Thursday, 26 April 2007

Carmen Cameo

I have finally viewed a video clip portraying Talatu (the American PhD student in the Department of African Languages and Literature, University of Wisconsin, Madison) in the Hausa comedy 'Ibro P-Square'. It was sent to me by Prof Abdalla Uba Adamu, who called it "Carmen Cameo." I couldn't laugh after watching it. My honest view is that it is just crap. It reflects just the kind of embarrassing stuff our Hausa home video merchants are churning out. The fact that Talatu, a white young woman, and an academic for that matter, agreed to feature in those videos was a golden opportunity for the boys to work hard and bring out agreeble, mature home videos based on great storylines. (Still, I think featuring Talatu in all those Hausa video, including '419' part 2, was exploitative. I know she didn't do it for money; she must have simply regarded it as fun; or she was trying to behave like the Romans while in Rome).

Nonetheless, a more imaginative film industry would have seized the unique opportunity presented by Talatu and come up with an explosively enchanting movie tackling/depicting a genuine African issue (e.g. clash of cultures, race relations, etc etc) that would appeal to viewers worldwide. And Talatu could have even benefited financially from it since she had conquered all inhibitions and offered to appear in the movies. I imagine her being handled by Suleiman Cisse, the award-winning Burkinabe director of 'Yaaba.' But our boys have simply wasted the effort. Talatu cannot be proud of this kind of portrayal; she wouldn't want it to be on youtube or anywhere else. Thank God it will remain in Bata and Wambai Market stalls only, from where a handful viewers may buy it and watch at home.

It is annoying. I hope she will not do it again unless she has gone through the movie script (or helped create one) and become convinced about its worthiness. Talatu should not be wasting herself (yes, herself, since the whole of her is depicted) unless the outcome is something even she would be proud of.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

What an election!

Just as I and many Nigerians predicted, yesterday's presidential and National Assembly elections were marred by violence, confusion and just plain stupidity. It's a scandalous mess. In most parts of the country the elections started as from 12 noon as opposed to the electoral commission's announced time of 10 a.m. Even so, in many places:

a. the election officers did not turn up;
b. ballot papers did not carry names of some candidates;
c. names of voters were missing on the voters' register;
d. people were beaten up by "security" officers;
e. election did not take place;
f. people were killed;
ad infinitum.

So, what's next? President Obasanjo justified the mess this morning when he said people should not have expected an election without problems, saying nowhere in the world can this happen. He is right. But I dare say nowhere in the world could this kind of mess occur, given the long period of preparation, the quantum of monetary, human and other resources expended on the event.

I was invited to speak on a local radio this afternoon on the election (the Kaduna-based Raypower FM). I was interviewed by two journalists on the proceedings and likely outcome of the election. Naturally, I said my mind. I was specific on the INEC's lack of adequate preparation, its incompetence and the seeming deliberate decision of government agencies to scuttle the transition programme. I warned, however, that those calling for the outright cancellation of the polls might lead us into the government's trap of having an excuse to defer the hand-over date. I said it's better for aggrieved people to seek redress in the courts and the various election tribunals. Otherwise, we might not see the fabled civilian-to-civilian transition we all yearn for.

It was a phone-in programme, as such many listerners called to express their minds, too. I was not surprised to hear almost all of them agreeing with my points. The level of disenchantment with the political process is high. But as I wrote recently, the important thing is to "manage" the situation and have Gen. Obasanjo leave office on 29 May. We must sustain the democratic system at all cost; it's better - always better - than military rule.

"Komai lalacewar waina, ta fi kashin shanu."

Friday, 20 April 2007

To make or break

Tomorrow Nigerians are going to the polls to elect another president for the country, the man who will replace Gen. Obasanjo on 29 May. The mood here in Kaduna - like the rest of the country - is tense. Someone told me this afternoon he has never seen a security beef-up in the city like the one today.

Last week's gubernatorial polls were marred by rigging and violence. People believe tomorrow's polls are going to be tougher; they are the "make or break" elections.

As of candidates, the contest is clearly between the PDP's Umaru Yar'Adua and ANPP's Muhammadu Buhari. Many people I spoke to believe the former is going to be "declared" winner, meaning whether he wins or not. Many are surprisingly apathetic, saying, "Well, why should I care since they have decided?"

And where is our democracy? You ask me.

I have a little prayer: whoever wins this election, may he be guided by God to take our country out of the woods. I believe that this prayer is also on the minds of most Nigerians. The last eight years have been disastrous, Obasanjo having failed to fulfil his campaign promises. His "new dawn" has failed to appear. We are praying for another "dawn" which somebody from my own Katsina State should endeavour to actualise if he wins in tomorrow's all-important polls.

Let's pray.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Rasuwar Tsigai da Danwanzan

Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'un!

Fitattun 'yan fim guda biyu, Husaina Ibrahim Gombe (Tsigai) da Shu'aibu Mohammed (Danwanzan), sun rasu a ranar Lahadi, 8 ga Afrilu, a wani mummunan hatsarin mota. Su na dawowa ne daga Legas, inda aka gayyace su su ka yi wasan gala, sun shigo mota Toyota Hiace mai zuwa Kano. Sun kusa Kaduna (kilomita 22) sai direban ya yi zaton kila akwai 'yan fashi da makami a can gaban su, su na tare mutane masu shiga Kaduna a daidai lokacin. Wajen karfe 4:30 na asuba ne. Sai direban ya yi u-turn ya koma daya hannun hanyar (mai zuwa Abuja daga Kaduna). Ai kuwa ba a dade ba su ka yi taho-mu-gama da wata tirela wadda ta dauko shanu daga Maiduguri za ta kai Anacha.

