Sunday, 30 December 2007

Benazir, Allah ya jikan ki

Ga hoton Benazir da na fi so. An dauke ta a ranar da ta dawo gida daga gudun hijira. Allah ya jikan ta, ya tona azzaluman da suka kashe ta, amin!

Monday, 24 December 2007

I Publish Tozali To Promote Northerners – Maimuna


Maimuna Y. Abubakar, the publisher of Tozali magazine, is an outgoing entrepreneur wading into the hazardous waters of magazine publishing in the North. But she has focus and verve - just some of the credentials anyone would need to triumph in the difficult terrain

By Ibrahim Sheme

She displays a knack for invention and initiative. A lawyer by profession, she has just come into the field of journalism. In order to bridge the wide gap between the South and the North in the media industry, she has taken up the challenge and pioneered a soft-sale monthly magazine titled Tozali (i.e. Eyeliner). For style, Tozali is published in the mold of True Love, the Lagos-based monthly magazine devoted to women’s affairs - fashion, relationships, food, entertainment, achievers, etc. In a recent interview, Maimuna Y. Abubakar, a single lady, spoke about what motivated her into the venture and her writing career.

She was a civil servant until recently, having worked with the Corporate Affairs Commission in Abuja for three years. She resigned in order to start legal practice and publication.

“I will be thirty by 28th December, this year,” she said with a smile. The humble looking publisher says she likes making friends, meeting people, and writing. “I love new discoveries, I love reading newspapers and I love humanity.”

Maimuna hails from Gombe town. She had her primary education in Bauchi and attended Government Girls’ College, Bauchi. From there she proceeded to the Bayero University, Kano, and read law.

“Actually, while I was growing up, I had different thoughts on whether I should read journalism or to be a lawyer, or to be a pilot,” she said. “In fact, it was confusing. So, when I went to BUK and got admitted, I applied for mass communication and law but I was given law.”

When she graduated in 2000, she did her National Youth Service Corps between 2001-2002 before proceeding to the Nigerian Law School in 2003. In December 2003, almost immediately after the law school, she got a job with the CAC and started work in January 2004. She quit two months ago.

What inspired the young publisher to begin to pursue her dreams in publishing a lifestyle magazine?

“Well, I think it’s a dream,” she answered after a hesitation. “People have passion for things. I have always had passion for write-ups, for magazines, you know, for knowing about people, for bringing people out. It’s not necessarily me, but bringing other people out, things like culture, like tourism and what have you. I think my going into publishing a magazine is like living my dream. Law is my career but magazine is my dream.”

But she wouldn’t see herself as a writer per se even though she had tried her hand at writing some pieces in the past – some few stories, sometimes tragedy, love stories and so on. “When I was growing up, I liked writing so much. Whenever I was offended or something, I’d rather write you a letter than call you and tell you that you offended me.”

This was what actually inspired her to go into publication – to express her mind. Maimuna loves reading magazines and had wished that she had her own, especially the down market types. But then which type of publication did she have in mind? Culture came to her mind easily – her background, where she comes from. “Whenever I pick up a magazine, I feel sad that it doesn’t reflect the Northern culture, our values, our way of life; it doesn’t even reflect our people, especially the entertainment magazines.” That was another motivation to go into the field and be different.

“I am addicted to magazines like Ebony, Cosmopolitan and others. I can say maybe they inspired me in a way I don’t know. But what actually inspired me were those southern (Nigerian) magazines that have fashion and style and true love stories.

“Whenever I looked at these magazines I felt the need to bridge the gap. The people, the style, the fashion and everything they portray in their magazines was Southern. Hardly would you see them featuring Northerners, so I just felt there was a need to bridge that gap.”

The North, she felt, was a huge reservoir of cultural stuff that needed to be tapped. Other magazines wouldn’t do it.

“We have a lot of things in the North. We have our artistes who are left behind. We have our women that are also not mentioned, and what have you. So, I just felt there was a need to bridge this gap. There was need to celebrate Northern people.”

