By Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu
SE01EP02: Deep Space: The Apotheosis
Like a bolt of lightning, a key to open the freedom door dropped literally on my lap through the radio. In 1996 the government of Kano (Nigeria), where I live, was battling with Hausa creative fiction and public morals. One after the other, Islamic sheikhs came on the radio and condemned newly emerging Hausa creative fiction writers as being responsible for poor attention span in schools (and subsequent poor grades) and immorality. They did not indicate how many of the novels they had read, though. Their condemnations caught my attention, for it seems there was a reading culture among Hausa youth – something public culture kept lamenting as lacking among youth.
Reading culture is, of course, an environment where reading is championed, valued, respected, and encouraged. BUT it seems that the reading culture in Kano meant reading school textbooks (if available) and passing examinations. Reading culture? James Hadley Chase, Harold Robbins, Irvin Wallace, Agatha Christie, Denise Robbins, Nick Carter, Joan Collins, Wilbur Smith, et al., anyone? So why not Ado Ahmad, Balaraba Ramat, Ɗan Azumi Baba, Bilkisu Salisu Ahmed Funtuwa? All the objections against Hausa literature were based on the baseless Media Effects Theory, which believes that mass media influences the attitudes and perceptions of audiences.
I, therefore, decided to delve into this ‘problem’ further. It was to be a bridge between cultural studies (popular culture) and education (reading culture).
I eventually traced the production of Hausa novels to the City Business Center in the city of Kano under the proprietorship of Alhaji Abba Lawan Maiunguwa, a childhood friend. This led to Ado Ahmed Gidan Dabino, unarguably the most successful of Hausa novelists, and the forging of a life-long friendship based on respect. I spent about two years in the field, talking, recording, and unarchiving writers, critics and fans of the Hausa creative fiction.
The writers included Ahmad Mahmood Zaharadden Yakasai, Yusuf Muhammad Adamu, Ibrahim Saleh Gumel, Ɗan Azimi Babba Cheɗiyar Ƴan Gurasa, Aminu Abdu Na’inna, Badamasi Shu’aibu Burji, Hamisu Bature, Aminu Hassan Yakasai, Abdullahi Yahaya Mai Zare, Bala Muhammad Makosa, Bashir Sanda Gusau, Bala Anas Babinlata. Female authors of the period included Hauwa Aminu, Talatu Wada, Zuwaira Isa, Safiya A. Tijjani, Binta Bello Ɗanbatta, Binta Maiwada, Jummai Mohammed Argungu Karima Abdu D/Tofa, Bilkisu S. Ahmed, and the most outstanding of them all, Balaraba Ramat Yakubu.
Along the line, I developed the Hausa hooked glottal sound characters (Ƙ, ƙ, Ɗ, ɗ, Ɓ, ɓ) to help in proper Hausa writing on computer word processing programs using Fontographer software. But that is a story for another day. Next, I went to my dad, Muhammadu Uba Adamu (Kantoma), discussed with him my new-found direction and sought his blessings. He readily approved. Not surprising, considering he had always been a radical on his right. Further, my early contact with literature was from his library, as he studied Political History with English Literature as a minor. His approval, and even later, endorsement, gave me courage.
Finally, I summoned enough nerve (remember, it was not my field, and I was aware those ‘in the field’ jealously guard their turf) to write an article and send it to Ibrahim Sheme of the New Nigerian Weekly newspaper. It was titled “Hausa Literature in the 1990s”. It was published in their April 24 and May 1, 1999 issues. It created a tsunami of a reaction.
Unbeknownst to me, the debate about the merits (or lack of) of Hausa creative fiction had run its course in various Hausa language newspapers and magazines. Hawwa Ibrahim Sherif fired the first salvo in an interview with Ibrahim Sheme, published in Nasiha, on September 6 1991 (some eight years before my own article).
Following on from her views (and she was a writer herself), two camps emerged – those who did not see any merit in the novels, and those who believed in them, the latter, perhaps understandably, was made up of mainly authors themselves, such as Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, Yusuf Adamu, Kabiru Assada, etc. In 1998, Novian Whitsitt, an American student, even submitted a PhD thesis on Hausa creative fiction with a focus on Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu. His thesis was titled The Literature of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu and the Emerging Genre of Littattafai na Soyayya: A Prognostic of Change for Women in Hausa Society.” It was submitted to the African Studies Program University of Wisconsin-Madison.
You could therefore imagine the fire I came under; An Educationist was venturing into Hausa literary studies. Some accused me of being an ignoramus who knows nothing about Hausa literature (true), and others accused me of encouraging immorality (not true).