Mutane 16 ne a bas din. A cikin su, 11 su ka mutu - mata 4, maza 6, da karamin yaro 1. Mutum 5 sun tsira. Direban bas din, wani Bakano, ya rasu. Amma direban tirelar bai samu ko kwarzane ba. Hasali ma dai a jiya lokacin da mu ka tuntubi 'yan sanda, ya na can cikin garin Kaduna ya na yawon sa abin sa.

An rufe Tsigai a Kaduna (a makabartar da aka rufe jaruma Balaraba Mohammed a Maris 2003). Shi kuma Danwanzan, an kai shi gida Kano aka rufe shi a can.

Tsigai ta na da 'ya'ya biyu (Anas da Nafisa), Danwanzan ya na da 'ya'ya 4. Maaifiyar Tsigai ta rasu, amma baban ta ya na nan da ran sa a Gombe. Iyayen Danwanzan duk su na nan da ran su a Kano.

Tsigai da Danwanzan sun yi fice ne a bangaren wasannin kwaikwayo na ban-dariya, masu nuna rayuwar talakawa ko 'yan kauye. Tsigai ita ce matar Ibro (Rabilu Musa Danlasan) a wadannan wasannin. Hasali ma dai ita ce ta saka shi cikin wasan dirama, har ya zo ya zama shugaban kungiyar su ta dirama (Hamdala Drama Group). A wasannin, Tsigai ta kan fito a matar Ibro mafad'aciya, wadda ba ta gode dukkan abin da mijin ta ya ba ta, amma kuma daga karshe sai ta zo ta yi da-na-sani.

Lokacin da labarin rasuwar tasu ya bulla shekaranjiya waccan, ina Kano. Al'amarin ya girgiza mutane matuka, musamman 'yan fim da kuma masoyan wasannin Ibro. Na garzayo Kaduna don sake shirya mujallar Fim, wadda har za ta fito a ranar da aka yi rasuwar. Nan da nan aka sake buga wata sabuwa, aka saka mamatan biyu a bangon mujallar.

Allah ya jikan Tsigai da Danwanzan, amin.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Bilkisu Funtuwa Interview

By Ibrahim Sheme

Hajiya Bilkisu Salisu Ahmed Funtua (a.k.a. Aunty Bilki) is one of the leading women novelists writing in the Hausa language. In fact, she can be described as the most popular Hausa woman novelist. Married, she lives in purdah with her family in Funtua, Katsina State.

I was able to interview Aunty Bilki a few years ago when I was working as deputy editor of the Kaduna-based 'New Nigerian Weekly' newspaper. The interview, which happened to be the novelist's first, was conducted in Hausa and was translated by me for our readers. The interview was published in the newspaper as it appears here.

QUESTION: One would like to know when you began to write and why.

BILKISU: I started in 1983 with the publication of the novel Allura Cikin Ruwa (A Needle in the Water), though was not the first book I wrote, Wa Ya San Gobe? (Who Knows the Future?) was my first novel, but the other one was published earlier due to certain problems.

In what volumes is "Allura"?

It is in three volumes-books one to three.

So, what motivated you to become a writer?

There were many reasons: I think I was motivated by three main reasons, all of them based on my feelings for the North. The first is the way girls in the North are having their rights denied. You find a brilliant girl with the urge to further her education but as soon as she gets married the husband prevents her from going further. I know that marriage can not be a hindrance to a woman wanting to further her education. In this regard, Southerners are more progressive than us. As such, I realized that through the medium of writing using the little talent God gave me, I could put into the heads of girls ideas-through entertainment and enlightenment-to appreciate the importance of education.

Secondly, you find that once a Hausa girl gets married even if it is one based on love without the imposition of he parents, the marriage eventually collapses. In the past when our own parents and grandparents got marred, it was difficult to find two or three divorcees in the community. But nowadays it would be a lie for one to say there is no divorcee in one's family; in the community there are divorcees a] over the place, you hardly distinguish between the unmarried ladies and the ax-married ones.

The main cause for this is lack of understanding an! awareness on the way to live in marriage. That's how our children are: they don't know how to live together as couples. It is possible that other tribes are more realistic than u in teaching their children perseverance and attitudes in staying with their husbands. We the Hausa parents are too shy to do that; only the educated or enlightened ones among us would sit down with their daughters and teach them the way to do things that would improve their marriage. Parent only try to teach by example, in a sort of insinuatory manner which the daughters may not understand.

As a result of marrying off unenlightened girls, they soon lose interest in the marriage. Also, the husband himself might not have grown up enlightened, so he is quick to anger an~ so says he would not go on with the marriage. And a crisis would ensue. That is despite the fact that and love each other, they are materially comfortable, but the marriage collapses.

