Monday, 25 March 2013

(52): Chinua Achebe’s literary legacy

On December 10, 2012 the Foreign Policy Centre in the United Kingdom organised a debate at the House of Commons to discuss the memoirs of the literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe. The debate was both fierce and cordial. Little did we know that the man at the centre of the debate had just few months to live. Achebe introduced himself to the world with the power of the pen through his book Things Fall Apart, and he departed when the debate he created by publishing There Was A Country is still relevant, especially with the 100th anniversary of the amalgamation of Nigeria approaching.

Just like his writings, his death became international news, from CNN to BBC, Guardian to Telegraph, from Nelson Mandela to Jacob Zuma, messages of condolence have kept pouring from around the world, to the extent that his death became more of a celebration of his contribution to world literature than mourning the demise of an intellectual giant. You do not have to agree with Achebe, as many of us, young and old, disagreed with him, especially on his latest book, but one thing you cannot deny the Professor is the literary juggernaut that he was, the real winner of the Nobel Prize in African literature in the court of public opinion.

As the world mourns his departure, what are the lessons to be learnt from the life of Chinua Achebe? What would be his legacy? The answers are quite obvious. But two of these legacies stand out. First was his contribution to African literature through his novels, from Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, A Man of the People, No Longer At Ease, Anthills of the Savannah, The Trouble with Nigeria, down to the most recent, There Was A Country, and also the most controversial of his books. This contribution would for life remain an enduring legacy that would put him at par with other literary icons like William Shakespeare, George Orwell, Charles Dickens and Earnest Hemingway, at least on African literature written in English language. Such contribution showcases the quality of education received in Nigeria during the colonial days and few years after political independence.

His generation has produced classic writers of international standard such as Achebe himself, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo and Abubakar Imam, of course the latter did not enjoy much international exposure because he chose to write in Hausa language, but he was certainly an exceptional writer of the same caliber, particularly with his trilogy, Magana Jari Ce (Speech is an Asset). A common feature among this generation of writers is that they are not intellectuals who compiled degrees yet those pursuing degrees in literature up to PhD level have to study their work. This is the difference between core education and paper qualification, which is today erroneously represented in contemporary society as substitute for knowledge.

The second key contribution of Achebe is pioneering the formation of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). ANA is one of the most important institutions I believe today in Nigeria. It is so because it is one institution that is almost run voluntarily, yet supporting young Nigerians to develop their talents, produce literary works in poetry, short stories and novels in native Nigerian languages and English. With active branches in Lagos, Abuja, Port Hacourt, Niger and Kano, ANA has produced, and is continuing to produce, a pool of young writers who have the potential to compete at any level of literary endeavour, yet constrained by the Nigerian factor, particularly lack of reputable publishing houses, and the deteriorating nature of our educational institutions.

For instance in the Kano branch of ANA, through the Creative Writers’ Forum, a lot of university students, yours sincerely included, have benefited immensely in producing literary works. It was so beautiful that every last Wednesday of the month, students and teachers would meet to discuss their new output. It became a culture that every single thing members of ANA-Kano experienced, they will put it in writing, either as poem or short story. The likes of Professor Mustapha Ahmad Isa, Professor Ibrahim Bello-Kano, Dr Aliyu Jibia, Professor Yusuf Adamu and the late Malama Binta Salma Muhammad would be there to provide an assessment of the work and suggest ways for improvement. Within a short time, literary minds like Ismail Bala Garba, Faruk Sarkin Fada, Sulaiman Zailani, Aliyu Barau, Nura Ahmad, Aisha Zakari, Umma Aliyu, Shakir Balogun, Aliyu Abubakar, Hadiza Hanga, and many more whose name I cannot mention due to lack of space, were developed, and some of them, without doubt, have the potential to follow the path of Achebe. Similar effort is replicated in many chapters of ANA around the country.

No human being is perfect, and certainly Professor Achebe was not an exception, particularly with the bashing he received for his latest contribution, There Was A Country, but that is the price you pay for being a writer. As the saying goes, a single tree cannot make a forest. Without exaggeration, Chinua Achebe was a tree that made a forest in African literature.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

