Zahra Tabi’u is a young novelist, whose “Desire and Destiny”, being her first published work, was done while she was a secondary school student. She is currently carrying out her National Youth Service Corps programme in Kano. In this interview with ZAHARADDEEN IBRAHIM KALLAH, she speaks on her perception on feminism and Nigerian literary industry:
Who is Zahra Tabi’u?
I was born in 1992 and attended Summit Primary School and Gateway International School, both in Kano. I also went to Al-azhar Kano for my Islamiyya studies. I graduated from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria with a BSc in Microbiology in 2015. I’m currently carrying out my National Youth Service Corps in Kano.
When and how do you start writing?
I started writing around the age of 9 in Primary 4. Our English teacher read to us ‘Treasure Island’ and I was fascinated. I started writing stories at the back of my exercise book and passed it to my Ghanaian English teacher to proofread. He encouraged me, from then, I developed interest in writing. It wasn’t until my fourth year in secondary school 2007 that I got to write my first book “Desire and Destiny”, which was in 2011.
What time of the day do you usually write?
Mostly I write at nights, when the events of the day are over.
As a house wife and writer, are you experiencing a role clash?
Yes, I do, especially now that I have multiple roles to play.
Which authors do you think have influenced you?
I adore the work of Buchi Emecheta, “Joys of Motherhood” which I read in my third year in secondary school. Zaynab Alkali is my role model and Abubakar Gimba with his “Witnesses to Tears”, which I read at a young age when I couldn’t fully comprehend the complex grammar. And also Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Adichie and above all Abubakar Imam.
What inspired you to write your first novel “Desire and Destiny”, written while you were a secondary school student. This is because the story was so complex and set in a polygamous family which is traditionally considered to be a field of well- matured people?
Even as a child, I had always been curious. At that time, I always noticed things that matured people thought were unnoticeable to me. I paid extra attention. The inspiration for my writings at that time came from the kind of environment that I lived in.
Your book was read for literary quiz competition by the students of secondary schools in Kano during Kano Literary Programme organised by Kano State Censorship Board and Association of Nigerian Authors, Kano branch in 2015. How do you feel when your book was selected for the programme?
Actually I wasn’t informed that my book was going to be read for literary quiz competition. It was months after that I got to know from a student. Alhamdulillah I feel honoured.
Since your book presentation in 2011, we haven’t heard anything from you. Are you isolating yourself from your fellow writers?
Perhaps you are referring to the fact that I was engaged in my studies, which took me away from getting involved in literary events. But that’s over; I’m back.
How do you consider the works of female writers from northern Nigeria?
I feel that they are trying and improving more and more everyday; that is for the upcoming writers. As for the well-known writers, all I can say is they have impressed and inspired me.
As a female graduate from the north, how do you share the views of writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on what she considers feminism?
I feel she is entitled to her views and people have various interpretations of feminism. If it means demanding greater respect and dignity for women, I don’t see why everybody should not support it.
Generally, the voices of female writers from the north are becoming low, what do you think are the reasons?
Women in the north do not write only in English, they also write in Nigerian languages such as Hausa, Fulfulde and also Arabic. In fact, there is a long history of women writings in Arabic and Fulfulde in the north going back to Nana Asmau bin Fodio who lived in the 18th century. So, the impression that their voices are low arises from those who only have access to their writings in English.
There are a number of female writers from the north who are writing in indigenous languages. Most of these writers are educated, but the world doesn’t know about them. Do you think they deserve recognition?
Yes, these women require greater recognition. I’m personally impressed and inspired by some of them like Balaraba Ramat, and my next book is likely to be in Hausa.
So, you are also writing in your mother tongue?
I have not published in Hausa yet, but I hope to do so soon.
You have been featured in an anthology of new Nigerian short stories, entitled “Telling Our Stories” published by ANA Kano. How do you feel when your work was published in this great project?
I felt honoured to be featured among such great writers.
As one of the young contributors of the anthology, which prominent writers do you read from the book?
I read the work of Professor Adamu Idris Tanko’s ‘Failures Infections’, and I was impressed by it.
What contribution do you believe the anthology will render to the Nigerian literature?
I appreciate the opportunity that was given to young writers like me to showcase their talents. I hope this will encourage other people to write.
Great poets and writers such as Odia Ofeimun have called for translation of indigenous literatures into English and vice versa as means of promoting Nigerian literature. How well do you think Hausa literature is doing in this movement?
It is a welcome development in the Nigerian literature. I think more effort is needed in making that possible.
As someone who started writing from early age, how do you think the young talents could be discovered and promoted?
Effort should be made in making them read more literary works. Those that show talent should be encouraged and couched.
What advice do you have for the young people who aspire to become writers?
They should never give up.
So, your next book will be in Hausa?
Yes, it will be in Hausa. Do expect it very soon.