Tozali is just that. The maiden issue is a 62-page glossy affair and printed on high quality art paper. Right from the cover it is the female face of a Northerner that looks back at you. Inside, there are features and interviews on weddings, fashion, beauty, food, books, politics, movies, health, royalty, travel and sports - all with a distinctive Northern touch. But for a women’s magazine (but probably with a reason), the men are not left out entirely; in fact, whereas only one photograph of a woman appears on the cover, there are two photographs of male politicians on the same cover.

The Abuja-based magazine is written in a friendly, down to earth diction that makes for easy reading. But the printing, layout and editing need improvement if it is to compete favourably with other magazines even in its area of coverage. Also, less-text-more-photos would help.

Any problem with being sectional, that is Northern? The barrister-publisher justifies her editorial focus very well.

“If you look at my editorial,” she said, “I stated that the main aim of my magazine is to celebrate Northern women, and lots more, so that they will be able to inspire others, like the younger ones coming up. I want to divert the attention of growing up Northerners from the Southern way of dressing, which is almost like dressing half naked and what have you, that is, over-exposing their body – all in the name of being fashionable. I want them to know that in our own Northern way, you can still wear the normal Northern clothes, the normal veil, and still look very fashionable.

“And again, in the Northern profile you could see that when you read people’s profiles you find out that they started from somewhere and it’s not as if they woke up one morning and became who they are. You know everything started somewhere. It starts from the scratch before you can bring it out to limelight so that people can start appreciating them.”

The maiden issue contains a revealing interview with Dr Ibrahim Tahir in which he exposes a lot about his upbringing and the background to some of his subsequent accomplishments. Such interviews are engaging and interesting, but they would be nicer if it is the women that are profiled, unless of course it is also meant to be a unisex publication.

Publishing in the North can be hazardous, what with the pathetic reading culture and poor response of advertisers. Nevertheless, Barrister Abubakar seems to be satisfied with the reaction of her readers.

“Whenever I try to find out from people, some of them would call from places like Bauchi, especially those who know me, and they are like, ‘Ah! I saw your magazine!’ It’s encouraging, because this is something new in the society.

“I think people find it amazing and great that somebody can actually do something like that for the North. Probably a lot of people wanted to do it but they just didn’t feel they were capable. That’s one funny thing about us Northerners: sometimes we just don’t feel as if we are capable of something until we start, but when we start, we find out that we are capable of doing it.”

There are at least three challenges that are very peculiar to Northern publishers of magazines and newspapers. One is the challenge of distribution and sales. Second is the challenge of getting advertisements to support the business venture, and the third is the poor reading culture in the region. A newcomer in this terrain must have a plan to overcome these.

“Well, before I went into this, I did my homework. I did some market survey,” Maimuna said confidently.

What kind of editorial focus does Tozali have? Is it going to be focused on ceremonies, like Ovation, or is it going to focus on developmental issues such as women in politics or personality profiles?

Maimuna answered, “I cannot deviate from politics because when you are celebrating a Northern career woman, you find out there is somebody else in politics celebrating them. And I don’t want to celebrate Northern women alone but also Northern men. In my magazine, I have a profile for men. Actually, what I want to do is to put the North in the limelight. My focus is the woman and her life generally in the North; as a career woman, as a family woman…

“You could see that women have several roles to play in the society. You may be a career person but you can also show people that you can also make it work at the home front.

“I would like to bring out women developmental projects like HIV/AIDS, child developmental projects, etc. I would also have a profile of people who have made it. We can have some event pictures. I am not saying events are my main focus but maybe there is an event and someone wants us to cover it, I would like to do it fast. So there are going to be fashion pages, beauty pages, a lot of events pages, cooking, and so on.”

