My 2019 Review (2): The Dearth of Literature and a Challenge to Writers, by Barr Gimba


One thing I took much cognizance of in 2019 is the dire need for a redux of Literature, the dearth of it in Yobe State is alarming! Literature is written works with an artistic feel that gives us an insight into the world, they mirror the society they emanate from.

Such works help to address a lot of societal issues and have shaped civilizations through tragedy and comedy, satire and fables, heroes and antiheroes. Literature informs and entertains readers, preserves the history and culture of a people, and gives a glimpse of the future.

The contemporary issues bedeviling our state includes the insurgency, illiteracy, gender-based violence, and tribalism. Yet, you will hardly find any indigenous work of fiction or nonfiction that educates the society or proffers solution about these issues; only foreign texts. We cannot continue to have our problems seen through foreign eyes, judged by foreign hearts, and documented by foreign hands. This kind of literature is not only subjective but lack a deep understanding of our society, the nature of our people and our history.

We need indigenous writers and literature, not to discard foreign literature but to create a balance, and give multiple dimensions to the thoughts, knowledge, and vision of our youth or as Kevin Nawn aptly puts it “the youth should be educated in the great ideas of not only its own culture and time but other cultures and times as well.” I have no statistics on the number of leisure readers we have, but they are not much, the quality and quantity of books in our bookshops prove it.

Those that do, mostly rely on International Bestsellers and other foreign texts that – in the bigger picture – superbly portray a way of life that isn’t ours. Now, whether it’s human nature or it’s an effect from the sheer beauty of words, a side effect of literature does exist. It arises when what one’s taste isn’t well balanced when you subject yourself to a specific author or style and lose yourself, by completely absolving the writer’s culture, values, and beliefs. E. M. Forster described it positively as “What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote.” Indigenous works would water down the influence of foreign texts, balance our views, help us see our culture with the same light we see other cultures, and teach us to cherish our own.

A redux of literature is a daunting but crucial task, we must do it for our youth and for our future. The youth are the custodians of tomorrow’s history; traditionally saddled with the responsibility of passing oral literature (mostly history and folklore) from their generation to the next. Literature projects the future, by dropping hints for scientists to pic. Works that were previously deemed crazy by readers have been brought to life through science. Among such works are:

* Submarine – Jules Verne imagined a great underwater ship called the Nautilus, led by Captain Nemo in his book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

* Cell Phone – One of the most famous Star Trek gadgets was the “communicator,” which was a wireless phone that planted the idea of today’s cell phones.

* Self Driving Cars – Jules Verne Uber, Lyft, Tesla, and Apple are all working towards becoming the first to sell self-driving vehicles to the public. The idea of a self-driving car was implanted by Isaac Asimov in 1964.

* 3D Printer – A 3D Printer is a machine that allows the creation of a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model. Cars, shoes, clothing and even food have been printed using a 3D printer.

Now, I don’t know what you think of the future but it can be good, it can be great, it can be surreal. And literature would play a major part in that. Imagine having the creative minds to come up with generation changing ideas and having the scientists to research, work and bring fantasy into reality. Just. Imagine.

With the technical death of Oral Literature (including the Gizo da Koki Fables) and without written texts in place, our history can only be found in museums at the Shehu’s or Emirs’ Palaces. Knowing of our proud heritage would be good for the youth, knowing it through the aesthetically would be beautiful. Apart from eliminating the inferiority complex that has engulfed a large section of us, it would give us a sense of identity and a redefined purpose.

As a child, I followed Desert Herald religiously, not because I was much interested in news or current affairs but because of its cartoon series; the Mai. A story (it didn’t carry much words but one that I beautifully resonated with, and was my escape not out of but into life) about the Kanem-Bornu Empire and its glorious capital, Ngazargamu. It is a pity I didn’t get to read it to the end, and even pitier that there is no historical fiction to fill this void for me and other curious enthusiasts out there.

I haven’t satisfied this boyish curiosity even after finding more and more about that which I would have on a “normal circumstances” been taught to sing under the chilly moon and around a fire that is a panacea for cold and for the nyctophobia of a kid.

Kanem-Bornu was known to Arabian Geographers as far back as the 9th Century and lasted for more than a thousand years. Its territory at various times included the modern day southern Chad, northern Cameroon, northeastern Nigeria, eastern Niger, and southern Libya. And written manuscripts that date as far back as the 1,000 AD have been found in the region, showing that the dearth of literature is not a historical problem for our society.

Well, I hope you are listening to me, writers! Your writing can be a lenitive to victims of physical or emotional abuse, it can educate and inform, fight tribalism and insurgency and it can be a lens that projects the future to the society.

Surely, the pen is mightier than the sword, and from where I stand… The cudgel is staring at us in the face, it is up to us to pick it up and write, not for ourselves, not for our families but for the debt we owe our society. It is up to us!


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