By Henry Akubuiro
Songs for Bukar Usman, Khalid Imam, Whetstone, Kano, 2020, pp. 253
“Bukar Usman remains what he is: a legend,” says Jahman Anikulapo, a major promoter of Nigerian arts and culture, in reaction to his latest offerings. Reading Songs for Bukar Usman, a new collection of panegyric poems, compiled and translated by the Kano based poet and teacher, Khalid Imam, one can see the transition of Dr. Bukar Usman from a legend to an avatar —that incarnate divine teacher. If you think that’s a fluke, this book takes you to an epiphany.
Twenty-five songs make up this collection: sixteen composed by Umar Idris (Dan Kwairon), four by Sulaiman Tijjani, two by Aminu Ladan Abubakar, and one each by Maryam Abdul Karim Baba, Bashir Yahuza Malumfashi and Khalid Imam. As against the new culture of inventing hyperboles to celebrate the dead, the singers/poets in this book have chosen to celebrate Usman while still alive. In Songs for Bukar Usman, the singers lionise Usman as an accomplished bureaucrat, philanthropist, ideologue, public intellectual, writer, culture aficionado, a venerated son of Biu, a selfless man, etcetera.
Imam, in the “Introit”, sets the tone for enchanting panegyrics in the collection. Imam approximates Usman as “a finger soaked in a calabash of honey” that everybody wants to lick. Thus: “Your honey of generosity/ offers great succour and relief/ from heartless penury for hundreds of dozens/deeply drowned in its flood” (p. 23). Imam salutes Usman’s patriotism, his deep affection for Hausa language and Arewa renaissance. He, also, in this poem, hails his pan-Nigerianism — “a detribalised river… crisscrossing countless communities” — and a dedicated man “beaming the indoor room of our common humanity/ with touch of his illuminating books” (p. 24).
Songs for Bukar Usman is a book in four parts, each dedicated to a common thematic concern, ranging from the personality of Bukar Usman and what he stands for, celebrating the Bukar Usman Foundation, as well as the land of his birth, Biu. The fourth part of the book contains notes on the contributors.
Umar Idris’ “The Stalwart”, like most of the panegyrics in the collection, was originally composed in Hausa in 2013 and recorded on CD plate. In it, the Dan Kwairon Biu describes Usman as a famous man known across the country and abroad for his erudition. The chorus echoes Usman as an esteemed tutor, elder, and a lion-hearted. He is also a silk cotton tree that is the pride of every town.
Umar Idris also celebrates the former Permanent Secretary, Presidency, as the fearless folk-hero with a light in his mission; a genius, a benevolent man, a scholar read at home and abroad, etcetera. As a doctor of literature, Idris commends Usman as the vanguard of Hausa literature and a prolific author. The singer deploys personification, like “The stream who drowns the reckless swimmer”, to affirm his determination to succeed.
What does the “Poetic Professor”, Sulaiman Tijani, say about Usman? In “The Philosophical Bukar Usman,” the performer praises the President of NFS (Nigerian Folklore Society) as a visionary philosopher, a patriot and nationalist, soft-hearted, well-mannered and influential man, needless to say, a man whose temper only rises when human right is trampled upon. He acknowledges that his “Bukar Usman Foundation has improved the situations of my people” (p. 45).
The intellectual prowess of Usman is further celebrated in “A Literary Giant”, a poem by Aminu Ladan Abubakar. He sings: “As down unfolds/ Daylight signals daybreak/The sun rises to send souls to hustle/ I’ve become like a magnet/Drawn to a worthy giant” (p. 70).
Bashir Yahuza compares Usman to the mythical Biu avatar, Yamtarawala, in his poem “Yamtarawala”, urging Nigerians to arise and hail the great Nigerian nationalist of vision, “Bukar of mission, Yamtarawala of our time”. Through the Bukar Usman Foundation, the performers in this book say the old boy of King’s College, Lagos, has touched many lives. Umar Idris confirms that “…he did not establish it for his selfish needs” (p. 127), while Maryam Baba carols that it is “uniquely great, a foundation like no other in humanitarian support” (p. 132).
The third part of the book celebrates Biu’s greatness, its rich history, its youths and its giant king. It also appeals to the embattled Borno people to unite to save the state. Songs for Bukar Usman is a befitting offering for a man of erudition and a cheerful giver.