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Hadiza El-Rufai joins league of Northern Nigerian women writers

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Hadiza Isma El-Rufai signing a copy of An Abundance of Scorpions after the launch… in Abuja


With the recent launch of An Abundance of Scorpions in Abuja, a novel written by the wife of Kaduna State governor, Hadiza Isma El-Rufai, the literary space from northern Nigeria, especially by its women, often held in check by religious and cultural norm, keeps expanding. If anything, her high profile status is a further incentive for other women to rise to the challenge of expressing themselves through the diverse creative and cultural platforms available to them.

The launch, coordinated by Lagos-based publishing outfit, Ouidah Books, offered guests a comprehensive artistic bouquet derivable from the content of the novel. And so from film clip (performed by Daihlar Musa), cultural dance, live stage performance (also by Musa) to performance of musical recording by Jeremiah Gyang, An Abundance of Scorpions came alive for the audience that comprised of governors, deputy governors, wives of governors, diplomats, bankers and government functionaries from across the country.

But even more illuminating was the book chat that held between the newest writer-in-town, with Dr. Olaokun Soyinka moderating. It served as a means of getting a feel of the thoughts of Mrs. El-Rufai on her writing. First she confessed to having a busy husband, also an author himself (The Accidental Public Servant), which gives her time for her writing vocation.

“I’ve had the dream of being a published writer,” stated the trained architect with three masters degree. “I needed the validation of being a published writer. It’s very exciting to see my book in print. Many years ago, I had the dream of being a writer. I started writing, but I realised I needed to horn my craft and I registered for a Masters in Fine Arts (MFA) programme in the U.K.”She said 2008 was a turbulent and trying year for the El-Rufais, as they were forced into exile. Perhaps, boredom soon crept in and she found herself writing.

Sex is one tabooed subject writing and writers from the northern part of Nigeria love to avoid. Although certain attitudes and myths are being demystified, especially with the release of Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossom two years ago, Mrs. El-Rufai would seem to have lent a weighty voice to openness about sex with her novel. And why not? Sex is a staple fare in husband and wife relationship. Continuing to pretend about it as if it does not exist is futile effort, so suggests the bold voice of El-Rufai, in her attempt to explode the needless myth.

“On page four, there is a sex scene,” she said to the ugh! sigh from the audience. “I wanted to show intimacy between husband and wife. We are all adults here and we know it’s what we all do. I wanted to show there is stereotype of northern Nigerian family. I wanted to show that we are not so different from others. The lead character is a northern Nigerian woman and I guess that makes her similar to me.”

Apart from her newfound fascination for writing, which she promised to be devoted to, Mrs. El-Rufai is committed to running Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation in honour of a child she lost a few years back. Donations and pledges at the launch and a percentage of the book sales would be directed to running the affairs of the foundation that caters to creative writing for children and adult education for women.

Dignitaries like Deputy Secretary-General of United Nations, Mrs. Amia J. Mohammed, and foremost novelist from northern Nigeria, Prof. Zaynab Alkali, sent goodwill messages of encouragement and excitement at Hadiza’s foray into creative writing. Alkali commended El-Rufai for her exciting title and welcomed her to the ‘larger literary family.’ She also urged her to use her God-given creative writing talent ‘for change.’ Also, president, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Mallam Denja Abdullahi, commended El-Rufai for venturing into the turf of literary creativity.

Emir of Kano and former Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who was represented, challenged wives of other leaders not to be complacent in the comfort of their marriages, but to be proactive in affecting their respective communities through purposeful endeavours.

IN a keynote address, ‘The Significance of Northern Nigerian Women’s Voices to the Nigerian Literary Canon,’ Dr. Auwalu Anwar traced the evolution of women’s writing from Northern Nigeria, starting from Arabic writing (ajami) down to Hausa language.Anwar said in 1980, “Hafsat Ahmad Abdulwaheed became the first female published creative writer in Roman script, So Aljannar Duniya. 1980 through 1990, there was an explosion of women creative writers. In 1980, Yaya Hassana wrote Nuni Cikin Nishadi. In 1984, Talatu Wada Ahmad wrote Rabin Raina. In 1987, Balaraba Ramat Yakubu wrote Budurwar Zuciya. Other writers included Zuwaira Isa, Bilkisu Ahmad Funtuwa, Sa’adatu Baba Ahmad, Lubabatu Shehu, etc. This trend continues up to now.

