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WHEN NORTHERN AUTHORS CONVERGED ON KEBBI

Be that as it was, the theme for this year’s Summit was “Multimedia and Northern Nigerian Literature”, in view of the impact today’s computer- and…

Be that as it was, the theme for this year’s Summit was “Multimedia and Northern Nigerian Literature”, in view of the impact today’s computer- and mobile-based technologies are having on our lives, surreptitiously but brazenly leading youngsters of today to believe that they don’t need ‘books’ in the sense that we (the so-called old-fashioned) knew and read them. As inevitable as matters technological are, it is hardly comforting to envisage the prospect of a bookless future, especially for a book-deprived people as ours.
On this particular point, and with reference to television, Usman Magawata, former Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), in his paper “Television and Northern Nigerian Literature,” concluded that “It is worth noting…that the emergence of television and movies has reduced society’s love for books. Plato even predicted this in his criticism of poetry. This could be because a substantial amount of mental drudgery is required to read a book [whereas] watching television and movies require only a little or no mental toil. This is challenge to writers to write more books that can be more engaging and interesting in order to reverse this trend or reduce it to barest minimum.”
The keynote address at this Summit was delivered by Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Matthew Hassan Kukah who minced no words in debunking the very concept of ‘North’ (under the general umbrella of which we were all assembled), confessing, in his first paragraph, “that the terms Northern Nigeria and Literature are wrapped in ambiguity and controversy. We continue to use the word Northern Nigeria despite the creation of 19 independent states out of this former region. As if in defiance, despite the creation of the states and Zones, these states still continue to hold together.” [As in this Summit, for example]. And to nail the point further home, Bishop Kukah ended his first paragraph with: “Yet, if truth be told, no one seems to be able to point at a cultural or an ideological thread holding these peoples [Northerners] together.”
And so it was, perhaps, in defiance of the Bishop’s keynote address that the Summit did not, after his bombshell, dis-assemble and scatter since the very purpose of our assembly, as ‘Northern’ Nigerian Writers had been so thoroughly hollowed. The Summit did continue, and found that there is, indeed, some threads still holding this fragile entity called ‘Northern Nigeria’ together; we agreed that Hausa, as a language, is one such thread. And Islam, as a religion, is another. Yet another is the geographical continuum known as the Sokoto Caliphate; plus the other contiguous territory known as the Kanem-Bornu Empire. And many other threads barely holding, just.
In his “Promoting Culture through Translation,” Aigbokhaode Asimiafele of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), in arguing for a translation of global experiences into our languages for the grasp of our peoples [as successfully done, for example, in countries such as Iran where tomes of medicine have been rendered into Farsi], posited that such a venture is a very potent variable that will enhance and ensure the potential of Nigeria being a great nation of the future; that translation of others’ experiences into our languages is of strategic importance and a powerful asset which is required for our growth and development.
Other speakers at the Summit included Prof. Asabe Kabir of Usumanu Danfodio University, Sokoto (on Teen Authorship); Umar Sa’id Tudun Wada of Freedom Radio, Kano (on Radio); Sam Nda Isaiah of Leadership Newspaper Group (on Publishing) and Bala Muhammad of Media Trust (on Film).
Three things elicited much discussion. The first was how the British Colonial Administration succeeded in only 57 years (from 1903 when most of the ‘North’ was occupied to independence in 1960) in replacing the millennium-old system of writing of Muslim languages such as Hausa, Fulfulde and Kanuri in ajami (the Arabic script) with boko (or Latin) script. This success of the British, taking 57 years to unravel a system of 1,000 years, is still a subject of wonder and debate for a people not ready to retrace their steps.
The second point was a debate on ‘naming’, where a participant from Zuru Emirate in Kebbi State reminded the Summit that his people are not Dakarkari (a name apparently given by the Hausa and adopted by the British Colonial Administration to describe his people), insisting that they be addressed as Lelna. Well, other participants retorted, Fulani are actually Fulbe and Fillanci must give way to Fulfulde; Barebari are Kanuri, to represent the people and the language, which the Hausa named Barbarci; Buzaye are actually Touareg and they speak Tamashek, not Buzanci; in all, the superior Hausa culture has successfully named us all, and Lelna will be a hard one to sell.
The third point centered on how Hausa novellas based on soyayya (love) have glamourised the term “and they lived happily ever after,” (a most dangerous social phrase if ever there was one, because at most times they do not). Yet impressionable young girls, the immediate readers of such novellas, believe it to be so. Coupled with ‘ever after’ is the self-inflicted reverse racism where such authors characterised all their heroines as “fara doguwa kyakkyawa” (fair, tall and beautiful) for a rather dark-skinned audience society. That ‘fara doguwa’ phenomenon was carried over into the Hausa home video industry.
At the end of the two day Summit, the delegates issued a communique with resolutions including: That there is need to explore the opportunities provided by the internet to advance Northern Nigerian Literature; That Northern state governments should establish book development agencies and sponsor cultural and literary activities for the promotion of the culture of reading and writing; That writers and film producers should collaborate in film production that portrays and promotes the rich cultural diversities of Northern Nigeria; and that writers in Northern Nigeria should be innovative, creative and explore other themes for the production of quality works.
Other resolutions reached included: That governments in Northern States should fully implement the provisions in the National Language Policy as it relates to the usage of Language of the Immediate Communities (LIC) in teaching children in their formative years; That government and private organisations in Northern Nigeria should lend their weight of support to the activities of ANA to promote literary activities in the entire North and Nigeria as a whole; That the federal government provide grant to the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) for the promotion of literature and the arts as has been extended for Nollywood producers for production of films.
Returning to Bishop Kukah’s earlier lament, perhaps the thread that was broken is the feeling of the Northern non-Muslim minority who believe, perhaps justifiably, that they have been short-changed in this ‘Northern Nigeria’ project. But, as someone in the Summit noted on the side-lines, the current Administration is doing all it could to ‘ameliorate’ this ‘short-change,’ as it is pursuing a policy of consciously appointing Northern non-Muslim minorities into any Federal vacancy that beckons. The tattered Northern material is being sewn back, but perhaps again with another broken thread.

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