Author: Zaharaddeen Ibrahim Kallah
Publishers: Jemie Books
Reviewer: Muhammad Abbas Liman
Zaharaddeen Ibrahim Kallah is a bilingual author in Hausa and English who made his name in Nigerian literary arena years back. His 2010 Hausa novel, “Sadauki Mai Duniya” has been outstanding in the presentation of Hausa society as far back as 16th century. His latest English novel titled “The Right Choice” was shortlisted and published under the maiden edition of Nigerian Writers Series (NWS), patterned after the famous African Writers Series (AWS) that published and projected many African literary icons such as Achebe, Soyinka, Sembene, Ijimere, Nwapa, Ekwensi, Ngugi, and Amadi Elechi.
The novel “The Right Choice” took place in an imaginary country in Africa, named “Unity States”. It recounted some post-colonial events and the involvement of military in power, following their claim that politicians were corrupt.
Kallah’s work is engaging in a masterly that observed how blacks had unquestioningly internalised colonial values by exploiting and raping their own countries for personal benefits. This, according to the writer, was among the factors that left the continent backward, thereby becoming the home of illiteracy, poverty, unemployment and insecurity.
The book is built on his main character, Sameera Junaid Hassan who had disappointed her father, for not being the male child he always wanted. Just like Jean Toomer and Charles Chesnutt, the issue of sex preference is one of the themes tackled by the author. This matter is not only common in African societies but almost everywhere in the world. But in the context of Hausa society, a male child is the preference because of socio-economic reasons. Here, Kallah took a radical position by proudly creating an intelligent female protagonist. (See page 3-4). He avoided the view that it is the male child that would take care of the family if the parents are weak and old. Similarly, he eschewed the view that the burden of rearing a female child was recognised as problematic.
Kallah, just like Ibrahim Sheme in his book “Yartsana”, dwelled on the ills of sex preference and resultant maltreatment. In both stories, sex preference was linked with maltreatment, early marriage, prostitution and social exclusion. Social evidences however abound that the girl-child is more caring and responsive to filial duties.
On the brink of forced marriage, fortuitous salvaging of Sameera was ordained, when she was taken away from the village by a family friend, and that made it possible for her to acquire western education, which at the same time exposed her to world struggles to put things in order. As a historian, writer and journalist, Sameera joined a crusade to revolutionise her country, which of course paid off by making her a world heroine. The writer has joined writers such as Susan E. Philips, Julie Garwood, Grace Draven and Maya Banks, in the campaign against forced marriage.
Revisiting to dominant cultural beliefs, Kallah created Aliyu Usman, her husband, who served as a reinforcer of her values and opinions. In fact, they met during a conference where he saw Sameera as a person who was both academic and intellectual minded. Aliyu falls in love with her, so he used all strategy to ensnare her. The writer, created Sameera as someone very radical, a young woman that developed interest on Marxist-oriented sociological disposition. This can be seen in the conclusion of her paper, where she asserted that:
When the proletarian
Pushed to the world
Revolution has arrived:
No going back. (p. 2)
The Right Choice is equally about the state of Africa’s disarray, and sometimes, wanton anarchy, after the departure of colonial powers, and our trademark of ceaseless military incursion. The Unity States was not an exception to coup and counter coup by the military whom despite the claim that politicians were corrupt, ended up being equal or more corrupt than the politicians. The additional selling point of the book is the way it exposes the leadership of a black nation of Kallah’s creation, which is a true representation of most African countries. In page 35, the Unity States was shown to be an oil rich country with fertile agricultural lands. But all these were used for the benefit of minority, ruling the country towards a negative path, rather than towards the development of popular basics amenities, infrastructure and facilities, that leaves none worse off.
As a journalist, Sameera’s attempt to expose the illicit and uncharitable ways of leaders, has put her in a defensive position. The Head of State, General Danjuma was uncomfortable with her and went outside propriety, to state that:
“The criticism of our government is getting too much. Could you imagine a woman editor in The Unity Newspaper being too radical? She wants to destabilize my government.” (p. 33)
The ruling elites tried to use all draconian and unethical means of silencing Sameera from her antagonism of their government by many means: principal of which, was money being the first step and commonest measure of silencing people in African nations. Poverty and poor living standard warrant the use of money to bribe journalists from writing the actual happening in black nations.
Sameera refused to rescind her critical position, but got more vehement and released her promising novel “the law of the jungle”, which was critical of the incumbent head of military government. This irritated the ruling elite and they quickly acted in their universal language of repression and the brutal lust for inflicting injury: the author successfully painted a sinister scene, thus:
It was 9:30pm. She was driving her brown Golf back home. When she drove into Bintalo Avenue, the street was quiet: only birdsongs could be heard. When she got very close to her house, a Toyota Jeep by the side of the road rushed to her direction. She quickly searched for the brake in order to avoid a collision. Four men in military uniform came out and one of them pointed a pistol at her. (p. 79-80).
Kallah was deliberate, moral and ground breaking in setting intellectualism against corruption in the Unity States. Sameera and her husband were all writers and at the same time journalists who founded a Newspaper company. Media houses were used in fighting the cause, despite the risk of persecution and assassination of journalists who attempt to uncover the dirty game of the military government. The story of Sameera’s abduction appeared on the front pages of national dailies (see page 82).
It becomes thought-provoking and disturbing to observe that the scenario of detention and killing of journalists in third world countries of Africa is persistent whenever they try to perform their duties as social police.
