Sunday, February 14, 2010


Petulance is a somewhat admirable quality for persons under the age of twenty-five; it may even be seen as an affecting trait, that desire for childhood. But something fatal happens around that age which makes the presence of this marker of self thoroughly ghastly. B. M. Dzukogi’s “Northern literature: Emerging teen Authors and Juvenile Writing” {Weekly Trust, January 9th 2010}, following my article “On Northern Nigerian Writing and Related Issues” published in Leadership Newspaper on December 25th 2009, provides a curious circumstance worthy of examination in this light. Indeed, clearly shown is the difficult underside of Writing – that of being a looking glass which a writer turns often and unknowingly on himself, revealing a sight that can possibly madden him, depending on whether the stuff he is made of can withstand the sudden presence of the context that causes folie de grandeur.

In order to contextualize, I will restate the triune aims of my article. The first was to indicate that hubris, leading to crimes against the sentence, sense, and Literature, are routinely committed by writers of northern Nigerian extraction. The second; to indicate the presence of a sickening social constraint to kowtow {ranka ya dade}, what the effect of this illness is, and how my milieu of northern Nigerian writers must avoid it. Thirdly, linking both was a brief thesis of what I called the “sense of self” or the philosophy of writing, and its related concept which was formulated as a “chaos of perception.” Dzukogi’s cited response to this article rests on three issues; my incompetence to write about the subject solely on account of my age vis-à-vis his. Secondly, my success at not doing what I did not set out to do, to wit, mentioning the name of every northern writer and every locale of writing in Northern Nigeria in a brief three thousand word essay. The third issue which he raises in shabbily crafted innuendoes, founts from what he believes to be my subjectivity, an attempt that has amongst other things turned our Great Man into a web archivist, or a newspaper store clerk. It is not in my nature to tarry with the plumage of birds, but before I go to the meat of this matter, let me dispense a few pearls to our pseudo-French absolutist;

My youth has been of the most important value to me, for I am convinced that older men often have a lot to learn from the experiences of younger men, and that the tragedy of the last millennium, its multi-dynamic wars not the least of this, has arisen partly from a cultured disregard for the intuitive wisdom of youth. Secondly, I unreservedly apologize to B. M. Dzukogi for succeeding at what I set out to do, which was an essay to situate the broad scope of my primary literary space, a task I set upon myself, having waited for the old men and ‘others’ to do it and finding only silence or self-obfuscation. Thirdly, and in the kindest voice I can manage, I tell him that ‘subjectivity’ is a lame rhetorical excuse and it is quite saddening that he relies on this – like all rhetoric, it fails to address the issues at stake. Rhetoric, such as his, are not effective fire-extinguishers. We have had one famous mad man who piped as his city burned to the ground, must we have another one a millennium later? And such a one who claims that doing this as a virtue?

The grouse of B. M. Dzukogi, in this barreling and blaring of his primacy, seems to be my sentence; “For example, in Minna, where the oracle seems to be B. M. Dzukogi who has been hailed with every epithet from “ascetic” to “the philosopher” yet when we read his actual works we ask – Is this the Dzukogi fellow?” – and to this he responds; “So where was this pupil when my first poetry collection, Midnight Lamp, got a shortlist in 1996 during Odia’s era? ” The reeducation of B. M. Dzukogi must begin here, for he misses the rudimentary structure; that his vaunted importance and primacy, which he affirms in the excerpt above, is relegated to thirty nine words in a three thousand word essay. And yet he goes on and on about this, with no less than twenty references to my youth, as if it were a crime, before giving this gem of a coup. Hear him; “But let us take it that it is from Richard: as the national treasurer of ANA for which Richard is the current secretary at Plateau level {a position I held 16 years ago in Niger}, am I not a leader? Pose. No, I am their leader, their teacher, I am their natural leader.” And yet Dzukogi goes still on, not realizing his bum is far high in the wind, twice in two paragraphs. Firstly, collections of poems do not “get” shortlists, “make” being the correct verb. And secondly, more piteously, he does not see how he winds the twine around his own neck. He does not see how he furthers a joke that he has thrust himself in the center of, a joke of which he, B. M. Dzukogi, a fringe reference, has come to see himself as the point of. On the basis of this ego-trip, he has turned a fleeting archetypification in my essay into the grounds for as vicious an attack on my person as he has done. It is for this mischief, further, that I leave the pedestal of public discourse to now re-educate him, personally.

