Dr. Sheu-Usman Oladipo Akanbi was born in Jos the Plateau State Capital on the 3rd of December, 1968. He attended the Federal Government College, Ilorin between 1980 and 1985, from where he proceeded to the University of Ilorin to study Agriculture; he graduated with a Bachelor of Agriculture degree in 1992. In 1997, he obtained a Master’s degree in Business Administration also from the University of Ilorin. In 2014, he crowned his academic achievements with a Ph.D. degree in Agricultural Economics from the same University.
Between 1995 and 2001 he was a staff of the First bank of Nigeria PLC; and between year 2002 and 2005, he was also a staff of the National Maritime and Safety Agency (NIMASA). He left NIMASA in 2005 to resume work as the State Project Coordinator of the World Bank/African Development Bank assisted Kwara State Fadama Agricultural Development Project; he served there for about nine years before leaving in 2013.
In the year 2014 he began an academic career, starting as an adjunct lecturer with the Entrepreneurship unit of the Kwara State University, Molete and in September of same year, he resumed work as staff of the Technical and Entrepreneurship Centre of the University of Ilorin. He is currently a Senior Lecturer with the Department of Agricultural Economics and Farm Management of the same University.
Haneefah: Good day, Sir. It is a pleasure to have you here with us on Literature Voices. A warm congratulations to you on the successful inauguration of Imodoye Writers’ Residency. What is the story behind establishing the residency?
Dr. Usman: Thank you. It’s also my pleasure to meet you too.
No doubt, the over the years participation in the activities of Association of Nigeria Authors (ANA) by me opened my eyes to many areas of literary creativity, and more importantly, I became enamored by what I saw Dr. Wale Okediran doing with his Ebedi Writers Residency at Iseyin in Oyo State. Dr. Okediran was a former President of ANA and currently the Secretary General of Pan African Writers Association.
I was equally fascinated by the activities of the Hilltop creative Art Centre in Minna Niger State, where young girls and boys are been mentored there by my good friend, Mal. Baba Dzukogi. I must not fail to mention Prof. Olu Obafemi, a past ANA president, who also encouraged me in no small measure too.
With all these insights, and coming from a background of a home that favours literary advancement and creative art development, I became motivated to establish Imodoye Writers Enclave which has a residency programme embedded within it.
Haneefah: What were the challenges you encountered while planning the establishment of the residency and how do you feel after having the Pioneer residents?
Dr. Usman: Funding, and more importantly, getting a sound, resourceful and dynamic person to help manage the Writer’s Enclave was a bit of a concern to me, however, we were not deterred, and we plodded on with great determination.
Fortunately, we also found in Mr. El Nasir Al Amin, a competent hand to be the first Director General of the Establishment and no doubt, he has been doing a fantastic job since coming on board.
As regards funding, God has been so magnanimous with us; it is, however, important to note that such idea as this cannot be achieved by self-sponsorship alone, but partnership with international, national and local organizations.
At this juncture, I wish to give kudos to The National President of ANA, Mr. Camillus Ukah who had afforded us tremendous support in this regard; he even temporarily availed us of the services of the National Publicity Secretary of ANA, Mr. Umar Yogiza who served as the first Residency Manager. Yogiza made the task easier for us to accomplish, particularly, the way he helped in ensuring that the first set of residents were of a first-class quality; I was indeed highly delighted in the quality of these residents.
Haneefah: In your interview with Blueprint Newspaper published July 15, 2022, you mentioned that Imodoye Writers’ Residency is drawing inspiration from Ebedi international Writers’ Residency. What is your relationship with the founder of Ebedi, Dr. Wale Okediran like?
Dr. Usman: Like I mentioned earlier, Dr.Okediran was of tremendous assistance to us in Imodoye. Asides from giving us tips on how to go about the residency, he also availed us of a PowerPoint presentation on how to run a writer’s residency, which we followed with just a few modifications to soothe our purpose. Dr. Okediran is a dynamic gentleman who inspires me a lot.