Thirdly, there is the issue of forced marriage. There is the need for children to take the advice of their parents. It is no always that parents, aim to marry off their daughters to rich people; sometimes, a girl would choose the wrong person and a partner whom her parents might oppose, and the girl's position would harden. I had observed that when the (present crop of) novelists started writing, they seemed to indicate that a marriage based on soyayya (love) is compulsory, the so-called auren dole (forced marriage), which your parents forced you into, would never work.

In my understanding, I observed that our own parents got married under such circumstance whereby a girl would not have ever met the prospective husband before the union was consummated; she would see him only after she had been taken to his house. It's their parents that would arrange everything, and it worked. Those were my three reasons for wanting to write, with the hope that girls in the North could progress in terms of marriage and education.

Did you read other people's books in order to pick styles and other insights?

I have been interested in reading quite a lot. I love to read more than you can imagine. But whenever I read the Hausa novels, before I began to write mine, I used to feel bad. I would begin to say only if so and so were was written or said, the story would have been more enlightening to people, instead of overemphasizing the romance aspect. I do not mean to say that I dislike the romance as I also incorporate it in my stories, but there is more enlightenment in my novels. There hadn't a novel I found impressive after reading it.

How many novels have you published so far?

I have published nine so far.

Why are all these prose fiction? You don't seem to delve into drama or poetry.

I have considered prose as the best medium of reaching out to women and men with my messages. Prose is the ideal way of teaching through entertainment.

I'd like you to respond to the charges critics make against contemporary Hausa novelists in general. For example, it is said that the novels are mere Western stereotypes, that they are based on Indian movies without consideration to Hausa culture.

If the critics are talking about me in particular, they are wrong. Other novelists may reflect those charges. Though I am not defending myself I know that all the books I wrote were not based on any film or Western life style. I write totally on Hausa way of life. However, I would like you to go and conduct an opinion poll on which novels the readers best like and the reason why they like them. I know they would first mention culture as a reason for liking them; there's a preponderance of local life style in a Hausa community, then we move on to the urban center. Therefore, the cultures I reflect in my novels are those of the Hausa man.

Let's be specific. Recently, a literary critic writing on the new Hausa writing in the Weekly Trust cited you as one of her examples. She said that in "Sirrin Boye" (The Hidden Secret), when Asma'u is about to meet her father for the first time, having been begotten out of wedlock, she falls into the arms of Faruk, her fiancé, out of apprehension on the encounter. The critic says that's not a Hausa cultural trait, that Asma'u should have burst into tears or something like that. Secondly, in the same book, you are charged for allowing a woman to go to her former suitor's house when her husband sends her packing at midnight instead of going to stay with the neighbors until daybreak

No, that is all truly Hausa culture. There is nothing confusion and apprehension could not cause, either to a Hausa, a white man or an Indian. Asma'u could have even collapsed on the ground then and faint in front of Faruk. The girl has spent twenty years of her life without ever knowing that she has a father and look at the way the father himself comes. Then she, suddenly finds herself in an exotic place where she may not even be accepted. Hence her utter bewilderment. As such whatever anyone does in such a circumstance, especially since she has been considering Faruk as her elder brother is excusable.

Secondly, the critic mentioned the issue of Abu, the mother of Asma'u, who leaves her husband's house and goes to her former boyfriend's house. I think she is right in going to that house because whenever she goes to her father's house he used to beat her and chase her out. She had been going to take refuge in the houses of his friends without getting the necessary succor; they send her back. She therefore goes to her boyfriend's house in order to persuade him to elope together.

In Hausa culture, there may be other alternatives. Abu could have gone to her own relatives' houses no matter how far away. Didn't you consider that?

Abu had done all that, without getting relief. She therefore goes to her boyfriend for relief as all her travails are due to her insistence on him.

You are also charged with encouraging black magic in Sa'adatu Sa'ar Mata (Sa'adatu the Lucky Woman). When Sa'adatu and her suitor Junaid fall apart, she takes up the advice of her mother and her friends and goes to a seer who gives them a love potion. This purportedly helps in cementing the relationship eventually, in which they beget children and live happily ever after. You seem to teach that what the malam does is scientifically and morally correct.

Everybody knows there is the concept of istihara (giving God the choice', a prayerful divination through heavenly intervention) in Islam, isn't it? Asma'u believes in istihara. It is her parents and friends that advice on going to a boka (shaman). Now, it would be an illusion (for us) to assume that our parents and grandparents (the older generation) would not seek for the intervention of apothecaries; it's an age-old tradition.

My aim was to enlighten the younger generation about the superiority of istihara and prayers over the traditional method. I have only made comparisons and showed that it is difficult for children to reject their parents' insistence on soliciting for the intervention of Malams in private affairs. Opposing parents would hurt them, it's better to even pretend to obey them in that regard.

Asma'u has obeyed her parents because they have suffered a lot before they could convince her to take that decision. Even in the Qur'an there is the concept of the efficacy of sorcery and the need for its prevention. Now, all the medicines I mentioned were used by Asma'u none was not used by the holy Prophet Muhammad: milk, honey, meat and dates. These are medicants that you are recommended to use even if you are healthy. They are the ones Sa'adatu uses, not the ones the apothecary gave her. It is Sa'adatu's co-wife who believes in black magic but who pays dearly for it and is eventually divorced.

As a writer, why did you go into film production?