(50): Wisal TV and Satellite Broadcasting in Hausa

Perhaps one area in which the Hausa language remained active is in international broadcasting. From the days of the empire service which was transmitting programmes to the former British colonies, to the establishment of international broadcasting units such as the British Broadcasting Corporation, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle etc; the Hausa language always has an active section in these international broadcasting centres. In fact in some of those media outfits, the Hausa service has the largest share of audiences compared to other languages.
Beyond the Western capitals, many developing countries have invested heavily in transmitting programmes in the Hausa Language. China, Egypt, Iran, Russia all have Hausa sections or programme slots dedicated to the Hausa language. In the last fifty years, veteran international broadcasters like Alhaji Magaji Dambatta, Dr Ibrahim Tahir, Alhaji Musa Musawa, Alhaji Halilu Ahmad Getso, Alhaji Ado Gwadabe, Malam Usman Muhammad, Dr Saleh Halliru, Malam Bala Muhammad, Alhaji Isa Abba Adamu, have greeted the airwaves.
Many more are still active in the field, and working very hard to inform us about international affairs, some of them with the dexterity and exceptional oratory that keeps you glued to your radio station. Space will not allow me to mention them now; perhaps one day there might be a chance to conduct a rigorous research on the contribution of these exceptional talents who work hard to make even the most illiterate Hausa speaker into a semi-professor of international affairs.
One area that the Hausa language remains behind is in satellite broadcasting. This is an area that many nationalities with cross border presence have embraced in order to educate their people, entertain their youth, acquire soft power, and remain visible in the international arena. Examples of such Satellite stations include Zee TV targeting Indian speakers at home and in diaspora, Telesur focusing on Latin America, as well as other Geo-cultural stations like Channel S, Islam Channel, Peace TV, Ben TV, OBE etc targeting large communities and serving their cultural, educational and religious needs.
The Hausa Language, which is widely spoken in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and with a growing number of students in England, Malaysia, United States and Cyprus; having an international satellite station is long overdue. That is why it is pleasing when some interested individuals and stations started investing in this important area. The coming of Africa TV which has a Hausa section and Sunnah TV which transmits in Hausa language will hopefully initiate the Hausa language and make it have a meaningful presence in the world of Satellite broadcasting.
Interestingly another effort being made to transmit in Hausa language to global audiences is through Wisal TV, which at the moment will start transmission from the city of Jeddah. I had the opportunity to visit the studio of the new station which according to the programme coordinator, Malam Aminu Saad, transmission will start in the next few weeks via Nilesat. Wisal will be transmitting various educational programmes and gradually move into current affairs.
The effort to have these channels is commendable, but for them to succeed, especially with the limited resources some of them operate, they need the goodwill of the audiences. This brings me back to the role of the veteran journalists, some of whom I have mentioned earlier. To run a successful TV station, you need professional hands to come up with quality programmes, ensure accuracy and fairness in presentation, provide in-depth analysis of news and current affairs, and above all respect and promote the values of the audiences.
Satellite broadcasting in the 21st century provides an essential tool for economic, educational and social transformation. It brings the world to your table, and if handled by competent hands, it can address the key issues bedeviling the society, and come up with practical solutions for the good of all.


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

(49): Using smartphones to enhance the quality of teaching

Smartphones have today become part and parcel of our lives, particularly among young people. It enhances communication, provides access to business, and serves as a pool for the retrieval of information without the restriction of borders or monopoly by a section of the media.
But the smartphones can also be distractive, and more distracting perhaps if you are a teacher. Last year while teaching a course on global media to first year undergraduates at Northumbria University, one of the challenges I faced, and I am sure other lecturers do face as well, is that the students divide their attention between the lecture and playing with their smartphones. They spend time chatting with their friends on Facebook and twitter. This continued till the end of the lecture. If you draw the attention of the students, they might stop for a while, but once you turn around to go through the next slide in your presentation, or walk around the class, the students will continue to play with these smartphones. And it was clear that these generations of students have grown with their smartphones; they are their virtual twins, so what can you do?

