Shu’aibu Makarfi – Grandfather of Hausa Drama

Today’s issue of LEADERSHIP newspaper contains the following piece put together by yours sincely. Enjoy.

Shu’aibu Makarfi’s Last Interview

The leading playwright in Hausa land died last Sunday at the age of 90. In his last interview, published in 1997, he gives account of his life and explains the genesis of his writing

A few weeks ago the name of Alhaji Shu’abu Makarfi dropped suddenly into my mind. I had not seen him for decades and thought that it might be a good idea to go to his house on Calabar Road, Kaduna, and see if he could give me an interview. But then I told myself that the man might have died long ago. The last time I checked, Alhaji Shu’aibu had been battling with a debilitating illness that made him bedridden. However, I reckoned that a man of his status would not have passed away unannounced, without the story being broadcast. Well, maybe I had missed the story. As it turned out, I never made up my mind to find out if he was alive or not.

Last Sunday I was startled by a news bulletin on the FRCN radio, Kaduna, about the death of Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi. He had died at Jinya Specialist Hospital, Kaduna, that morning at the age of 90 after a protracted illness. On Monday, the New Nigerian reported that among the early callers at the deceased’s residence to condole his family were Kduna State governor, Architect Namadi Sambo, Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, former governors of Kaduna State – Brig-General Abba Kyari, Group Captain Usman Jibrin, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, and Alhaji Abba Musa Rimi – as well as members of the state Executive Council and House of Assembly.

I knew Alhaji Shu’aibu first as a writer and second as a journalist. In this we shared common interests. His two plays, Jatau Na Kyallau and Zamanin Nan Namu, were some of the most popular texts published in Hausa land. I heard that Makarfi did not set out as a writer but became a “writer of radio drama.”

I first met him when he was a board member of Nationhouse Press Ltd., Kaduna, publishers of the defunct The Reporter newspaper where I was working as Assistant Editor way back in 1991. That was the first time I saw, in flesh, one of the pioneers of Hausa literature.

Makarfi was a pioneer in another field – journalism. In 1943, only four years after the hugely popular newspaper Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo was started, he became one of its staff. But an example of his being multi-talented was his foray into radio broadcasting. He worked in various capacities as a broadcaster with the then Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). He retired from public service in August 1974.

The deceased was a director of the New Nigerian Newspapers Ltd (1974 -1980), chairman of the Kaduna State Broadcasting Corporation (1985), and board member, Northern Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, now FRCN Kaduna.

Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi is survived by two wives,a daughter and many grandchildren. He left behind an unimpeachable record of public service, good character and hig values.

Even though he had held many positions in journalism, his biggest demonstrable legacy, in my view, was his books. Though many of those that associated with him would rather stick to his values, as far as I know it is his books that will remain his biggest intellectual relics. The question is: how did he write them? What motivated him?

We are lucky that eleven years ago Alhaji Shu’aibu granted an interview on his literary works to Dr Ahmed K. Babajo, formerly of the English Department, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (and now a lecturer at Kaduna State University, Kaduna). Malam Babajo walked to me some time in February 1997 at the New Nigerian and asked if I would like to publish an interview he had had a few days earlier with Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi. I was editor of the paper’s literary pages. Excitedly, I obliged, and the interview – a masterpiece – was published some days later. It could be the first and only such interview granted by Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi. Here it is reproduced for the records.

…The Godfather of Modern Hausa Drama

By A.K. Babajo

Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi, 79, had an active writing broadcasting career. His plays have been broadcast over the radio, many of which have been published as play texts and are studied in secondary schools and higher institutions, etc. Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi started his educational career in Zaria at primary school. He attended the famous Zaria Middle School and later on went to the Katsina and later Bauchi Teachers College.

As a trained teacher he taught a while at Zaria Middle School before joining the army in 1941 to 1943 as an English instructor. After the short military service he joined Northern Literature Agency (NORLA), which became Literature Bureau. After NORLA he worked with Post & Telecommunications (P&T) for five years. In 1948, he joined NBC and worked in various capacities as a producer/broadcaste r.