I did so because of old folks non-literates, who would like to read the stories but cannot. I realized that through home videos l could render another great help. Whoever cannot read can watch the video. Also these days men used to say to women, "Oh, why are you immersed in that book? The woman told her husband "Whatever change you see in me, like stopping visiting to many people, I learnt it from this book. Therefore, Aunty Bilki's book is (like) the Hadith (saying of Prophet Muhammad). The husband was so glad. Suddenly, one day (my film) Ki Yarda Da Ni arrived and he sat down and watched it. And he was so impressed that he and his wife came all the way from Bauchi to Funtua just to see me. At that time they had a problem of polygamy, which I often write about: (advising that) women should live with their co-wives; a co-wife is your sister in all respects, so don't get unnecessarily worked up. I preach that, and we've progressed (in enlightenment) a lot.

Does that mean you will produce more movies?

Yes. By God's grace all my books, whether I am alive or not - I have put it in my will, my relatives and children know it - will be filmed.

Do you envisage a time when you will retire from writing?

As long as there are problems in the world, I will write till die or I am not well. Everyday one confronts one problem or the other which needs to be critically examined.

Where do you get your themes?

Even though I am secluded I used to go out once in a while and receive. visitors. In fact this writing business has made it possible for me to know problems more than before. People always phone me, visitors come, in a day even if I receive a hundred visitors I don't see it as too many. Some bring along a piece of advise which I find to be another form of problem requiring creative attention.

Don't you feel mobbed by these visits?

Honestly, I do. For instance yesterday I wasn't feeling well and my sisters had come to discuss the wedding we are having today (my sister's). But then so many visitors came over. I felt somehow disturbed by people. However, I realized that it was entirely my fault, for I was the one that attracted them to me, so I have nothing to do about it. In any case I love people, so I feel okay with them.

What is your relationship with other writers? Are you a member of any writers' association?

I am not a member of any association but I relate well with my fellow writers. As of associations, my husband wouldn't tolerate my trips to meetings. Moreover, there are certain things that make it hard for me to be in a writers' associations.

Like what?

For example the (critics') idea that I transform foreign movies into book annoys me. If one reads my book dispassionately one would see that the story realistic and not copied from films. One would feel like one even knows the characters in real life. As such it's the Hausa culture that I write about. I am not happy that writers pick up stories from films and make them theirs. Our cultures are different.

What do you feel can become the future of the contemporary Hausa novel?

We are developing. At the moment, people learn lesson from the stories.

Do you, on your own, react to criticism in order to enlighten your readers on your motives?

It is only God that can satisfy people. Each reader has a different way of seeing things. Look at my intention for writing (about the character) Asma'u: to show that a good child could be begotten through fornication; God knows we shouldn't throw such a child away, because no one surpasses anyone in the eyes of God except those that tear Him most. Asma'u was begotten through bad way but God made her very devoted to God, very modest. And her mother, it is extremism in religious and cultural views that forced her to go astray. In my view, people can learn from this.

What type of problems did you face in the early days of your writing?

Well, they were mainly those of lack of funds; one is a secluded house-wife with no helper in terms of who would go out and pursue the publishing. But I've got a husband who is deeply interested in seeing that I was published, so he helped with the funds to the best of his ability.

What advice do you have for upcoming, unpublished writers?

My advice is to write what readers can pick moral lesson' from, not things that can teach only immorality especially those transforming films into their books. How could you pick Indian culture and bring it here without attracting negative attention? For instance, there was one writer who wrote about a girl who fell into a well to protest a marriage she was being forced into by her parents. I don't think this is a good way of teaching morals; there are other ways that that girl could show her protest: (And) if it is her destiny to marry the man, she would marry him. Another writer told the story of a girl who, because of her infatuation to a boy, put poison in her grandmother's food who ate it and died, just because she wanted to marry the boy. Why should you commit murder in order to marry someone? This is a bad moral which shouldn't be put in a literary work. In my view, such stories shouldn't be told or written.

As for me, anyone that says there no local culture in my books hasn't really lead them or hasn't understood them. I really give our culture priority. I also give priority to our religion; in fact, I was the first writer to be reproducing useful prayers and infusing them into my stories to the extent that people ask if they are genuine. Any of my female characters that finds herself in a crisis would be found praying.

Yes, some critics see positive morals in your stories. For example, in Sirrin Boye, Asma'u, Zubaida and Bilkisu, who are female, are doctors; in Sa'adatu Sa'ar Mata, Sa'adatu is a journalist educated in England, and in Wa Ya San Gobe? Fatima is a school teacher who eventually becomes a federal minister of education. These show that you encourage female education.

That is right. Fatima is from a very poor background but grew to that level.

Hajiya, thank you very much.

You are welcome.

Damina ta iso Kano

Allah mai iko! A yau dai an kwarara ruwan sama na farko a birnin Kano. An soma ruwan ne jim kadan bayan magariba kuma an yi shi har zuwa wajen bayan isha'i. Ni kai na na sha dukan ruwan duk da yake a mota na ke (na bar gidan su marubuciya Maryam Ali Ali tare da aboki na Isiaka Aliagan, wanda ya wallafa mata littafin ta na "Faces of Naira," na tafi in kai shi Unguwa Uku shi da wani kanen sa. Tilas ta sa mu ka rika bude gilashin motar, ruwa na dan shigowa).

