Abubakar Gimba and the Literary Excursions in Niger State

Image courtesy Sun News Online

Image courtesy Sun News Online

Abubakar Gimba’s death was an expected surprise to everyone aware of his deteriorating health condition during his last days. True, we do not wish death upon our loved ones but by divine ordination, death is the prerequisite for the hope of afterlife. Therefore, as human beings, we must at all times expect and anticipate death’s call. Our perpetual existence on earth long after our physical death is dependent on the impact of our influence on the society. It is with great nostalgia that I write this eulogy about a man whom providence afforded me the privilege of knowing. My first encounter with Gimba was through his books and the first one I had the privilege of reading was the “Sunset for a Mandarin,” a book I found fascinating and intriguing even though at first I didn’t quite understand nor appreciate the travails of the protagonist, until years after. It was indeed after several years of quality reading and scholarship that I came to understand the moral conflict that characterises the work- the preponderance of the themes of morality which my dear friend and Poet, Gimba Kakanda, faulted as the renowned novelist’s greatest weakness.

Perhaps what my dear friend and I didn’t realise then was that, the concept of moralist literature propounded by the late novelist is, paradoxically, Gimba’s most profound asset as a writer. Unlike many, Gimba was conscious of his purpose in literature. Perhaps he viewed literature as a medium of character modification and societal regeneration. He wrote his works with a psychologist mind-set and I should think that he achieved his aim of shaping the personalities of his readers, who are always eager to review the moral angle to Gimba’s novels. Most importantly and worthy of note is that Gimba allowed his writings to be ruled by his environment and in particular, religion. The Islamic religion to which he belonged played a major role in the kind of things he wrote and how he wrote about those things. He was a modest writer.

As I read his other works, I began to understand that Gimba saw the advancement of morality as an inescapable responsibility, perhaps of every writer. He once and indeed always emphasized this point at his Okada Road home in Mina, where he lived. Once, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Niger State paid him a courtesy call, I was then an ex-officio member of the executive. The team was led by Almamum Mallam, then chairman. After we had been introduced and the intent of our visit stated, in his characteristic genial manner, he had submitted that the writer’s duty is to modify the society. There was the need for writers to be seen as decent and responsible people.

He also opined that one couldn’t teach what one doesn’t know or practice. He viewed writers as models that society should emulate and was particularly opposed to the Marxists life style that permeated the 90s, a thing he said, he tried to correct when he became the President of ANA in the late 90s. He wanted people to look at writers as dignified people and wretches of the society. But of course, to a certain degree his exorbitant belief about how a writer should look especially in terms of social stratification could easily be attributable to his middle class background. He became a Permanent Secretary at a young age and eventually became a Financial Executive in one of the top banks in the country.

Gimba’s works are synonymous with his personality, religious and moral view. To him, only individuals who are morally upright can upturn the bad fortunes of any society for the better. He practised what he preached and lived by the values he espoused. During another visit of ANA Niger members to his home, where I was honoured with the privilege of saying a prayer at the meeting, he commended my praying prowess and referred to me jokingly as “Pastor Paul” and that incident is one I will never forget. I was honoured that he could find my prayer worthy of his commendation. I also remember how he singled out Aminu S. Mohammed as the person of after his heart, the one in whom he was pleased. He posited that Sheik was his replica and, I think he jokingly referred to him as his private secretary, with whom appointments must be booked before he could be seen. But of course, he also said that ANA Niger didn’t need an appointment to see him and it was always so. Whenever the association needed his counsel, he was always available.

The interesting twist to Gimba’s influence is that he influenced a great army of word soldiers, who took after him and indeed exceeded him. This league of touch bearers, for want of scholarly colouration, may be referred to as “students of Gimba” because they practice what Gimba preached. For example, BM Dzukogi’s prose and even poetry assume the moral modesty characteristic of Gimba’s novels. Dzukogi appears to be the most pronounced literary replica of Gimba. A review of “Potholes in My Dreams” shows that Dzukogi writes with the same moral consciousness that Gimba is known for. Dzukogi’s engagement of sensuality in the story “Dry Tongue in Wet Lips,” attests to the same conscious morality that Gimba would have employed in writing the same story. The “Dry Tongue” clearly represents an infertile penis that cannot fertilise while the “Wet lips” represents a fertile vagina or womb. Throughout the story, Dzukogi deliberately avoids calling a dog by its true name.

