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Bukar Usman's Literary Voyage in Print

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Friday, January 3, 2014


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But the book has even more to offer in terms of authorial rigour and vigour in the creative process. It begins with the writer contending with tradition, creative and critical antecedents and striking a minefield for his own innovativeness. An avid reader, he makes copious reference to Nigerian and foreign authors and critics concerning the importance of the talent and skill development.

My Literary Journey - Bukar Usman;

Klamidas Communications, 2013

By Ben Tomoloju

DR. Bukar Usman, a retired Permanent Secretary in the Presidency, has chosen over the years to be modest in his carriage as a creative writer. Perhaps due to his three-decade tenure as a public servant, this sort of self-effacing bearing was inevitable. Notwithstanding, the talent was immanent, the creative consciousness alert. 

As a child, he enjoyed the Makumtha. This is a version of moonlight tales in his native Biu in the the present-day Borno State. It was his ‘first acquaintance with story-telling'. But greater things were to happen in this area as Bukar Usman deployed his talent and skill into mainstream literary creation.

  An account of his exploration as a writer is rendered in a new book, My Literary Journey, published in 2013 by Klamidas Communications.

  The journey commenced in 1992 when he began to write his autobiography, Hatching Hopes. It started with skimpy scribblings on his life-experience. Colleagues and subordinates outside office hours reviewed the jottings at informal fora. Soon, his fascinating style and profound statements gained serious attention. Comments began to take an informed, critical shape in the form of written feedbacks.

  One of such commentators, the author of 200 Days To Eternity (1979), Lamine Ojigbo, wrote: "Generally, it is a fascinating manuscript and it makes interesting reading... But this narrative will be much richer if the story is more detailed in order to give it flesh and soul..."

  On August 14, 1992, Ms. Jane Emokpae, a Clerical Officer in Bukar Usman's office at the Cabinet Office, Lagos, sent in her written remarks:

"Your autobiography is just great. It is down-to-earth and has some humour attached to it, which makes it a good read."

  With this kind of encouraging critical comments, the horizon seemed bright enough for spirited literary exploits. But the dreams and actualities had to pile up in the writer's briefcase until 1999. That was the year he retired from government service as a Permanent Secretary in the Presidency.

  Thereafter, the muse winged more freely. Bukar Usman was no longer inhibited by the writing of official circulars, memos, reports, speeches and running cliches like ‘I am directed' and ‘Your Obedient Servant'. If anything, the inspiring presence of the muse directed affairs. His was a willing soul levitating higher and higher in the boundless realm of creativity.

  It took 13 years since the early scribblings of 1992 for Usman's first book to appear on the bookshelf. That was a collection of short stories, The Beautiful Bride And Other Stories, published in 2005.

Hatching Hopes, that autobiography that started it all, was not to appear until 2006, after 14 years of multi-dimensional critical and editorial scrutiny by author, reader and publisher. This, of course, is the stuff that quality works are made of. Since 2005, Usman has published over 20 books of rich literary diversity, including the 652-page compendium of folk-tales in Hausa language.

  In fact, there are 26 books to the author's credit. Among them are 15 in Hausa, namely: Marauniya Da Wasu Labarai, Jarumin Sarki, Yarima Da Labi, Tsurondi, Sandar Arziki, Dankutungayya, Gwaidaraya, Dan Agwai and Tsohuwa Da ‘Yan Mata Uku

  The rest are Dankucaka, Al'ajabi, ‘Yargata, Duguli Dan Jabinta, Muguwar Kishiya, Taskar Tatsuniyoyi: Litafi Na Daya Zuwa and Na Goma Sha Hudu.

His books in the areas of non-fiction and socio-political commentary are: Press, Policy And Responsibility; The Interface Of The Muse And Government Protocol; Democracy, Human Right And National Stability; and Voices In A Choir: Issues In Democratisation And National Stability In Nigeria.

  Others are Hatching Hopes (an autobiography), Dreams And Realities: Issues In Nigeria's Golden Jubilee Independence Anniversary and Globalisation And The World After Mubarak And Gadaffi.

  His fictional works are: The Bride Without Scars And Other Stories, The Stick Of Fortune, Girls In Search Of Husbands And Other Stories, as well as The Hyena And The Squirrel.

  So much has been packed into the last 20 years by Bukar Usman, and they are well highlighted in My Literary Journey.

But the book has even more to offer in terms of authorial rigour and vigour in the creative process. It begins with the writer contending with tradition, creative and critical antecedents and striking a minefield for his own innovativeness. An avid reader, he makes copious reference to Nigerian and foreign authors and critics concerning the importance of the talent and skill development. Some of the quoted Nigerian authors are Abubakar Gimba, Wale Okediran and Ogaga Ifowodo.

  Of his own approach to writing, he states: "I write as I talk, or generally aim to do so." He supports this approach with Gerald Levin's precept in A Brief Handbook Of Rhetorics in which he posits that "No matter what purpose, good expository writing...is clear, yet not so simplified that nuances of meaning are sacrificed and complexities of thought ignored."

  He also refers to Fowler's The King's English which recommends that good writing be "direct, simple, brief, vigorous and lucid."q   

  The author delves into the objectivity principle extrapolated by Edwin Muir as a guiding light of his relationship with his reader. The conversational tone - the plain-talk type - facilitates effective, unimpeded communication. This is his position and one that is universally accepted.

  He acknowledges the significant role of reviewers, editors and publishers in his career as a writer. Special acknowledgement is made of Abadinah Coomasie, Ismaila Gwarzo and, of course, Duve Nakolisa, his publisher.

