By Ismail Bala
In the annals of Nigerian letters, Dr Bukar Usman stands tall and is unmatched not just in sheer creative fecundity, but most significantly in the range of his creative concerns and intellectual interests. Dr Bukar is the author of over a dozen books; very few writers and public intellectuals are as productive or prolific as he is. Over the years, he has written in practically all the genres in addition to many works ranging across history, social and political commentary, orature and folklore, among others. He has written on a variety of topics, from the history of his native Biu to folktales. His views and opinions, marked by over thirty years of experience as a public servant, have reached a wide range of readers through his books, pamphlets, treatises, audio CDs and the lecture circuit, whether the subject is security in north-eastern Nigeria, Hausa orature or the question of good governance and development in Nigeria.
With the publication of the present book, Dr Usman has scored another first and cemented his position as a quintessential man of letters. As far as this reviewer is concerned, Kundin Hirarrakin Bukar Usman [Collected Interviews of Bukar Usman] is the first book of its kind to collect interviews in Hausa into a single text. Like a typical collection of interviews, the book gathers as diverse and representative of a range of interviews covering the intellectual and creative gamut of Dr Usman as is possible within the scope and limitations of a single book.
Over the years, in his capacity as an administrator, civil servant (who rose through the ranks to become a Permanent Secretary in the Presidency), historian, folklorist, political commentator, cultural enthusiast and patron of the arts and culture, Dr Usman has granted a lot of interviews in different platforms and media (radio, television, and print etc.). The present book collates these disparate interviews and makes them available for the first time. The 37 interviews were conducted in both Hausa and English but they are all rendered into Hausa for this publication.
For both readers and scholars alike, literary (and to large extent, journalistic) interviews have become important gateways to literature and the arts generally. Barring the interviews popularised by the Paris Review, interviews are usually short and reader-friendly; they often are accessible in various popular media. Furthermore, especially since the rise of the Internet, interviews most of the time remain available in the public domain. Personal interviews (the subjective in-depth interviews), along with accompanying illustrations (photographs, drawings, and sometimes also facsimiles of manuscript pages or letters), have significantly contributed to the visibility (or otherwise) of writers in contemporary literary and intellectual dispensation. They provide firsthand information from the writer about their works or intellectual or ideological leanings and literary opinions but also about their life, personal history and experiences, viewpoints, and personality and can contribute to a writer’s celebrity status. As sources of information, interviews derive (a significant part of) their credibility and acceptability from the lingering and renewed belief — against the intentional fallacy — that writer can offer unique insights into their work.
The various interviews collected in the book collectively record Dr Usman’s perceptions of his many (literary, historical and folkloric) works, describe the biographical and historical context of his intellectual poise and offer commentary on the larger literary, political and cultural fields and/or assimilated influences. The interviews are arranged chronologically and thematically, by each interview’s date, in a sequence given in subsequent if not always consecutive years.
All the interviews took place in a face-to-face format, which means they reflect the immediacy and fluidity of such encounters (the to-ing and fro-ing, the back-and-forth), the informal question and answer language, the round abouting, making and remaking of a particular point, the challenge and counter-challenge of both the interviewer and the interviewee. Whether the interviews were edited for this publication: to make them “writerlier”, or published as they were originally conducted is not indicated. But they are as a whole a blend of direct discourse and clarification. They are therefore primarily the records of different occasions, in a variety of times and places, publications, media and ultimately interviewers and many different situations, moods and concerns. In one sense, the interviews-ranging from the topic as diverse as the dawn of democracy in the third republic in Nigeria to the impact of the internet on reading culture, the life of the writer in contemporary society, insecurity, the role of NGO in diplomacy and party politics in addition of course to literary themes and subjects-have arisen as responses to what Dr Bukar has written over so many years in many books, articles and lectures. As such, they reflect the interest of both the interviewee and the interviewers.
Invariably, in the end, the interview as a genre and a mode of expression shows Dr Bukar Usman at his most articulate and illuminating, particularly when he is reflecting on thorny issues about his own writing or the state of folklore and literature in northern Nigeria. This point doubly expresses the potential relevance of this book to anyone interested in Dr Usman’s rich oeuvre and underlines a broader basis for assessing the other turf of Dr Usman’s life and times in which unflinching intelligence has been the shining light undergirding his works and actions. Despite the interviews’ informality and generally wide-ranging nature and concerns, they have brilliantly answered readers’ interests and concerns.
• Ismail Bala is a lecturer at the Bayero University, Kano