Dzukogi, Kamar Hamza, Baba Akote, Almamum Mallam, Aminu S. Muhammed, and Ismaila A. Abdullahi are students of Gimba. Their actions, speeches and mannerism echo the moralist philosophy. They are the writers of conscience, the redeemers of our morally bankrupt society. Indeed, they exemplify this philosophy vehemently in what constitutes the formation of the “Fourth Oder” which I am also analysing in a separate exercise. Their belief did not end in theory alone; they implemented it and it is what is now known as “literary Regeneration” in Niger state. ASCAFS, Read to A Child Campaign, Teen Authorship Scheme, Hilltop Arts Centre, Minna Literary Series and the Niger State Book and Other Intellectual Property Development Agency are all practical results of the philosophy of societal regeneration they had hitherto espoused in theories over the years.

Some of their activities such as the Teen Authorship Scheme, however, appear to have birthed contrary expectations that they may not be too conscious of, and this group of new breeds brim with raw ingenuity and artistic thirst that is oblivious of their mentors except in a few cases. These fresh bloods seem to disagree with the followers and fellowship of Gimba. They have chosen to thread freely paths that their folks could not or did not pursue- freedom of the emotion and expression. There is a great disconnection between the writings of these dissenters and those of the followers of Gimba. It suffices to say that there has been literary revolution of a kind; the new crop of writers who are mostly poets are as raw as the sun can be when angry. Perhaps, in identifying members of this group, it may be absolute to indulge our memory a little. Writers such as Ayuba P Mabi, Alkasim Abdulkadir, Gimba Kakanda, BM Nagidi, Saddiq Dzukogi, Halima Aliyu, Maryam Bobi, Fodio Ahmed and I, belong to the ‘freedom of speech generation.’ We say it as we feel and see it without any necessary moral colouration.

The group seems to be free of the bug of Gimba and his followers who adorn the caps of morality. One only needs to look at Saddiq Dzukogi’s romantic lines to appreciate the reckless abandon with which emotions are expressed; the artistic freedom is very obvious, and Saddiq does not seem to be aware of the liberty of freedom his writings enjoy (example from his book). In prose, you only need to encounter Halima Aliyu’s blunt and confrontational pieces to fully assimilate the genuine artistic expression of an emboldened mind. Aliyu is almost raw to a fault. She questions religion and traditions alike in her pieces. Bobi’s “Bongel” is a novella that bears the pains and ugly fate of the female gender-abuse, rape and child marriage. Bobi also questions tradition and demands answers from the society. Bongel is a story that will make its reader weep anytime, anywhere and Bobi is a feminist that is out to question the chauvinistic instincts of men. Nagidi’s poetry also captures that freedom of thought and expression. His debut “Slaying the Wayfarer” exudes the elegance of innocence whereas, Ahmed’s Thirst emits the arrogance of youth and his poems come through like a cup of tea in a chilly weather.

The difference between Gimba’s followers and the dissenters is that, the followers of Gimba were and perhaps still are moralist in their writing while the dissenters – though not unconscious of morality or religion – tend to possess and exercise austere artistic freedom that endears their writings to readers in a unique way that shows a clear distinction between them and their literary forebears. The newer generation of writers from Niger state have shown more daring and artistic astuteness lacking in many of the works published by Gimba’s followers. The newer generation – having undergone quality mentorship and galvanised a wider literary sphere by virtue of the influence of information technology – differ from their mentors in terms of idealistic pursuit and even artistry. The newer generation’s writings have succeeded in placing the state at par, literary wise, with their contemporaries in the Southern and Western parts of the country. The newer generation hold the beacon of hope for the state and indeed the region in literary affairs. Even the scope of national acceptance of this generation is richer.

Finally, it is saddening to lose a personality of Abubakar Gimba’s calibre. His death is a blow to many, but most especially to the Association of Nigerian Authors, Niger State Chapter, to which he’d contributed and served as a Trustee for several years. We are going to miss that articulate and charismatic mien that is rare to personalities like him. We pray that the Almighty God would find him worthy of his embrace and grant him eternal peace in His abode. This tribute is my own personal reaction to his death and what he means to me as a literary model of high standing. I hope that the society which he contributed so much to would deem it pertinent to honour him now if it didn’t have the decency to do so while he lived.

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  • As we say here, MOS AHINYA, R.I.P…
    I sympathize with his view that both morality and the writer should be twins in one womb.
    However I also appreciate the futility of it, in the myriad cases I know of.

  • Hi Paul..

    I’m more than impressed. That was a piece so genuine and relieving- for I believe more should be written about Gimba.

    I also liked the way you analyzed the contemporaries (yourself, Bobi, Ahmed, Kakanda and co) and it’s true. Are there channels more potent to express generational concerns with such a dexterous firey like prose and poetry? Hell No!

    Good work