Isyaku Bala Ibrahim fondly called Nupe Writer or preferably IB Ibrahim is a Niger State-based indigenous writer in Nupe Language. His writing experience spans two decades. His books include Eganmaganzhi Nupe (Nupe Proverbs), Enyalo (Nupe Arithmetics). He also introduced the Nupe Language Calendar in 2010. In this interview with Abubakar Akote for Literature Voices, he says much still needs to be done to standardize the teaching and learning of Nupe Language. Enjoy
LitVo: What truly inspired your writing in your indigenous language?
IB Ibrahim: The inspiration came from the quest to know and understand my true identity which most aspects I’m ignorant of, and our culture most especially the language itself. I realized that I’m Nupe, but I discovered later that the Nupe identity was drifting away thereby allowing Hausa and English to concurrently take over my personality. The arrest was subconscious in the sense that I attended a school where governments encourage the teaching of these languages even made them compulsory or a requirement for writing WAEC examination i.e. one Nigeria language rule, while my language is nowhere to be seen in all that, despite the majority status it occupies in Niger State.
Secondly, the quest to personally learn the language was occasioned by a challenge witnessed in a visit to the village where elders were effortlessly discussing and chunking out proverbs and idiomatic expressions. Sadly, I couldn’t understand most of the things they said. So, this was another thing that triggered my sojourn into indigenous writing, precisely since 2002.
LitVo: After your first books, the Nupe proverbs, Nupe Arithmetic and the launching of Nupe Calendar, almost ten years ago, you seem to have disappeared from the writers’ space for quite a long time now. What really happened?
IB Ibrahim: You are right! I published my first book, Eganmaganzhi Nupe (Nupe Proverbs) in 2009, it was followed by the Enyalo (Nupe Arithmetics) in 2012, and Rakpebo Batan Wun Yi o, a translated work of Prof. Mohammad Kuta Yahaya’s play “Ignorance is a Disease,” into Nupe language with Sadisu Mohammad, the late Etsu Edzo in the same year.
Before the publication of these works, other works were in progress and thereafter, they took over the process, seeking maturation and publication. But you know the challenge of writers in Nigeria; we are majorly in a self-published; you have to do everything yourself, and the cost of publication is increasingly over the roof, and coupled with the biting challenges in this country, which often truncate our effort to get our books published at the appropriate time or as we desire. But very soon some of my new books would escape from this ‘captivity. Insha-Allah!
LitVo: There has been this resemblance in English orthography and that of Nupe language. For instance, in some of your works and other Nupe works that I have read, you have English words like “be, we” being written the same way in Nupe except when pronounced, non-Nupe speakers and even some Nupe speakers may mistake it to be an English word. Why don’t Nupe writers having their own standard spelling pattern that would easily be noticed once read?
IB Ibrahim: Kwa languages of Africa which Nupe belongs to has the same ethnographic classification with similar orthographical patterns, but of course different from the English one. What might seem the same in the cluster of letters, is different in its grammatical structure and meanings in both languages. The problem is the adoption of the Greek/Roman orthography by both languages. The difference lies in the grammatical rules and structures not the appearance of the words.
LitVo: A renowned linguist, Noam Chomsky opposes word-for-word translation. And there is what linguists called linguistic borrowing where you borrow from other languages to pass the message. But we noticed some Nupe translators derive pleasure in word-for-word translation even when the message isn’t clear. Do you belong to this category of Nupe writers?
IB Ibrahim: I do not know of any classification of Nupe language writers or belonging to a particular grouping because the language over a century, literary history has not witnessed steady and appreciable growth since it pioneers like Ajayi Crowther started in the late 19th century before Alexander Banfield took over at the beginning of the 20th century. In my opinion, it is too early to have such groupings because where are the literary books or works that will give legitimacy to the debate or discussion, or trigger it.
Translation generally is a very useful aspect of the literary genre that allows for faster growth in many languages, because it requires little effort to get any idea or message across to larger targeted audiences or readers. Effective translation is for the target audience to get the message passed. However, anything that will frustrate getting the same message across or the message not effectively delivered due to the concerned you raised will mean an ineffective and poor translation on the part of the translator or communicator.
What I observed here is the prevalence of unnecessary ego, and not willing to learn the basics of literary tradition, or the problem of ignorance of the literary culture generally, because the growth of languages around the world depends largely on their ability to assimilate and adapt foreign elements into them.
LitVo: What is your level of knowledge of syntax and other basic grammatical rules of Nupe language in which you are writing and how did you learn them?
IB Ibrahim: Frankly speaking, I’m still a self-taught student of the language, though at the beginning of the journey I sought blessings from traditional leaders and known elders of the language for a blissful journey that has traversed two decades. I’m still learning the uniqueness of this grammatical device through research which I hope to also publish soon as “Nupe Grammar Book” to further stir and thrill more discussions on its subsequent usage in the growth of the language.