He has written extensively but fame knocked his door through his play texts, namely: Jatau Na Kyallu and Zamanin Nan Namu, published by Gaskiya Corporation in 1970. He now resides at home in Kaduna, an activist whose unbending opinions on creative arts, development, culture and leadership would be the bone of our discussion.

I contacted him on the appointed hour on Saturday, 22nd February, 1997 in his Calabar Road abode in Kaduna. He received me with warmth, but noted that I did not reach him on the appointed hour – 11:00a.m.

The interview was rendered bilingually but using sense transliteration I transcribed it into English.

BABAJO: When did you start writing and what were your motivations?

MAKARFI: I am a trained teacher but I was denied that career as I only taught for a few years before joining the Army.

It was after the war experience and in particular when I worked with NORLA, between 1943 to 1948, that I came into contact with the vocation of writing, printing and publishing. Then I was under the tutelage of late Dr. Abubakar Imam – that versatile, prolific and resourceful writer – and Alhaji Nuhu Bamalli. But it was my experience as a broadcaster and a programme coordinator that spearheaded my launch into script writing. So, to answer your question, I started writing as a broadcaster some times back in 1943.

What were your motives?

Well, come to think of it, was there any motive? I was only doing my job as a broadcaster! The main thrust was to captivate and moralise my audience – then city dwellers, and from where I made observations before writing my scripts. I was never into writing for fame such as a name or even for material acquisition. Besides, how would I have fended for myself and my family as a writer? Actually, writing as you see in Zamanin Nan Namu came about when I was approached by staff of Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo who persuaded me to surrender my radio scripts for publication as books.

So you were first and foremost a broadcaster than a writer?

Yes, sort of. My venturing into publishing or writing books came accidentally. My main concern was to write scripts to be read on radio for the listeners. My speciality was radio plays. I wrote so many, many of them. The tapes/reels could not be found, and the scripts have long disappeared.

What inspired you into writing? At what particular instance of your life did you discover your innate desire to write?

First and foremost, I was touched by the degree of degeneration of the Hausa culture. All my plays are centred in the city because they are by-product of the city. Look at my office – NBC. Its nearest neighbour is Rex Cinema and I made it a habit to wait after close of office to watch who came to the cinema and things like that. I was keen in watching how the Hausa people in the city dress, how they relate with one another, with the opposite sex, their attitude to constituted authority, etc, and in all these I saw the withering away of Hausa culture. And I cherish Hausa culture to a fault.

I can recollect this tradition in the past. For example, after each harvest season, our father would direct us to distribute bales of grains to the houses of the family malam, the barber, the blacksmiths, etc., before ours was then taken in to be kept in the rumbu (store).

Now selfishness, much more than the cohesive communal relationship, has overtaken such values. Therefore, I am – as I were – disgusted with these changes affecting my world, the Hausa culture. I was not a trained writer. I never read Arabic or European writers; my writings were a direct critique of that sordid social phenomenon. The changes, very negative, prompted me into writing, and then as a young man I could sit on a typewriter and fizzle through hours to produce a script.

Again, this ability came out grossly when I joined the broadcasting world.

Why did you choose to write plays in preference to other forms of literature?

Again, two factors are at play here. The first is the medium and second the content. You should remember, I never sat down to write a book or play. I was only writing scripts of radio plays for an audience out there waiting for them. Two, the subject matter must be immediate, relevant and somehow reflective or bear some semblance to the every day life of those listening to the programmes. So, my love for words was to be heard immediately by a large group of people at the same time.

At that time – those good old days – listening to the radio was in itself a vocation. People would gather around a box to listen; at that time the small transistors radios were not common. I was not cut like Sa’adu Zungur of Bauchi or Namangi of Zaria, my context was to reach out this audience immediately.

I chose plays because I loved to dramatise, reveal and expose ills. And by using characters I was able to convey and project these ills through role-playing. Besides, plays are more exciting in their imitations and make-beliefs. Thus, I chose plays because I was a radio man concerned with an anxious audience. Every week was a challenge as I had to improvise and scout for materials, characters and stories.

Why did you choose to write in your mother tongue (Hausa) than in Ajami or English?

