BUCHI EMECHETA’S STYLE OF WRITING HAS ALWAYS INSPIRED ME – AN INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR ASABE KABIR USMAN
By Queen Gwaza (Literature Voices)
Professor (Mrs.) Asabe Kabir is a professor of Oral and African Literatures in the Department of modern European Languages and Linguistics, Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto. She doubled as the head of English Unit as well as the Department of Modern European Languages and Linguistics, Usmanu Danfodiyo, University, Sokoto between April 2010 and April 2014. She has held several administrative positions within Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto as well as served as member in a number of national committees.
Her research interests are in Oral literature/Folklore; African literature, Popular Culture (with passion in film studies and Hausa popular fictional writings); Creative Writing as well as Women and Gender Studies: she is very passionate about the plight of women and women empowerment and focuses her intellectual prowess in the study of the place of women in Literature in relation to their Socio-Cultural background and history. Professor Asabe, however teaches in the domain of not just literature but also English language, whenever the need arises. Her several research efforts and academic experiences have established her as an authority in her area of interest.
Professionally, Asabe is a well reserved lecturer and has presented papers at national and international academic conferences. She is also well published in reputable national and international journals. She has also been a panelist in several books and arts festivals and a regular discussant in both print and electronic media.
She is a member of various academic associations such as: Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL); African Literature Association (ALA): Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA); Nigerian Oral Literature Association (NOLA); Linguistics Association of Nigeria (LAN). Professor Asabe Kabir was the immediate past National president of the Literary Society of Nigeria (LSN), a position she held from 2014-2016; She was the National vice president, English Scholars Association of Nigeria from 2013-2017; she has also been the National vice president II of the Nigerian Folklore Society (NFS) since 2014. She is a member of the Forum for African Women Educationalist (FAWE), an NGO that champions the cause of the girl-child education, in Africa. She is the vice president of the Sokoto state branch.
She was a member of the panel of judges for the NLNG prize for literature in 2016 and 2019. She has also been a member of the panel of judges for the UBA annual essay competition since 2013. She is a member of several academic associations. She is the author of Destinies of Life (2005; 2014), a novel, which has been read, critiqued and translated into Arabic and French and is about being translated into Hausa and Nupe languages. Another textbook, Studies in Hausa Folklore: A Selective Appraisal is in press.
In spite of her professional enthusiasm, Professor Asabe Kabir Usman is a homemaker, caterer, wife, mother, and grandmother. Professor Asabe Kabir Usman loves reading, writing and cooking.
Gwaza: Good day Ma. My name is QUEEN GWAZA, it is an honour to have you grace us with your presence here at Literature Voices (LitVo).
Asabe: Thank you too.
Gwaza: There are concerns trailing contemporary literature and many fear it is now fraught with cliches and most lack depth and content. What would you say if you were confronted with that assertion? What is your opinion of modern-day literature?
Asabe: Contemporary /modern literature is an interesting trend which we all must acknowledge despite criticism. My own view is that literature is literature no matter how it is presented. I believe that to adjudge literature good or bad, you have to identify the parameter you are using or the tool you want to use in arriving at your opinion. If we take the view you expressed above about modern literature today lacking depth or content, what tool did the people with that opinion use to arrive at that decision? I therefore believe that depth and content should not be the only features to evaluate good literature. I am not saying they should not count but, they should not be the only scale used. I believe modern literature (African or Nigerian) is a trend very much relevant to society depending on whatever angle you choose to view it. You also have to bear in mind, the different genres, types or kinds. The language issue must also be taken to cognisance.
Gwaza: Nigeria has produced some amazing authors who are both nationally and globally recognized, yet the reading culture is still poor. What do you think can be done to ameliorate the situation?
Asabe: Poor reading culture is a challenge that has defied many solutions for years. This problem I believe, cannot be eradicated until the attitude of members of the society change towards literacy. Many people believe that one is not expected to read until he or she has a reason to do so. That is, one only reads if one has an examination, test or interview and at the end of the exercise one can do away with the materials. Many people still do not believe there is anything like reading for leisure. I believe this attitude will only change if those of us who enjoy reading can carry out a sensitization and conscientization campaign on the importance of reading for leisure and not just for adjudication. I believe if this is done, we may see positive changes in the negative attitude of people towards reading and the reading culture may be revived.