To get rid of my accused ignorance, I adopted two methods – both facilitated by my being a true believer in science and its methods. The first was rooted in the ethnology of Hausa cultural production. This approach was based on Victor Turner’s exposition of the ‘anthropology of experience’, itself based on Wilhelm Dilthey’s conception of ‘what has been lived through’. The approach enables the exploration of how people actually experience their culture and how those experiences are expressed in forms as varied as narrative, literary work, theatre, carnival, ritual, reminiscence, and life review. To get a closer look at the cultural production, it was necessary to be embedded in the process.
I started by identifying what was more or less a Bohemian cluster of Hausa fiction writers hanging out at City Business Center, Daneji, Kano city, along Sabon Titi. Then, I embedded myself into their cluster and observed what they were doing – inspiration for their stories, discussing plots for stories, typing, artwork, printing, marketing, etc. This went on for almost five years from 1998. As a result, I gained deep insights into their creativity and concerns. I also read quite a few of the fiction they produced to gain a more immersive experience.
In this process, I did not rely on secondary data but became a primary data gatherer myself. This came in good stead much later when I submitted a paper to a journal based in France. The editor wanted me to provide references for some of the narrative encounters. I pointed out that I was the reference and used Turner’s field study framework as a basis because I was there. The editor accepted, and eventually, the paper was published.
For the second method, I launched myself into a self-study of Critical Theory from the roots: to reflect on and critique society through literature. There were four varieties of such theory: new criticism, poststructuralism, psychoanalytic criticism, and Marxist theory. I delved into the first two, deeming that the other two do not apply to my data. I became a student of Jürgen Habermas and his “Structural Transformation of Public Sphere”, in which I see Islamicateness in expounding the boundaries of the public sphere. Stuart Hall and his critical works in cultural studies provided another roadmap to understanding the reception of media texts. Marshall Hodgson’s essay on the idea of “Islamicate” societies seemed to mesh perfectly well with my own sites of contestation of media production, distribution and consumption. Anthony Giddens and his Structuration provided an excellent introduction to Agency.
I thus refused to cage myself within Nigerian Hausaist (for which I am not one) delineation of Hausa studies into apparently mutually incompatible divisions of Literature (Adabi), Language (Harshe) and Culture (Al’ada). I said ‘apparently mutually incompatible’ because if you are versed or specialized in one, you are not expected to know much about the other. In other words, you should ‘stay behind the yellow line’!
And so, the battlelines were drawn, and for almost five years to 2004, New Nigerian Weekly and Weekly Trust pages were awash with what Ibrahim Sheme referred to as The Great Soyayya Debate. I was in the thick of it. But, since the debates were on pages of newspapers and therefore meant for the general readership, I focused on simply defending the right to write rather than the morals of the contents (for which, in my opinion, show cleanliness) or the grammatical sophistication of the writers. They have a right to write and thus write the rites to right the wrongs they perceive in society – after all, the genre is referred to as ‘adabi’ (reflection).
Only four people at Bayero University believed in what I was doing. Isma’ila Abubakar Tsiga, Sa’idu Ahmad Babura, Abubakar Adamu Rasheed and Ibrahim Bello-Kano – all from the Department of English and European Languages. Ibrahim Bello-Kano, or IBK as he is popularly referred to, was the Seminar coordinator in the Department of English and European Languages in 2001. He invited me to present a paper at their Departmental Seminar, which I agreed to and presented in January 2001. It was the first academic presentation of my research. I was understandably nervous because I was presenting something on new terrain to people fully trained and versed in it. However, the paper’s title, Tarbiyar Bahaushe, Mutumin Kirki and Hausa Prose Fiction: Towards an Analytical Framework, introduced something to the polemics besides just moral indignation.
However, soon enough, the massive success of Hausa fiction authors (despite scathing criticism from academic and public culture) emboldened them enough to migrate to the emergent Hausa video film industry. If there is one person to be credited with creating the Hausa film industry, it was a writer, the late Aminu Hassan Yakasai. He was both a novelist, a scriptwriter and a Hausa soap opera star. He and his collaborators, such as Bashir Mudi Yakasai and Salisu Galadanci, launched the first Hausa video film, Turmin Danya, in March 1990. This predated Nollywood’s Living in Bondage in 1992. Sunusi Burhan Shehu, a novelist, established a Hausa film magazine, Tauraruwa, and in a regular column in August 1999, created the term “Kanywood” to refer to the Hausa film industry. It is the first reference to a film industry in Africa and predated “Nollywood”, which was coined in 2002 by Norimitsu Onishi in a New York Times report.
