The Goethe Institut in Lagos hosted Elnathan John and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, two of the hottest writers on the African continent right now, to a British Council-sponsored event as part of the Lagos Book and Arts Festival.
The two writers whose newest books Born On a Tuesday (Cassava Republic) for Elnathan and Season of Crimson Blossoms (Parresia) for Abubakar have just come out had as their topic “What’s Eating The North” moderated by Kadaria Ahmed. The two writers started reading from form their books. Elnathan started by reading a section from his book about a character’s need for sugarcane. Abubakar followed it up with reading an excerpt of a drug peddler.
With the readings out of the way, the discussion begun. Hadria went over the different themes that the writers presented in their books before she opened the floor to the rest of us to get in on the fun. One audience member asked how the two writers felt about being referred to as “Northern writers.” Abubakar jocularly responded that he didn’t mind what he was called, even Japanese, as long as his book was bought. He however explained that stories from the northern part of Nigeria were an important part of the Nigerian literary narrative and he hoped that there would be more. Elnathan rejected the term seeing it as ghettoizing the writing from the north. After all there is nothing like “Southern writers.”
Another audience member was concerned with the reaction that would come from the people who were the target audience. Would there be a fatwa on their heads and how would they react? Both writers responded that they didn’t expect a fatwa but more support for their works. Abubakar further explained that readers have been longing and may appreciate seeing themselves in his works.
At this point, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf who represents both books in different markets interjected with facts and anecdotal evidence including the fact that there have been many orders of the two books from the people who live in the North.
Then another audience member asked about sex in the book; it was quite risqué for those in the North that were considered to be more conservative compared to how Southerners who were the “wild girls.” Abubakar brought some levity as he explained that these things happen and then quipped, “Where do babies come?” He then went onto to explain that most people see women in the north as a huge blob in the hijab while the women there have desires like any woman in China or Ibadan.
Our moderator added that there had been a deliberate attempt at denying women their sexuality. She knew of a person who sold sexual toys and the biggest market is in the Northern cities.
As you would expect in such an event, someone asked about the authenticity in writing their stories as well how they did their research. For Elnathan, research included watching videos as well as books about political Islam in the Northern Nigeria. Also scholarly articles. Abubakar saw it as a culture that he grew up with and therefore was familiar with.
So when did the repression in the North begin asked another event guest. The moderator Hadria reckoned that it started when the governor of her state introduced Sharia law. Abubakar took the longer view looking at the situation from the 15th century to do date while Elnathan looked at it from pre-1999.
There was a lot more happening at this event but all good things come to an end. And they did. Sigh.