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WE CAN'T ADOPT WESTERN VALUES IN OUR LITERATURE

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Abubakar
That effete voice isn't characteristic. Sitting on a settee in a cloistered lobby behind his sprawling compound in Minna, Abubakar Gimba bears the placid looks of a convalescent. But he cannot afford to be listless in the midst of visiting pressmen at home.

For moments, he gets into a chirpy mood, regaling us with tales, and you may think the chinwag session could last forever. 'Today marks my first pubic appearance in eight months,' he hints a glint in his eyes, like a child nibbling a dollop of chocolate (a few hours ago, he spoke at the first MBA Literary Colloquium in Minna).

Get if off your mind -he isn't any hermit; he has been indisposed for quite some time. A trained economist, Abubakar Gimba is much known as a creative writer. His works, over three decades, have gained currency on the reading lists of school syllabuses nationwide and among bibliophiles. However, he has always been committed to nation building. Until his appointment last year in the Danjuma-led Presidential Advisory Committee, he was the economic adviser to the Senate President, David Mark. He was also an active member of a powerful think-tank group during the Abdusalam Abubakar military transition government for nine months.

Gimba doesn't disguise that his first love is literature. 'Though I studied Koranic education, I have always loved writing and reading the African Writers Series,' says Gimba sotto voce. But it wasn't until after his National Youth Service programme in Ibadan that he developed interest to be a writer.

While coming back to Minna enroute Benin City by road, in 1974, he witnessed the relics of the Nigeria civil war, and he mused to himself: 'Why did we have to do those destructions just for us to stay together?' That stired an inquisitive consciousness in him that made him start making jottings.

But, don't forget, writing, in a way, was an escapism engagement for him after his university education. Then without a job, he and his friends used to indulge in night clubbing. But when he realized that he had to do something worthwhile with his life, he had to start writing paragraphs after paragraphs of fiction. A new star was in the making.

As an emerging voice from northern Nigeria in the 1970s, one would have expected him to continue the predominant anti-colonial conversations in Nigerian literature like his predecessors from western and eastern parts of the country, who infused their anti-colonial works with cultural valorization, but Gimba had different ideas. 'Every writer is conditioned by his own experiences,' he declares cryptically, angling on his seat.

He didn't experience colonialism directly and, because he grew up at the time modern Nigerian was evolving, he felt there was no need to overflog the pervading grand themes. 'Some of us concentrated on tackling the complex part of nation building,' he says matter-of-factly.

Gimba is delighted that today's writers are still keeping the flag flying. 'Most of their writings have to do with contemporary issues. I am really encouraged with what they are doing,' he says. His only regret is the unavailability of publishing facilities to many budding writers, as well as a conducive environment for writing to flourish in the country. 'This will slow you down, and you won't make much progress as a writer,' he laments.

Right now, he has no novel in the works; but ideas are not in short supply. He was part of the Nigerian delegation of four to the peace talks in Liberia after the civil war in the 1990s. 'So, you are exposed, and you may want to tell a story about it. War is a terrible thing. [As a writer] this is the kind of story you should tell; if we start fighting a war, it will lead to many casualties,' he hints with some glee.

Suddenly, Gimba allows some minutes to elapse as he ponders on the question -is there any story idea he has been tinkering with for quite sometime he hasn't developed yet? 'That's a difficult question to answer,' he dithers to offer a hint in the end.

For a writer who has practiced for over three decades, you begin to wonder whether he has achieved his objective as a writer when he first set out. 'I think I have achieved that,' he says with emphasis. 'Going into writing, I have enjoyed myself. I never thought I would be a writer,' he admits. 'I just thought I would sit down and write a few things and, at the end of the day, share it with a few friends.'

But, instead of a few friends, Gimba's works have been shared by readers across Nigeria, West Africa (having being on WAEC reading lists many times) and beyond the continent.

Is he satisfied with the growth of northern Nigerian literature? 'In a way, I am,' he says, 'but we can do more.' His worry is the lack of adventurous spirit by northern writers. By that, he means those writers, who have lived in other parts of the country, setting their works on those places. 'That's what Cyprain Ekwensi did. He [is an Igbo man, but] wrote The Passport of Mallam Ilia, a work set in northern Nigeria. If you didn't know him, you would think he was a northerner.'

His state, Niger, has is proud to associate with some great Nigerian writers from other ethnic groups who were born in the state, including Cyprian Ekwensi and Ben Okiri. He admits not many northerners have written novels, but many have written in Hausa language and 'the so-called Soyeya novels published in Kano.'

At a point, the lewd contents of the Soyeya novels brought the authors at loggerheads with the Kano Censorship Board, who wanted to moderate them. Gimba might not endorse a novelist tailoring his works to Islamic tenets, but he thinks 'there is a certain level of morality which we will exert on a work of art.' The bottom line, for him, is that 'we cannot just copy western values.' Many Nigerians are already in sync.

Now, you can de-emphasize the languor in his footsteps as he waves us goodbye.