Kai! Amma dai mazauna birnin Dabo sun sha zafi a cikin 'yan kwanakin nan. Har ina cewa rabo na da jin zafin gari irin na bana, an dad'e! Kusan kowa a Kano addu'a ya ke yi Allah ya kawo ruwan sama. Kuma an shafe kwanaki da dama mu na jin labarin cewa an yi ruwa a gari kaza ko a gari kaza (misali, an yi ruwa mai yawa a Kaduna jiya). A Kano, da kyar mutum ke iya yin barci da dare saboda matsanancin zafi. Wani aboki na marubuci cewa ya yi shi dai duk da yake ba mai son esi ba ne, to amma zai yi kokari ya sayi esi don magance wannan d'an karen zafi da ake yi. Ni ma a yau da rana, lokacin da na ke cin abinci, na fad'a wa maidaki na cewa, "Sam ba na jin dadin cin abinci cikin 'yan kwanakin nan, duk na yi losing appetite. Na kan dai ci abinci ne kamar wani patient!"

Wani abin mamaki shi ne, Kano ta samu sanyin yanayi sosai. A yanzu haka da na ke wannan rubutun, ina d'an yin rawar d'ari. Ina jin ba zan ma iya barci ba sai na d'an sha shayi. Dan'adam kenan! Allah ba ya iya masa! Sai ka ce ba 'yan awoyi kadan da su ka gabata ba ne mu ke kukan zafi, yanzu kuma za mu fara kukan sanyi ya yi yawa! Allah, ka gafarce mu.

Ko banza dai a yau mutum zai kwanta ya yi barci a cikin sakewa. Kila har da minshari da tattake mayafi.

Ya Allah! Yadda mu ka ga farkon wannan damina, Ka sa mu ga karshen ta lafiya, amin. Ka sa wannan damina ta kasance mai albarka ga kasar mu baki day, amin.

Friday, 6 April 2007


The April fools think April is it
when the skies will open up
and vomit out the rain
onto their scorched throats

the sahara's wide expanse
awash with the wicked
is covered with coals of fire
and the journey is long
the camels famished

the guide perched yonder
on the fattest dromedary
gutting his yoghurt
littering the path with
hurting cans

the April sun scorches
our famished skin
as we pick up empty cans
of yoghurt from the trash
under the dromedary

trudging along

along this bushsahara path
that leads nowhere

the April fools.


At the premiere of 'Jere'

Last night at the British Council, Kano, I attended the premiere of "Jere", a 10-minute Hausa movie made by Ahmad Abubakar (a.k.a. Dr), the Group Owner of the kanowritersforum on Yahoogroups. The movie was made as part of the Connecting Futures programme. "Jere" means decorations (of a bride's room), a practice to which women attach so much importance. In the movie, the heroine Larai (Maryam Booth, daughter of the renown Hausa actress Zainab Booth), is forced to engage in "talla" (hawking of assorted wares) by her mother in order to make enough for the mother to buy "jere" materials for the girl when her marriage comes. A rather paedophilic man deceives the girl with gifts and succeeds in having carnal knowledge of her. The message is on the ills of hawking in Hausa society, which is so rampant. Jere is the metaphor for the rampant greed among poor Hausa mothers, who also respond to societal pressure of impressing others with the amount of decorations they put up for their daughters. I hear that this practice is also widespread among other non-Hausa African women.

It is amazing that so much can be put into so short a movie. The crowd was very appreciative of the movie. Unfortunately for me, however, I arrived rather late, so I was able to watch only about half of the movie. From what I saw on the screen (and heard during the interactive session) I have no qualms about Dr Ahmad and Co.'s achievements. The comments made by members of the audience were revealing; they filled the gaps for me.

The filmmakers made frenetic efforts to defend themselves from the charges some members of the audience made regarding the theme (which Prof Abdalla said was an old one) and the technical aspects. My thinking is that the makers of "Jere" should take the comments in their stride and endeavour to sift the grains from the chaff; meaning they should not take offence at any of the views expressed there.

I have also met the young actresses who led the cast. Maryam Booth, a teenager, is bound to excel in future if given challenging roles such as this one. The pity is that she may be mired in the Indian copycat melodramas we call Hausa movies, where she has been acting occasionally in supportive roles.

There is also the role of "short" films in Hausa land. Will they make any difference? What impact will they make on the larger movie industry? The people behind "Jere" have benefited from the British Council intervention, which brought experts from UK like Ian Masters (who visited me at my office in Kaduna when he came to Nigeria in 1996), so they have a better chance of influencing others in the industry. Can they? They are not full-time filmmakers like Ali Nuhu and co., who are basically in it for the money. But they will definitely constitute a small group of professional filmmakers producing "art films" for the more critical and appreciative audience (like me!).

I doff my hat to the director of "Jere." He should aim higher. Wish him good luck.


