When Professor Chinua Achebe wrote his book The Trouble With Nigeria (1983) he opened it thus:
‘The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.’
And this simplistic argument was widely accepted. When I read the book sometime in the year 2005 I too was quick to agree with Achebe and quick to join the our-only-problem-is-leadership train. It was so for many of us (and perhaps it is still so) until I read Abubakar Gimba’s Letter to the Unborn Child. Here, with a single question the Minna-based thinker deflated Achebe’s argument and the conviction I held almost dogmatically. With that one question Abubakar Gimba roused discomforting thoughts in my mind.
‘Today’s leadership was yesterday’s followership. And today’s critical followership will be tomorrow’s leadership. Leaders do not fall from the sky…Leaders are not little angels dropped on us from the sky: they are born and bred among us and by us. How could they be different from us?’
But this article is not the place for a comparative analysis between Achebe’s The Trouble with Nigeria and Gimba’s Letter to the Unborn Child —even if I feel I was qualified to carry out one.
Abubakar Gimba was born on March 10, 1952 in Nasarawa, Lapai Local Government of Niger State, Nigeria. Between 1959 and 1962 he was at Gulu Junior Primary School and later at Lapai Senior Primary School. