film, dancing and singing punctuate the action. If there is to be any suggestion of sex, the screen will go dark.

Ms Sadau speaks some Hindi, like many fans of Bollywood films in the mainly Muslim northern Nigeria where Indian cinema has been appreciated for years for its conservative values.

Kannywood, which took off around 2000, is similar but more restrained.

Its films would never go as far as Classiq's music video and show a man and a woman hugging, but even scenes showing young people expressing love towards each other have been deemed offensive by some.

But this controversy has not emerged in a vacuum.

Anger towards Kannywood actors and films has been building up for some time in Nigeria and the industry has been on the defensive.

Islamic clerics in the north blame them for spreading immorality and bringing it into the home. Ms Sadau's video appearance proved their point.

Parents say the films and the antics of the actors divert their children's attention from more important things.

Image source, Finesse Entertainment
Image caption,
In the music video pop star Classiq is smitten with a vegetable seller in a market, acted by Ms Sadau
Image source, Finesse Entertainment
Image caption,
Initially she rejects his advances, batting him away with a bunch of vegetables, but he eventually wins her over

The recent problems can be traced back to 2010 when a video was leaked of a Hausa actress having sex with her boyfriend.

Criticism from clerics has not let up.

Earlier this year the government cancelled plans to build state-of-the-art film facilities in Kano state - from where the industry gets its name - after pressure from religious leaders, who said it would promote immorality.

This is why the industry is keen to see that it is upholding a strict ethical code.

And it appears as if Ms Sadau has been made an example of.

Adventurous and daring

Moppan said it hoped the ban would serve as a deterrent to other actors and actresses who are "expected to be good ambassadors of the society they represent".

Its chairman, Muhammadu Kabiru Maikaba, told the BBC Hausa service that this "was not the first time that she has been doing these wayward things. We have been warning her, but she still went ahead to dent out image".

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Some parents complain that the films are a distraction for their children

What has happened to her has grabbed the attention as she is currently one of the best known faces of Kannywood.

She emerged in 2013, featuring in films alongside the industry's big names, and became famous for being adventurous and daring in her films

Her profile was raised further following commercial endorsements from various companies.

In 2015, she was embroiled in a row after she accused popular actor Adam Zango of sexual harassment.

Mr Zango denied the accusation.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Nollywood, the film industry in the south of Nigeria, has become one of the country's most successful sectors

But this year's row may have topped that as she has come in for some vitriolic abuse.

Some of Ms Sadau's defenders have said that she is being picked on because she is a woman.

They point to pictures of Kannywood actors where they are seen hugging women and argue that they have not been castigated in a similar manner.

The actress has urged people to calm down and said that people should be "more tolerant and forgiving towards one another and to cease the senseless abuse, name calling and backbiting".

But this row, whatever the outcome, is unlikely to be the last time that morality and ethics get debated when it comes to Kannywood movies.

With the proliferation of satellite channels showing Hausa films and smartphones on which people can download clips the battle between the vanguards of morality and Kannywood may have only just begun.

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