Haneefah: I recently saw a movie ‘Deadly Illusions’ where an award-winning writer suffers mentally when she creates her story thus, she can’t tell between reality and her imaginations. As writers, we imagine things a lot but writers have their different experiences. What is your mental state like when you write?
Dr. Usman: Most often, I write to clear my thoughts and in so doing, each new experience always ends up as a stimulant towards the production of subsequent works. Writing, as well as reading, most often, has a calming effect on me.
As a writer, I cannot claim to be among the best in my clime, even in my immediate constituency, but I have no doubt over the years strove to contribute my little quota, not just in the realm of creative writings but also in the academic sphere, a constituency where I alternatively belong to; as a creative writer, I have always endeavored to open myself up to all, making my work accessible to as many people as possible, no matter what their education and/or taste; and of course, my works have been heavily influenced by those cosmopolitan ideals by which I was brought up.
The ability to undertake creative writing is one of the most wonderful assets a man can possess, and the ability to use it for the enhancement of humanity is even more wonderful and this why I thought it necessary to continue to contribute the little I can to the literary world through my writings and of course, support towards the development of other creative writers.
Haneefah: You work hand in hand with ANA Kwara State Branch, what would you say about the current situation in the association. As a member, what have you done to stop the Crisis going on in ANA ?
Dr. Usman: I presume you are inquiring about the supposed crisis at the national level. There are hardly any organization nay association that has never had its fair share of crisis. However, it is the ability to amicably resolve such crisis that stands out any worthwhile organization.
I am somewhat privy to some of the happenings behind the scene, I’ve been a member of ANA peace committee and I feel appalled that writers will attempt to drag themselves in the mud for unnecessary things. If gold rust what will iron do? It tells you there are more than meets the eye; if indeed they are interested in serving the writers’ clan, there are several other ways they can do so. This idea of resorting to unnecessary litigation begs it all – no, this shouldn’t be coming from the writers’ clan that has produced so many distinguished figures in our society!
I joined ANA through its Niger state chapter in 1998 and since then, I had passed through the Lagos chapter of ANA (2002) before joining the Kwara chapter of ANA in 2005 and by 2010, I had become the Chairman of the ANA Kwara chapter. Since then, we have had Col. Oladele Babajamu and Mal Abdulrahman Aderinoye as past chairmen too.
Our current Chairman, Mr. Opeyemi Babayemi, in concert with other members of the Kwara chapter have indeed played active roles to ensure that calm returns to ANA at the national level. Indeed, I can tell you over five past Presidents, including our own Prof. Olu Obafemi have strenuously worked-hard to bring about normalcy to ANA, as was enjoyed in the past. Remarkably, the forty years anniversary of the association was held with pomp and pageantry last year at the newly commissioned Mamman Vatsa Writers village, Mpape, Abuja.
Except for the ill-advised court case initiated by a few but aggrieved members, there is little to show that any crisis still pervades in ANA, if given to the tempo of activities going on at both the state chapters and National level.
Haneefah: Do you intend to contest for the seat of ANA President in the future with this much energy you put in as a member?
Dr. Usman: Ha, that’s a big one. God willing, I will most likely to take a shot at that someday. I believe I have what it takes to handle an association of such magnitude at the National level, given to my wealth of experience. I also feel it will give me the opportunity to contribute my own quota to development of the literary world in Nigeria as a whole
Haneefah: You confirmed that Agriculture and literature have an inseparable relationship, as an Agriculturist, how is that?
Dr. Usman: Some may be surprised, how an Agricultural Economist intermittently makes foray into the field of creative writings. The possible reason shouldn’t be farfetched. Economics is essentially a behavioural science that studies the behaviour of crowds of people, or swarms of animals that has both frivolous and important uses; they essentially employ mathematical modeling to study the interaction between human behaviors and the socio-economic variables. Perhaps, I must have been somewhat influenced by trappings of this economics field in festooning my work in the arena of creative writings.
Also, how do you manage to write in all genres effortlessly?