Having set out this context, the reeducation of my willing student, the same as the dissection of my willing specimen, will proceed. Kindly sit at your desk, sir, with your palms on the table. Look sharp and don’t let me remind you when to lie on the theatre table.

FIRST: Northern Nigeria suffers from an evolving problem which we must term as a “deepening mediocrity”. You have justified my thesis with your response, which has raised no issues other than to create exculpatory suspicions of senility on your part. I first suspected this from the dearth of Arewa-born experts/mentors across many fields in Academe, from law to politics to engineering, unto the presence of a no more than a few virtuosos in the fields of commerce. Count the northern Nigerians who are making any impact globally, count them on your fingers and you will see that I am right. And how is it that all we have, as a locale in the Nigerian superstructure, is a few aging stars? It is because we seem to think we can sit in our own secluded savannah and feel at least we are masters there, to be backslapped with umbrella MA’s and Ph.D’s by our own clubs, conveniently forgetting that a whole world of rainforest education, of sand and ice deserts, of oceans and dreams exist just beyond our noses. And my thoughts on realizing this while I was an undergraduate, admittedly less than a decade ago, heightened my interest in Writing. For I felt then that Literature would be the means to raise the perception of my Age beyond the preconsigns of a Local Champion Complex. And that is why I write. That is why I fine my writing even if it may take me five years to write a novel, for I feel strongly that there is no point pushing out dross, and to be possibly applauded for doing so. I believe that every novel must be important, that each poem must be a socially uplifting statement – in content, in form, in context.

That article, for which you have claimed the bliss of self-obfuscation, is my statement on what I see to be my primary literary milieu. It was an attempt to indicate the causes of the mediocre state into which we have fallen, and for each of those causes isolated, I suggested a drug. And what have you done in this rant you have written in response to my thirty nine words? I have at least added to my Time by contributing the best of my opinion. And what have you done with your essay, or in the five years before that, more than massaging your own stomach?

I have come to suspect that older people are often too set in their ways to do the unconventional {which is exactly how Literature demands we see and act!} and that is why my essay was written to the young. Having read your response to my essay entirely and your own thirty nine words specifically, even the most addled would see the impossibility to use you and your work as manure for the future of Arewa writing.

SECOND: Much has been made about Helon Habila and my non-inclusion of him in my essay. You have furthered this by mentioning a long list of names I did not mention as well, including his. I admit not including Helon Habila on the grounds of a difficulty that I have now resolved enough to comment on. For while he is a northerner, he is the anti-archetype of what I wrote on, of what you have set yourself up as. From a young age, at the University of Jos, he took to reading books of truly great literature {I know this for I share the same library he used}. He read Marquez, Poe and Achebe and all the greats he could find, making them his mentors and they in turn rewarded him with a gift for the finessing of his craft. He looked up to the gods and that aspiration is why he is where he is now. He did exactly what I am advising young northern writers to do now. He did not look up to you, else like you, he would today be unable to carry off a simple discourse with a twenty-something year old boy. Contrary to you today, Mr. ANA National Treasurer, Helon Habila is with Jude Dibia perhaps the finest pair of literary stylists there is in this country at present. That is what I want northern Nigerian writing to become, a field of possible Helon Habila’s. Not, of you. For amongst the many disciples that you in the hubris of your natural leadership, your soon to be divine-right-of-kingship, claim – do you, B. M. Dzukogi, see a single Helon Habila amongst them?