Chewing too much? Trying to pack so much into one magazine? Are there chances that she could lose focus? To answer these triple questions, the publisher replied, “I don't think I can lose focus. The only thing is that I am trying to be objective about my vision so that whenever you grab a copy of the magazine, you will find something that will interest you, whether you are a woman or a man.”

Does that mean she has a policy such as she wouldn’t want her reporters to touch Southern issues?

“I would rather concentrate on Northern women,” came the reply. “I am not saying that I will not bring a Southerner into my paper, or bring a profile of a Southerner into my magazine, but my major concern is a Northern person. When I say that, I mean North irrespective of the area you come from. It is just a soft story about you.”

Finally, Maimuna was asked to make an appeal, if any, to Northern women vis-à-vis her magazine.

“I want to appeal for their support, their recognition, because I can’t do this thing alone without them. It is not as if I am doing it for my own self. I am doing it because I am a fellow Northerner; I am doing it because I want the North to go places so that everybody can see the North in a different perspective. I want people to see North in Nigeria and that there are Northerners in Nigeria and they have a special culture and a way of doing things which should be appreciated.”

So help her God.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Ibrahim Sheme - an interview

This interview was posted on

IBRAHIM SHEME, Editor of Leadership newspaper, is a bilingual writer who has made his mark in both English and Hausa literatures. A Journalism graduate of Cardiff University, UK, and publisher of Hausa home video magazine, Fim, he has produced quite a number of critically acclaimed works in both languages. And recently his latest novel in Hausa, Yar’tsana, won the maiden edition of Karaye Prize for Hausa Literature. In this interview with SUMAILA UMAISHA, he speaks on the prize and the state of Hausa Literature.

NNW: Recently you won the maiden edition of Karaye Prize for Hausa literature. How did you feel?

Ibrahim Sheme: I was really overjoyed to become the winner of the maiden edition of this particular prize. I was even more glad because it has been a very long time before any effort was made towards improving the quality of Hausa literature. I believe that literary awards do help bring out the best in any literary environment. So this award demonstrates the desire of some people to see that our literary values are improved.

There have been criticisms about Hausa literature not being as it used to be in terms of quality. Would you say this prize is a proof of the fact that the contemporary Hausa literature is now improving?

Let’s start with those criticisms. The people making those criticisms have the right to express their minds. But it does not mean that what they are saying is correct about the contemporary Hausa literature. The main criticism is that our writers have concentrated on romance instead of writing about the day to day problems of society, and that the quality of their writing is very low. Now, because of the deluge of books that the youths have been producing you find that it is difficult to sift out the good ones. Because people concentrate on the number that is being produced, they think there is no any good work available. But I can tell you that in the last few years there has been a tremendous push towards bringing out qualitative Hausa literary works. So this award is a proof that something good is coming out of the Hausa literary environment. When the award was announced, over 20 entries were received, after which the three winners emerged. These winners can be said to be the best out of the whole pack. So now it is up to people to go and look at the three winners as representatives of the best of our literature and assess them based on any yardstick and then see whether we have improved in the last few years or not.

Do you classify your writing as Kano Market Literature?

