The function of literature as a tool for religious, moral and social regeneration of the society, and its cultural cognizance permeated the recently concluded National Conference on the Life and Writings of Abubakar Gimba, convened by the Faculty of Languages and Communication Studies of the Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida University, Lapai. The conference witnessed intriguing academic perspectives on what Gimba’s writings and life purport for the society by distinguished literary scholars and writers alike. The various papers discussed at the conference proffered life and meanings to Gimba’s writings and as well lauded the belief held by literary scholars that literature serves a greater purpose – more than just providing entertainment. The discourses extrapolated for the decipherability of laymen, the intrinsic social, moral, religious and cultural agenda of the writer as an agent of societal reconstruction.
The critical interpretation by the array of scholars at the conference of Gimba’s works strengthens Professor Charles E. Nnolim’s assertion in his article titled The Writer’s Responsibility and Literature in National Development (2007), that, “…Far from merely telling an interesting story and entertaining, the creative writer wears more than one garb; he undertakes to be of definite use to his society and to humanity as a whole.”
It was soul-gripping as one speaker after another rendered endless eulogy on the life and achievement of the deceased novelist. What was eminent amongst all those who spoke at the opening ceremony which held at the Twin Lecture Theatre of the University’s main campus on August 20, 2015, was the unanimous acceptance by all that Gimba was a man of honour, a man who lived and died preaching morality and social justice as the panacea to a dysfunctional and retrogressive society. More than any of Gimba’s achievements, his epitomic moral and upright life was the most eulogised. It was as if he was a messiah and indeed, his virtue could only be said to be akin to that of a saint, judging from the unitary remarks by the guests.
The Convener of the conference and Dean of the Faculty of Languages and Communication Studies, Dr. E. E. Sule in his opening remarks described Gimba as a purposeful and altruistic writer with genuine intentions for the university and the society at large. Relating his personal interaction with the late Novelist, Sule recounts: ‘Since I moved to IBB University, each time Alh. Gimba and I met or anytime he visited the Faculty, he always told me, “Sule, thank you for the good job you are doing and continue to give our children the best.” I can still hear his soft voice. I therefore have a feeling of fulfilment having to convene this conference in honour of a man who, perhaps more than anyone in Niger State, knew the value of the University he helped to establish.’
The Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Muhammad Nasiru Maiturare in his welcome address, thanked everyone who made it to the conference and reflected on the personality of Gimba. He submitted that, “Late Mallam Abubakar Gimba, as we can all testify, personified so many excellent qualities: a morally upright Nigerian, economist, mentor, astute administrator and a gifted writer per excellence.” Maiturare also said, Gimba laid the concrete foundation of the University as its pioneer Pro-Chancellor, and that it is on that solid foundation that he and others are impressing upon to take the university to a greater height. He also promised to ensure the institutionalization of an annual “Abubakar Gimba Memorial Lecture.”
The Chair of the occasion, Engineer A.A Kure, was represented by Honourable Justice Idris Evuti, who was a classmate and friend of the late novelist. Evuti described the conference as a historic event celebrating the life of an achiever. He also opined that, the Novelist would continue to be discussed in present tense because he lives on, through the numerous legacies he left behind. In his words, “Gimba set a target for those of us still living to emulate.”
The erudite scholar, Professor Tanimu Abubakar of the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, who was a close acquaintance of Gimba, delivered a thought provoking paper on the theme of the conference: Writing, Resistance and the State. While elucidating the literary history of Gimba, the keynote speaker informed that Gimba was a great novelist/writer who emphasised morality and social justice in his writings. According to him, Gimba was at all times in his writings and life conscious of his social responsibility as a writer and equally submitted that, Gimba derives his importance from the considerable body of works he churned out while alive. Although he was trained as an economist, his commitment to writing and literature cannot be questioned.
Another highlight of the opening ceremony was the announcement of a national literary prize in honour of Gimba proclaimed by the Director General of the Niger State Book and Other Intellectual Property Development Agency, Alhaji Hussaini Nma Baba. The prize money of five hundred thousand naira (500.000) is to be awarded by the Niger State Government. And it is in recognition of the contributions of Gimba to literature and education.
After the opening ceremony which ended by noon, the conference participants went on a recess and during this period, they were taken to the School of Maritime Studies, where they were entertained with exquisite cuisines and afterwards they returned to the Twin Lecture Theatre were the presentations of lead papers commenced. Some of the Lead Paper presenters included Professors Abdu Saleh, Vicky Sylvester, Dr. A.K. Babajo, Dr. Ogaga Okunyade and Dr. Wale Okediran. First to present a paper was Prof. Vicky Sylvester who submitted that the conference was a wake-up call to writers to stand up and critically look at the society with the view of assessing its functionality. She emphasised the need for writers to be critical of themselves. She also posited that it is the writer’s responsibility to be a cultural ambassador. Dr Okediran went down memory lane by recounting his encounter with the writer and the travails encumbered by Gimba while he was the President of ANA. Okediran held that ANA holds its corporate standing today to Gimba who ensured the registration of the association with the Cooperate Affairs Commission and other sundry achievements of the association are attributable to Gimba’s efforts as President of ANA. There were other presentations as well.
