By Anote Ajeluorou
Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam, Bilqisu Abubakar and Iquo Diana-Abasi Eke are the three female trios currently at residence at Nigeria’s fast growing resort for writers, with its idyllic ambience sandwiched in the hilly plains of Iseyin, Oyo State. They are three women, all married, who have taken their writing craft seriously and are being listened to by those who should know.
Iwunze-Ibiam is from Enugu and her writing has gone places with the awards she has won. Abubakar is from Kaduna and her stories and her personal life is causing a transformation amongst female folks in her Islamic, conservative society, as they speak to the core of the challenges women face in such setting. Eke, a largely performance poet and folklorist, has her first collection of poems, Symphony of Becoming, among the 11 works in the running for the biggest literary prize in Africa, The Nigeria Prize for Literature worth US$100,000.
In spite of these individual achievements, these female writers are not resting on their oars; they keep pushing the boundaries of literary creativity knowing that there is more in them yet to be brought out.
For these three writers, just like others who had enjoyed the quiet ambience of Ebedi International Writers Residency to complete ongoing works, the Dr. Wale Okediran-led initiative is a perfect platform that should be supported for further cultural expression in the country.
For Iwunze-Ibiam, Ebedi is ideal place for any writer constrained by his or her environment to write. According to her, “It’s been really nice considering the space and time I have to concentrate on what I’m working on. I actually don’t think I would have had this opportunity if I were in my normal environment. So, it’s been easier for me to focus and concentrate here at Ebedi. Again, I’ve really learnt a lot from my fellow residents. We critique our writings, and this is really important in literature.
“At the moment, Ebedi is one person’s dream, and I feel corporate organisations, and even government can actually come in to support this dream, and it will take the dream to a bigger level and add more value to the writers. The whole idea is really beautiful and I want to commend Okediran for this.”
Eke also “thinks Ebedi Writers Residency is a laudable idea. It is beautiful. The ambience of Iseyin itself is lovely. For someone like me who lives in Lagos, the idea is just so great because I have the luxury of time here. I don’t have to think about anything. I really want to commend the founder, Dr. Wale Okediran for the good work he is doing. However, I feel if there is more funding, then more things can be added to what is already on ground”.
Bilqisu also agrees that “It’s a great idea, but it will be beautiful if a literary professional can come in at intervals to look at what writers are doing and discuss the areas residents can focus their works. This will really be great and it will help the writers a lot. At the moment, the writers do this themselves”.
INDEED, they are female writers who are conscious of their environment and the challenges women face in today’s Nigeria and actually writing about them. For Abubakar, who comes from a culturally conservative background, women issues form the core of her writing, as she noted, “I must say that is the angle I really concentrate on in my writings. I talk about women who are from the Islamic background. The religion kind of constrains us from doing certain things, which I have been able to expose in my novels. I focus on issues like polygamy, divorce, marriage, early marriage and many others”.
But like many emerging women in the North’s socially constraining landscape, Abubakar has been able to break free, as she is currently pursuing her Ph.D programme, saying, “It’s because of the education I acquired. I’m actually working towards my Ph.D now. However, it has not been easy. It really took a lot of hard work, and along the way some people accused me of deviating from the normal path a woman should thread. But because of the education I acquired, I have been able to see so many things, and that is why I’m exposing some of these things in my works.
“So, yes! Women are now becoming more enlightened and education is playing a significant role in this. We are becoming aware of certain things, and school has played a greater role in this. I was 21 years when I got married, and to some, I got married too late. I think I was fairly old to have got married at 21. Ideally, getting married at 16 would have been fair enough”.
On the raging issue of child marriage, Abubakar’s background reared up to colour her thinking. According to her, “It depends on what you call child marriage. If a child is matured at the age of nine and can handle the responsibilities in the home, then nothing stops her from getting married”.
But her two colleagues strongly disagreed, with Eke saying emphatically, “Marriage entails a lot of responsibilities and it necessitates different levels of maturity like physical, emotional, psychological. For a fact that a female is physically ready to get married does not mean she is ready psychologically or emotionally to handle the decisions that come in a marriage. Unfortunately, girls in Northern Nigeria don’t really have a choice when their families say it is time for them to be married. Once a woman is married off at nine or ten, when she has her daughters, she will also not see anything wrong in them marrying at such an early age”.
Iwunze-Ibiam noted, “This is really complicated, but I think women should be given a chance to grow and develop emotionally and physically before being given out in marriage. When a girl is married off at an early age, they are simply going into a commitment they don’t understand. However, for me, I won’t give my child out at nine. She is even still a baby to me”.
And, going away from child marriage, Iwunze-Ibiam summed up the writing styles of her two colleagues at Ebedi, when she said, “Their styles are unique and interesting, especially in the angles and themes they tackle. Iquo (Eke) focuses more on urban literature (issues), while Bilqisu (Abubakar) focus on African communal literature (issues)”.