At my age 30 and nine a star
on my horizon
with a human face

it looked just like me!

rhymed. And we danced
together at the village green where
prettified things were said
by the talking drums

at my rife age
of eight and 40, the talking
drums struggle with different tunes
jarring to the soul

the star has darkened
besmirched by lies foretold, told, retold
the side of its mouth broken
like some outdated record
face wizened albeit decorous

no longer human or humane
but monstrous
like Medusa

it can't look like me!

yet on my tired horizon
a new dawn is blazing
(of light or raging inferno?)
yolky, leeringly promising

like a paedophile luring
the sub-teen

reassuring me
that things will now be ok
vowing to look just like me

should I bolt from
or cling to hope as I did
eight agonising seasons ago
that my drink is here at last

and be petrified finally
for ever and ever


Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Naked Woman

Naked Woman
A short story by Ibrahim Sheme

Asiya looked at her eyes and was surprised to find them staring back at her, unblinking and watery. As she parted her pouting lips and prepared her aching throat for the swallow, the eyes moved from their shrill stillness, slid downwards and poured into her mouth, down her throat, and down still more. As she swallowed the cold water more and more, eyes closed now, she felt the heat descending on the office, slowly assuming an oppressive character, reminding her that she was wearing her close fitting, self-woven cardigan over her atampa blouse, her hair shawled in a light, cotton scarf, her lower body covered in an expensive floral English wax. She put the glass down on the centre-table and poured some more of the refrigerated water. Just like before, her eyes were still there, but this time around they were swinging to and fro wildly in the rippling, ice-cold water. Should she wait as long as before for the water to stay still so that she could see her eyes swimming in the clear mirror of its purity? she wondered. She glanced quickly at her wristwatch. The time was 10:30 P.M. The office block was very quiet as all the staff but herself had closed for the day.

She picked her bag, stood up and briskly switched off the lights without bothering to rearrange the scattered papers on her desk. She put on her shoes, moved out of the office and locked the door. The click the door made, as Asiya stood in the dimly lit corridor, was like a thunder crash in the building. She glanced over her shoulder, expecting to see an evil spirit leap out of the rugs or the walls. Nothing moved. She could hear the muted roar of downtown as cars sped down Aminu Kano Avenue. She walked down the corridor, trying to make only the least sound. Why do I have to stay so late? she wondered.

She took the lift to the ground floor. As she turned the corner that led to the reception lobby she stopped abruptly with a sharp intake of breath when she saw him. It was Humpty-Dumpty. The goblin had lept out of nowhere and nothingness and stood watching her under his bushy, too bushy, eyebrows, his thick sideburns completing the frightening picture. Asiya didn't know just when she uttered a small, gaggled scream, at the same time taking several steps backward. Her bag hung from her shoulder, oscillating like a pendulum. Just like her eyes in the cup of water.
Humpty-Dumpty smiled. "Oh, I'm sorry to frighten you madam," he said, not moving. "So sorry. Don't tell me you didn't recognise me." He broke out into a vibrating laughter until tears stood in his eyes.

Oh yes, she recognised the voice. Then she looked properly at him, her long eyelashes fluttering. Oh God, it's not a genie; it's Malam Sama, the night-watchman. Asiya sighed heavily, frightened. "But you should have -- I mean, I ought to have known about your presence. You seemed to have emerged out of nowhere. And I was so carried away in my thoughts..."

He added understandingly, almost paternally, 'Don't get upset. I was outside, with Emma. We saw the lights go out upstairs in your office and we wondered. We had thought that everybody had closed. So I came up to check. Just in case..." he grimacfed, then shrugged. "Sorry to take you unawares. Absolutely sorry." He began to whoop-cough.

She nodded.

He still stood in her way. She gestured with her hand, indicating that she wanted to pass. He apologised profusely and stepped aside. Asiya passed by him and walked gingerly towards the staircase. The old man trailed behind. He even offered to carry her handbag but she said she could manage.

Nonetheless, her fright returned almost immediately. She didn't know why. Walking with the old man didn't give her any respite, which surprised her. She was still delirous. She could feel his eyes boring into her back, taking in the luxuriant sight of her height and, despite the thick atampa on her body, she felt naked, opened wide under his rabid stare. Hearing him trotting behind, his rubber shoe crashing on the floor like the waters falling down Kainji Dam, she got more scary images -- the old man trailing her with a bloodied dagger, trying to lunge it into the small of her back, for instance. Or, perhaps, he was staring at the rippling motion of her wonder-inducing bottom, fantasising a rape. No, that's crazy, she thought. Malam Sama is the most harmless man in Grapevine Insurance Corp., she figured. I am probably being hysterical, unnecessarily. He would even defend me against any incursion. Could he? He is pushing sixty from his looks. Asiya now wondered how manage he was still retained as a watchman in this cash-affairs organisation. Frail, stooping, tuberculous, he didn't look like he could stop a fly, talk less of a break-in.

Downstairs, she found her car in the shadows. It looked like a male gorilla crouching in the dark of a forest, listening to the tap-tap sound of a female human coming his way. But it was a beautiful car, a beautiful black darling which everyone in the corporation liked. Fumbling through her bag, she found her keys, opened the door and got in. The maigadi, watchman, bowed and even smiled. Opening the dashboard compartment, she brought out two twenty naira notes and gave him. He thanked her profusely, curtseying to collect the money. She noticed that her hands were shaky as she pushed the gear lever. At the gate she saw Emma, the other watchman. He opened the gate, saluted military-style and wished her goodnight. She replied with a nod and drove onto the street. Glancing back in her rearview mirror, she thought she had seen the lights come on in her second-floor office. Damn, let them come on, she thought defiantly.

