People

Idzia Ahmad: A Meteor, a Vagrant Arab

In many ways, Idzia Ahmad was my friend and my brother. I met Idzia in my first year as a junior professor at the University of Jos, Northern Nigeria. He was then working as the administrative secretary of the Association of Nigeria Authors. He had first heard of me from mutual friends at the Lagos national secretariat of ANA. When his niece mentioned the poet Obiwu as one her professors, Idzia decided to send a note of formal introduction. We did not physical meet until the short story writing workshop, which ANA organized at the British Council in Kaduna, from May 31 to June 6, 1991. Soon afterwards, Idzia was pressured by constant family summons to relocate to Jos.

The later phase of Idzia’s writing career did not produce many poems and no poem of this phase, seemed to have surpassed the accomplishments of his earlier poetry. The major product of Idzia’s poetic phase, A Shout Across the Wall (Lagos: Update Communications, 1988. 116 pages), his only published collection of poems, is available in about thirty major University libraries worldwide. The thematic distance, elevated diction, and high imaginative propensity of A Shout Across the Wall, are distinguishing qualities that unite Idzia?s creative inventiveness with the best of Nigerian poetry, from Michael J. C. Echeruo, Gabriel Okara, Christopher Okigbo, and Wole Soyinka, to Uche Nduka, Obi Nwakanma, Olu Oguibe, and ‘Sola Osofisan.

The second phase of Idzia’s writing career (beginning from early 1990s to his demise in 2003), could be appropriately termed the diary phase. Idzia’s extensive and bountiful literary diary was, to the best of my knowledge, the only project of its kind in the history of Nigerian literature. Everyone who was worth anything (and those who were worth very little) in Nigerian writing was well represented in the journal. I had the rare opportunity of having Idzia read the sections on Ken Saro-Wiwa and Obiwu to me. Obviously, Saro-Wiwa’s tragic death by hanging in 1995 could not escape discourse in any literary forum anywhere. Not even the breathtaking explorations of Ken Wiwa’s In the Shadow of a Saint (2000) could diminish Idzia’s anamorphic portraiture of the dramatic compulsions of a literary rebel. When Idzia proceeded to the section on Obiwu and described me as ‘a dangerous mind,’ I had no option but to hold him to task. Our debates on Nigeria’s ethnic politics and religious extremism raged for many days. His niece Que (my kindred spirit), had to join the fray, and Idzia considered some revisions not for the vicious unity of two against one (as is often the case in the malicious equation of Nigerian politics), but because our contestation was persuasive.

In spite of the elegant beauty of his poetry, Idzia’s literary diary would always rank as his most significant contribution to Nigerian, and indeed African, literature. No Nigerian writer preceded him in this genre, and none appears to have taken after him. When Idzia’s diary is eventually published, it would be sure to awaken our consciousness in an invaluable tradition of literature. For Idzia’s diary is a form that had its triumphant herald neither in the 17th Century Diary of Samuel Pepys nor in James Boswell?s 18th Century London Journal, 1762-1763, but in 19th Century’s The Grasmere Journal in which Dorothy Wordsworth recorded the careers of her beloved poet-brother, William Wordsworth, their friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and a wide range of the English Romantic movement.

As my friend, I spent a great deal of time with Idzia. We wrote, read, and studied poetry together. We drank together, hunted together, and fished together. We scoured and rifled through many juicy pathways of the Jos metropolis. On one occasion the poet and journalist, Obi Nwakanma, was visiting from Lagos. We went to Idzia’s home (some twenty minutes’ drive away); we read and argued at the top of our voices till we were hungry. Then we went to a nearby bar and restaurant, where we ate white rice with fish-stew, drank down bottles of beer and soda, and, at 2:00 am, retired to my apartment with the angels who fed us on wings of the Savanna. On another occasion, we spent almost an entire night in the home of the poet and painter, Obu Udeozo (about fifteen minutes away), arguing about poetry. On yet another occasion, Idzia and Dul Johnson (professor and former journalist) took me mountain climbing for over three hours, after which we killed complete exhaustion with an appropriate alcohol and soda recipe.

As my brother, Idzia was his brother’s keeper. I will never forget how he ran to my apartment one early morning after the news broke on one of those bloody orgies for which Northern Nigeria has become infamous. He had been sent by his oldest sister and her daughter to ensure that I was not planning to run to the East, and to inform me of the arrangements they were making to pack my books over to their home. When I assured him that I was very actively interested in the violent developments of the day and therefore had no intention to run, Idzia brought up a Plan B in which his niece had got her parents to agree to my sharing a section of their sprawling bungalow with Idzia. ‘My niece is worried, Obiwu, that your house is so lonesome on the outskirts. Nobody will know if you are attacked here.’ Idzia said that if I did not go with him to see his family, no one would believe he actually came to see me. Only those who knew Idzia can understand his insistence. I went with him to the aroma of some hot meal the whole family seemed to have had a hand in preparing. When they realized I was not going to be dissuaded from going back, Idzia accompanied me back to my apartment. He took only his diary notebook and an American songbook. He had no extra pants, yet Idzia spent the whole week with me.

Everyone in his family called him Carlos, though all his writer-friends knew him by his middle name, Idzia (often miss-spelt as ‘Izzia’). As a young student, he was registered at the University of Jos as Carlos Ahmad. His oldest sister, a professor and former commissioner in the Plateau State government, is married to the oldest brother of the current Vice Chancellor of the University of Jos. Idzia was actually from the dreary savanna town of Gudi, Southern Kaduna, in the area now carved out as Nassarawa State with parts of Plateau. It is because he grew up under his oldest sister, whose husband is from Plateau, that many of Idzia’s peers came to associate him with Plateau. Being the kind of floating genie he was, Idzia never bothered to explain to anyone. The borderlessness of the chimera and the meteor was well suited to his creative temperament, just as it was to Okigbo.

Idzia was, until his transition, a special assistant to the governor of Nassarawa State. Except that the governor was his friend, I am still trying to understand what could have led him to participatory politics. But it would not be Idzia (a name made for poetry) if he did not surprise you. In one of his early letters to me, the venerable scholar and critic, Ben Obumselu, had described his career as that of ‘a vagrant Arab – today on this oasis, tomorrow on that sand dune.’ That appellation would comfortably fit the experience of Idzia, not only because his ethnic community is constantly threatened by the fanatical alliance of the Islamic Arab and the Hausa-Fulani, but also because his literary career is every bit mimetic of the restless quivering of his nomadic neighbors, the cattle Hausa-Fulani. This is the ambiguous life of Carlos Idzia Ahmad, a Nigerian born-again Christian and an accomplished writer with an Islamic Arab last name.

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