(134): Interview: "10 Questions for Muhsin Ibrahim"
The following is my interview with the Blueprint newspaper (Nigeria) on writing, reading and related issues. You may see it on their website or the print edition of 30.01.2021, page 25. Thank you.
How did your amity with writing start? What triggered it?
Writing is, often, a result of reading. I started reading novels by, usually, Nigerian authors in 1999. However, I wondered why couldn’t I find books by northern Nigerian writers? There were only a very few of them such as Zaynab Alkali (The Stillborn, The Virtuous Woman, etc.), Muhammad Sule (The Undesirable Element) and Auwal Yusuf Hamza (Love Path) in the market or the one I went to. I vowed to become a writer to tell our stories.
How was it honed?
You hone your writing skills by reading and practising writing. I think there is no other better way. I read a lot, mostly when I was younger; when I had less engagement and responsibilities. I didn’t have any specific favourite genre. I read almost whatever came my way. I practised by writing letters and short stories. When the Internet became available, I joined Yahoo! Group and other online fora like Nairaland and KanoOnline between 2003-2006. I withstood mockery, snobbery when I wrote and accepted corrections from those who cared to look at my ‘gibberish’.
Growing up, who were your favourite writers, and why were they your favourites?
Although Kola Onadipe and Cyprian Ekwensi are hardly rated among top-notch Nigerian writers, their books were my favourite as a child. I later discovered Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who remains my favourite till date. Their stories don’t sound very fictional to me. I also love their accessible diction.
What do you want to achieve through your writings?
Here, I look up to Chinua Achebe – if you remove his last book, There was a Country. I write to teach and inspire. I am a lifetime learner, and so I named my blog: The Learner. I love sharing what I learn. Hence, I find it challenging to quit social media platforms or, generally, stop writing even when I am swamped. What’s the use of the knowledge if I die without sharing it with others?
Would you concede that writing is considerably behind most of your successes as a person and an academic?
Yes, it is. My novel, A Weird Hope, was a useful bargaining chip during my employment with Bayero University, Kano (BUK). Although I went through a rigorous application process like any other candidate, the book, with all its flaws, might have influenced my recommendation for the job in the first place. Now, my PhD primary supervisor expresses her appreciation for my writing skills. I don’t claim to be perfect, but I try my best possible and welcome correction from all.
You seem not to be into fiction; why is it so?
As I mentioned above, I used to love and even wrote fiction. Following a course we did as master’s students at BUK on life writing, I began to change focus I found non-fictional books more appealing, more relatable and beneficial. So, I bade farewell to fiction.
You often write about Kannywood; why not Nollywood, which would have captured the entirety of Nigeria?
Despite filming almost exclusively in Hausa, I believe Kannywood, too, has a national or even international appeal. Why do we watch Bollywood, Chinese and Korean films even though they aren’t also in the global English language? So, until we embrace ours, we leave the space for others to explore and exploit. It has started happening already. Today, several non-Hausa filmmakers are producing films in the language. Their works are gaining momentum with one being considered for the 2021 Oscars. I am talking about The Milkmaid, the second film from Nigeria to have been nominated for this invaluable, international award.
Would you consider joining Kannywood someday as a director or producer?
I can’t say, but I don’t rule it out.
Ultimately, what do you want to achieve through your writings?
I don’t write for fame or fortune. I write to educate, inspire and spark action. If, through my writing, someone learns something, gets motivated to do something good for humanity, I achieve my objectives.
How would you assess Nigeria socio-economically and politically at the moment, as a writer and an academic?
Nigeria is in a trying time. The failure of leadership, an issue Achebe passionately wrote about four decades ago, is becoming more evident. We all know that millions of Nigerians thought that this administration would end or, at least, alleviate their suffering when it came into power in 2015. Today, tell me one thing that is better than it was before that time. The situation has, in fact, arguably exacerbated.
While the above is undeniable, Nigerian citizens are not guiltless either. We allow ethno-religious and regional sentiments blind our reasoning. Merit or competence doesn’t matter at all. Corruption thrives, and hatred among people increases. These and more provide a breeding ground for poverty and insecurity. Frankly, we need salvation.
What are you working on now and when should the public expect it?
Well, I am working on my PhD dissertation and other academic writings. I also write quite a lot on social media and sparingly on my blog. But, yes, I shall revise and update my book, Kannywood: Unveiling the Overlooked Hausa Film Industry later on. I can’t say when, but it shall happen, in sha Allah. May Allah, the Exalted, rescue our country, amin.