It is for this very reason and in this context that one situates the passing of Binta Salma Mohammed. Salma Mohammed not only made an impact on her immediate community, which was the academia, she also mentored poets and writers. She shared and not hoarded knowledge as some intellectuals are wont to. She was, amongst other things, a prolific writer, a profound poet, a loving wife to Ibrahim Sheme—himself a writer—and a dutiful mother.
Long before I met her in person, I encountered her words in an anthology of short stories of the Association of Nigerian Author (ANA). I still recount vividly the palpitating heart of the character who was seeking refuge in a dinghy and dark hut. Binta’s tale was schemed around the thematic circles of identity, loneliness, and continued search for the near elusiveness of true companionship. This was the magnitude of Binta’s depth as a writer, her innate ability to relate on different strata of human thought.
The British Council’s Connecting Futures Project became the platform where I got the opportunity to meet the writer first hand. The British Council, in conjunction with the Jos Repertory Theatre, had embarked on a creative project to address the theme of youth. The project was a global British Council agenda seeking to bring youths from India, Egypt, UK, Malaysia, and other parts of the world to share their commonness irrespective of the varying boundaries of idiosyncrasies. It was the responsibility of the Nigerian team to come up with a viable piece that would appeal and communicate to the youth of Nigeria.
The rigorous theatre production of what became “Our House” is unarguably one of the best pieces of complex contemporary plays to have appeared on stage in Nigeria. After touring cities like Port-Harcourt, Lagos and Abuja to great acclaim, it premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland. Without any gainsaying, Binta Salma Mohammed’s contribution to the process as a story teller added to the overall success of the play. The project, spanning almost two years which passed through the mentorship of Biyi Bandele, author of Burma Boy, and John Binnie, foremost Scottish playwright, gained from the sterling inputs of Binta in Jos and Kano where the workshops held. I remember clearly her creation of a scene using her selected theme of ‘remembrance’; this left us in awe during the plot harmonising session. Her spontaneous tale of a young man having a surreal bout of nostalgia upon entering the abode of his childhood became the ticking bomb of the session that ultimately culminated in the beginning of concretising the script.
It was once again the reinforcement of her philosophical view about life and its vagaries, always calm and quiet. But when it came to her turn, she revved slowly to life to give an entirely fresh perspective to the subject being discussed choosing her words carefully and making lucid points.
She was also an artist who was in tune with nature and its elements. On a visit to Assop falls during the Jos exercise, I remember her sitting quietly on a rocky outcrop contemplating the lines of a poem and taking in the scene of million cascading droplets of the Water falls. She was essentially an artist who succeeded in balancing the milieus of being a woman, wife, mother, teacher and writer who also inhabited part of a largely conservative space.
Binta Salma Mohammed was born in Gwarzo, Kano State, Nigeria, in August 1969. Amongst her several achievements in life was receiving a B.A. and M.A. in English Language from Bayero University, Kano. Salma Mohammed thereafter worked for the most part of her life in the Department of English, Bayero University, Kano, as a lecturer. At the time of her death, she was in the process of continuing her accelerated ascent to the pinnacle of academia by the completion of her PhD studies at the University of Abuja. Among her acclaimed literary output are Contours of Life (a collection of poems) and A Clean Break (a novel), aside contributions to notable anthologies like Sixteen Stories from Nigerian Women Edited by Toyin Adewale-Gabriel. As we mourn her demise, it is our prayer that she rest in the tranquillity and bliss of heaven. Amin.
Many at times mortality ensures that not all earthly dreams come to fruition but indeed Binta Salma Mohammed lived a life of sublime fulfilment.
Alkasim writes from Abuja