Some of the dignitaries who graced the opening ceremony included Royal Fathers of Agai and Lapai Emirates, and the Emir of Minna who was represented at the occasion, former Minister of Sports, Abdulrahman Gimba, Veteran Journalist, Alhaji Illiyasu Dhacko (Ajiyan Minna) who represented Colonel Godebe. Professor Samuel Tswanya (DVC, Academics, IBBU), Writers included Denja Abdullahi, BM Dzukogi, Dr. Maria Ajima, Dr. Salihu Bappa, Dr. Dul Johnson, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Isaac Atta Ogezi, Kamar Hamza, Nmahassan Mohammed and others.
There was also a tribute night after the opening ceremony which took place at the IBBU Guest House in Minna. Writers and literary enthusiasts paid tributes to the late author. I understand that there were poetry renditions as well as other performances; this writer was unable to attend though. On the 21st August 2015, the participants were conveyed back to Lapai for the concurrent sessions for paper presentations, Writing Workshops, and Book Chat with Writers and Students at the cosy School of Maritime Studies of the University.
The Book chat was moderated by the C.E.O. of AMAB Books Ltd, Mr. Nurdin Temitayo Busari, and it featured three reputed writers that included Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, the author of The Whispering Trees, Teresa Oyibo Ameh, author of numerous children works such as Drop that Phone, The Twins Visit, amongst other titles, and Isaac Attah Ogezi, author of Embrace of a Leper. The audience included emerging writers such as Sadiq M. Dzukogi, Halima Aliyu, Safiya Adam and some English Language Students. In spite of his busy schedule as the convener of the conference, Dr. Sule was present at the Book Chat and even participated by asking questions. His presence no doubt gave credence to the chat session and it indicated his passion and interest in literary discourse.
The session began with the moderator throwing questions at the authors and perhaps it should be observed that Adam appeared more striking to the moderator, as he was always called out first to react to questions most of the time. He seemed like a celebrity even among celebrities. Ameh was always the last person to be asked a question. This trend obviously made Adam a little uncomfortable and he remarked that he is a convenient feminist and wondered why the only female among them was always the last to be referred to by the moderator. This elicited laughter, but the truth as this writer saw it was that, the moderator was particularly unsettled by the personality of Teresa Oyibo Ameh, more so that she was obviously the older person amongst the three. While he could easily relate with Adam and Ogezi, he could not particularly do the same with Ameh’s motherly figure.
Adam stressed the need for gender equality eventually. Adam was the first to read a short story titled My Dream from his story collection, The Whispering Trees. Ameh read from The Twins Visit, and Ogezi from his The Embrace of a Leper. All the readings were well received as they elicited laughter and cheers from the audience. While reacting to why he chose fiction, Adam replied; “I didn’t choose fiction, fiction chose me.” He went ahead to offer explanation as to why he is more comfortable writing fiction, saying that he hate the news because it is awkward, even though it is his business as a journalist. He prefers fiction because it allows him to twist, mould or creates things to serve his wish and purposes.
Ameh on the other hand reacted to the question on why the disparity or preference for foreign children works by Nigerian parents, by positing that it could be so because “we have not given Nigerian children what they want.” She also said that there are fewer children books by Nigerian authors. Dr. Sule wanted to know if children story writers pay keener attention to the quality of language especially with regards to editing and proper use of grammar. According to him, his concern was borne out of the desire of a father, who does not want his children’s idea of good English Language corrupted by terribly written books. He also wondered if she has considered writing children poems as well.
Ameh submitted that she takes concrete time to edit and proofread her works before they are published and advised parents to read the books they buy for their children in order to determine the quality of the work their children would be exposed to before giving it to them. On writing poems for children she posited; “one day, I might do something crazy like writing poems for children.” She said she would stick with children fiction for now.
Ogezi while reacting to the question which bothered on the state of drama and performance in Nigeria made elucidating submissions as well as lame ones. First he said that theatre is an expensive enterprise and proposed the need for proactive measures such as quality funding and the establishment of theatres. He also remarked thusly; “Our orientation to what constitute entertainment in Nigeria is lopsided” and attributed the dearth of drama/performance to the “lack of thriving theatre companies.” He, however, made some unsound statements that this writer considers lame and finds repugnant such as his submission that Soyinka writes or wrote daft plays that couldn’t last on Broadway, and that Femi Osofisan as well as other renowned Nigerian dramatists write plays lacking theatrical opulence. It is sheer absurdity that Ogezi who is an award winning dramatist would make this type of remarks before a group of students and writers that “Soyinka won’t survive on the Broadway” because, according to him, “our plays are too academic in nature.” Or that plays by our academics do not have satisfying plots. Perhaps someday Ogezi may need to give a clearer explanation to his incongruous postulations.