  In fact, it was Duve, a poet and author of several books, who addressed Bukar's mind to folk-tales which, according to the latter, has' turned out to be a very rich field'.

  His pre-occupation with folk-tales in the past 20 years ha been quite ambitious and the outputs monumental. Within two years, for instance, he collected over a thousand tales from his Biu community. The folk-tale project received the endorsement an support of Professor Dandatti Abdulkadir, Salisu Saleh Na'inna Dambatta, Professors Dangambo Abdulkadir and Sa'idu Ahmed Babura, among others.

  Since Hausa is not the author's mother-tongue, and despite the fact that he is a competent user of the language, his collaboration with these authorities in the Hausa language has proven quite useful.

  The books have now attracted the attention of the international communities. They are also recommended texts in schools. For instance, the German NGO, IRENE Sahel, has sought and received the author's permission to publish the stories in ‘Boko' and ‘Ajami' for the education of the girl-child in Niger Republic's Quranic schools. In Kano, Capital Primary School has included some of the books in their syllabus.

  The body of works by Bukar shows the importance of folklore in the dynamics of literary creativity, the consolilation of national identity as well as cultural dialogue across national boundaries. Towards this end, the author embarks on research into the history and manifestation of orature in different parts of the world ‘ to have a comparative understanding of the place of folktales in global literature.'

   His studies cover Ancient Egypt, Greece, Hindus, Persians (now Iranians) and Arabs with their famous Arabian Night stories. He also studied aspect of English, African American and Sri Lankan folk-tales.

  In his comparative studies, the author cites Franz Boaz about the ‘migration of tales from one part of the African continent to another'. This is in the foreword to the works by American missionary, Albert Helser, on the folk-tales of Bukar Usman's Babur/Bura Community.

  There is no doubting Boaz's contention. It happens all over the place. Yet a note of caution has to be sounded against comparative imputations that undermine the distinction of cultural expression. Even as migrations, borrowings and cross-cultural influences are major factors in cultural mobility, there are arguments for the distinction in the creativity of autocthonous communities.

  For instance, Ulli Beier notes that ‘similar ideas will occur to human beings in different places and at different times independent of each other.' He illustrates this with the building of pyramids by the Azteks of Mexico who could not have had any contact with Ancient Egypt.

  As such, comparatism should not be so free-wheeling as to obliterate authenticity and originality in the kind of work Bukar Usman is doing on Biu folklore and beyond.

  One of the high points of My Literary Journey is documentation. The book is not just about the author's creative musing and exposition of motivations. It also affords the reader the opportunity of a quantum glimpse at some of his published works and a full dose of critical response fro a cross sesction of the Nigerian intelligentsia.

  A refreshing selection from Bukar's works is published in Part III. His life as a child in the idyllic setting of Biu is portrayed in ‘My Home Town' while his early civil service years in Lagos of the 1960s come under the title ‘Lagos Lifestyle'. Both are selected from his autobiography, Hatching Hopes.

  They are followed by Obama and King's Prophesy. This is a reflection by the writer on Martin Luther King Junior's prophetic speech, ‘I Have A Dream' which was fulfilled with the ascendancy of an African-American to the position of the President of the USA for the first time in history. This and a few others are in the non-fiction category, of which The Case for Local Police also stands out for its scathing criticism and candour against the behemoth of a federal system which continues to deny the country of effective policing.

  Fictional works featured in this part include War of the Witchdoctors, The Forbidden Fruit, and A Tale of Two Betrayals. This is just a glimpse. The full menu is the series of books that are now enjoying wide circulation. Generally, these short stories are folksy in spirit and contemporary in execution.

  The deal in My Literary Journey does not end with what the writer does or thinks. A conspectus of comments and critiques is prominently featured. Overall, it occupies more than half of the entire 228-page hardback. Due to space constraint, one cannot exhaust the long list of members of the Nigerian intelligentsia whose reviews and comments are published in the book. But one can name a few.

  Ray Ekpu, Husaini Tukur, Prof. Kyari Tijani and former Secretary to the Federal Government, Dr. Gidado Idris, commented on Voices In A Choir. In his submission, the former SGF writes: "Bukar Usman's candid and objective analysis...discusses a wide range of issues of democratization and national stability with the clarity and objectivity that only a professional like Bukar can display."

Hatching Hopes, the autobiography, had comments and reviews from Alhaji Abubakar Gimba, economist and former President of ANA, Lieutenant General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, former National Security Adviser, Professor Muhammad Nur Alkali, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri, Professor Osato Giwa-Osagie, renowned gynaecologist and obstetrics and Ambassador (Dr.) George Obiozor, former DG, NIIA.

  On Hatching Hopes, Abubakar Gimba comments: "Overall, the writing is very beautiful. I find it more captivating than your earlier Voices...You have a style that would make a great novelist. And I mean it...I admire your power of memory and recollection."

  There are a lot more of such appraisals from respected egg-heads in the book. And whole appendices running from A to J are devoted to academic papers, reviews and comments on Bukar Usman, the man and his works.

 Altogether, the assiduity and substance exhibited in MY LITERARY JOURNEY are not just an evidence of the author's resourcefulness, but also a clear testimony of what T.S. Eliot refers to as the critical labour of a creative writer in the process of bringing innovation to bear on tradition.

  Bukar has provided in this book a rich store of knowledge about culture, creativity and society, especially the Nigerian society past, present and with some concern for the future. The reach of the book is long and the scope wide, which makes it as exciting as it is intellectually stimulating.



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