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With Seriya, Omokewu, Na’Allah deepens Islamic study

By Sodiq Omolaoye, Abuja
04 July 2021   |   3:00 am
It was a festival of books sort of recently at the University of Abuja, when three books written by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, were presented to the public.

It was a festival of books sort of recently at the University of Abuja, when three books written by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, were presented to the public.

Former Governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatah Ahmed(left); Venezuelan Ambassador to Nigeria, Nieves Velasquez Caraballo, the Author,Vice Chancellor,University of Abuja, Professor Abdulrasheed Na’allah and Former Minister of Sports, Bolaji Abdullahi during the launch of the VC’s three books, “Seriya, Omokewu and Yoruba Oral tradition in Islamic Nigeria in Abuja… Wednesday.<br />PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI ATEKO

High net worth guests, academics, political thought leaders such as former governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatah Ahmed; Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Abubakar Rasheed; Registrar/Chief Executive of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Professor Isha’q Oloyede; graced the occasion.

The event also attracted former Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Bolaji Abdullahi; Ambassador of Venezuela to Nigeria, David Valasquez Caraballo; Emir of Jiwa, Alhaji Idris Musa and representative of the President’s Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, among others.

It was also part of activities to commemorate the author’s second year anniversary as the chief executive officer of the institution.

The books presented to the public amid applause from stakeholders both in academics and the knowledge industry include Seriya, Omokewu and Yoruba Oral Tradition in Islamic Nigeria: A history of Dàdàkúàdá.

Prof. Rasheed commended the academic for remaining committed to his professional engagement while holding a key leadership position.

“It is very rare for a sitting vice-chancellor to write a book. He is an exceptionally brilliant literary analyst. NUC is happy with the change already manifesting at the University of Abuja and we will work with all arms of government to ensure that the institution takes its place at the leading University in Nigeria,” he said.

The former governor of Kwara State also commended the author as someone who has made immense contributions to national development.

Recalling when Na’Allah was the Vice-Chancellor of the Kwara State University, Ahmed said the author had always been focused on changing the academic environment.

“His contribution will continue to shape Nigeria because it is time we had someone like the author” who’d help, “to bring back our old values and new ways to charter a new course for our dear nation.”

While commending the book, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Yusuf Ali, stressed the need to have a book of this nature that reminds the people of their past.

“I know the author as a man of letters. I can attest to his intellectual rigour. The country will be better if we continued to have people like him at the helm of affairs.”

Commenting on Seriya, Prof. Femi Osofisan, foremost African playwright and winner of the prestigious Thalia Prize by the International Association of Theatre Critics, said, ”I like Seriya’s radical, progressive thrust, as well as its bringing to our stage, so, vividly, vignettes of life in a section of the country that most of us are not familiar with, and rarely see. a potentially powerful play here, which may eventually turn out to be a significant contribution to our repertory.”

For the Professor of English and Dramatic Literature, University of Ilorin, Olu Obafemi, the main strength of Seriya is its dialectical blend of religious and political education, with an unmistakable revolutionary intent.

According to him, with the play’s woven intricate but unobtrusive dialogue, with palpable images of light and darkness, fusing theocracy with politics in a palpable, simple and lucid lyrical tone, Na’AlIah has “given us a new play, which proposes a new path to social liberation in which manipulative partisan politics is unequivocally unmasked.”

Obafemi, who is also a former President of the Nigeria Academy of Letters (NAL), added: “The wedlock proposal which comes at the end between the radical Mariama and the cleric Aafa is instructive of a future in which love and moral rectitude, shorn of external material trappings, becomes the defining features of socially just polity of our dream.”

Commenting on the community play, Omokewu, Tim J. Cribb of the University of Cambridge, UK, said the author has done what many notable writers did for their people.

His words: “What Synge did with Riders to the Sea for the West of Ireland, and Dylan Thomas did with under Milkwood for the fishing villages of Wales, and Soyinka did with The Lion and the Jewel for Egbaland, and Walcott did with Dream on Monkey Mountain for Trinidad, landmark plays all, Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah has now done for Ilorin in Northern Nigeria.”

According to him, Na’allah has given back to the community its own “myths and traditions and songs, condensed and lifted up into a play, a joyful occasion, a festival for all seasons and for all peoples. On the wings of Islam, it can travel around the world.”