Gwaza: You have a strong and commanding personality. Something I’ve been opportune to witness under varied settings, and something that is not typical of the average Northern woman. Can you tell us the story behind your rise? How did you manage to nip in the bud the stereotype surrounding women’s weakness among men and become such a force of inspiration for other women?
Asabe: I grew up in an educated family. My dad was educated to certain degree because I will say he was one of the very few people from northern Nigeria who had a master’s degree from Britain in his generation. As a result of his level of education and exposure, we had the opportunity to attend the best schools wherever we were. I started my baby class and primary education at Capital School Sokoto, when we had the north western state and Niger state was under the old Sokoto state: I then continued at Capital school Minna (now Zarumai primary school) when Niger state was created in 1976 and my Dad became the first Secretary to the Military Government (SMG) of Niger state. After my primary education, I went to Federal Government Girls College Oyo and then University of Sokoto (now Usmanu Danfodiyo University), where I did my first, second and third degrees. Aside my family factor which is elitist in nature, I have a very understanding and supportive husband who also comes from an educated and elitist family where it is decreed that all female children in the family must all have at least a first degree. So, you see all these factors coupled with the fact that I have always had the dream of being a force to reckon with in my chosen career all keyed up to make me what I am today. Stereotypes? Yes! I faced that challenge in a male dominated society but with the strong forces solidly by my side all the way up, I could not have asked for anything more or better.
Gwaza: Your book, Destinies of Life captures the gender-imposed roles women have been subjected to playing in our patriarchal Northern society. Do you feel you succeeded in your quest to enlighten the womenfolk and admonish the menfolk for their subjugation of women? Do you feel the satisfaction of knowing you’ve lent your voice out there even if some people choose to antagonize your true intentions?
Asabe: I believe the novel addressed issues peculiar to women from northern Nigeria. But, the question of whether i “succeeded in enlightening womenfolk and admonishing the menfolk for their subjugation of women” is to be answered by the readers and critics like you. One thing I know was that many men who read the book challenged the fact the I killed Umar even after he had repented for his misdeeds. My answers have always been ” he deserved to die”. I am of the opinion that, if Aisha could live without his support and care for years, then she certainly did not need him in her life anymore.
Yes, I am glad that I have lent my voice to literary discourse especially as it affects women.
Gwaza: You have actively been an advocate for female literacy, girl child education and women’s empowerment in the north. Do you intend to broaden your wingspan to include other Nigerian regions? Or do you intend to restrict it to the North? And what are your reasons both ways?
Asabe: I have always been an advocate for the emancipation of the female gender not just at my base but all over Nigeria. Restricting myself to one region has never been my motive. I am for every woman and for every girl child.
Gwaza: Destinies of Life is a very enlightening book. The verisimilitude is quite compelling that one can easily be prompted to believe it is a real-life experience. What prompted the plot and themes? Do you have other publications besides it? Do they have similarities to Destinies of Life?
Asabe: Many people assume, it is a real life happening but, no, it is just a creation from my imagination. Yes. I have other publications in progress. I have a collection of short stories, a play and another novel. The titles? I am not sure of yet. That will come after the completion of the works. No, they are not similar to destinies of life. The play and the novel though advocate female emancipation.
Gwaza: Is there anything in the works for you at the moment? Should we look forward to something equally mind-jolting like Destinies of Life soon? Is it something you would like to give us a brief glimpse into?
Asabe: I will prefer to complete them before giving a hint. A literary work is never complete until it is published. I might decide to change or add something to the story line.
Gwaza: Nigeria is a society that hardly favors the female gender. You have made waves as a successful career woman and family woman. I know it’s not been an easy feat. How have you managed to keep both career and family under wraps? Have you had instances where one interfered with the other? And how do you plan your schedule to accommodate both?