Well, Kano Market Literature has some characteristics. So in order to make any classification we have to know the characteristics. And I will tell you that the characteristics that the main critics of the so-called Kano Market Literature developed, I was the first person to list them in a newspaper even before the critics turned them into their own initiative. First, there is the question of romance. Most Kano Market Literature books tell love stories of young people. Secondly, the quality of production, the printing, is very low. They use very cheap paper to print their books. Some of them even recycle almanacs to print the cover of their books. And the books are mostly pamphlets. Then, of course, they are self-produced. They are not produced under any particular registered publishing company. They just write their thing, go to a business centre, typeset it and take it to a printer. Then there is a question of marketing. They take the books individually to some traders in Kano. You don’t see this books in established bookshops. Also the books are hardly edited. They contain very bad grammar; they don’t follow the rules of writing. You see dialogues without quotation marks, no comas where necessary. And they jam words together. You see five words jammed together. These are some of the characteristics. Now, if you look at the three winners and others that have entered, a lot of improvement have been made in the last few years. People now take their books to academics in the universities and fellow writers for editing.
Talking about the three winners. I will just talk about the two, the first and second winners, because the third one I have not read his book. My book, Yar’tsana is over two hundred and seventy pages. So, it is a standard size. It was edited by a lot of people. Some of the more virulent critics have read it and made recommendations, and I was forced to even make changes here and there in the story-line. It was published by Informart Publishers, which is a formal publishing company registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. I own the company but that does not make it self-publishing because it went through all the rigours of normal publishing. It abides by all the rules of grammar and it is not about romance. It is about prostitution, one of the social problems that bedevil our society. The other book, Matar Uba, by Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, which came second, also went through some rigours of publishing. I know, because it was first submitted to my company for publishing and I distributed copies to some people who edited it. I also read the book personally and edited it and made it ready for publishing. But eventually, the author withdrew it from the company, saying she wanted to have a look at it. And when she took it she also asked for the electronic copy. Then she just took it to a printing press and produced it herself. You could see that the quality of the printing does not meet our own standard. But by and large, it went through the rigours of editing. And the story is not about romance also. Now, this romance issue, let me say something about it. It is not because a book is about romance that it is essentially a Kano Market Literature as the critics are saying. You could produce a love story and win a Nobel prize with it. It depends on the way you told the story, the style you employed, and how the book is produced. So, romance may be a characteristics of Kano Market Literature but it is not always a negative thing.

Is this your first prize in Hausa literature?

No. In 1987, Kaduna State Government organized what was called Northern Nigerian Languages Novel Writing Competition. I entered that competition with my novel, Kifin Rijiya (The Ignoramus) and I came third in that competition. So this particular one I can say I’m the winner while in that one I was a runner-up.

What will this do to your writing career especially in Hausa literature?

This has assured me that I’m on the right track. It has also gingered up debate in the Hausa writing circles, which is largely based in Kano. I have had the privilege to be in a forum where the prize was discussed and I hear some Hausa writers talking about my writings. And on my own part I felt that I should also improve on what I write. I should introduce new styles in my writing in Hausa. I was also encouraged to keep on writing in my language. I realized that I don’t have to write in English language to gain popularity or gain acceptance. By this award I’m also assured that my work, Yar’tsana, is the best among all the books produced in the last five years. Because, this competition covered five years. So it is really encouraging.

What would you say to those who instituted the prize?

They have done a wonderful job. We have a saying in Hausa; ana zaton wuta a makera sai ta tashi a masaka. That literally means while fire is expected at the blacksmith’s shop, it was found in a textile factory. That means that the people who organized this award were not expected to have done it. First, Hajiya Bilkisu, who instituted the prize in memory of her late husband is a lawyer, her husband was an engineer, and the man who advised her to institute the prize, Patrick Oguejiofor, is an Ibo man. And some others like Emman Shehu and Ahmed Maiwada that helped to administer the prize are Christians even though they are Hausa. They did it because they believe in the universality of literary values. They believe that literature, in whatever language it is produced, is about humanity. Even the first literary competition in 1933 was organized by a white man, Mr. East. And the one in 1981 was organized by another Christian although he was a Hausa man, Garba Malumfashi by name. These are people who believe that Hausa literature should be improved. They don’t have any hidden agenda. They are just doing it because they believe somebody has to do it. So they have our commendation. The whole Hausa writing circle has been commending their efforts. And I think they should be encouraged by all to continue in their path. It is also a challenge to other people, especially our so-called leaders, to wake up to their responsibilities. They should institute this kind of competition not only in Hausa literature but in different spheres of life in Hausa land. When you organize any competition, even if it is a boxing competition, you are encouraging some excellence.

(c) Interview by Sumaila umaisha, published in the New Nigerian newspaper edition of 15th December, 2007.