The writer, just like Stieg Larson in his “the girl who kicked the hornets’ rest” rightly believed that there is need for enlightenment about the need for social reorientation against corruption and criminal acts. Journalists like Nafisa Muhammad in her literary column gave a detailed account of how the military attempts to stop journalists from performing their duties. This is not unconnected with the perverse desire of power-holders to control the flow of information to the masses.
The detention made Sameera very popular in her country. Masses joined hands to protest for her freedom. The reaction made young military officers to topple the dictatorial government of Danjuma. Although, no justification for military incursion in governance, the coming of Brigadier Saleem Sa’ad paved way for Sameera to join politics and win the seat of president, becoming the first female president in Unity States. In typical Hausa society of today, it is uncommon to have women holding high ranking position of president or governor. But, Kallah’s book has trailed the blaze in the crusade for gender inclusiveness and sensitivity. He consciously defied social boundaries and borders, to create an ideal activist in a woman. We will do well to acknowledge that even in conservative environments, there are minds who are progressive. The author has shown uncommon bravery in his campaign (See page 125).
Even though it is uncommon in contemporary Hausa community to have females in high ranking positions, history has it that women were served as queens in traditional Hausa states in pre-colonial period, such as Daura and Zazzau where Queens Daurama and Amina spur forth a whole socio-cultural stock and were also known for valour. Noting this, Kallah has toed the path of Tendai Huchu, Dona Kapelli and Kadir Nelson in their books “the hairdresser of Harare”.
Following this socio-linguistic antecedence, it is not surprising that Kallah’s strong character Sameera, was regarded as one of the most powerful female presidents that attempted to actualise her vision of an economically and politically vibrant African continent, like the USA. Sameera through her ambassador to Nigeria, revived a strong diplomatic relation with Nigeria in order to help the country get out of the trauma of poor leadership. Like an ideologue, Kallah craftily lends his voice to the clamour for a United States of Africa. He did everything to portray the possibility of collective African co-existence and co-operation.
I highly commend the way Kallah attempts to change the view point of our world with the sophistication of his thought. This could vividly be perceived in the speeches made by president Sango and Sameera Junaid at African Union summit. Below is excerpt of President Sango’s poignant speech:
“You will believe me that the African continent is battling with security lapses, while the world in this globalised era has opened new forms of understanding and mutual relations. We ended in confrontations, conflicts and wars that have never been in the history of Africa, similarly explosions and suicide attacks that were never in our tradition, neither is the killing of innocent persons.” (p. 166)
While Sameera’s speech was proffering, inspiring and capable of restoring hope for the possible regain of the lost glory of African continent, when they were living in peace with less conflict as opposed to contemporary times. Hear her:
“The world of globalisation shouldn’t be for hatred and war, but for multilateral relationships. It could be linked with olden days when the mode of transaction was trade by barter.” (p. 167)
All these are good examples of where the writer has artfully presented a counter-perspective, a realistic narrative on both continental situation and the measures for overcoming problems bedevilling our nations. So doing, he has theorised and sermonised by encouraging Africans to firstly look inward.
By Kallah’s powerful depiction, the achievements of Sameera as a woman in a traditional Hausa Muslim society would boost the morale of other women to emulate her, even the writer has carefully modelled her as a role-model to many, thereby re-presenting long-held perceptions that saw women as burden and disappointment by proving them wrong. Even Junaid Hassan, the father of Sameera who previously referred to his home full of girls as useless, regretted his actions and sought forgiveness. Below is the repentant emotional outburst of Junaid Hassan.
“Sameera, I must cry. I too need your forgiveness, my daughters. The way I treated you during your childhood was bad, just because I thought to have a family of only women was disastrous…”(p. 77).
What Kallah did here would definitely discourage people with such behaviour of treating their female daughters badly. Children are all gifts of God irrespective of their sexes. They should be treated equitably with fairness, love, care and guidance.
Though the Right Choice is set in an imaginary country, the narrative perfectly fits a country like Nigeria that was colonised by Britain and later handed over to native politicians. Nigeria just like Kallah’ imaginary country, is experiencing acute corruption, social inequalities, and abuse of power and human right, for decades. The country witnessed many military regimes and political governments, yet it is still a sitting duck. The author, through his favourite characters, has done a wonderful job of depicting his ideal state and ideal qualities.
It is obvious that the book has made very good attempts to offer solutions to economic, social and political crises. Kallah rightly believes that no nation thrives when its leaders are corrupt, because he saw them as the root of evils that will destroy the nation. He therefore advocates a standardisation of rules and foreseen a time when punishments would be meted out without fear of favour. Without doubt, Nigeria is currently experiencing such changes envisaged by the author.
The present Nigerian government, as if reading from “The Right Choice” is fighting corruption. Deviating from the usual, it is checking and questioning government officials, charging them towards transparency and patriotism.
Kallah’s work has successfully displayed the kinds of inhumanity that result from causing political instability and economic difficulties. The book recommended ways out, though the hard work of some of its key characters. This work is unique from many other African writers in terms of style, plot and diction. The book is therefore recommended to all categories of readers: to the young, for the development of positive attitude; to the old, for reconsideration of ways; to the poor, for a rekindling of hope; and for the rich/powerful, to boost humanism and patriotism, in the ultimate knowledge that, in the end, it is humanity that prevails.
Muhammad Abbas Liman is staff of the Registry, Bayero University, Kano. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org