Abubakar Gimba: Farewell To The Mandarin
ABUJA. November 22, 1997. It was another election year for the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and the writers could be seen in groups and clusters feverishly canvassing for votes. As usual, the posts of the National President and General Secretary were top on the political list with the former the more emotive of the two positions. The reason for this was not far-fetched. Abubakar Gimba, the leading Presidential contender, if he succeeds in the keen election would be the first writer of northern extraction to become ANA’s National President. While a good number of the writers were open-minded enough about not using ethnic background to determine who became the President of the national body of writers, some ethnic jingoists were trying to use ethnic considerations to determine the eventual winner of the election. This group of writers could be heard insinuating that because of the enormity of the position of a National ANA President, a northern writer would not have the necessary exposure and network to successfully run the association. Matters were not helped by the fact that General Abacha was then in power and Gimba was seen as an ‘establishment man’ who was rumoured to be Abacha’s candidate. So intense was the national political undercurrent at that year’s ANA elections that even my candidature as the General Secretary was put under intense scrutiny by both the pro- and anti-government writers. At a point during the highly emotionally-charged electioneering campaign, I was interrogated by both groups of writers who wanted to be sure I was on their side. At the end of the elections, both Gimba and I won the positions of the President and General Secretary respectively. Even at that, some writers still found it difficult to accept Gimba as the ANA President. GIMBA NOW ANA PRESIDENT; THE END OF ANA was the screaming headline in one of the national newspapers the day after the elections.
And so it was that the ANA National Executive Council under Alhaji Abubakar Gimba came into office under a cloud of suspicion, pessimism and trepidation. Rather than allow this ‘cloud of negativism’ to weigh us down, the task of proving that we were up to the task became our major driving force. This made us to work harder than usual. Fortunately, Gimba’s rich political, social and economic network of friends and associates combined with his humility, patience and hardwork quickly brought good results. Not only was the Executive Council able to execute many of the regular ANA programmes, including the publication of an anthology of Short Stories entitled Cramped Rooms and Open Spaces (1999) and edited by Ibrahim Sheme, it was under Gimba’s watch that the Association of Nigerian Authors became fully registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Secondly, we were also able to secure the Certificate of Occupancy for the ANA land in Mpape, Abuja, a property that has now become a multi million naira investment for the association. In addition to these wonderful achievements, Gimba’s avuncular and charming attitude was able to garner for ANA a rich array of friends among professional and literary associations at home and abroad. Apart from many invitations to attend national events by such organisations such as the Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA), Association of Librarians and The Copyright Council Of Nigeria among others, Gimba, on many occasions, asked me to represent the association at international events hosted by organisations such as the Pan African Writers Association in Ghana, The Harare Book Fair in Zimbabwe as well as the Norwegian Writers Conference in Oslo among others.
However, beyond all these tangible achievements, Gimba’s greatest legacy were the legion of writers and personalities whose lives he enriched through his selfless and often self-effacing attitude, his rich repository of knowledge and his uncanny affinity to give and serve even when he had little left for himself. He was to me not just a writing colleague; he was a brother, a confidant with whom I could discuss virtually anything and still be sure I was walking on safe grounds.
This was why when sometimes in 2011 Gimba informed me that after a medical trip to India he had been diagnosed with Liver Cirrhosis I was crestfallen but nevertheless upbeat about his chances of winning the battle against the predator. As a way of monitoring his progress, I therefore made it mandatory to visit him at least twice a year in his No 10 Gado Nasco Street residence, Zarumai Quarters in Minna. For some inexcusable reasons, I missed visiting him this year and was on the verge of planning a visit when I learnt of his demise. Despite being privy to his ailment which I knew could be terminal, I still took his death very badly. It was as if a part of me had been violently yanked off. And despite my determination not to betray any emotions when I later visited the family a few days after his death in Minna, it was difficult sitting without the ‘lord of the manor’ in attendance in the same sitting room where we had for close to two decades supped, joked and strategized together. And so the tears fell.
Our solace should be in the great works he has left behind, his well groomed and well educated children and the multitude of the legatees of his profound intellect, wisdom and humanity. And as our mutual friend and the current Niger State Honourable Commissioner for Agriculture, Professor Muhammed Yahaya Kuta said when I paid a condolence visit to the Niger State Governor, ‘’we should be careful not to mourn Alhaji Gimba; rather, his passage should be celebrated’’.
In celebrating this great man of letters, I take solace in the third stanza of a five-stanza poem entitled ‘Scalpel of Quills’, which he dedicated to me to mark my election into the Federal House Of Representatives in June 2003:
Ah, new hunters must stride the land!
Not vacuum-cleaners, but knights with armour
New warriors to drain the gutters of slime.
The purgatory needs the twilight of a new dawn
To issue forth meteoric Words of light and hope
And battle the engulfing darkness of our doom.
Good bye my brother, good night our knight in shining armour! Farewell the Mandarin!!