By Anote Ajeluorou
Not many see writing as a possible career to go into. Many less so after they had put several active years of service in their chosen fields of endeavour. But there are a few exceptions though like Omo Uwaifo, who, after many years as an engineer with Electricity Company of Nigeria (ECN), took to creative writing and won a prize in the bargain. Bukar Usman is another such Nigerian who took to writing after many years as a civil servant and has produced a prodigious amount of work.
His most recent effort is My Literary Journey, which highlights his foray into creative and non-creative writing, the style he has adopted, his many sources, his early years in his Biu town in Maiduguri, his encounter with Hausa language, his years as a student of Kings College, Lagos, his civil service years in Lagos, his writing in Hausa, his foray into folktales and many more. Usman’s My Literary Journey offers readers a trip back and forth with the author in his quest to mine his creative genius which hitherto lay hidden while he worked as a civil servant.
In Usman’s view, “My experience, however, supports the notion that whether one is “bowing to superior force” or simply opting to write without any form of internal or external pressure, every writer… is the one who “decides” whether or not to be a writer. This view presupposes that even if… one “became a writer by mistake”, no one can deny that one consciously or unconsciously chose to be a writer. In my own case, it must have been an involuntary decision, more like yielding to the impulse to yawn than choosing to have a walk”.
Like most Nigerians of his generation, Usman’s interest in writing got a boost from personal self-help and development in his encounter with African writers and his early introduction to oral literature or folktales told in moonlit nights by the fireside, which he enjoyed as a child.
As he puts it, “I was also introduced, to a lesser degree, to African writers, but it was through my own supplementary reading that I got better acquainted with them. I think a greater exposure to creative writing by Nigerian writers would have helped my generation of students a great deal in understanding the nation’s literary heritage. A lesson or two on some aspects of the nation’s oral literature would not have been out of place as most students might never have the opportunity of understanding that aspects of our culture the moment they veer into their special areas in tertiary institutions”.
Usman’s colleagues in civil service, Lamine Odion Ojigbo’s books also spurred him into writing his own experiences in the civil service and titled Hatching Hopes. Through a friend he was introduced to a man who later became his publisher, Mr. Duve Nakolisa of Klamidas Communications Limited. Nakolisa published Hatching Hopes and then acting as his editorial adviser, directed Usman’s attention towards the folkloric genre where he has excelled as author and administrator. He has had Prof. Dandatti Abdulkadir of Bayero University, Kano, who was also introduced by another of his friends assist him in his Hausa writing.
The collaboration, he said, later enhanced his proficiency in Hausa language and Usman has written many books in Hausa that are widely circulated and in use in schools in Nigeria and across the border.
In Part II ‘Literary Approach’, chapter 3, Usman dwells extensively on his interest and work in folktales titled ‘Forays into Infinite Folktales’. He educates the untutored on folktales, their origins, their significance, and draws parallels with folktales from other lands and continents in a comparative analysis and outlines the future for folktales.
As he puts it, “As miners dig into the ground in search of precious mineral resources, so it could be argued that similar effort needs to be made in digging into folktales to find the hidden treasures. The field is unlimited”.
As has also become evident, Usman is painfully aware that the old folks who used to regal him and other children with the magic of folktales are no more available and so today’s children are denied this enriching pastime. The only way to keep such tales alive and in perpetuity for the future is through the written form. He has done this admirably with his many collections. he also currently chairs a folkloric association dedicated to preservation of folktales in the country and beyond.
But creative writing is not the only kind of writing Usman does. He is also a public commentator, who writes opinions in newspapers. This aspect he examines in chapter 4 of the same Part II, especially the style he adopts when addressing the public.
But particularly enchanting is Part III, which consists of selections from Usman’s non-fiction and fiction writing. Of the non-fiction, the first two pieces are perhaps most telling, as they relate a Nigeria of yester-years in all its idyllic glory. ‘My Home Town’ and ‘Lagos Lifestyle’ capture the past in moving visual narrative and contrast it with what harm modernity has done to Biu and Lagos. Biu is where Usman grew up as a child; Lagos is where he schooled as a youth and later worked as an adult.
The fiction section, which is on folktales, an area Usman easily holds forte, has three samples from his collections. They are ‘The War of the Witches’, ‘The Forbidden Fruit’ and A’ Tale of Two Betrayals’. They are classic folktales that should excite any reader, old and young alike.
The remaining two chapters Usman devotes to reviews and comments of his non-fiction and fiction works and provides excellent information on his career as a writer.
My Literary Journey provides Usman a handle with which to share his thoughts on writing as his mid-life pastime after his civil service career years. It’s a fascinating book that gives insight into the minds of a latter-day man of letters. It’s well worth the reading because of its amalgam of creative and non-creative writing.