On a related issue, I shall not add my name to a list of young northern writers in an essay written by me. Neither shall I catalogue what books I have read nor how much which writers have influenced me. I think that would be silly. Let other critics, whether they be younger than I or not, when the time comes to do so, do so or not.

THIRDLY: The lesson of the lady from Riga, a childhood verse that I naturally in response to you now, find appropriate. This lady took a ride on a Tiger one day and she returned at sundown – with her body in its belly. I ask, “What is the moral?” You answer, “The moral is to not ride on tigers, Sir!” I say, “WRONG!”

The moral is to be wary of the support of power, for power is as colorful and as enslaving as it is transient. In ending your rant, you quoted the usual glow words, “particularly commending Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu for his wisdom, foresight and blessing as well as support to host prophets in the land” – but the trouble is that you quote it in the manner of a court jester and I do not think Dr. Agada, whose quote it is, or Dr. Aliyu, who is being saluted, would find this salutary. I have never had issues with writers working with the state, but the writers must first know EXACTLY what it is they want, what it is that they will not compromise. In the peculiar Nigerian context, money for patronage must be raised, more often than not from the state {for it is our money} – yet, while ‘thank you’s’ are in order, we must not create a context where we lose our credibility, where we can be roughshod ridden over. I ask; when was the last time the State took any writer seriously? When was the last time a writer was jailed for a provocative book? When was the last time an article caused a furore? Do you remember? Not in a long time, my dear older man, not in a long long time. And the reason for this is that you, lying on the slab now, are symptomiac of the ineffectuality of Nigerian Literature! That is what I have found out, the discovery for which I set out on a journey about a decade ago at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria!

Like the lady from Riga who sat on a Tiger not knowing at what point to get off or even how, you are now the same WITH the tiger! And yet you dare tell me that you are, dare call yourself, a writer! Of what use else is a writer if he is of no use to the society, if he does not improve the quality of his times, if he cannot sire greater sons! None. None. None. And this last, in one syllable, is your entire utility to me now.

The recent and still ongoing debacle on censorship in Kano is the effect of your “generation” of ranka ya dade stymied writers’ leaders – it is the effect of an empty hubris, it is the effect of a self scuttling collaboration. It is not all disputes that should be settled amicably! I have said it before in my essay on the Kano Censorship saga, I say it here again. And you, B. M. Dzukogi, lying beneath my knife on a theatre table, are the sad archetype of that sort of leadership.

FOURTHLY: On the form of the essay. Living in a locale where words lose their meaning for no cause other than indolence, especially on the part of writers, it is necessary to say a few words on this form.

The contemporary essay is often one written in prose, of middling length, about personal observations of any issue that is of interest to the writer, published possibly in a transient medium such as a newspaper. This definition is my contribution to literature; I do not advocate it, nor do I claim it should be adopted by any other person.

Now, when observations are personal, no argument may be made on behalf of the public concerning the subject of the essay or even the argument employed. Similarly, the Essay is a reaction against the Thesis; it is heads-to-tails different from it. It is, in fact, its symmetric opposite. Features of the thesis such as the citing of authorities and all else are dispensed with in the essay. Not even the much vaunted “textual criticism” is necessary in the essay! This does not however preclude the inclusion of these external features at the pleasure of the essay writer. For the essay is a personal reflection and there are no constraints to the individual in writing one. And my article, “On Northern Nigerian Writing and Related Issues” is an essay. I have made no pretense of it being a thesis, neither have I said it was a review.

Now, in its nature, when an essay is written, the only option the aggrieved public or any member of it has is to write a response and this response is termed a “Contrarian Note”. It is a point by point rebuttal of the issues set out in the first ‘displeasing’ essay. Your response to my essay must be assumed to be a Contrarian Note – so the now embarrassing question arises; which of the issues I raised, set out for your benefit in lesson one above, have you responded to? For you are a much advertised older man, and you should know that essays and contrarian notes must go further than the exploration of ego or the exposition of meticulous research. I set out to write an essay, I have written it. You set out to write a contrarian note, have you, sir, written it?

