By Wale Okediran
We were many that rose that day: physicians, professors, politicians, pickpockets and prostitutes, round characters of saints and sinners all jostling for position in my unwritten tales. Every night, I sleep with them, demons of my fertile imagination who torment me with pleas to be put on paper. And despite my feverish scribbling that try to release them, they still come back in droves, punishing and pummelling me for attention. You are a lucky writer, my friends say, for your muse is active. But how about the sleepless nights, the sudden frown, smile or even laughter when the characters amuse me, behaviours which can be misconstrued in public as the beginnings of insanity?
I finally got rid of them when the muezzins called for the early morning prayer as thousands of minarets and souls came to life in the ancient city. Happy families, still in the cloud of their pleasant dreams, gladly rose, while the unhappy ones heavy with the weight of their unfulfilled dreams slowly crept out of bed suspicious of what the new day had in store for them. From the fog of their unpleasant solitude they came into a knot of fellowship, peering into the approaching dawn as if crossing into a forbidden territory.
Janbulo was still sleepy when I departed moments later as the water vendors commenced the day’s commercial activities as they puffed and heaved heavy trucks of water containers. From the street corners, hazy serpentines of smoke could be seen floating in the early morning mist as “kose” sellers lighted their fires for the day’s frying and selling business.
We departed for Kazaure via Dutse, no, not with my characters but with five other passengers in a Sienna just as the early morning sun was sneaking its way behind the cloudy canopy of the March morning. All was quiet in the vehicle as each passenger seemed occupied with his or her own thoughts.
It was difficult knowing what was taking the other passengers to Jigawa State, but I was on the run from urban pressures, from the pains of unpleasant solitude and a forgotten memory of happier days. Yes, I was also going to work; to research the biography of a well- known Nigerian public figure. A writer’s work is everywhere; home and away, in pleasure and in pain. Everything is grist for the mill.
There was no traffic jam at that hour of the day and, before I knew it, we were in Wudil with the University of Science and Technology hidden behind a green fence and foliage on the left side of the road. Next were a glittering array of pottery and silver merchandise resplendent in the early morning sunshine, displayed by the road side for the interest of buyers. About an hour after leaving Kano, forests of Dongoyaro trees on both sides of the road, as well as cultivated farmlands finally heralded us into Dutse.
The Yakubu Gowon NYSC camp and the Mohammed Rimi Housing Estate flew past us as I later made my way to “Investment” where I had arranged to meet my old friend, Idris Okpanachi, award-winning poet and professor-in-waiting. Idris and I had come a long way since his days at the University of Maiduguri which used to be part of my itinerary before the insurgency aborted my foray into that wonderful and warm city. I could hardly recognise Idris in his newly cultivated white beard which gave his usually solemn look a seraphic appearance. “Is this part of the preparations for the professorial position?” I teased him as we hugged and greeted like long lost brothers. Idris soon took me to my lodgings, a small hotel tucked into a corner after the G9 Estate. “Am sorry for bringing you to a hovel. It’s all I can get for you as the big hotels have all been booked due to the on-going NUGA event,” he said.
From the hotel, Idris took me in his car to his office at the Federal University where I was well received by some of his colleagues and students. When he learnt that I write biographies, one of the lecturers happily informed me that he was working on biographies for his doctorate and how good it would be for us to exchange notes on the genre. Another student excitedly informed me that he was writing his long essay on my novel, Strange Encounters, and then went on to ask me some difficult questions about the book.
It was nice reconnecting with the beautiful and serene Dutse once again as I went round conducting interviews on the subject of my book. The evidence of a city as a “work in progress” was all around; newly built roads gleaming with fresh asphalt while beautifully landscaped housing estates dotted the craggy landscape like oasis on a savannah. It was such a handsome and picturesque city that I wondered that after 26 years of the establishment of Jigawa State, hundreds of civil servants still leave the city for weekend trips to noisy and traffic-choked Kano.
“The younger generation of workers who have been able to secure personal accommodation in the city have now started staying back. It is only the older ones whose families are still outside Dutse that still practice the weekend migration,” explained a government official.