Again, it was my career that determined the discourse and my choice of language. I am entirely a very conservative man. I detest the imposition of English language over Hausa language and have never had any reason to write in English. Look, even when I travelled to London in the late 1940s, I never allowed the beauty of their technological advancement to affect my attitude. I went there with two Kaftans and wore them throughout my stay. Indeed, for the weather, I bought some overcoats and boots, but I was always dressed in my local Hausa outfits.

So, I wrote in Hausa because it is my root, my language and I am not conversant with it than any other language. In another dimension, the radio programme was targeted at a Hausa audience in Kaduna and other Hausa settlements – most especially Hausa city settlers who have made radio another abokin hira (associate). I did not write in Ajami or Arabic because my focus was not religious. Besides, mine was more dealing with social matters as they occured currently. So, it was more a matter of current affairs.

How many books/plays have you written?

Scripts? Yes. I wrote so many. But in terms of publication, they are the ones you know: Jatau Na Kyallu and Zamanin Nan Namu; I should (really) have called the book Zamanin Can Na su instead of Na mu. The focus should not be ours because I was only an observer. Besides, there is a generation gap. Don’t worry . . .

How were these radio play scripts published? Were there no differences between the radio scripts with those of the books?

Gaskiya Corporation has a literature bureau. They were the ones who approached me to release many of the then popular radio plays for publication as books and I gave them. Differences? Well, very little. All we did was to shuffle this portion into that place. Invariably, they are one and the same.

Even though you never wrote these plays with the intention of staging them, did you ever witness any of them performed on stage?

No. But I have heard that some schools have attempted that.

What inspired you to write Jatau Na Kyallu and what was the central message?

See, I am basically an observer. While in Jos, I witnessed a spectacular marriage. I won’t mention names but my neighbour married a renown prostitute whom everybody knew. She was popular in Kano and just as famous in Jos. This wealthy neighbour of ours still went to marry her. Yes, I have no quarrel with that but Allah instructed or enjoined Muslims to select their children when selecting wives. Thus, you must appraise and examine the kind of woman you marry – her roots, upbringing and behaviour because she will be the one to train your children. Thus, I do not see any relevance for a man of his calibre to marry a social misfit like that. But my concern and commentary did not end there. I was appalled by the extravagant manner in which the wedding ceremony was consummated. So, to caution the youth, I dramatised that story, highlightening the ills of marrying people like the prostitute.

Is it true, then, as one researcher noted in a critique of your plays, that your plays dwell on social problems without proffering any solutions?

In a way that is correct. It is true. You see, writing scripts for the radio on a weekly basis is tasking and taxing. You must be fast, shrewd and innovative. Your audience will not appreciate repetition. They are always anxiously waiting for a new play. Often times, I had to submit a title or name for the play before I sat down to devise the play. For instance, there was one play I called Kasa (the python) Sarkin Barci. It was a biting story that became episodic. I thus wrote on things happening, e.g. corruption. A cheat in the office. At home. Wherever. Always satiric and biting because my purpose was to jolt people, enlighten them and shock them to change for the better. So, the criticism is correct. I never considered it my duty to provide solutions. You see, even when writing those radio play scripts I saw myself as a teacher – the profession I so revered but never had sufficient time on it. So, I would rather conscientise, raise awareness, teach and moralise than to solve the whole problem.

In what ways are ’Yar Masu Gida and Malam Mai Dala’ilu similar?

Both are contemporary. Both prefer to live in the city. ’Yar Masu Gida borders on how girls live in the urban areas in contrast to house helps whereas Malam Mai Dala’ilu exposes satirically the hoax of charlatans called Malams. Either way, they treat social matters as they affect the personality of Hausa people in this new world.

Is it a coincidence that all the plays were published in 1970?

No. All the scripts of the radio plays were handed over to Gaskiya Corporation Publishers. They are the only publishers I have ever dealt with.

Did you ever write with a particular audience in mind?

No. How do you mean? I write for my Hausa audience indeed. And yes, I am particularly worried for my Hausa brothers and sisters living in the city. And why not, I dread the plight of women whose material quest has pushed them into trouble.