Further, there is a question of coherence. When writing an essay or a contrarian note, coherence is of the primal importance. It is safest to write what exactly the issues you wish to address are in a chronology, then weave them all together into a logical framework. Evident from your confusion as to whether you were replying my essay, attacking E. E. Sule, seeking to discredit Gimba Kakanda, or simply listing out all the writers you know in Northern Nigeria to come save you from Little Richard Ali, it becomes my responsibility to lay the charge of incoherence against you. I charge you, B. M. Dzukogi, writer of the article “Northern literature: Emerging teen Authors and Juvenile Writing” {Weekly Trust, January 9th 2010}, with Incoherence.

Finally, when writing an essay, do not do so while under the influence of alcohol or in the atmosphere of marijuana. Nor should you allow yourself to be prodded into writing one by imps. The effect of these influences is the creation of yet another pseudo-genus of writing which is based on stuff no more concrete than bombast. And bombast is a close cousin to the bar-room boast. And both are hardly fitting for a “natural leader of men”, let alone for a writer.

FIFTHLY: In your all too obvious bid to create an antagonism between me and all the writers you have mentioned, on account that I did not mention their names in my article, you took your liberties too far. You give me a quote – “I think the influence of Abubakar Gimba is overly exaggerated.” I have gone through the entire essay and can find no phrase like this. My words were; “However, with the exception of Abubakar Gimba’s contributions in prose, which while noteworthy are hardly stratospheric, there have been no important novels in English from northern Nigeria since Yari and Sule’s contributions in the mid ‘70’s. Neither has the poetry or drama been exceptional. And the question is – why?” I stand by those words. I shall not call Abubakar Gimba’s novels stratospheric if I do not think they are, and I certainly would not do so because you or a vaguely defined ‘everybody’ thinks so! Abubakar Gimba, who is an intelligent man from my University, who read my first prose MS, would be smart by being wary of you. I have not claimed to be any body’s natural leader, you have. But I do know that leaders should not tell fibs!

But this last admonition will not save you from the eye of the Public:

I, Richard Ali, publicly ask you, B. M. Dzukogi, to INDICATE WHERE IN MY ESSAY the quote you have given me was taken from. If you cannot do this, I DEMAND A PUBLIC APOLOGY. And if you cannot do this last, you will be unfit from now on to mention my name until such a time you are young enough to do so. That is all on that.

Your lessons are complete. You may go home now.

I will now return briefly to my own constituency, the young writers from Arewa;

My friends, if you have read my previous essay, and if you have settled for the meat of my words and not been content to chew its peacocks’ plumes, that would be all well. If you have read that article, and the reeducation of B. M. Dzukogi above, and digested the meat of my words as well, that would be even better. And there would be nothing more for me to say to you.

In the manner of a rehash, I shall end this article in the same words I ended the last one;

“The challenge for the younger writers from the north is an exhilarating one for it is still early enough for something distinctive and radical to be done across the genres of English. By this I mean something not less paradigmatic than what the Latin Americans, led by Garcia Marquez, Jorge Amado and Vargas llosa, did to “world Literature” in the 70’s. But we must first sit on our mats, holding our beads in our hands and mentally reach a place where we can banish the cloys of personal hubris, and the pressure to kowtow, from our psyches. And at this same place we must ask and answer personally the question of why we write and settle privately and conclusively the issues relating to our sense of our selves, triumphing over Siamese evil twins of a fostered chaos of perception.

And when this is done we shall be able to stand up from the floor and mount our horses. And when we thunder down the fields of Literature, we shall do so in the aura of a global applause deafening far beyond the stampeding hooves of our own vitality.”

Thank you.

Richard Ugbede Ali, writer of poetry and prose, is the Editor-in-Chief of the new Sentinel Nigeria Magazine.

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