I loved Pacesetters series during my secondary school days and the book ‘The Undesirable Element’ by Mohammed Sule was the first I read.
Mohammed Sule wrote ‘The Undesirable Element’ when he was in Secondary School. Sule died in his sleep on Monday 12th February 2007. Not many people, even within the literary circle, knew him in person.
He was born in Kano in 1957 and was brought up there. The attended Kofar Nasarawa Primary School, Government College Kano and Bayero University Kano. He then went to the UK to study Motion Picture Production and Script Writing and Directing. He worked with the Kano State Television Service (later taken over by the Nigeria Television Authority NTA) and then Kano State Ministry of Information. He retired in 1988 to set up his own business; Incorporated Links Films Limited.
He was a student when he began to write. He wrote ‘The Undesirable Element’ during his secondary school days at the Government College Kano. He started in Form 1 and by the time he got to Form 4, he had finished it and sent to Macmillan for publication. It eventually got published after he left secondary school. He was in London when it got published in 1977.
He wrote his second book ‘The Delinquent’ soon after he finished writing ‘The Undesirable Element’. He wrote about seven chapters before he left secondary school. He completed it later on and gave it to Macmillan even when he was yet to know the fate of ‘The Undesirable Element’ – whether it would be published or not. He didn’t really know how he went ahead to publish his books, at that time, but fortunately, he took the right course without anyone telling him.
“When you work on a book, eventually you get bored with it because you probably have read it over a thousand times.” When he reached that level, he felt he had done enough and wanted to get rid of it. So, he sent the manuscript to the Northern Nigeria Publishing Company (NNPC) in Zaria. At that time, Macmillan was running the NNPC as co-owners. The management was provided by the Macmillan. The NNPC then had no interest in publishing English works. So, the MD, Mr. Taylor – a Briton, took the manuscript from him and gave it to his wife, who was teaching at the Government Girls Secondary School Zaria, to go through. When she had gone through, she decided that since it was the first book in English they had received and since there were no such writings from the North, they would take it to London. Luckily, she took it to Macmillan office in London at the time it was planning to start the Pacesetter Series. They decided to include it in the series.
One of the messages Sule intended to pass across in his book ‘The Undesirable Element’ was the importance of education.
Having realised that education is a key factor in every person’s life, all his writings in one way or the other highlighted the importance of education as the central theme. ‘The Undesirable Element’ in particular is a reflection of what was the norm in Northern Nigeria at that time. Older men who were well-to-do were marrying young girls, and some of these girls were in school. They had to be brought out of school to marry. That was the social trend at that time. Marriages were based on “I’m rich, I can marry young girls.”
Once you were rich, you could do anything in the North at that time. Today, the North is in a bigger trouble. Now, it seems they are not just marrying the girls, they are abusing them. The situation is compounded by the fact that the quality of education has collapsed. So, even though many girls now attend higher institutions, they are not intellectually and morally sound enough to maintain self-discipline. And so, they are more liable to the evil machinations of the older rich men.
‘The Delinquent’ centred more on how the children of the rich easily got spoilt by the riches of their parents. Mohammed Sule published two other books – ‘The Infamous Act’ and ‘The Devil’s Seat’. His writings mostly centred on fighting corruption and highlighting the evils in the society. He once said “the situation in the North is still very alarming. As long as the situation persists, a committed writer will continue to pay attention to the social dynamics. We have numerous problems in the areas of education, health and so on. And there is poverty everywhere due to the misuse of wealth. I have never seen a place where the rich misuse their wealth like in the North. It is a tragedy! You can’t see concrete investments that are capable of relieving the social tension as well as translating into huge economic benefits to both the owner of the business and those who lean on the business in terms of working or trading in the product of that business. So, the North is a human failure in terms of the wealthy Northerners utilising their wealth for the economic sustainability of the area.”
His book ‘The Libertine’ is an indirect sequel to ‘The Undesirable Element’, but here, we are not dealing with a secondary school girl. We are talking about a young lady in the university who had to drop out due to poverty. Apart from the poverty factor, she also got herself involved in so many other things. Yes, she is also a delinquent, but in her own case, she came from a poor family. And because the society is uncaring, so many problems that would have been avoided happened. Nobody cares! And that is the most unfortunate thing about our society.
Mohammed said he was also aware of the poor reading culture prevalent in the society. “When we were in primary school, we had a library where we could read. It was the same in secondary school. And we read a lot. But these days, even some university graduates hardly read.”
To be able to write novels while he was in secondary school, he must have read hard and wide. Secondary school students used to read a lot in those days. They were dedicated to their studies and were always thinking of what they wanted to be in life. From the on set, he had always wanted to be a writer. And he was able to realise his dream through hard work. He said these days, young people don’t want to strive. They just want money.
May God Almighty forgive all his shortcomings and admit him into Aljannah Firdausi.