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Echoes from the Abubakar Imam Colloquium

According to Lugga, when he was in school, passing examination on Abubakar Imam’s Magana Jari Ce was a prerequisite for promotion from primary four to…

According to Lugga, when he was in school, passing examination on Abubakar Imam’s Magana Jari Ce was a prerequisite for promotion from primary four to primary five. To this day, the impact of the late writer is felt in the education sector, especially in the study of Hausa language and literature. The late literary giant is, however, yet to be given the recognition he deserves.

This neglect of the achievements of Abubakar Imam was again reflected in the cold reception accorded the Abubakar Imam Colloquium. Originally planned to extend over a three day period, the organisers were forced to contract all activities related to the vent to one day only because of unavailability of funds. This contrasted sadly with the support received during a three day colloquium organised in memory of the publication of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in Nsukka, during which individuals, corporate organisations, and governments from that part of the country donated millions of naira to honour the author.

ANA national President, Dr Wale Okediran, while expressing his dismay over what he called “the levity with which many of the governments, corporate organisations, and philanthropists in the northern part of the country have been treating Literature”, said: “It is on record that when, a few years ago, ANA celebrated the works of Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, many individuals, organisations and government functionaries from the southern part of the country supported us. Unfortunately, this was not the case this time around”.

The Abubakar Imam Colloquium was organised not only to honour the greatest literary icon of northern Nigeria, but also to discuss the evolution of Hausa literature after Imam as well as his trail blazing contribution to its development, especially at a time when there is a lingering face-off between the authorities and the literati, at least in Kano state. With the theme, “Promoting Writing in the Indigenous Languages”, the colloquium also aimed at looking at the development of minority language literature in the country. It was no wonder, then, that none of the experts assembled to speak on the myriad of issues related to the theme had enough time to do justice to their papers.

 Presenting a paper on soyayya (love) novellas, seen as a revolutionary movement in the Hausa literary tradition by some, the Director General of the Kano State Reorientation Agency (A Daidaita Sahu), Malam Bala Muhammad, revealed that his agency conducted a research which linked failure in final examinations among secondary school girls to these books. This development, he said, came about as a result of the “happily-ever-after” mentality instilled by the books in the girls. Many of the girls, he said, were overheard saying that they would deliberately fail their final examinations so as to be married off immediately, “to live happily ever after” with their husbands, which was not what obtained in reality. He however admitted that although government had provided students with alternative stories to read, no marked change had been recorded. “It’ll take time”, he said.

Another expert who spoke on the Hausa novellas, Ahmadu Bello University’s Dr Isa Liman, dismissed the presentation of Malam Bala as “propaganda”, saying that the literary movement represented by these Hausa novellas were a “social mass movement” which nobody could stifle. However, one of the participants, Dr E.E. Sule, cautioned that no presentation should be regarded as “propaganda” because the former was a prescriptive approach to the matter while the latter was a descriptive one, and both were correct. Arguing that the real question was whether these books could be regarded as literature, he called for a holistic approach which would pave way for a better understanding of the concept.

Also speaking on the soyayya literature phenomenon, Dr Yusuf Adamu, an associate professor from Bayero University, Kano, said the books should rather be seen as a factor in the revival of Hausa literature, which had been comatose for years, since the demise of Abubakar Imam.

Another lecturer from Bayero University, Ismail Bala Garba, spoke on the need for indigenous writers to look beyond their immediate environment for inspiration and innovation “to be welcome into the global cultural fold”.

Through this, he argued, “indigenous writers can further deepen their creativity and widen their aesthetic horizon. This ultimately means mastering the structures of technical accomplishment and critical appraisal cheaply obtainable in the global cultural sphere where literary translation reign supreme. Embracing and encouraging literary translation despite its all too-apparent problems would avail indigenous literatures the label and stature of world literatures competing for space and attention in the global cultural scene”.  

Other speakers included Moses Tsenongu, a lecturer from Benue State University, Makurdi, who has translated Things Fall Apart into Tiv. He spoke on the neglect of minority languages in the literary landscape of the country. Professor Okechukwu Umeh of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, spoke on “Developments in Igbo Literature Since Pita Nwana”, while Jare Ajayi discussed “Developments in Yoruba Literature After D.O. Fagunwa”.

The keynote address was presented on behalf of the Imamian scholar, Associate Professor Ibrahim Malumfashi, by Dr Salihu Bappa, a lecturer from ABU, Zaria. According to Malumfashi, “Imam and his era, however hard one tries to belittle [them], will continue to blossom and prosper. It will continue to influence positively for thousands of years to come”. He also compared Imam to Shakespeare, in terms of the sources from which he drew his inspirations: “What Shakespeare did was what Imam did, if not more perfectly done. It is only because most of most of Shakespeare’s works have been unearthed and over amplified by researchers that his literary works are now appreciated the more”.

The scholar also described Imam as “one of the few Northerners that served this country with their sweat and blood, not for what they were to get, but for posterity to enjoy their labour. He was among the very few that many adjudged as fathers of modern day Nigeria yet not much is known about him and his contributions”.

Alhaji Muhammad Jibo, who led a delegation of Imam’s family to the event, narrated the story of a man who told truth to power. According to him, when Abubakar Imam went to see the Premier of Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna would send people to enquire whether something was wrong. “The Premier knew that Abubakar Imam never went to see him for personal reasons but to present a complaint from the ordinary people”, he said.

Alhaji Muhammad Jibo also said Abubakar once told him that any leader who had nobody to tell him the truth was lost. “He told me, ‘Duk shugaban da bai da wanda zai ce masa ba ka isa ba, to ya yi asara’ [i.e. any leader who has no one to say to him ‘don’t you dare’ is misguided]”.