LitVo: Again, the English language has a kind of syntactic rules which literary writers use to create certain rhetorical or literary effects, and which if not properly obeyed will affect the message a writer wants to convey? Do we have peculiarities to the Nupe language?
IB Ibrahim: Every language has its unique grammatical rules that must be obeyed by the speakers and writers for effective communication and literary growth across genres. The major problem most of the current writers in Nupe language have, including myself is a lack of adequate knowledge of the background of the basic grammatical rules in the language, and that is why the writings of most of us are often poorly delivered.
LitVo: We don’t have established Nupe writers. How do you get your works edited?
IB Ibrahim: This is one of the major problems we currently face as Nupe writers. There are only a few writers in the language. Those that are trying to write. So, this is a major challenge. There are great editorial defects found in most of the recent works of upcoming writers of the language. I have received several complaints and calls from listeners, readers and Nupe enthusiasts on this problem. And this is frankly inimical to the progress we seek for the development of the language and ourselves as the writers. I have likened this problem to cooked rice full of tiny stones; there is no how the eater will enjoy it, irrespective of the ingredients in it.
In the beginning, I have three great editors; Oga BM Dzukogi connected me with late Prof. Samuel Kolo Tswanya, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, Niger State, while I personally discovered Alhaji Hassan Wasagi. They both edited my Nupe Proverbs in 2008 before it was published in 2009. Then, the Nupe Arithmetic, published in 2012 was edited by Abdullahi Ismail Ahmad, the former Chairman, ANA Niger. I’m sincerely grateful to all of them. Currently, I really miss Prof. Tswanya. Since Professor Tswanya’s death, I have adopted a self-editing approach waiting for the time we shall get rid of the editorial drought facing us.
LitVo: Has ANA fully incorporated indigenous writing in her programmes and what is the level of support from the association to you?
IB Ibrahim: ANA has been an English language biased association. I do not think they have supported indigenous writing or languages in any guise before. So, it has never been deemed fit to do that; maybe they will think of doing that in future. But for now, nothing!
LitVo: What is the fate of indigenous writing in Nigeria and Africa especially in your Nupe which has been considered a minority in Nigeria?
IB Ibrahim: It is a challenging moment for all African languages as foreign languages such as English and French still dominate our lives, our affairs, our businesses and our survival. In Nigeria, standard English and pidgin succeeding in disrupting and misplacing our local languages including the so-called three major languages: Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. The situation is worse with other languages like Nupe, and except deliberate interventions are made to start teaching these local languages at all levels in our schools, and programmes consciously developed to educate the people; we may not win the battle against the extinction of our local languages which has started already.
However, writers and educational institutions in Niger State have made great efforts in the teaching of Nupe Language in particular. I am aware that they will start issuing certificates in Nupe language courses or programmes in Niger State College of Education Minna. Other private initiatives like the Nupe School in Kpakungu is also a great push. Independent writers are also contributing to the discourse by writing and publishing books in the language as a way of documenting and preserving the language which are all good steps in the right direction.
So, all these efforts have given us hope that the Nupe language will eventually win the extinction war, God’s Willing. What we are seriously asking the government at all levels to do now is to create an enabling environment to effectively teach the language in our schools across the states with the right laws or legislations and policies as well as a well-designed syllabus.
LitVo: The Nupe writers in Niger are working at cross-purposes with each doing his own thing. Have you considered forming an association for Nupe writers to forge a common front in the promotion of the language?
IB Ibrahim: This is a very bad omen. But we actually have Nupe Language Committee inaugurated in November 2013 at Etsu Nupe Palace, Bida. The committee was inaugurated by the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji (Dr) Yahaya Abubakar, CFR Bagandozhi. I am a member of the committee; it is made up of about twenty-five members and we were tasked to produce, standardise and perfect written works in Nupe language. But sadly, since we lost the Chairman of the committee, Prof. Samuel Kolo Tswanya, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, IBB Universities, I do not think any member of this committee is doing anything differently out there from the goal set for the language committee by the Etsu Nupe. Though, there are cases regarding one or two upcoming writers doing some things that do not fit into the goals set for the growth of the language, and that had raised concerns from the public. But I think, we will one day reach a common ground and find ways of resolving some of these concerns either through meetings, conferences or seminars on the challenges of Contemporary Nupe Writings, Writers and education generally.
LitVo: What effort have you made towards getting the Nupe language to be studied in our schools? Has Niger State Government shown any interest in developing our indigenous languages?
IB Ibrahim: My efforts are advisory and getting my books ready for the classes as part of the instructional materials.
LitVo: Thank you.
IB Ibrahim: Thanks.
Abubakar Akote is a journalist. He holds Master of Science in Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He has to his name four academic papers published in reputable Journals and books. He has also featured in an anthology of poems “Breaking the Bud” published by ANA Niger in 2009. He has won four journalistic awards.