One would expect that Ogezi would realise the difference between a work of drama written by a professional dramatist from mere philistinism. What would Ogezi say of Shakespeare’s plays enmeshed in deep artistry and poetics or of plays such as Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett? To posit that Soyinka whose literary reputation rests to a large extent on his dramatics won’t survive on Broadway to me is a lame thing to say. One would also think that the distinction between a dramatic text and its performance on a stage is conspicuous and dependent on the artistic dexterity of the director handling a particular play. Perhaps, Adam was equally bewildered by Ogezi’s comments when he later posited that writers write for different audiences. Adam said, “I write the kind of stories I want to read. If you want to read a good book and you cannot find it, write it.”
The Book Chat ended on a lively note with a question and answer session. There was a brief recess that lasted roughly an hour as it was Friday and the Muslim participants had to be excused to attend the Juma’at prayers. It was after the Prayers that the workshop participants were divided into the genres of Poetry, Prose, Drama and Children literature respectively. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim facilitated the Prose Class, Isaac Attah Ogezi the Drama Class, Teresa Oyibo Ameh the Children Literature Class while Sadiq M. Dzukogi and Paul T. Liam facilitated the poetry workshop due to the inability of the original facilitator Ahmed Maiwada to attend.
Because this writer could not be a part of the classes simultaneously, he can only talk about the Poetry Class which he co-facilitated. Dzukogi took the participants that were mostly students on a poetic journey, by explaining what poetry is to him and his journey into poetry as well as how he penned his first piece that was regarded as poetry. He asked the participants what they understood poetry to mean to them. He also talked about obeying the muse and equally informed that he reads through observation or study of the environment as well as by feeling his flesh with his palms. He said he reads by studying nature. His focus was on idea generation and the ideals of poetry and he did his best to encourage the participants to write just about anything that strikes them. He encouraged them to be strong even when they appear to be failing.
Paul T. Liam on the other hand engaged the precepts of poetry writing such as paying attention to details and emphasized the observance of the rules governing the creation of poetry. He informed that one could only become better by studying what others have done as well as by understanding the technicalities involved in writing poetry such as knowing how to use literary devices effectively. He recommended possible reading materials such as How Poetry Works, by Phil Roberts, Aspects of the Novel, by E.M. Forster, The Creative Writing Course Book, edited by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs. In an attempt to concretise his submissions, Liam requested that someone reads a poem and Boniface Ebenezer read a piece he dedicated to Gimba, but Dzukogi’s rendition of Unoma Azua’s poem, Untitled which he read from his cell phone was better received. The piece provided a better option for the discourse than that of Ebenezer, so Liam discussed it instead and everyone loved its paradoxically subtle famine inclination.
In the poem, the persona is a male who seeks out a female, whose ring would grace his finger which contradicts the popular notion of a female being the one who usually awaits a man who will put a ring on her finger. (Liam’s interpretation). A serious discussion ensued when a participant wanted to know whether sometimes Dzukogi and Liam experience that moment when they feel something special secretly within them. Both Dzukogi and Liam answered in the affirmative and submitted that, sometimes it is that personalised feeling of worth that keeps the hopes of the poet alive, especially in a society where little attention is given to the writer. Dzukogi also added that sometimes where it may seem that a poet or writer appears eccentric or detached from the rest of the world, it may be that such a writer or poet may actually be concealing some weaknesses or deformity from the rest of the world. He also said it could be that an individual is suffering from a psychological problem.
Meanwhile, in answering Dzukogi’s request for the definition of poetry, Liam submitted thusly: “Poetry for me is the unveiling of in-depth hidden emotions or passion on an idea of great consequence to the individual.” Although, this writer couldn’t attend the other workshop classes because of time, he later learnt that they were all very successful and fun filled like the poetry class, which had the privilege of having as one of its participant, Madam Safiya Adam, a Lecturer with the Department of Mass Communication, IBBU. There was a group photograph of the conference and workshop participants outside the venue of the workshop-The Institute of Maritime Studies. The Gimba conference was a huge success, as was his life on earth.
Abubakar Gimba is a Nigerian Novelist, Poet, Polemist and a distinguished technocrat and bearer of Nigeria’s national honour, C.O.N. He died on February 25, 2015, at the age of 63. He trained as an economist at the Prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Gimba hails from Nassarawa Area of Lapai but lived and died in Minna, Niger State. He authored several works such as Witness to Tears, Trail of Sacrifice, Sunset for a Mandarin, Innocent Victims, Golden Apples, These Land of Ours (poetry), Inner Rumblings (poetry), among several others.