Did you, like Abubakar Imam, adapt, borrow or copy from any European or Arabic stories/plays?

No. Unlike Abubakar Imam, I mainly relied on happenings around me. Often times, I reflected on folklore and some aspects of oral traditions to buttress some points. For instance, there is diverse use of proverbs, riddles, jokes, etc., in my radio plays and play texts.

Abubakar Imam was like yautai – a smart bird, full of ingenuity and resourcefulness. Give Imam your story, he would blend it, add materials, and before you know it, it has changed into something else. Besides, I am not an intellectual nor have I had any degree or extensive exposure on play writing to model after them.

Do you still write?



The publishing industry frustrates writers. Since my relationship with Gaskiya my royalties come in trinkles . . . very meagre, I can’t sustain my family with such amounts. At times the feeling comes and whenever I make as if to write I will remember the technicalities and just stop.

What do you foresee as the future of creative writers in modern Hausa community?

To date writing cannot be a means of one’s sustenance. It cannot pay up bills for water and light, talk less of food, clothing, etc. The future is bleak. It is dark. Not very encouraging for upcoming creative writers.

In this regard, how do you see the trend in Kano where urban garage publishers have taken over publishing business and publish themselves?

Times are hard. I support their experiment but disagree with their focus. They talk about foreign etiquettes – kissing, hugging, etc. Very unlike the Hausa way of life. Really, these young publishers have their functions but their presence is a reaction to the hard publishers. Yes, they may be rebellious because they have to survive. Again, I see their manifestation as protest against neo-colonialism where they have to rely on European publishers.

Is there any relationship between oral traditions and drama – the type you wrote?

Yes. The drama is a by-product of Hausa language and culture. It is written in Hausa. It talks about Hausa and how the Hausa society conducts itself. I have said before, I used karin magana (proverbs), habaici (sarcasm) and many other features of Hausa oral arts as spoken by the people.

I relied on common expressions of the day and somehow endeavoured to incorporate them into the plays. Besides, my main appeal is the “oral dispensation” because my audience is always by the radio box awaiting for more experiences. The two relate. I collect from the larger society. Fashion it into speeches to be read by various “actors” in the studio and is relayed to the public via the transmitter.

Sir, who are your contemporaries and associates?

I am surrounded by many age-mates even though many have died. And I don’t really grasp what you mean by contemporaries. Do you mean my friends? Those I interact with?


Well, I am close to Alhaji Yahaya Gusau and Malam Ahmed Talib. We belong to the same generation and understand one another.

What about late Abubakar Imam?

We once worked at NORLA, and then I know other writers like Aminu Kano, Sa’adu Zungur and the like.

In what ways have your plays played any role in Hausa literature, language and culture?

You said it yourself. It has raised people’s consciousness. It served much more than a mirror by cautioning people about their behaviour. Indeed, without necessarily beating my drum, I must confess that my plays are household names, very popular and still command respect. I even tried to persuade Gaskiya, my publishers, to reprint because of the high demand but they claim that they don’t have money to do so. I am the first and only person to write and publish Hausa plays in northern Nigeria, and the nation at large.

So to date, my plays are in the school syllabus. They are studied in universities. May the soul of Ibrahim Yaro Yahaya rest in peace. One day he and Professor Dandatti Abdulkadir, while chatting with me, requested that I give talks so that they can record, transcribe into English and other international language so as to capture the essence of my existence in print for posterity purposes. I am happy that you come to me to inquire about my work because of what impression you had. Truly, only you people in the university can help resuscitate this sordid position of creative writing in Northern Nigeria. I am against self-promotion or even propaganda. It is cheapening to go into that. Really, I am happy that you were prompted to come to me on merit. I have never known you and vise versa. So, written works, like the oral, influence people because they deal with words, which affect ideas and beliefs.

Sir,what is your pastime?

I still write but not for the public. I talk to people. I am doing just that with you. I am still the person I like I consider myself a teacher. My simple dictum or philosophical belief is: “It is not what I want to do, but what I can do.”

I farm, I interact with others. See this letter, I was recently appointed as a member of Board of Trustees, Kaduna State Emergency Relief Fund.

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