There was little traffic in the city. Asiya manoeuvred the small Honda coupe through ranks of noisy taxis and expertly swerved from left to right and vice-versa. A young man in one of those new trend, saucerous sports cars, wearing a shirt and a tie, with dark goggles on, smiled at her. She was just about to smile back when she held up, scowled and trod on the throttle. Never love a stranger, she intoned outwardly. Never give a playboy an inroad to try his luck on you, babe. There and then she remembered that she had been feeling hot all day, and...damn it! She made an effort to push the thought out of her mind. How she wished the stranger would get back to her house again! She remembered that other night, when she cried with joy as he took her. God damn, I'm turning into a nymphomaniac or some upturned-headed pervert, she thought. But God, can't one afford to be normal once in a while? After all, it is a real human need. You can't cheat nature.

She remembered what her mother said every time Asiya visited the family home. "Asiya, I want you to get married before I die. A woman is supposed to get married at twelve, latest fourteen. You know it wasn't your father's wish that you should proceed to the university after secondary school. You know how hard I fought to let him allow you -- and that's only because I didn't want your friend Salma to overtake you or that you marry a man of small potential. But look at you now... You have even been to that white men's country and got another degree. Please, Asiya, let me hold my grandson in my arms before quitting this llfe."

Asiya was still looking for Mr. Right. Now she understood her greatest problem was to take care of her sexual needs. Her dreams worried her. Hardly did she sleep without dreaming about the stranger. He used to intercept her at all sorts of dreamland occasions and situations. Although Asiya was not particularly superstitious she wondered what the ceaseless dreams portended. Should she consult a seer to interpret it for her? Had it got something to do with her being single and a working lady at thirty-six? Or was she really turning into some sexual pervert? Asiya felt she was not particularly crazy about sex at all, but most times the need almost turned her crazy. Like today. She knew she had all what it takes, especially her three greatest 'B' assets -- beauty, body and brains. It wasn't her being good in bed that catapulted her to the position of Manager Administration at the insurance firm. If anything, no one in there could boast of ever peeping into the bare top of her knees. Beautiful and intelligent, with an MBA from Bristol, for her Mr. Right was always a man who could both satisfy her mother's strict scale of values and transport Asiya beyond the terrestrial murk of the present and the conscious and to a place without a name, a place only a few men existed and could reach. She had been there once in a while, naked, innocent, submissive, spread out like a petal after a downpour, a sequin and a spangle searching for a groove in which to stick and let her dam break like waterfalls. If only that stranger, that goblin of a man whose name she was yet to put a finger no, could return...!
Suddently, she felt hungry, this time for something to put in her stomach. Hunger gnawed at her entrails. She felt disemboweled. The last meal she had was a yam porridge with Coke in the senior staff canteen. She knew that it was too late for her now to start cooking when she reached home. There was a burger joint on the corner to her street where, if she was lucky, she might snatch something to bite. God, I hope they haven't closed now, she said to herself as her glance fell on the dashboard clock. The time was 11:46. But she was lucky, the joint was still open even though it was past closing time. Two cars stood in the driveway. As she parked, she noticed that someone was kissing a girl furiously in the back of one of the cars. Asiya averted her gaze as she walked into the well-decorated lobby. She quickly finished her food and drink and went out. One of the cars had gone. She heard the girl in the other car moaning and clawing at the glass window as the man made love to her. Beasts! Asiya thought angrily as, in the dim enclosure of the car, she also noticed, in the brief glance she took, that the car bore the calligraphic sign of Big Munch Burgers. The two 'beasts' could be staff of this place, Asiya told herself as she took Rugar Fulani Drive leading to her flat. Well, I have no right to call them beasts. I might as well be in that girl's position. Then her old ache for the stranger, the weird episodes of her dreams, returned. She recalled the stranger, the same faceless, nameless hulk of a man who meticulously undressed her. Her goblin. She even managed a smile. Then she scowled. The street was in pitch darkness. Oh my God! Asiya lamented. The notorius NEPA people again. No switching on the AC tonight. How can one sleep in this heart -- with meningitis killing hundreds? Isn't NEPA contributing to the pogrom?

Her home was in an estate of six adjoining flats. Saadou, the gate-man, cheerfully opened for her. She drove in. He came over and opened her door. "No lights again, Saadou?" she asked unnecessarily.

"No, Madam. NEPA again."

"Yes, NEPA. I don't know when they will ever grow up. This constant power cut is too much!"
For Asiya, there was nothing more humiliating than coming home fatigued from work and finding the house in darkness. She wondered when on earth someone would sue the public-owned electricity company for breach of contract. If the organisation can't work as an efficient public liability, then privatise the damn thing! she had always felt.

The Nigerien gateman was trying to tell her something in his broken Hausa as she was manoeuvring to park under the shed that was her garage. She kept nodding and saying, "Okay okay okay." He was fond of engaging her in small talk, but she wasn't ready for that now. Actually she considered the Tuareg a nice man, that was even why she was the only one in the estate that did not boss him around. Seeing the tension in her, he waved and went back to his duty post by the gate.