In 1999 Sarauniya Films Kano released the catalytic video film that literally shaped the direction of the industry. It was Sangaya. It was, like most Hausa youth literature, mainly a love story. It was not the story that was significant about the film, however, but its soundtrack with catchy song and dance routines backed by synthesized sound samples of traditional Hausa instruments such as kalangu (talking drum), bandiri (frame drum) and sarewa (flute). The effect was electric on a youth audience seeking alternative and globalized—essentially modern—means of being entertained than the traditional music genre, which seemed aimed at either rural audiences or older urbanites. It became an instant hit. Indeed, the success of Sangaya was as momentous in the history of the Hausa video film industry as Living in Bondage was for the southern Nigerian video films. The Hausa video films that subsequently emerged were predominantly based on cloning Bollywood films and production characteristics – love triangles, gender rivalry, and choreographic song and dance routines. At least until 2007, when the system crashed after the leakage of a private steamy sex video of a popular actress. The entire entry was labelled bad, just like the literature industry. A new censorship regime was instituted that made film production difficult.
Internet became widely available late 1990s, and by 2000 it had become affordable. Before that, we had to rely on the National Universities Commission (NUC) switchbacks to access it. So when Nitel started offering it, we jumped on. Yahoo! Groups was launched in early 2001. A series of discussion boards formed the earliest reiteration of social networks, predating Facebook, which was created in 2004 but became available only in 2009 to us. Seizing the opportunity to create lively discussions, I formed three groups on the Yahoo! Groups platform: Finafinan Hausa, Littattafan Hausa, and Mawaƙan Hausa, from August 31 to November 15 2001. Finafinan Hausa was by far the liveliest.
By 2009 when the discussions whittled away, there were almost 25,000 postings on the board. Other boards did not fare too well. Further, between 2000 to 2009, I chaired thirteen Hausa video film award ceremonies, four of which were organized by Yahoo! Groups. The discussion board really popularized many of the Hausa video film stars. The University of Frankfurt in Germany even dedicated a Library Officer to join the groups and harvest all the comments as examples of public discourse on Hausa popular culture.
All these did not prevent me from participating in educational alphabet soup agency activities, so I was still rooted in Education. Criss-crossing the north, training education officials, writing reports no one read, and working out the next activity. Along the process, I became Head of the Department of Education – rather reluctantly, for I was enjoying fieldwork in cultural production and educational alphabet soup interventions (the latter helped to put additional plates on the table!).
In 1993 the late Prof. Mike Egbon of the Department of Mass Communication, Bayero University Kano, visited my office and asked me to help supervise his PhD student who was working on the transfer of communication education curriculum from the US to Nigeria. Between 1991 to 1992, I was a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Studies in Higher Education, University of California, Berkely. My work focused on the transnational transfer of education from the US to Nigeria, resulting in a book published in 1994 in New York. It was titled Living on a Credit Line: Reform and Adaptation in Nigerian University Curricula. It was my work in the US which I had been discussing at various places within the campus that attracted Mike Egbon, and he appointed me as co-supervisor and internal examiner to his student. Mike Egbon, then, was the one who opened the door for me to enter the Mass Communication department.
While all this was happening, a conference on Hausa video films was held in one of the northern Universities. The conference condemned the films, just as earlier on, the writers of Hausa fiction were also condemned. Many of these writers, using the cheap availability of video cameras, had transitioned from Hausa fiction to Hausa films and, in the process, attracted a lot of mainly non-indigenous Hausa into the industry. But because these elements use the Hausa language in their films and rely virtually exclusively on cloning Hindi cinema, all Hausa films were tarred with the same paintbrush. So the focus of the conference held somewhere in the north was to confirm how bad the films were from cultural perspectives.
However, in August 2002, a group of academicians and members of the Hausa entertainment industry in Kano got together to discuss the state of research on Hausa popular culture and media technologies, with particular reference to the Hausa films. It was meant to be a brainstorming session with various inputs from members overshadowed by the then-current crisis in the non-marketability of Hausa films due to condemnations from the public culture. Further, it was noted that there had been no systematic study of the phenomena from academic perspectives, at least by the practitioners themselves. A strong observation at this meeting was the increasing role of media technologies in popular culture and how Hausa urban communities are refining the concept of entertainment among the Hausa.
The group noted, with concern, a lack of local input into the systematized pieces of research showing the relationship between Hausa culture and popular media as a vehicle of cultural preservation and transmission. In this regard, it was noted some of the most significant advances in this area were made by our foreign Hausaist colleagues. All these researchers have published extensively on Hausa culture and language, and their works are heralded as authoritative accounts of Hausa popular media.
Thus, while the group acknowledged the immense contributions made by these foreign researchers, it saw these researches as challenges to stimulating local scholars into exploring other terrains of popular culture among the Hausa. As a result of these observations, the group suggested a series of activities aimed at creating collaborative opportunities for research between local researchers, practitioners of popular culture (literature, music, film, indigenous knowledge etc.) and international partners. A committee was formed to articulate all these into a conference, and I was made the Chairman of the Committee.
