By; Abdull-Azeez Ahmed Kadir.
Our childhood memories are often memorable. There are times we wished we could relived those moments. Those memories, like many aspects of life, sieve out the very bad which are numbed by time and greater life challenges, thereby living us with the sweet ones.
Those developing years are fragile, sensitive and very costly. One little mistake and you are veered off the highway and may be left with life long injury. And if the injury heals, it leaves you with a scathing scar that reminds you of that mistake for life. Here, guidance of parents, experienced friends and even wayward foes comes handy. This easily guides one to safety. These are times that role models serves best interest.
Here, the Girl Child is most vulnerable. In our society like all developing or socially evolving society, the girl child is often at a disadvantage. Especially where the parents or the larger older members of the society are educationally ill equipped; western and religiously.
At the long run, she is left at the lowest rung of ladder of development, growth and self esteem. She is left to bear the brunt of societal ills, often at the expense of the male child.
U. K. Umar in this 136 pages novel written stylishly in the form of an epistle, brings these issues to the fore through the pen of the character Zainab who put down her strong experience in words as a letter to her father.
The setting is Bida, the headquarters of Nupe Kingdom; a kingdom that predates Uthman Danfodio Jihad and even the missionaries in rooting education development. But the reader needs to know that it was the old Bida before the springing up of most structures as we have them today. The old Bida where everybody knows each other.
This is apparent in the ease with which Zainab recalls and meanders from one ‘Efu’ to another. From one street to another and one compound of her friends to another. From Ketura to Halima, Joy, Grace and Asma’u.
Using school setting and communal family life style, the author told the story of a typical Northern Nigerian female child; growing up, going into school, modeling after some family members, being influenced by the successful and educated ones among them. The influence of Corps Members; positive and negative on typical rural school child. And above all, the veiled demarcating line between parents/guardians and children/wards due to what the Nupes call ‘Zunye’, which the Fulanis call Pulaku.
Due to Zunye, a child can hardly discuss certain issues directly with the parents. In fact, you can hardly look into their faces directly when being addressed. This can be seen in the drama between Zainab and her mum when she experienced her first flow; menstruation. Again, you can say that also lead Zainab to write her father this letter as against talking to him face to face.
The plight of the female child is better framed in the picture of Aunty Maryam who after loosing her parents to ethno religious crises in Kaduna, was taken to leave with Zainab’s family in Bida, instead of being allowed to complete her secondary education, she was married off to a suitor with multiple wives against her wish, thereby nailing her ambitions.
Halima and Keturah symbolise the hollowness that greets the veering off of the Girl Child from the right path. Halima ended up being impregnated, ironically by one of the school’s best teachers; Mallam Sabo who ended up in prison. And Halima ending her ambition of becoming a lawyer. Keturah on her part, ended up with the dreaded HIV/AIDS and battling for her life.
But it is not all doom for the girls as Asma’u and Grace made it to the university, same as Joy and Zainab after challenging financial constraints that denied her initial admission. Here again, Corps Member Amaka’s intervention comes handy.
The story is divided into seven parts viz; Dear Father, My First Flow, My Friends Laugh At Me, My New Phone is Smart, Awful Signs, Fading Dreams, and Father Please.
Written in simple language, the story, settings and characters would take you down memory lanes of what good old days of public school was, the scenery, characters, routines et al.
It is a story many would identify with, and even see images of self in some scenes or characters. It is your story told by another.
But like any work of art, the type face and font size would have been better if other more suitable one was used. The type face and font strains the eyes. For persons with sight challenges, it will be a difficult read.
Again, proof reading and editing is always a challenging task even for world acclaimed authors. On page 14 we see Zainab sleeping off on the farm under sheer butter tree but waking up and resting her back against a mango tree on page 16.
On page 27 second paragraph and fifth line, “is” is written in place of “it”. On page 36 third paragraph, second line, coma is used as against semi colon. On page 66 line number fifteen, a word “phone” is missing. Same on page 70 line eight the word “have” is missing too. On page 129 the word “honeymoon” is written as two words instead of a word.
The author uses words that he should have explained at the end just as he does to Zunye and Nna. The words are Efu, Etsu and Akamu. Also further explanation on Nupe words such as Nna, Nnami, Nda, Nndami should have sufficed as they are interchangeably used for mother, first daughter and a female child. Same with father, first son which always often the suffix ‘nusa’; Ndanusa and the male child.
Same with his use of Yaya which is generally used across the northern region as against the Nupe use of ‘Ya’.
Aside these little oversights, coming as the first published work from the author; Usman Katun Umar popularly called U. K. Umar, a holder of BSc Mass Communication and MA Development Communication from the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, is a work full of lessons. A work that brings the plight of the Girl Child and her feats in Northern Nigeria and by extension many developing society to the fore.
It is a collectors copy and would be a good read for fathers as a message to self and a motivational work for young girls. Mothers too would see their images in the characters.
Grab a copy and contribute your quota through a widow’s mite to the uplifting of the Girl Child as the the proceeds from the book would go into such by the author.
By; Abdull-Azeez Ahmed Kadir.