Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s major introduction to a lot of people was his presence in the now famous 4 Nigerian out of five Africans’ Caine Prize shortlist of 2013. Before that he had won the BBC Prize for BBC African Performance Prize (2007) and the ANA Plateau/Amatu Braide Prize for Prose (2008). He also emerged runner-up for the ANA Plateau Poetry Prize. More than that, he had already captured the hearts of a lot of people with his short stories spiced with emotions and in many cases, a dash of the supernatural.
My first encounter with Abubakar was the Africanwriter.com published ‘Twilight and Mist’, a story about Ohikwo, a man who has a certain young lady visit him on his birthday. She is trailed by butterflies and tells him things that only his mother knew. Problem is this young lady is only old enough to have been born when after our lead character’s mother’s death. Thrills and all go on as he struggles to believe or not. Rationality versus the evidence of reality play. But read the story and let me not spoil it for you. I saved that story on my system and I must have read it a million times. I loved this writer and tried to get in touch to no avail. Much later, our partners, Parresia Publishers sent copies of their first book for marketing and behold, the book in the package was The Whispering Trees. I read the stories slowly, loving most, fighting in
my mind with others and picking issues with certain aspects. One of the stories that touched me deeply, after ‘Twilight and Mist’ is the title story, ‘The Whispering Trees’ (which is also the story that got Abubakar shortlisted for the Caine prize). The story starts with a man coming out of oblivion and wondering where he is. This man who is about to conquer the world finds his entire world upside down. He goes blind and nearly mad. Several things happen and eventually, he finds peace with himself and nature. Only then does Salim, our lead character and narrator, begin to ‘look beyond what he sees’ (apologies to Rafiki in Lion King). ‘The Whispering Trees’ is a story of hope, redemption and belief in the greatness of the spirit. There’s a dab of the supernatural like in most of the stories in the collection. I read the story on a certain trip from Makurdi to Abuja. I was touched, deeply touched. It made me to immediately make a point to change a certain story of mine that ended in tragedy. It brought to my mind something a friend, Chuma Nwokolo, once told me ‘There’s too much tragedy in reality. Give people something to look for. We can create better and give more’. That is what I believe that story does. Now, as Abubakar himself told me privately, the story isn’t one of his best – being one of the first stories he wrote, but it means a lot to him. It has come to mean much to me too and has affected lives. For instance, a certain man who was angry with his mother and wanted to punish her changed his mind to that of appreciation after reading that tale. He got his mother a gift instead.
In the book The Whispering Trees, there is a noticeable presence of Northern Nigeria in both characterisation and setting. The names, Salim, Kyakkyawa; Barira, Danladi; the feelings, the moods, the ambience is Northern. The themes are varied with love, life, death, the supernatural, family, corruption, among others finding expression while criss-crossing themselves in different stories. There are powerful women characters like Kyakkyawa who makes men worship her in her near out-of-the-world beauty. She is so strong, wild and beautiful that almost everyone including her father fall helplessly in lovely lust with her. (I should add, even Abubakar – the author – near falls in love with this character.) At some point, in an attempt to tame her and get her out of the house before she causes damage and haram (taboo by seducing her father or relations), she is married to an old man, Alhaji Danladi who played in the sand with her grandfather. She threatens to tear Alhaji with a knife if he dares touch her. He does and she keeps her word. The door to the room is broken by Alhaji’s senior wives and children as Kyakkyawa keeps stabbing at him. He divorces her as is allowed in their tradition – just a verbal pronouncement. When Alhaji is discharged from the hospital, he bails Kyakkyawa and tries to get her back but well, his pronouncement stands. So much else happens as the daring lady keeps making them all to stoop.
Enough about the book already… The question now is who is Abubakar Adam Ibrahim?
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim was born in Jos. He has a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Jos, Nigeria (2006). Following the trail of his degree, he had a stint with the famous Vanguard newspaper. Along the line, the Sunday Trust newspapers in Abuja hired his services as Arts Editor which he maintains till date. He is a fellow of the British Council Radiophonics creative writing workshop and has been selected for the Fidelity Bank Creative Writing Workshop as well as the Caine Prize for African Writing workshop (2012).
Abubakar recalls that his brother, Rufai, encouraged him the most to write in the early days. Abubakar did and found out it was what he wanted to do. finds an easy exploration of all the genres. Little wonder then that one finds various published contributions of this writer across the several genres. However, prose with its more generous allowance for description and variant exploration steals his attention more.
He has been featured in different anthologies including Daughters of Even and other New Short stories from Nigeria. The internet boasts several contributions from him (especially in short fiction and essays) which have been received to acclaim internationally. Despite this, his first published work is a collection of short stories, The Whispering Trees (published by Parresia Publishers in 2012). Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s writings are largely cultural in perspective. His style of writing as especially espoused in his collection of short stories is that of the traditional storytellers of old. His major themes weave around everyday life, mysticism, philosophy and the usual commitment of the African writer showcasing societal ills – though his is with a fresh outlook. His settings are mostly Northern Nigeria and in many cases, rural or semirural.
In our SEVHAGE Review interview, we focus on Abubakar Adam Ibrahim as he talks to me on his life, writings, and inspiration. We exchanged mails on the questions and had long talks over books, the annual convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors, and the dinner session where we played a game of cards called ‘Kommon Sense’. From discussions on how individuals can make creativity grow; Chika Unigwe and her helping younger writers plus her plans to set up an international residency in Anambra state (much of what we talked about are recorded in his interview with her here); Abubakar’s travels around the world especially in Colombia where he visited the child house Gabriel Garcia Marquez that has been turned into a museum plus the place where Marquez’s father
worked; how Marquez shadowed a whole generation of Colombian writers. We spoke on the contributions of associations to Nigerian literature and the fact that more than anything else, it takes the commitment of the individual to make things work: You don’t need any association to be your best. These final parts are in a different talk sha oooo…
Abubakar is in a class of his own and though he has his many faults like most of us, a lot of people have testified that he does know how to make a difference – whether in sparks or just the random care he shows. There’s so much more said, done and known that if put, would give us lots of books. Well, please, join me in conversation with Abubakar Adam Ibrahim here… There are links to his short stories ‘Twilight and Mist’ and ‘The Whispering Trees’.
You can also follow Abubakar’s fascinating blog that features lovely travelogues, essays and interviews with top African writers, leaders and interesting people.
Please, let’s have your thoughts.
You can send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
- PARRÉSIA PUBLISHERS (Your Words…In Trust) (authorpedia.wordpress.com)
- ‘The book is a dead object’ (parresiablog.wordpress.com)
- For the Record: Thank you, Mr Atiku Abubakar. (agbrokomeyer.wordpress.com)
- Mike Akhigbe shouldn’t have died in America, he was not a great man – By Sonala Olumhense (mojidanisa2.com)
- My Thoughts Exactly: Year Three in Review (carmenmccain.com)
- Opportunities and Deadlines for African Writers (africainwords.com)