Safiya Ismaila Yero was hail from Jimeta, Yola North Local Government Area of Adamawa State. She attended L.E.A primary school Area One, Garki, Abuja and G.S.S Garki Abuja, respectively. She obtained a B.A in English and Literature and a Master’s degree in Literature in English from the University of Abuja, where she currently works. In this interview with ZAHARADDEEN IBRAHIM KALLAH, she speaks on her perception on female writings and Nigerian literary industry:
When and how do you start writing?
I cannot precisely point to a particular period of time that I started writing. I just knew that I have always been writing as far back as I can remember, even though it was nothing serious initially.
How many books do you published?
I have a published work in the market. The one I did in 2013, titled ‘When There Is Life’, which borders on HIV and AIDS scourge. It was recently recognised by the German Embassy Abuja, where I was invited for a reading session to mark the World AIDS Day.
What is your perception about publishing industries in Nigeria?
The Publishing industry of today’s Nigeria is mostly a money-making factory. Most of them do not care about the quality of work they publish, as long as the client is willing to pay. Their primary focus being the money they can make, not minding whether the book is fit for publishing or not. However, there are very few exceptions that still believe quality and content should remain at the forefront in the publishing business. Parressia Books and my publisher, ALMAZ Books, are examples of such.
Do you think North-East where you came from is represented in the Nigerian literary world?
My answer to this question is both a yes and no. Yes in the sense that, the only prominent long-standing female writer in English language in the North, hails from the North–East. This is no other but Zaynab Alkali, whose daughter is also testing the waters in the creative writing domain. Alkali tries to capture issues of concern to the Northern Nigerian Women. She addresses such issues as marriage and motherhood, virtue, family relationships, etc. But with the passage of time, the North has witnessed tremendous changes due to some socio-economic and political factors. Such changes need to be captured and addressed by North-Eastern female writers. Unfortunately, we do not seem to have such writers apart from a handful, who just publish a book and disappear for years from the writing scene. Such current issues as displacement and loss caused by the Boko Haram insurgency, the plight of the internally displaced persons and their experiences, issues of rising drug abuse among youth, divorce, infidelity are prevalent pressing issues in the North-East today.
What is your perception about female writings in Nigeria?
Female writers form a huge percentage of Nigerian writers. Unfortunately, you don’t get to hear names of Northern female writers on this list. These writers try to address the problems of women in the society: motherhood, wifehood, heartbreak, widowhood, etc.
You once raised concern about inadequate female writers from Northern Nigeria. What do you think is the problem?
I think why we do not have a lot of women writing in English Language could be narrowed to two major factors- one, difficulty in getting their works published, and two, writing in English Language. I must stress that it is not that women in the North do not write, no. they do; but, not in English. In Kano, a large number of people write the popular literature therein, widely regarded as “Soyayya novels”. These novels are cheap to produce and publish. The story lines are usually shallow, the plots farfetched and filled with fantasies of love and other irrelevant issues, which end up transporting its readers from the realistic world they found themselves in to a world of fantasy and perfect love relationships. Publishing such novels need not go through all the rigorous stress of undergoing uncountable editing, getting ISBN numbers, etc. Secondly, most Northern women are scared of venturing into writing in English Language, claiming that their English language is not just good enough. This is where I want to come in. You know I’m trying to set up an NGO which will among other things, encourage those with the flair to write, and then we help with the editing and guide them through the publishing process as well.
There are a number of female writers from Northern Nigeria who are writing in their native languages. Does poor publishing be an excuse to isolate them from fellow writers?
Like I said earlier, there are numerous writers of the Kano popular literature, which is not half as refined as a standard publication. We also will look at picking the exceptional Hausa novels with sound messages and then translating them into English Language, in order to pass the message contained therein to a wider audience.
I saw lack of promotion and translation from indigenous languages to English as reason behind the problem. Do you agree with that?
Yes, I perfectly agree, as pointed out above. Encouraging women to write in English by holding workshops to guide them is also part of the mission of our forthcoming NGO.
How do you think the problem can be solved?
The perfect solution to the problem lies in such measures as what we are trying to put in place: an NGO, or a group that will focus on seeing that more works are written in the English Language; literary works that would address pressing societal problems.
Can you give us more about yourself?
I am from Jimeta, Yola North Local Government Area of Adamawa State, though I was born in Abuja in the mid-80s. I attended L.E.A primary School Area One Garki, Abuja and G.S.S Garki Abuja, respectively. I have a B.A in English and Literature and a Master’s degree in Literature in English from the University of Abuja, where I currently work. Before joining the University, I taught Literature in English and English Language at Fou’ad Lababidi Secondary School, Wuse Abuja for a couple of years.
Now that you are planning through NGO to create awareness on the above problems. How do you think it is going to be achieved?
When you see a problem and you do not proffer a solution, then I believe you have not seen a problem at all. We observe that Northern Female Writers are lagging behind in the literary scene, which is the basis for which we came up with this idea of setting up an NGO and committing ourselves to the arduous task of discovering Northern women with interest and talent in writing, who have been restricted from making their dreams a reality because of the difficulties involved in the writing, editing and publishing process, or because of the restrictions placed on them by the society. Our mission is to discover such women, encourage and mentor them, edit their works and help them in getting the right publishers; at the same time, ensuring that they are not overcharged by the publishing houses. We intend to reach these women through workshops in the North, inspirational talk shows, where we intend to take along one or two published Northern authors in order to encourage our target audience to give it a try.
Have you started doing something on that direction?
Like I mentioned earlier, we just conceived the idea and we already have a blueprint of what we intend to do. Even though you know that these things are capital intensive and it is not easy to get sponsors or donors or support for such initiatives these days. This is because most NGOs in this country today have been abused and turned into a sort of corporate begging venture, because, most of them do not carry out their outlined goals to its logical conclusion, but divert the money got for such purposes to take care of their personal needs. Nevertheless, we won’t relent and we won’t let that deter us or dampen our passion. We will kick-off as soon as possible with our personal funds. We do hope that people who share our passion will eventually reach out to support us. We can’t wait for grants or support. Besides, its better to start so that, whoever is interested in assisting will see that we mean business.
What is ANA at your chapter doing to promote literature?
My chapter of ANA is of course ANA Abuja. You know I believe the chapter of ANA one belongs to is not determined by whether he/she is an indigene of that state or not; rather, it is by virtue one’s place of residence. I live in Abuja, so I belong with ANA Abuja. My chapter of ANA is very up and doing in promoting literature. Monthly reading sessions are held where we have the authors read from their works and subsequently ask the authors questions regarding their works which they respond to. This is in addition to other literary activities that are engaged in, all thanks to the strong pillars we have in our midst, like the current ANA National President Denja Abdullahi, Salamatu Sule, Mrs. Joan Orji, Mrs. Halima Usman, Mr. Dike Chukwumerije, Mr. Ben Ubiri, and others.