Lyrico-poetic testimonies of Nigerian artistes on Bukar Usman
Title: Songs For Bukar Usman
(A Collection of Panegyric Poems)
Compiler/Translator: Khalid Imam
Reviewer: Ben Tomoloju
Publisher: Whetstone Publishers
No of Pages: 253
The renascence of African culture is supposed to be as all-encompassing as it is dynamic. Its banner was borne aloft during the years of nationalist struggles by the then political titans. Alongside the assertion of the negritude writers whose poetry was described by Leopold Sedar Senghor as a means of revitalising and re-invigorating the African heritage, his Nigerian counterpart, Nnamdi Azikiwe, was who sensitised the public with the idea of re-nascent Africa.
An example, and a highly significant one for that matter, is the multi-faceted, monumental scholarly output of Dr. Bukar Usman in the promotion, propagation and preservation of Nigerian folklore, especially in the field of orature. Scholars have written – and will continue to write – about the phenomenal field and literary works of Dr. Bukar Usman who is, in fact, the President of the Nigerian Folklore Society (NFS) at this point in time. They have written about his transnational support to literary development through the Dr. Bukar Usman Foundation. His social vision as a public affairs analyst, expressed in books and the media have also received a commendation from observers. But there is yet another fascinating side to the life of this individual role model. Even as an elite within a patrician bracket, Bukar is also grass-rooted in his socialisation bearing evidence by the works of the five oral poets featured in this book, Songs for Bukar Usman by Khalid Imam.
Reading the book, Songs for Bukar Usman, one cannot but appreciate the manner in which Dr. Usman’s goodwill permeates the entire spectrum of the society in terms of relevance and veneration as a real man of the people.
The book proves copiously that the subject’s creative and critical labour is not only seminal but are also acknowledged among the grassroots folk. And this is borne out by the lyrico-poetic testimonies of the five oral artistes from the northern part of Nigeria whose panegyric works extol in heroic staves the virtues of the subject that makes him worthy of celebration. These singers (who essentially are oral poets) are Umar Idris (Dan Kwairon Biu); Sulaiman A. Tijjani (self-styled Professor of Poetry); Aminu Ladan Abubakar (a.k.a ALA); Maryam A. Baba (a.k.a. Sangandale), the only female among them, and Bashir Yahuza Malumfashi.
As praise-singers, they do not compromise their art with any kind of pretension or vain-glorification. A praise-singer is a praise-singer. A jester is a jester. A singer of the halo (song of abuse) from the Ewe ethnicity in Ghana, as enunciated by Kofi Awonoor, owes no one any apology about his venomous tongue. So, a praise-singer, as demonstrated by these five in Songs for Bukar Usman, seeks value and virtue in noble individuals, singles them out for eulogy and amplifies the subject’s attributes with robust and, if necessary, hyperbolic imagery for descriptive effects.
Umar Idris, for instance, opens Folk Hero with the invocation:
Bless me with genius
O Allah, grant me brilliance
So I can duly praise this champion
Semantically, ‘duly’ connotes sincerity and is synonymous with ‘truly’, the true judgement both morally and aesthetically. Maryam A. Baba in ‘Foundation For Humanitarian Support’ sings:
Whatever begins without the mention of Allah goes wrong.
Dr. Bukar Usman’s works have been subjects of studies in many institutions of higher learning which, perhaps, accounts for the publication of this book of panegyric poems by Khalid Imam. Bukar Usman has made a name for himself locally and internationally.
The song, ‘He Treats Us With Love’, by Umar Idris, says it all even in the title. Also, the opening lines of Umar’s ‘Foundation For Liberation’ is quite significant. He sings:
Bukar Usman: here is a respectable foundation.
Bukar is a respectable foundation.
Certainly, he did not found it for his selfish needs.
And not for any political gain.
With a play on words, the singer shows that the man himself is both a foundation of exemplary attributes and an institution in his own rights; thus, a duality exists in the personality, combining the institutional and the moral.
Maryam A. Baba elaborates on the people-friendliness of Bukar in ‘The Foundation For Humanitarian Support’:
Bukar Usman’s foundation supports the society.
Bukar Usman’s foundation develops the society.
Bukar Usman’s foundation is the cornerstone for regeneration.
Bukar Usman’s foundation makes education economical.
In Songs For Dr. Bukar Usman, there are twenty-four poems altogether, classified into three self-explanatory parts. Part One comprises works by Umar Idris (Dan Kwairon Biu), Sulaiman Tijjani (The Professor of Poetry) and Aminu Ladan Abubakar (ALA). Song 1, ‘The Stalwart’ by Umar Idris profiles the subject as a leading light in society. Song 2, Folk Hero, also by Umar, portrays Bukar Usman as a winner – a champion. In Song 3, ‘The Doctor of Literature’, Umar celebrates the subject’s academic accomplishments.
Another singer, Sulaiman A. Tijjani, emerges in Song 4, ‘The Philosophical Bukar Usman’, praising the inimitability of Bukar. Tijjani goes on in Song 5 to celebrate his subject’s meritorious service in government. The same Tijjani in Song 6, ‘The Phenomenal’, does a relay of epigrammatic antithesis in favour of Bukar, singing:
If you are above him in money
He is above you in wealth
If you exceed him in age
You won’t equal him in intelligence…
Part two is devoted to ‘Songs On Dr. Bukar Usman Foundation’, an institution that has promoted research, documentation and publication of intellectual property across Nigeria and beyond, one of which, from one’s intimate knowledge, is the gathering and publication of folktales from various zones of Nigeria.
Part three of Songs for Bukar Usman comes in the form of ‘Odes On Biu Emirate And Borno Kingdom’. Sulaiman A. Tijjani has just one song in this part. All the same, the song pulsates with the vibrancy of his poetic genius.
Titled ‘Biu City’, Song 18 opens with the line:
Lead on, Farfesan Waka, lead on.
Such an arresting opener is a self-adulating morale-booster for the performer who humorously transliterates the title ‘Professor’ in the mother-tongue of ‘Farfesan’, the Professor of Songs.
Umar Idris sings the rest of the songs in Part Three. Song 19, ‘Let’s Make Biu a Better Place’ brims with political interventionist statements, calling for cooperation and patriotism against the run of violence in the North-east of Nigeria, against the wanton destruction of lives and properties by the Boko Haram insurgents. In successive songs, he calls on government (Song 19) towards this end.
Reading the profiles of each of these singers in Part Four, one discovers something gratifying. They are literate through and through.
Khalid Imam, the translator and annotator of these songs, which are unquestionably poems in their own rights, connects perfectly with the second part of the observation by the renowned literary critics. He has produced translations – especially as a creative writer himself – which convey ‘the essential qualities and meaning of the original’.