The best is to utilize it as a resource for teaching, and many teachers are experimenting that. For the first time in my teaching career I asked the students to use their smartphones to search for information regarding the course, and that solved the problem immediately. Rather than wasting time during class twitting and facebooking, the smartphone can be useful in teaching.
The next thing that came to my mind is how to utilize this technology by teachers in higher institutions in countries where there is poor communication infrastructure, particularly due to poor electricity, but ironically, where there is meteoric rise in the ownership of smartphones. Despite the lack of constant electricity, people device ways to make sure that their batteries are fully charged. So are you a teacher at a higher institution? Here are five suggestions for you to consider in utilizing the smartphones that your students carry to the class, without having to worry about interruptions by your electricity supplier. 
Firstly, gone are the days when a lecturer will come to the class and be talking to students or dictate notes to them for one or two hours, in some cases even three. Teaching requires variety of approaches, with smartphones you can ask students to search through YouTube and look for video materials relevant to your course. I am aware that not all the students have a smartphone and many cannot even afford it.  But if in a class of  fifty you have five students with smartphones, you can group them into five, and they can watch it together and have discussion afterwards. That way you can avail your students with lectures presented by some of the best professors in your field.
Secondly, smartphones come with a Google search application. This is in fact the easiest tool to use in class room teaching. You can save yourself and the students the burden of printing papers, such tools in Google like Google Scholar which brings access to academic publications and conference papers can be used to access important literature, without having to go through the trash that comes with normal Google search. When explaining terms that are too technical or require the use of a dictionary, never ignore the smartphones that your students carry in their pocket, if you don’t use it for teaching they will use it for socializing.
Thirdly, is developing a specialized application for teaching purpose and then be made available on Apple Stores and Android. This is something that universities can do whether in Nigeria, Ghana or India. A smartphone application can be produced sometimes between one thousand to ten thousand dollars depending on the level of sophistication. Such app can have facilities for sending alerts to students in case of shifting a lecture, announcing exam timetable, organizing group work etc.
Fourthly, in such courses like media and communications, smartphones can be used to assign students to produce multimedia work. This is because smartphones come with a voice recorder and video apps that can be used to record audio and video materials, get it edited and uploaded on YouTube or other video platforms. CNN correspondents have of recent produced reports using smartphones, so it is doable.  I have seen radio stations recording interviews with smartphones, and the quality is better than that of some of the recording machines that are used in radio production.
Fifthly, using a smartphone, a teacher can organize a virtual class room using different applications including Skype. Students can join the teacher if for certain valid reasons he cannot come to the class. He can hold the lecture virtually while the students log on and participate.  
I am not unmindful of the challenges that might come with this, especially where the network providers are notorious for providing poor service, or the possibility of taking advantage of these facilities to avoid holding classes physically.  But it is worth trying, you can invent additional approaches as well. Most importantly, further research can help in improving the quality of teaching by using smartphones.

22nd Rabi al Thani 1434
4th March 2013

Friday, 1 March 2013

(48): Feedback from the readers

As the series in this column approach one year, it will be good to publish some selected comments from the readers on some of the articles published on this page. Here you are!!! –Jameel
On attitudinal poverty in Northern Nigeria
“Regarding your piece, it is an excellent write-up and spot on. I had a similar discussion with a brother last month insisting that the poverty of the north is psychological/attitudinal, and we could do a lot even without waiting for the government but just by changing our attitude”. Abubakar Muhammad

On Chinua Achebe’s book

"Well articulated indeed! Been following this article with keen attention and it made a good reading. I was particularly impressed by the paragraph "... The British did not bring a new civilisation to Northern Nigeria. They met a society that already has a political structure, with clear leadership, courts of law, security system and all the requirements of a modern state." The North has for a very long time a well established system of Government with well documented constitution, well civilized. The North have a complete mode of dressing, unlike some that adopt others dressing just recently - perhaps clothings are not an integral part of their history...."
Isa Dutse

“Thanks for your philanthropic and altruistic contribution in critically reviewing the unpopular Memoirs of Achebe. I was and still very happy with your stand and presentation on the Debate- talk at the British Parliament House, in London. I foresee a Country within a near future devoid of sentiments and corruption, not like Achebe who is very pessimistic about the future of Nigeria.

Honestly, the literature depicts the personality of Achebe and what he truly stands for. In the work '' There was a Country'', he articulated his position on how he looks at the other regions in Nigeria, emphatically, the Northerners(which he descscribes as ''Hausa/ Fulani'' and having a ''wary religion'') and the Western bloc( the Yoruba which he also portray as being ''unhampered'' with ''traditional hierarchies'').

By his provocative narration in this work Achebe only succeeded in inciting hatred  against the two major tribes by his own kinsmen. He systematically, praised his own people by calling them warriors and the rest as enemies and murderers. This work really foretells how Achebe has been considering Nigeria since the aftermath of the Biafran secession, or  rebellion.

This also calls for reassessments of his other works which are widely read not only in Igbo land but, across the North of the Hausa/Fulani and West of the Yoruba. One often, wonders why Achebe always in his works praises the Igbos as being strong and uncorrupt, and others the opposite. Examples of these can clearly be seen in works like '''Things Fall Apart'', The Man of People'', in which he satirically condemn the politicians and especially, the ruling party which of course, at that time it was in the hands of the Northerners. We see in that book  ''Odili'' as an honest academic who is pushed by the corrupt practices of the politicians of the time to contest for position.

In summary, I want to say that works like this should be avoided as they only portray, like  in a mirror, the egocentricity of the writer. The developments of the historical events as shown in the piece are one-sided. Achebe ought to come out publicly and apologise for his misrepresentation of the whole information contained in his Memoir. Luckily, as can be seen in yesternight’s debate at the British Parliament, this work of Achebe is strongly rejected even by the Igbo themselves and considered fatally erroneous.

I also recommend that interested readers in this Debate can also read other works written by some intellectual Igbo writers who consider it a duty to convey the Biafan message to the younger generation. These are ''The Visions of a Nationhood'' by G.N Unzigwe, first published 2011 and is available, and The Brothers of War'' by St. de Jorre…”

Mustapha Tafarki

25th February 2013