We can't adopt western values in our literature
By HENRY AKUBUIRO
Saturday , November 26, 2011


Abubakar
Photo: Sun News Publishing

More Stories on This Section http://www.sunnewsonline.com/webpages/features/literari/index.htm

That effete voice isn't characteristic. Sitting on a settee in a cloistered lobby behind his sprawling compound in Minna, Abubakar Gimba bears the placid looks of a convalescent. But he cannot afford to be listless in the midst of visiting pressmen at home.

For moments, he gets into a chirpy mood, regaling us with tales, and you may think the chinwag session could last forever. 'Today marks my first pubic appearance in eight months,' he hints a glint in his eyes, like a child nibbling a dollop of chocolate (a few hours ago, he spoke at the first MBA Literary Colloquium in Minna).

Get if off your mind -he isn't any hermit; he has been indisposed for quite some time. A trained economist, Abubakar Gimba is much known as a creative writer. His works, over three decades, have gained currency on the reading lists of school syllabuses nationwide and among bibliophiles. However, he has always been committed to nation building. Until his appointment last year in the Danjuma-led Presidential Advisory Committee, he was the economic adviser to the Senate President, David Mark. He was also an active member of a powerful think-tank group during the Abdusalam Abubakar military transition government for nine months.

Gimba doesn't disguise that his first love is literature. 'Though I studied Koranic education, I have always loved writing and reading the African Writers Series,' says Gimba sotto voce. But it wasn't until after his National Youth Service programme in Ibadan that he developed interest to be a writer.

While coming back to Minna enroute Benin City by road, in 1974, he witnessed the relics of the Nigeria civil war, and he mused to himself: 'Why did we have to do those destructions just for us to stay together?' That stired an inquisitive consciousness in him that made him start making jottings.

But, don't forget, writing, in a way, was an escapism engagement for him after his university education. Then without a job, he and his friends used to indulge in night clubbing. But when he realized that he had to do something worthwhile with his life, he had to start writing paragraphs after paragraphs of fiction. A new star was in the making.

As an emerging voice from northern Nigeria in the 1970s, one would have expected him to continue the predominant anti-colonial conversations in Nigerian literature like his predecessors from western and eastern parts of the country, who infused their anti-colonial works with cultural valorization, but Gimba had different ideas. 'Every writer is conditioned by his own experiences,' he declares cryptically, angling on his seat.

He didn't experience colonialism directly and, because he grew up at the time modern Nigerian was evolving, he felt there was no need to overflog the pervading grand themes. 'Some of us concentrated on tackling the complex part of nation building,' he says matter-of-factly.

Gimba is delighted that today's writers are still keeping the flag flying. 'Most of their writings have to do with contemporary issues. I am really encouraged with what they are doing,' he says. His only regret is the unavailability of publishing facilities to many budding writers, as well as a conducive environment for writing to flourish in the country. 'This will slow you down, and you won't make much progress as a writer,' he laments.

Right now, he has no novel in the works; but ideas are not in short supply. He was part of the Nigerian delegation of four to the peace talks in Liberia after the civil war in the 1990s. 'So, you are exposed, and you may want to tell a story about it. War is a terrible thing. [As a writer] this is the kind of story you should tell; if we start fighting a war, it will lead to many casualties,' he hints with some glee.

Suddenly, Gimba allows some minutes to elapse as he ponders on the question -is there any story idea he has been tinkering with for quite sometime he hasn't developed yet? 'That's a difficult question to answer,' he dithers to offer a hint in the end.

For a writer who has practiced for over three decades, you begin to wonder whether he has achieved his objective as a writer when he first set out. 'I think I have achieved that,' he says with emphasis. 'Going into writing, I have enjoyed myself. I never thought I would be a writer,' he admits. 'I just thought I would sit down and write a few things and, at the end of the day, share it with a few friends.'

But, instead of a few friends, Gimba's works have been shared by readers across Nigeria, West Africa (having being on WAEC reading lists many times) and beyond the continent.

Is he satisfied with the growth of northern Nigerian literature? 'In a way, I am,' he says, 'but we can do more.' His worry is the lack of adventurous spirit by northern writers. By that, he means those writers, who have lived in other parts of the country, setting their works on those places. 'That's what Cyprain Ekwensi did. He [is an Igbo man, but] wrote The Passport of Mallam Ilia, a work set in northern Nigeria. If you didn't know him, you would think he was a northerner.'

His state, Niger, has is proud to associate with some great Nigerian writers from other ethnic groups who were born in the state, including Cyprian Ekwensi and Ben Okiri. He admits not many northerners have written novels, but many have written in Hausa language and 'the so-called Soyeya novels published in Kano.'

At a point, the lewd contents of the Soyeya novels brought the authors at loggerheads with the Kano Censorship Board, who wanted to moderate them. Gimba might not endorse a novelist tailoring his works to Islamic tenets, but he thinks 'there is a certain level of morality which we will exert on a work of art.' The bottom line, for him, is that 'we cannot just copy western values.' Many Nigerians are already in sync.

Now, you can de-emphasize the languor in his footsteps as he waves us goodbye.