Abubakar Imam: My Personal Odyssey

This piece was written last night on the occasion of the one-day colloquim being organised today in Kaduna by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA)

In 2008, Alhaji Abubakar Imam’s best known literary work, Magana Jari Ce, clocked 80 years of publication. That year (Thursday, June 19 to be exact) the sage himself clocked 27 years in death. At that time, all one could hear among the Nigerian literati was the well-deserved hubbub over the 50th anniversary of the publication of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Just as I savoured the joy of having one of Africa’s leading works clocking 50 years in print, moreso with its writer being well and alive, I also agonised over the sad neglect of Imam’s attainment on the literary field even by those who should be holding his banner aloft.

This kind of neglect had pained me for ages. On a Saturday in 2004, I had published an opinion in my literary column in the Weekly Trust, ‘Bookshelf,’ which was a rework of a piece I had earlier written in Majalisar Marubuta (Writers’ Forum), a listserve in Yahoogroups. In it, I lamented that the late Imam had not been suffiently honoured by the northern intelligentsia in terms of doing things that could immortalise him. My hunch was that with the modern information technologies, especially the internet, a lot could be done to sell this unique genius to the world and put him permanently on the global map of information dissemination.

To prove the point, I told of a story about my attempt to compare my own humble exposure to the worldwide web to that of Imam, using Google. I had typed and clicked on the words “Abubakar Imam” in order to see the number of entries available on the grandfather of modern Hausa literature on the net’s most popular and reliable search engine. I then entered my names. Disappointingly, I beat Imam by a ratio of 9:1. And who was I, a mere shrub, on the field of Hausa literature compared to a poplar like Imam? There are quite a number of other yardsticks one could use, of course, in gauging Imam’s pre-eminence on our collective psyche. But the truth was that Imam wasn’t on the map.

Imam should have been celebrated by writers, academics, journalists, politicians, businessmen and the commoners, especially those of northern extraction, because he had worked for all of them during his lifetime. Others were, indeed, members of his family.

Imam was born in Kagara in the present day Niger State in 1911. Nigerlites could claim him as their own, but Imam was a man of many climes. His roots were in Borno. His great-grandfather had migrated to Sokoto during the Jihad era. I could claim him to be mine, because he was raised by his elder brother in Katsina. The brother, Alhaji Bello Kagara, was a member of the Katsina royalty, having served as the Wali of Katsina. Imam was educated in Katsina and grew up there. Imam was a school teacher there. He was also discovered there by the Briton, Rupert M. East, following the first Hausa literary competition in 1933, which Imam won.

The people of Zaria could claim him as their own, and they did so more than anyone else. Imam spent the longest period of his life in Zaria. He first went there in order to write books under Dr East’s tutelage. Subsequently he continued to live there – writing books, working as editor of Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo newspaper, engaging in politics and religious activities, and raising family. By the time of his death on Friday, June 19, 1981 in Zaria, he had become a complete Zaria man. He was survived by a wife, 14 children and 42 grandchildren.

His impact on Hausa literature is still felt today. Many a writer aspires to write like him. There have been many attempts to be like him, in terms of linguistic craftsmanship and title output, but none has successfully worked. Reasons abound: we live in a different world, under a different intellectual and moral clime. Politics, the economy, exposure to values, everything, have changed. Nonetheless, many of the attempts to be like Imam were heroic. They have ensured that Hausa remains the most fecund indigenous language in our country. Its culture is strong. Its communication channels have been modernised, but they are yet to lose their pristine colorations completely.

This morning, Imam is going to be celebrated in Kaduna, courtsey of the Association of Nigerian Authors under the able leadership of Dr Wale Okediran. The ANA executive council has said that the campaign I waged in the media and on the internet was responsible for its decision to organise this colloquim. It’s not only an honour for Imam, therefore, but the honour is also mine.

Imam’s family have done their best to help immortalise their father and grandfather. A few years ago I was involved with their efforts to establish the Abubakar Imam Centre in Zaria, a kind of personal museum of his work. Dr Haroun Adamu also funded the setting up of one of my proposals – the Imam website: www.abubakarimam.com. Malam Dalhat has just completed a Hausa translation of Abubakar Imam Memoirs. But a lot needs to be done.

Sadly, today’s event is coming just when some pretenders to a certain moral crusade are jailing writers, moviemakers and other artistes in Kano. This morning, a Hausa novelist, Aminuddeen Ladan Abubakar (ALA) has been in jail for two days, having been sent there by a mobile court working for the Kano State Censorship Board. His offence: the alleged release of a song (one of the best Hausa songs this century!) which lampoons the evil regime of censorship in Kano. (More on this later)

All persons of conscience should use the occasion of this colloquiem to not only celebrate Imam’s incredible attainments but also to ruminate on the war against the arts going on in Kano. This event would be worthless if in celebrating our grandfather we forget or refuse to lament the persecution of his grandsons and grand-daughters.

•This piece was published today in LEADERSHIP under the heading: “Abubakar Imam: My Personal Odyssey”

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