8 December 2012

Nigeria: Remembering Director Muhammadu Balarabe Sango


Last Saturday evening, 1 December 2012, I received a call from my friend, Hausa novelist Sa'adatu Ahmed Baba. She told me that writer and filmmaker Muhammadu Balarabe Sango II had passed away that morning in Kano. It was a sudden death. He had returned from Bauchi to Kano the night before, and died the next morning.

Death leaves you with a lonely helpless feeling. He is so alive in my memory--his distinctive husky voice, his kind face--I still can't quite imagine him gone.

I first met Director Sango, as he was called by 'yan fim, in June 2006 at an Association of Nigerian authors meeting in Kano. I was new to Kano, just starting my research on Hausa literature and film. At that time, the only thing I knew about the film industry or the writing scene was what I had read.

Balarabe Sango, who was an actor, director, producer, and screenwriter, quickly took me under his wing. At the ANA meeting, he invited me continue our conversation at Yunusa Business Centre, owned by his close friend Alhaji Habibu, where he spent most of his time. The business centre on Zoo Road was usually bustling with activity.

I would sit in the inner office where film people gathered. It was here that I first met the actor and director Abbas Sadiq, who was the first one to take me to film sets in Kano. But it was Director Sango who was my mentor. When I asked him about Hausa drama, he took me on his motorcycle to the open air theatres not far from Marhaba Cinema. There I first saw the short comedy skits and "gala" shows of actors and actresses performing to Hausa film music. These theatres were destroyed by the Kano State government in early 2008, so if Director Sango had not taken me in 2006, I would have never had the opportunity to experience the roar of the crowd at the comedy performances, the communal excitement at seeing film stars perform live.

When I returned to Kano in late May 2008, Director Sango was one of the first people I went to see. Whenever I shopped at Sahad stores on Zoo Road, I would walk down to the business centre. I knew I would be fed whenever I went there: fura da nono, gurasa, spaghetti. Director Sango was one of the kindest, gentlest, most patient, men I knew. He had the disposition of a teacher, and he patiently answered questions I asked in basic Hausa. We would talk about Hausa culture, about his experiences in Bulgaria as a student, his collection of coins from all over the world, about stories he planned to write and films he wanted to make.

Here are some of the things he told me about his life: He started writing in 1980 after finishing secondary school. Not long after graduating, he got an appointment with a federal government establishment and became involved in a football club. After some time, he got another job with Royal Exchange Insurance, the oldest insurance company in Nigeria. In 1985, he received a scholarship to study in Bulgaria. Upon his return to Nigeria he became involved in making films. He told me the first film that he produced and directed was Garkuwa in 1992 or 1993.

He was a disciple of Malam Aminu Kano, who had been his childhood hero and briefly became involved in politics. His love for Aminu Kano stayed with him till his death. Author Fauziyya D. Sulaiman reminded other writers in a Facebook Hausa writers group about a recent letter he wrote to Malam Aminu Kano, telling him about the current troubles of the north. Kabiru Muhammad-Gwangwazo wrote "Many others know him only as a film and ANA person. I know him as a politician and bankers' union leader and activist in the nineteen eighties and as a fellow politician and aspirant for Kano Municipal chairmanship in 1993 in the SDP. He was always a pleasant person to relate with." Although, he left politics, his grounding in Aminu Kano's populist philosophy was behind his interest in media. He told me that radio, television, and film were some of the most important things in educating ordinary people: "At times you will see a Fulani man with a small transistor radio. He will be raising cattle and he will be under a tree listening to his radio." That uneducated Fulani man will be able to tell you things happening in other parts of the world "which a learned man would not know because he doesn't listen to the radio. You will see somebody who has never been to school be current on these affairs [that] somebody who has been educated to the university level has never learned."

The Hausa writing and film communities were shocked by his death. On Facebook, Fauziyya D. Sulaiman wrote that he was one of the writers who most encouraged and supported her writing. Sa'adatu Baba Ahmad wrote that she felt as if she had lost a blood relation. Danladi Haruna said that the way Sango involved his children in his creative life was an inspiration to him. Danladi decided to bring his son to an ANA meeting after he saw Sango come with his own young son. Similarly, Sango's poem to his daughter inspired Danladi to write a poem to his own daughter.

Monday, I went by Yunusa business centre, where his friends and colleagues sat in the inner carpet mourning, and they shared their memories with me. Businessman Haliru Mohammed knew him from the time they played football together with the Black Arrows club in 1982. Although Balarabe Sango was a few years older than Haliru, they were good friends. From an early age, Malam Sango was a peacemaker. "When we would play ball and fights would break out, Balarabe would separate us and say, 'Oh, you shouldn't fight.' He was a calm person. In all the time I've known him, I have never seen him get angry." This characteristic translated into his later interest in peacemaking on a larger scale. "He wanted to find understanding between the Muslim community, between Muslims and Christians. He would sit with them and say this is what the Prophet Isa (Jesus) said. This is what the Qur'an says. He really loved peace."

Alhaji Habibu, the owner of Yunusa business centre told me that about eight years ago, after Sango helped him type some documents in Hausa, he invited him to stay with him at the business centre. "He was one of my best friends. He would advise me. I trusted him and he trusted me. I've lived amongst many different kinds of people, but it's rare to find a man like Mohammadu Balarabe Sango. He doesn't get angry. I've never seen him quarrel with anyone since we've been together." His death was a great blow, Alhaji Habibu said. "Even within my own family, I have no one like this. I wept. Even now I am weeping in my heart over the loss of Mohammadu Balarabe Sango." Bashir Ado, who also works in the business centre and had taught him about computers, said that Sango had taught him much about how to respect others and live peacefully with people. He was a humble man, he said "He wasn't proud to admit he didn't know something."

Hausa film producer Zainab Adam Yola told me that it was Director Sango who had introduced her into the film industry and had given her advice on how to become successful. He was the producer for several of her films, including Zumuncin Juna. "Someone who has introduced you to your career, has done everything for you," she told me. She echoed what every other writer and filmmaker told me, "It's a huge loss to the industry."

His lifelong dream, he told me in 2006, was to make a film on the life of Malam Aminu Kano. "Since I was a small boy, when I watched Gandhi, I was thinking on what a film on Malam Aminu would be like. The day he died, I was in front of the house. There has never been anybody like him in politics, at least in the north. I want to do one film, in my life. I know it may not be possible, it may be a dream. I want to make a film on Malam Aminu Kano. "

I mourn for Director Sango. I mourn for his dream.

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