First and foremost, I will attribute that to the special Grace of God and of course, of my interaction with other writers in ANA over the years. The little background in literature availed me at the Federal Government College, Ilorin that I attended also assisted in this regard. My family background was also helpful, there were whole lot of books in the creative writings to be devoured by us all – I of the whole lot in my family went on to further my studies in the field of science.
Haneefah: It is evident that fiction is always derived from reality. Using any of your poems, short stories or plays, what is your take on the literary word “Faction”?
Dr. Usman: Paraphrasing Jessamyn West, in her article titled ‘where do stories come from’- “a writer is a kind of hunter(explorer), who wants to bring back alive from his travels in time and space whatever has seemed beautiful and/or significant to him. He wants to build (construct) with words the mountain he has encountered (and perhaps climbed). He wants them to loom as vast, silent and impeccable for others as they did for him. He wants his readers to feel as he did the cascading waterfalls from their everlasting watershed, the languid and fast-flowing streams, the picturesque blaze of the golden sunset, the mellifluous songs of the singing birds and the rueful gust of the whispering winds.
The writer wants to make the church bells mossy with time, the muezzin’s call ring in the faithful’s ears; he wants them to hear the cockcrow at dawn, the splash of paddles on remote waters, the resounding roar of the ocean tides, as they come and go. The writer wants to build a world with words” and he has succeeded when readers want to explore that world with him or her as the case may be.
The lead drama piece in my play, Labake Isale Eko draws inspiration from a true-live story that happened longtime ago in Lagos; and of course, the other pieces in the collection also have historical antecedents as well. Most of my so-called fictional works, be it prose poetry and plays have a non-fictional perspective too – hence, much of my creative works can be classified as faction too!
Haneefah: The city of Ilorin has many people called Alimi, which might mean ilimi or one with knowledge. What role did Ilorin play in the acquisition of knowledge in Nigeria or North? Any relationship with literature or literacy?
Dr. Usman: With the Fulani conquest of Ilorin, Islamic scholarship began to prevail. The city drew in many itinerant Islamic scholars who brought the knowledge of Arabic alphabets and the popular Arabic numerals. The city became a melting point of many cultures including Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, Baruba and Nupe. The inherent native intelligence was transfused with the new trappings from the oriental world; thus, did Ilorin become the home of learning, where even happenings as at then were captured in Yoruba language employing the Arabic alphabets to produce what is termed Ajami script.
Most of the itinerant preachers in the early sixties, the likes of Sheik Adam El Ilori, Alhaji Muhammad Kamaldeen, Alhaji Apaokagi among others played leading role in transmitting Islamic/oriental knowledge in western Nigeria. A good number who tasted western education early, also moved up north to assist with providing western-styled formal education too.
With the advent of colonialism, the missionaries and other colonial agents brought in the western form of education. Both in Islamic and western education, the people of Ilorin have indeed proved their mettle.
Haneefah: Who are the writers from Ilorin or Kwara State, you are the only one I know. Was the legendary Justice Mustapha Akanbi, your father, a writer?
Dr. Usman: Like I earlier related, Ilorin has produced so many generations of Islamic writers and since advent of colonialism that berthed western educated-trained persons, a new generation of writers emerged. With the establishment of tertiary institutions across the country, in many areas of the country several writers largely influenced by the trappings of western education began to emerge; Ilorin was not left out, as we now have many creative writers in town today – they particularly abound in the ivory towers within the state. I wouldn’t necessarily mention names, but that we have a functional writer group in the state says it all.
Yes, my father was a writer – He writes poems, essays and has an autobiography written by him at over eighty years of age. He sure had an influence on me too.
Haneefah: What is the place of Yorubas of Ilorin and those of the South-west in national life and nation-building? I mean, how does Ilorin people who belong to the North navigate the treacherous primordial groupings of Nigeria when it comes to national engagement?
Dr. Usman: Treacherous? I don’t know about that. All I will say is that Ilorin is a Yoruba-speaking society which also has a very close affinity with the other tribes inhabiting the area erstwhile delineated as northern region during the first republic.