From the garage, Asiya unlocked the side door and entered her flat through the kitchen. She fumbled through the wooden drawers to find some matches to light the hurricane lamp. Something slipped across her legs, and Asiya screamed. The 'something' flew onto the water sink and stared back at her with blazing eyes the size of saucepans. The skylights coming through the window enabled Asiya to see that it was Kiz the cat after all.

"Kiz! Oh my God why did you frighten me?" cried Asiya. "Alright, come here let me hold you."


Asiya was running, like a woman possessed, through the night after Kiz, trying to catch the furry, golden-haired cat. The aminal ran into the house as Asiya followed her across the living-room, over a window, into yet another room. As she floated across a wide, smoky, unnameable space and stretched out her hands to scoop up the cat, something gripped her shoulders, suddenly, at the same time putting a big hand across her mouth, stopping her stifled scream. She tried to extricate herself from the vice-like grip, but it was useless. She felt him behind her and he was big. As big as she was. The sun stood a few inches from her eyes, like the lamp of a police interrogator torturing the brains of a detainee with its merciless dazzle. She struggled to free herself -- all to no avail. She felt his hot breath on her neck, from behind. One of his big hands was sliding down the small of her back, rubbing, then brushing, across her bottom. Asiya was almost swooning. The soccer pitch was gone. The space remained like an asteroid swinging in the cosmos.

Suffused in her recycled phantasmagoric frenzies, she clawed at his hand across her nose until her nostrils were free. Then she smelt him. Yes, it was him, "the" stranger, her own goblin! The smell told her everything. It was overpowering. He had come back. She never thought he would. When he told her that he might return on Friday, August the 6th, if his company gave him another day off, she thought that he was only crafting excuses. But here he was, her goblin, her genie, doing things that had kept her in a trance these past three weeks. Things she wouldn't want to give a name lest they became real. She was glad that he was here. She felt him slid his long tongue into one of her ears. She melted immediately. Like kadanya oil on a frying fan. Noting this, he took his hand away from her mouth, held her waist. Then he bent down a little and picked her up bodily. She felt weightless on his broad shoulder. Her eyes were closed and her lips parted a bit. She felt herself being carried through the great fields and orchards and into a structure that resembled her abode. Yes, she saw herself transported across a familiar corridor, beyond her study, across the sitting room, to the bedroom. It was another world. The spirit had overpowered her. Just what she had feared and wanted achingly all day. She felt herself gently lowered and deposited on the ocean bed. And she was fighting against sinking. But that masculine smell was all over her, pushing her down, down, down into her essence, then up... And she was singing. And crying. She was hanging on an icicle. But it was snapping. She allowed herself to go. The waves were closing in on her, clashing and crashing. Somewhere in the loud stillness of the sea she heard herself thrashing against maddening waters. She recalled the eyes sliding into her mouth, into her throat. And the gobling was also sliding. In and out. She saw big white clouds passing in the sky like garrisons on the war-front. And her mother was there almost invisible on the distant horizon, shaking her head. Was she disapproving of Asiya's behaviour, her indulging celibacy? But she was also smiling. Asiya felt herself and her gobling swimming together, rhythmically, and he was saying something she would rather not comprehend. Of course, he was not soliciting understanding, knowing that he had got it. She listened to his sweet nothings but could not understand them at all. White clouds had blocked her hearing and her vision. She remembered the girl at the burger cafe. There is a beast in every man and woman, she now decided. The clouds were throwing Asiya about like a tennis ball.

When the clouds turned grey and dark and moist she felt their waters breaking, like a woman giving birth to triplets, the juices of love dripping on her face, all over her wonderfully naked body. The rains fell in droughts, quenching her thirst. She sank deeper in the sea until she could feel the small of her back touching sand. A million fishlets swam by, each holding the other's tail with a tiny tooth, and tadpoles wriggling about in her brain cells, reminding her about her beauty, her brains, her shimmering nakedness. It took ages before she began to retrieve her dream-like life, her thoughts jagged like a century-old photo negative. The goblin was snoring already, his face in her sweaty armpit.

Then, slowly, the delirium began to lift and Asiya felt herself bobbing up towards the sea level, into a newer firmament, like a swallow proud of the purity of its flume. The wind had passed now, though its smell was still there. She was both a dead fish bobbing upwards and a whale that was given new life. Or that had given new life. As she opened her eyes to savour the beauty of the seaside, the room was suddenly plunged into an intense light, forcing her eyes open. She heard the boys down the road shouting appreciation to NEPA.

It was the blazing electric light that shook her awake, her eyes filmy and lugubrious like that of a cadaver coming back to life. She saw her face in the bedside mirror and noted a smile playing in the corners of her mouth. Her eyes looked below her bare navel. She didn't seize a bedsheet to cover herself, like she did that last time, because she no longer had anything to hide. When she closed her eyes even in this state of semi-wakefulness she saw him again. He was staring at her. She fell back on the pillow and resumed her fantasies. Nothing would make her throw them away. Not now when she had decided to take her mother's advice to get married. That was what my dreams portended, Asiya thought, deciding that she no longer needed an interpreter. She saw his eyes and they were boring into hers and they conjoined and she tried to read whatever was in his irises but couldn't because he was now searching for her mouth. She gave it to him. Wide. Eyes shut. His gentle, warm kisses and caresses assured her that the day's fight was over. Only love wasn't.