Abuja — This is neither a story of a female victim of Sharia which has always caught the fancy of the media in reporting the North, nor of force marriage promoted by some cultures. This is a review of a play by a young Northern writer who just graduated from the university and portrays the vices going on our campus.
Before this first published book by the author, Nafisah Ahmad Sulaiman, I have come across some of her poems on the online and print media and also online interactive forums. Her poems are quite emotional and mostly on feminine lamentation, infatuation and romance, the common passion of young poets. Her recent work is published by Informat Publication. It has 37 pages consisting of sixteen scenes that are all on campus life.
The theme of the play centres on vices and ills in the society that have crept into higher institutions of learning. The institutions designed as centres of excellence in socioeconomic and political activism and to mould future leaders in corporate world, are bedevilled by worrisome developments militating against their progression.
Oh Me, as the title of the play, reemphasises the fear of the society on the kinds of activities that turn some campuses as sort of concentration camps where some students, mostly youths, engage in drug addition, prostitution and cultism.
The major characters of the book cut across different class, cultures and religions. For instance, Adamma, an orphan, who due to poverty engages in prostitution, with pride tells her roommate, Laurat that "prostitution is better way to earn quick and easy money... it can also fall under the category of buying and selling." Not surprising, Adamma's financier and investor in the kind of her business is a moneybag popularly called Alhaji who has legitimate wives at home but spends lavishly on the campus girls to satisfy his lust. His excessive generosity is depicted when, without prompting, he buys a whole house to his girlfriend who just desires a house rent.
Another character in the play is Musa who, in his desire to get notice and respect, joins cultism and engages in petty stealing for pastime and means of livelihood. Surprisingly even when he has these weaknesses and indulgence in drug addiction is amongst the brightest students on the campus. While ignoring the sermon of his roommate, Habu, he claims that "If your parents are still alive to pay your school fees, mine are dead. If I don't tap, where will I get the money? Or will you give me?" His friend has to retort that "This country, poverty! Poverty has turned people mad. God have mercy on our souls, and free us from poverty!"
Adamma and Musa, the major characters of the play, blame poverty for their inexcusable justification of their wayward lives.
The storyline doesn't end without a mention of the rampaging phenomenon on the campus which is cultism. The gangsters mostly go by their nicknames in the play: Aminu Killers, Scarface, Prince and Jay Jay not only depend on hard drugs but engage in pimping. Sometimes one wonders how they are funded. In one of their rendezvous in a hideout within the campus, Prince tells his accomplices that "if guys like Aminu Killer were not on this campus, we'd be doomed. I even wonder where he gets all the money to organise the party." Since Aminu Killer comes from a rich family, the belief that children from wealthy home spoil others on campus is not misplaced in Nafisah's book.
It is baffling and may interest the readers to note that as Adamma engages in sinful act of prostitution, which is condemned by the Holy Scriptures, the Bible and the Qur'an, after romping with the rich, she still offers prayers to God.
The play also gives a picture of regular boyfriending-and-girlfriending life of students with a romance between Laurat and Ali that almost cost the life of one of them due to rivalry from members of the cult group. Gossip, which is widely attributed to women and typical of female students in their hostel, the play also narrates how they enjoy the melody of hearsay. For instance when Aisha, a gossipmonger was queried by Joy on the sources of her rumours, she responded that as a mass-communicator she ought to look for news! One would have expected one of the girls to have retorted that the field of mass-communication does not encourage gossip. Journalism and public relations which are branches of Mass-Communications are largely about disseminating timely and accurate information for entertainment and education.
At the end of the play, all the negative characters in the play receive well-deserved retributions for their immoral acts and atrocities in forms of infection, expulsion and death respectively.
The book satisfies the author's objective which is stated in the Playwright's Note: to serve as a warning to youths on and out of campuses as to safeguard themselves from cultism, prostitution, drug abuse and other social vices. It enjoins the government to intervene in reducing the level of poverty in the society.
I am particularly impressed that this young writer from Kano who also obtained a degree in Mass Communication from Bayero University Kano could venture into English writing when most popular female literary writers from that environment use the local vernacular.
Not that there are no good English writers in the North only very few get published on this genre compared to their southern counterparts who have global icon in literature. The few widely acclaimed contemporary writers from Northern Nigeria are Abubakar Gimba and Professor Zaynab Alkali. There are also late entrants like Bello Musa Dankano whose books are receiving reviews abroad and Helon Habila, foreign-based international award winning author.
While I commend Nafisah for taking the pain of writing and the risk of exposing the ill on our campuses in simple prose, stimulating description and theatrical narration, she needs encouragement for daring to be different from her local peer group. I wish more publishers would encourage more Nigerian budding writers knowing that most Nigerian publishers prefer to support the works of established authors to the detriment of highly educated aspiring young ones. The humiliation of rejection and abandonment of publishers force such writers to end up into self-publishing which may not be good enough because of the process of publishing which include proofreading, editing, printing, marketing, promotion amongst others.
Shuaib is an author and PR practitioner.