“In 2014, Mace Mutum Writers Association, all women writers, in Kano produced a 266-page book, Hannu Da Yawa, on the themes of Talla (hawking), Fyade (rape), Aikatau (menial job), Rikice-rikice (trouble making), Almundahana (fraud), Yaki da Jahilci (adult education), Daba (hooliganism), Barace-barace (begging) and Yanar Gizo (internet).”

The discovery of Zaynab Alkali in 1984 through The Stillborn signalled the emergence of women’s literary voice in Northern Nigeria in English, Anwar said. She followed it up with The Virtuous Woman in 1986, and then Cobwebs and Other Stories in 1997. Others that followed Alkali much later included Asabe Kabir Usman, Fatima Alkali, Bilkisu Abubakar, Bilkisu Ahmad Funtuwa, Razinat Muhammad, Halimat Sekula, Cecilia Kato, The Kabafest Celebrities, and Hadiza Isma El-Rufai.

Anwar said the usual traditional male voices represented women as docile and obedient child-bearers, housekeepers, exciting but sometimes uncooperative bed mates, and passive members of society.He identified the objectives of women writers to include identifying the position of northern woman, expressing her yearnings and aspirations, telling her own story without distortions, dismantling all barriers against her true identity, and development.

He further outlined the significance of Northern women’s voices to the Nigerian literary canon to be embedded in the nature of issues they discuss in their books. These include girl child and her education, early marriage, polygamy, domestic violence, unpredictable and often sour relationship with in-laws, gender issues, and gainful employment. Others are entrepreneurship, economic independence, workplace politics, ethno-religious tolerance, peaceful coexistence, social responsibility, and political awareness.

In spite of the strides already made, Anwar was of the view that a gap still existed and which should be filled for women in the north to fully come to their own as accomplished beings. He argued that “Northern leaders at all levels should sponsor the translation of women’s literary works from local to international languages, governors should embark on genuine education reforms and development, especially at the primary and secondary levels, governments at all levels should pay more attention to vocational and technical education, there is need for mentoring to encourage up-coming writers, and both the old brigade and the new-breed writers need societal goodwill and support in order to sustain their literary activities for transformational purposes and development.”

WHILE welcoming guests, publisher and director of Ouidah Books, Lola Shoneyin, took her audience through the birthing process of An Abundance of Scorpions and said, “I am very proud of Hadiza Isma El-Rufai. I remember when I was about to introduce her at Ake Festival. I whispered to her that this was the end of all that “Your Excellency”. I explained that you haven’t really “arrived” as an author until people refer to you by your first and last name. She looked at me with a wry smile and said, ‘I am very happy with people calling me by my given name.’

“You’ll hear that name quite a lot today. It won’t just be because Hadiza Isma El-Rufai has become a member of what is still an elite group of published Nigerians. It won’t just be because she has earned our respect; it will because her baby, her book, An Abundance of Scorpions, is beautiful and worth celebrating.

“With this book presentation, we at Ouida Book wanted to do something different. We decided to showcase how a single work, in the hands of other creatives, can be transformed, interpreted and presented in different art forms. “Whilst on this quest, we had the privilege of working with a number of incredibly talented individuals. Today, you will see a dance sequence based on an emotionally charged scene in the novel. This was put together by Uche Onah, easily one of the most talented choreographers in Nigeria today. New experiences translate to new encounters. It was Lillian Byoma who adapted an excerpt of the book for the big screen. You will also witness how words fly from page to stage when Kannywood actress Deilar Musa performs here.

“For the second time in under a year, I have had the opportunity to work with Jeremiah Gyang. We sent him the novel and commissioned him to write a song about Tambaya, the protagonist in An Abundance of Scorpions. The day after, he called me, raving about the novel. He was inspired and we are very proud to share today what we hope will be Jeremiah’s next hit song. 

“Everything you’ll witness today is about books. We are celebrating the birth of An Abundance of Scorpions, but we are also promoting literacy and reading.”
Shoneyin also commended governor Nasir El-Rufai for his “unflinching support and understanding. If more Nigerian men resolved to support their wives in achieving their dreams, the way that you do, Nigeria would be more prosperous, more productive and life would be sweeter for us all.”


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Hadiza Isma El-Rufai
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