On my way back to my hotel in the evening, I spotted a restaurant, Iya Ibeji Restaurant, where I had a dinner of pounded yam and egusi soup. The pounded yam was well moulded, soft and smooth like a baby’s skin while the steam billowing bowl of egusi soup with its array of assorted meat let out a delicious aroma that wafted round the delicate interior of the small canteen. The result was a delicious dinner which I gleefully gobbled before making my way to the hotel.
I was roused from a deep slumber around midnight by noise from a nearby church where a night vigil was apparently in session. I was still coming to terms with that disturbance when another noise suddenly arose from within the hotel premises as some new guests arrived. Judging from their hearty laughter and sensuous voices, it was obvious that the new arrivals were lovers.
The sudden and conflicting development was enough to stimulate my muse. Before long, my characters were back, and off to the writing desk I went to let them out. I was still working when the muezzins called for prayers at dawn.
I was back on the road the following morning after a light breakfast of “kose” and “koko” which the hotel manager helped me to fetch from a nearby road seller. As my hired taxi sped past the vacant sites for the proposed Dutse Stadium and National Open University, I was dumbstruck by a hovering early morning mist that made the nearby mountains magical and elegant. Mud-walled villages, lush vegetation of Dongoyaro trees and rivers with dry beds all flew past and, before I knew it, we were in Ringim. It was market day in Kanya Baba when, moments later, we passed the obviously agrarian community with its loads of sugar cane and herds of goats and cows making their way to the market. Kanawa, Tasawa, Walawa, Dandi, Sabuwa and other mud-walled but lovely villages passed in quick succession.
We arrived in Yankwashin, as the early afternoon sun filtered through the nearby lush vegetation, bathing the bucolic environment with a magical lustre. Then, suddenly, we entered a large valley ringed all around by magical mountains. It was like a dizzy ride in a large bowl of earth. We continued like this for another half an hour before we hit Achilafia and coasted into Kazaure 12 minutes later with Dutse, a distant memory.
Kazaure is an emirate and a local government area of Jigawa State, Nigeria. Its headquarters is in the ancient city of Kazaure. The city of Kazaure has been the emirate’s headquarters since 1819. It was said to be founded by Dan Tunku, a Fulani warrior who was one of the 14 flag bearers for the Fulani jihad (holy war) leader Usman dan Fodio. Dan Tunku arrived from the nearby town of Dambatta at a stockade village that he named Kazaure and established an emirate that was carved from the adjoining Kano, Katsina and Daura emirates.
On the day of my visit, Kazaure appeared drowsy as the city’s vehicular and human traffic slowly meandered round the town as if weakened by the intense afternoon heat. I was reliably informed that, although the ancient city was originally conceived for trade and religious exploits, it also offers a cultural extravaganza, a chilling history and a sense of mystery. Expectedly, my first port of call in Kazaure was the Emir’s Palace where Alhaji Muhammad Nuhu, the palace secretary, informed me that the Emir, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Najib Hussaini Adamu (CON) who has been on the throne since 1998 was out of the country. “There goes my Lunch,” I muttered to no one in particular, in disappointment. While preparing for the Kazaure trip, I had been informed by those close to the Emir that apart from a cerebral mind that is always ready to discuss literature and burning national issues, the Emir was also a wonderful host who is always ready to make his visitors at home. “If he is at home, you can be sure of having lunch with him” was the assurance.
From the palace, I visited the Jigawa Research Institute and the Kazaure Dam, as well as the Federal Government Girls College. At the Hussain Adamu Federal Polytechnic, the Registrar, Rabiu Mohammed Danmalam, who is a pioneer staff of the Institution, was happy to inform me that the Institution has never witnessed any form of student unrest since it was established in 1991. “We have students from different parts of the country but with the cordial relationship between them and the staff, we all live together like a big family,” the ebullient and witty young man explained.
In place of a royal lunch, my guide, Mallam Isa Othma, took me to a popular canteen behind the central market where a merry group of clients heartily put away their food and chatted in full volume. So infectious was the merriment that I soon found myself laughing heartily amidst new found friends as I did justice to my plate of Semo and draw soup.
By then, the afternoon sun had set and the wind was sighing amidst the stately Dongoyaro trees that dotted the golden quilt of landscape. From the car’s radio came the soothing strains of local music sang in a sonorous voice full of hope and love. It was time to take my leave of a place known for deeply held beliefs, tradition and hospitality. It was time to go back to my characters and more work.