The Kaduna Book and Arts Festival through Nathaniel Bivan’s Eyes

Samira Sanusi, Temie Tubosun, Maryam Awaisu, Discussing the scourge of Sickle cell Anaemia.
Samira Sanusi, Temie Tubosun, Maryam Awaisu, Discussing the scourge of Sickle cell Anaemia.

by Nathaniel Bivan

I had two things in mind en route Kaduna for KABAFEST, the maiden Kaduna Book and Art Festival. The first came naturally, being an art journalist, to write about it, meet as many creative minds as possible, and the second, to enjoy and learn from the discourse, bask in the exquisite art works I was certain awaited me and finally, meet my lifelong companions-books.

This is the first time of witnessing the North hosting such a high-powered festival on book and art. So, I had great expectations, but they weren’t exactly met on the opening day, except for the Declamation Contest among secondary schools that saw Queen Amina College come first, GGSS Doka second and GGSS Kabala Costain in the third place. All representatives from the three schools went home with computer tablets. Before the prize awards, a girl became emotional and sobbed, right there. There’s just something about winning and tears.

Books & Artworks

There’s an atmosphere of creativity immediately you step into the Gusau Institute in Kaduna and it’s not because of the banners outside and within, but the artworks on the walls. They are everywhere in the lobby-Kaltume B. Gana’s paintings with back stories that take you to the heart of the North-east and what it’s been through, William Chechet’s Arewa Pop Art series, Professor Jerry Buhari’s paintings, Nura Garba Mohammed’s world of thought and more.

Then the bookstore where Labo Yari’s republished 1978 ‘Climate of Corruption’ reminds bookworms of days of the Pacesetters Series, more recent works of authors like Richard Ali, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Helon Habila, Andrew Walker, Edify Yakusak, Odafe Atogun, Leila Aboulela and many more not easily found in Nigerian bookstores.

Film Screenings

Two films were screened at KABAFEST. They were ‘Henna,’ by northern filmmaker, Ishaya Bako and ‘Blood And Henna,’ by another northern director, Kenneth Gyang.

There’s one thing noteworthy of this four-day festival. It’s a calculated attempt to showcase the North and unpretentiously point a finger at its challenges, and this was achieved to a large extent. Set in a small town in Northern Nigeria, ‘Henna’ tells the story of Reina, a young girl of 13. From the girl’s ambition of becoming a teacher, to a very young stepmother who suffers from VVF (Fistula), everything reaches a climax when Reina’s father attempts to marry her off when she has her first period.

‘Blood and Henna’ is totally different, a political love story set in the ‘90’s when Nigeria was going through economic, political and rebellious turmoil. The movie drew viewers with its love story angle, the marital life of Musa and Suede and even the return of a journalist, Shehu, to his home town to evade arrest. But everything came to a halt towards the end when everyone realized it points to a time in history when a new drug was tested in the North by foreigners on unsuspecting and naïve locals without their permission, causing many deaths. Of course, there was a discussion session with Gyang after the screening where he talked about his inspiration for the movie and why it was important to fictionalize a true event, to document as well as explain what makes some northerners today to distrust the polio vaccine and the like.

Panel Discussions

The discourse was engaging and arguably the best part of the entire event. Notable in the series of discussions was exploring the theme; ‘Harnessing the Potentials of Women in Northern Nigeria’ were legal practitioner Aisha Umar who works in the North-east, Secretary General of the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), Saudatu Mahdi, and a lawyer and Human Rights Activist, Hauwa Evelyn Shekarau. The Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was billed to take part, but was unable to make it.

The discussion, moderated by a media entrepreneur and seasoned journalist, Kadaria Ahmed, was heated as the women talked about the oppression of women and girl-child marriage in society.

Mahdi pointed out that women’s rights need legislation, but unfortunately, politicians fear for their votes. Also, that there is no shelter provided in Kaduna State for girls abused and driven away from homes by their husbands.

The discourse also revolved around the universality of the challenges faced by women, their rights and the misrepresentation of religion. Umar said women in the North now know they are left behind, especially educationally, and argued on the need to convince religious bodies about the problem.

In addition, Shekarau said the issues faced by women were not Northern or Muslim problems alone, but to women who are not given opportunities to contribute to their society.

There was an uproar when, contributing from the audience, the Director of Special Programs at Odekro, Ghana, stressed that a woman, first, gets education for herself and not for anyone, and is at liberty to choose to do whatever she desires to do with it.

Another panel which was in Hausa and moderated by Carmen McCain, Assistant Professor at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Carlifornia USA, consisted of three veteran Hausa authors-Auwalu Anwar, Hafsat Ahmed Abdulwaheed and Balaraba Ramat Yakubu. They dwelled on the topic; ‘Against the Grain: Modern Literature in Hausa’, where they shared their writing journeys and early challenges.

Yakubu recounted her experience when a former governor and traditional ruler burnt her ‘Soyayya’ novels. But today, she is a famous writer (with nine published works), a film producer and gender activist. Some of her books are used widely in academic scholarship.

One of the issues thrashed in the discourse also included the misrepresentation of Islam, as pointed out by Abdulwaheed. She said Shari’a had been used with negative undertones, starting from Zamfara State. Yakubu corroborated this and narrated how a governor had told her he entrenched it in his state so as not to look bad among his counterparts.

Other panel discussions treated subjects such as religious tolerance in Northern Nigeria and challenges of publishing in the region.

NLNG Nigerian Prize for Literature winner, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (author of Season of Crimson Blossoms) and Odafe Atogun (‘Taduno’s Song’) talked about their works, while Nigerian actress, Rahama Sadau and novelist Rahama Abdulmajid, who explored the theme, ‘Art, Activism, and the Northern Nigerian Narrative, author of ‘After They Left,’ Edify Yakusak and Maryam Bobi (‘Bongel’) also talked about their novels.

Food Experience

Outside the heat of discourse, there was time to enjoy Syrian cuisine, a combination of rice, potatoes, chicken and lettuce. I watched many people clear their dishes, so I believe reviews would be good. There was also an experience of desserts from Northern Nigeria.

So, if you’re reading this story now, and you don’t want to miss out, the show is on till 6pm Saturday. If you’re early, these are the events you will meet and enjoy: At exactly 10am, Toni Kan (author of ‘The Carnivorous City’) and Richard Ali (‘City of Memories’) hosted by Wana Udobang (journalist, poet and filmmaker) will be discussing their novels. Soon after, Leila Aboulela (author of ‘The Kindness of Enemies’) and ‘Zaynab Alkali’ (‘The Stillborn’) hosted by Kinna Likimani (Director of Special Program at Odekro, a Parliamentary Monitoring Organisation) will be discussing ‘More than a Hijabi: Muslim Women Writing for the World’. Other discussions will follow until 7:30pm when the famous Nigerian singer, Jeremiah Gyang, will close the festival with a performance. So, hurry, if you want to be there.

Original post was published here –

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Senior Writer

Bura-Bari Nwilo lives in Port Harcourt, in Nigeria. He is the author of A Tiny Place Called Happiness – a book of stories.

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