Eventually, on 3rd to 5th August 2003, we held the first-ever international conference on Hausa films in Kano, with the theme of Hausa Home Videos: Technology, Economy and Society. It was hugely successful, attracting presentations from US and Germany in addition to both local film practitioners and academicians. I, Yusuf Adamu and Umar Faruk Jibril edited the papers and a book with the same title as the conference was published in Kano in 2004. The resolution of the conference was to establish a Center for Hausa Cultural Studies. This was meant to be a think tank that would hold monthly events to promote Hausa cultural production in the internet age.
Later, tired of the constant criticisms against me from the film industry despite all my efforts (they believed that by focusing on culture, I was disparaging their art), I shifted my ethnographic focus to music, with a particular focus on the Rap genre which was trending at the time. This community of cultural producers – K-Boyz, Kano Riders, Lil’ TeAxy, BMERI, ClassiQ, Dr Pure, G-Fresh, Haddy, K-Arrowz, the late Lil’ Amir, etc. – proved more welcoming than filmmakers.
By 2004 I had attracted the attention of some colleagues overseas, particularly Brian Larkin in the US, Graham Furniss in the UK and Heike Behrend in Germany. I even wrote a visa approval letter for Heike Behrend, then Director, Institute of African Studies, University of Cologne, Germany, to come to Nigeria and conduct fieldwork on Hausa films. Heike Behrend was to later “adopt” me as her son. She is a brilliant ethnologist with a field experience in Kenya and Uganda, as detailed in her excellent book, Incarnation of an Ape. An autobiography of ethnographic research (2020), which itself is a textbook on the anthropology of experience. As she stated in a YouTube introduction to the book, “it was about reversing the perspective and showing how those I meant to ethnograph ethnographed me.”
Thus, when Graham Furniss was asked to nominate participants for a “Seminar on Media in Africa” in Nairobi, Kenya, organized by the International African Institute in August 2004, he nominated my name, and I was accepted. Again, in the same year, he was invited to Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany (plainly referred to as the University of Mainz) to participate in the 8th International Janheinz Jahn Symposium “Creative Writing in African Languages: Production, Mediation, Reception”. It was to be held at the Centre for Research on African Literatures, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, 17-20 November 2004. Graham had too many engagements for the period and suggested to the organizers that I should be invited – something they accepted. I received an invitation to participate in the conference.
At the first event in Nairobi, I met Heike Behrend, who was also invited, and during an off-conference interaction over a cup of expresso (her favourite rendering of coffee!!) I informed her of my coming trip to Mainz for a conference. She immediately extended an invitation for me to come to the University of Cologne on my way to Mainz and present a seminar to doctoral students on any topic I like. This I did on November 15 2004 and presented a paper to the students. It was titled “Enter the Dragon: Sharī’ah, Popular Culture and Film Censorship in northern Nigeria.”
Note, from the poster, that I was still in the Department of Education. When I returned to Nigeria, I met Dr Gausu Ahmad, then Head of the Department of Mass Communication BUK, who insisted on the paper being presented at their own Departmental Seminar. Before that, I was already teaching Advanced Research Methods to postgraduate students and Online Journalism at all levels. Further, I was already working with a doctoral student in the Department. Unknown to me, Dr Gausu had already recommended my employment as a Part-Time lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication. A letter to that effect was eventually sent to me in November 2005. Earlier, the Department had requested my transfer from Education, but the Vice-Chancellor at the time refused.
The visit to Germany in 2004 was the beginning of a series of travels to various universities as a visiting lecturer/professor/guest speaker etc., in media and cultural production. These included the US (University of Florida, Gainesville; Rutgers State University of New Jersey; Barnard College, Columbia University), UK (School of African and Oriental Studies), Switzerland (University of Basel), Germany (Freie University, Berlin; University of Mainz; University of Freiburg; University of Cologne, University of Hamburg; Humboldt University), South Africa (University the Witwatersrand), and Cameroon (University of Yaoundé).
In November 2008, I was once more invited to Germany for an event. After my event at the University of Hamburg, one of the participants, Nina Pawlak from the Department of African Languages and Cultures, University of Warsaw, Poland, approached me and asked if I would like to visit Poland for three months as a Visiting Professor. I delightfully accepted. The funding was to come from the European Union under the program of The Modern University – a comprehensive support program for doctoral students and teaching staff of the University of Warsaw as part of Sub-measure 4.1.1 “Enhancing the educational capacity of a higher education institution” of the Human Capital Operational Programme, of the EU. After all the paperwork was done, I was eventually offered the Visiting Professor position at the Department of African Languages and Cultures, University of Warsaw, Poland, from March 1 to May 31 2012. I taught two courses: Transnationalism and Identity in African Popular Culture and Oral Traditions in Local and Global Contexts.
Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu wrote from the Department of Information and Media Studies, Bayero University Kano, Nigeria. He is, among many other things, the former Vice-Chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.