Asabe: As I said earlier, I come from a family that values the education of the Girl-child. So, I had no challenges growing up. And Alhamdulilah! I married a very supportive husband who did everything possible to see that I achieve my dreams. So, I had very few challenges in coping with career and family life. With his help and encouragement and my enthusiastic nature the two blended so well and I am where I am today.
Gwaza: If you had not become a professor in oral and African literature today, what profession can you see yourself in? What was the driving force that conveyed you into the Arts, literature precisely? Do you have other passions?
Asabe: When I was a kid, my passion had always been to be a pilot. You can image such a dream coming from a child from northern Nigeria. As I grew up, I realised I may never achieve that dream. Then I shifted to Law. I was given admission to study Law in University of Sokoto in 1983. I started but 2 weeks into the course I changed to read English Language. The circumstances behind the change are quite funny and unbelievable (that is a long story for another interview). But I finally found myself studying English Language instead of Law. And you know what? I have never regretted my decision. If I were given the opportunity again, I will stick to the same course.
Gwaza: Which Nigerian/African writer has been your biggest inspiration? And how have their books affected your thoughts, actions and perceptions?
Asabe: Buchi Emecheta’s style of writing has always inspired me. The culture she describes in her works is very similar to the culture I live in. So, I eventually found myself seeing my creative thoughts and perceptions similar to hers.
Gwaza: Literary personalities are often placed in one category as nerds who bury their noses in books all day. What do you think makes a literary person stand out from others? What do you think make you as a literary person thrive where others despair? What is the defining factor?
Asabe: The literary writer is different from other personalities because, he/she is endowed with the urge to say things the way they are; not as people believe they should or ought to be.
Gwaza: Where do you see the Nigerian literary strides in the next decade? And how do you intend to further contribute to that effect?
Asabe: I see the Nigerian literary endeavour and stakeholders reaching and achieving amazing feats in years to come. We will contribute as always by advancing literature in whatever way positive we can
Gwaza: If you were to advise someone contemplating literature and the arts, what would be your advice to the person?
Asabe: I would advise the person to adhere strictly to the ethics of literary creativity. Every discipline has its guiding framework.
Gwaza: You have judged many national literary contests for teenage writers. Please, what is your view about teenage authors in Nigeria.
Asabe: I have really not gotten the opportunity to judge literary works authored by teens per say. All my adjudications have so far only revolved around adult works. I have only adjudicated teens at the essay competition/composition level. That you will definitely not call creativity. I am though looking forward to participating in judging any teen literary competition in the near future.
Gwaza: What kind of feminist are you? What are your major grudges against the African patriarchal system? And if you personally have none, then what are the major grudges female writers hold against patriarchy?
Asabe: It depends on the angle you are looking at feminism and the thoughts you choose to align with (that too is another long lecture). I will allow the readers of my work or those who observe my actions to define the kind of feminist I am; if they think I am one. I do not have any grudge against any African patriarchal system. I will allow every female writer to express her misgivings against patriarchy herself. What might be good for the goose might not necessarily be good for the gander.
Gwaza: You and some of your colleagues collectively inaugurated ‘Literary Scholars Association’, is there a scarcity of such platforms in Nigeria that you had to do that? What reforms does LSA intend to introduce to the Art Administration in Nigeria?
Asabe: Literary Scholars Association is a platform that hopes to bring like minds in the literary arts together irrespective of the genre, language, region or gender among many other peculiarities. I believe there are many such platforms in Nigeria but the difference with this is that, it is all encompassing. So, it is an Association that will bring together not just Nigerian and Diaspora writers, critics, artists, filmmakers among others but every stakeholder in the literary circle.
Gwaza: Thank you and have a beautiful day Ma.
Asabe: You are welcome and my pleasure.
Queen Gwaza is a writer, freelance translator and editor. She is from Benue State and a graduate of English Language from the Federal University, Birnin Kebbi. She was the Director of Creative and Prose writing at the Kebbi State branch of Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation. She’s now a proud member at the headquarters of the Foundation in Minna, Niger State. She is currently a Corp Member serving at Radio Niger. She has some works which are yet to be published. She is an avid reader and an advocate of humanism, optimism and environmentalism.