In the same vein, Obafemi noted that what fascinated him about the Omokewu play was its unobtrusive combination of cultural heritage, religious consciousness and a deep sense of community and history.

According to him, the dramatic narrative and performance convey “totalist theatricality

He added; “All the moving symbols and icons, images and metaphors, proverbs and aphorisms realign to typify the essential reality of modern Ilorin in a way that defies pure history or sociology but made possible on the dramatic turf. The concluding, spirit-possessing, subliminal outcome is both mesmerizing and fascinating. The play flows eloquently in the vibrant rhythm of the Ilorin human culture. It is good to read it as drama but best to live it on stage as I have done, where all the salient elements of gesture, the visual, vernacular wordage and kinesis connect.”

While the two plays, Seriya and Omokewu, were reviewed by Prof. Ibrahim Kabir of Bayero University, Kano, Yoruba Oral Tradition in Islamic Nigeria: A history of Dàdàkúàdá was reviewed by Professor of Culture, University of Ibadan, Sola Olarunyomi.

These books, however, are not the author’s first. Na’Allah has authored over 25 books, chapters in books and several scholarly works and is a reviewer for several national and international journals, and has published in reputable peer-reviewed journals.

Among his poetry books are Almajiri (2000), Ahmadu Fulani (2004) and the first volume in the Ilorin trilogy, Ilorin: Praise Poetry (2011). He has also published Africanity (2009), African Discourse (2010), Cultural Plurality 2011) and Globalisation, Oral Performance and African Traditional Poetry (2018).

The two plays, Seriya and Omokewu, reflect the communal philosophy, discipline and local upbringing of the playwright, and draw on the need to build a valid future for subsequent generations.

The Yoruba Oral Tradition locates the oral performance of Dàdàkúàdá genre of music within the Islamic Yoruba setting and helps to fuse tradition, creativity and politics, thereby asserting the significance of the form.

The author examines Dàdàkúàdá relationship with Islam and discusses how the singers, through their songs and performances, are able to accommodate Islam in ways that have ensured their continued survival as a traditional African genre in a predominantly Muslim community.

According to him, “the world cannot move forward if scholars are asleep.”

He said he wrote the books to show leadership in scholarship and interrogates certain societal ills.

“It is my job as a scholar to do scholarship and the kind of scholarship that I do is that of identity, culture, literature, comparative studies, poetics and as the VC, it is important for me to show leadership in scholarship — to scholars in my university, Nigeria and all over the world, it shows that even if you take a position of the VC, you are not exempted from the scholarship. The truth is we have so much to do in the areas of interpreting our culture, engaging in research to find solutions to the problems of this country,” he said.

According to him, one of the crises of the world is globalisation and the way globalisation is being interpreted in Nigeria. “For instance, the issue of cyber fraud is prominent in the country. That is, using technology to commit fraud but technology is about goodness, convenience, comfort and earning money in the right way. In other countries like the United States of America, young people are billionaires because they are creating great things using technology but in Nigeria, it has been turned upside down. So, we know need to go back to our culture and show the world, especially the young people that our culture is all about goodness.”

On how he was able to pull through the rigorous work of writing while holding a leadership position, he said: “I write any time I have an opportunity to do so. Sometimes, on the plane; I try not to sleep, and sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night even if it is for just an hour of writing. I just create time because I want to finish the manuscript that I started. As we speak, I have about four manuscripts that I am working on in different areas.”

He urged lecturers in universities to engage in research as much as they perform the duty of educating the students

“We definitely have to do more because we owe Nigeria that much. It is wrong to be collecting salary as a lecturer in the university system and claim that you cannot work. Teaching is only part of what you do as a scholar. You also engage in research, scholarly works, creating products, collaborating with industries, working with Non-Governmental Organisations, helping the government in formulating policies, mentoring and so much. The world cannot move forward if scholars are asleep”, he said.

Na’Allah described his two years at the helm of affairs in the university as a journey that has been very resourceful, eventful, with a lot of opportunities in different directions.

“Our goal is to have academic staff that are word class in their development, training, strength and also in their activities. Also, world-class in terms of resources that are available to serve our students and in terms of the facility we are creating in the university,” he said.