The circumstances of Bukar Usman’s admission to the prestigious King’s College, Lagos, in 1964,was more of destiny than desire. He didn’t know much about the school, needless to say, lobby for the admission.
He was just one of the two students selected from his school, Borno Provincial Secondary School, Maiduguri, for higher school certificate course at the college. Thatopened a new vista in his life.
Bukar Usman’s autobiography, Hatching Hope, is more than the chronicler’s recollections of his life from cradle to coming of age and the present.
From his Biu hometown to Maiduguri, Lagos and abroad, Hatching Hopestakes us on an inexpensive trip into the life of the seasoned bureaucrat, prolific author, historian and folklorist, Dr. Usman,even as it offers a peep into Nigerian history from the precolonial to postcolonial, with each epoch playing a major role in the trajectory of his fulfilled life.
Setting the tone for the recollections, Usman, in the first chapter, situates the land of his birth –Biu – “the plateau among the plane lands of Borno en route to the Sahara Desert” (p.13). Usman recalls that when he was a child, much of Biu’s sorghum was of the red variety used in making the mildly intoxicating burukutu drink, unlike today.
From the plateau where his family lived, he could hear laughing hyenas from the surrounding hills: “So loud and clear were their growls and hoots that you were sometimes sure they were around the corner,” he writes.
Growing up, Biu was a pastoral beauty, he recalls. But, today, it has been supplanted by urban concrete layout.
The story of a hapless woman’s encounter with a leopard in the forest of Biu, which left her scalp torn from the nape of the neck and the native doctor who came to her rescue using incantations and herbs sounds like the stuff of fiction; but, for the young Usman, who witnessed the sudden transition from anguish to joy, it was a sight to behold as the leopard’s hair gradually came out from the native doctor’s black cloth.
The manner in which Usman went to school was dramatic, somewhat fortuitous. One day, he was summoned by the emir to appear before him. “Well, child, you are now ready to go to school, and you should proceed,” said the emir when he got there. From then on, he had an unbroken educational career, from 1951 to the year of his graduation from the university in 1969.
How lucky he was!In those days, in his part of the country, western education was meant for those who couldn’t toil and moil in the farm, yet others were sent to school only as a punitive measure. Even among the princes, it was the less favoured whowere sent to school. They were derided.
Hatching Hopesregales us with the autobiographer’s life at King’s College, Lagos. As a result of the location of the school close to Race Course and the main road, noise was a major headache for young Usman. Sometimes he had to cover his ears with cotton wools to save his ear drums.
After his studies, he worked briefly with the Federal Savings Bank as a third class clerk before proceeding to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, for university education in 1966, on a study leave, where he studied Public Administration. Extramurally, he excelled as a sportsman.
On his return from the university, he joined the civil service, still, as a third class clerk in the Ministry of Communications. He grew in the job become and eventually became an Admin Officer 1 in 1983.
One of the septuagenarian’s guiding principles is: “There is time for everything under the sun.” In this regard, he doesn’t believe in lobbying for positions. Having noticed his hard work over the years, he, on May 24, 1988, was appointed Director-General, Special Service Department, by the Babangida regime. On the 15th of September, 1997,he was appointed Permanent Secretary in the Presidency by the Abacha regime, from where he retired in 1999.
This autobiography puts you in the know of how the Lagos of the 1960s was and how the later Lagos took shape. Usman also tells the story of his spell in the Cabinet Office, which he joined in 1972. In the course of his civil service job, the autobiographer was engaged in public interactions, which he details in the fourteenth chapter.
This updated edition contains the entrepreneurial spirit of his late spouse, Kemi. But, after that marital setback, Usman remarried Dupe Omole, with whom he has raised a family.
Besides, in the Second Edition Postscript, Usman notes that his public service, post-service, literary and other activities have attracted commendations, awards and encouragements and testimonies from various quarters.
To buttress it, he publishes some excerpts of such gestures. The book wraps up with appendices, from history of Biu to tourist attractions in the emirate and the list of Golden Ingots.
Hatching Hopes teems with pictures –those of the author as a student, public outings, his numerous travels abroad, his family members and awards. There is no doubt that this well packaged offering will inspire everybody with dreams to keep it real. Glory will surely come at the end.
Title: Hatching Hopes
Author: Bukar Usman
Publisher: Bookcraft, Ibadan