It is not a hidden fact that Ilorin is widely regarded a home of peace and harmony; that tells a lot about the people. May I add, an average Ilorin man is at home anywhere in the world not to talk of Nigeria. They easily identify with any Yoruba and/or Hausa speaking groups. They generally thrive any clime where they have the freedom to practice their Islamic faith and equally ply their chosen trade. My late parents were both born in Ghana, and they grew up there. My grandfather had lived at Onitsha with his wives even before my father was born!
Haneefah: Your book, Connecting with my Past does not only talk about your life, it also revolves around the Ilorin culture and history. What inspired the book?
Dr. Usman: It was during the Coronavirus lockdown that the inspiration for this piece, ‘Connecting with my Past’, came up. Apart from working on some academic papers ahead of publication, I also decided to chronicle some of these accounts that have defined my very existence on the face of this earth.
Haneefah: What is your take on the emerging Nigerian Writers in terms of quality and support to them?
Dr. Usman: In recent years, a crop of young, vibrant and dynamic Nigerian-writers are emerging on the national scene. They regularly churn our creative works that border on culture, traditions and other socio-economic issues that define the whole essence of a people. They are definitely building on the gains made by the first and second generations of writers in Nigeria. Unfortunately, unlike the first generation of writers, in particular, they lack the necessary platform to look at the distinctiveness or otherwise of their works, such that has hindered many brilliant young-writers the opportunity to filter out their creative works at considerable cost.
At independence may publishing houses emerged to support creative writers; for example, the Heineman publishers promoted the African Writers series, and the Macmillan publishers of the Pacesetter novels series were around to assist fledging writers at independence. But most of the emerging writers are today forced to set out on their individual journeys, seizing every available opportunity to come out with their own works. Thankfully, but for the Association of Nigeria Authors and a few other emerging writer groups like poet in Nigeria (PIN), most emerging writers will have been stifled out of existence. Kudos must also be given to lecturers of most tertiary institutions who have kept the candle glowing.
It is sad to note that only just but a few Nigerian politicians are willing to support this creative enterprise, and apparently, those holding the reins of government appear too often to be overwhelmed and as such, are careless about what becomes of the creative art world. It is therefore heartwarming that individuals and other non-governmental groups are now springing up to take up this challenge – Ebedi, Hilltop and Imodoye are creative art centers are certainly striving hard in this regard.
Haneefah: Do you agree that Nigeria is the future of African literature? Why?
Dr. Usman: Have you been to the Mamman Vatsa Writers Village? I am not sure that any African country has such large edifice dedicated to African literature. Hardly any association or NGO can boast of what ANA has there! It is indeed a place of pride for Nigerian writers and I must give kudos to all ANA members that made this possible, particularly, the pioneer members of the Board of Trustees, that is the trio of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Mamman Vatsa.
The activities taken place there, like the monthly Mbari meetings, are also heartwarming. Having a central place for writers to converge gives the hope that many emerging writers will receive the right mentorship towards realizing their goals of becoming established and notable writers, just like our highly respected forerunner generation, largely credited with the conceptualization of the African literature.
Nigeria, been the biggest independent black nation not just in Africa but in the world, makes our population a veritable asset and of course, in brainpower we are not found wanting!
Haneefah Abdulrahman is a Writer, an Interviewer, Spoken Poetry Artiste and a Podcaster from Nigeria who is the author of a collection of short story book titled Shades of Becoming. Her works have appeared on The Nigeria Review (TNR), Wisprout Project, Arts MuseFair, and elsewhere. She is a 2021 fellow of the Ebedi International Writers Residency and a Columnist at DailyTrust Newspaper. She is the 2021 Winner of The Arewa Rising Literary Star. Born in Kaduna, Haneefah is an indigene of Kogi State studying Literature-in-English at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where she is the current Chairperson of the University’s Creative Writers Club. She is the Chairperson of Kaduna Branch, Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation. Haneefah was shortlisted as one of the 30 Contemporary Women Poets to read, by Poetry Column-NND in Nigerian News Direct. She is a YELF ARTIST OF THE MONTH for November 2020 edition.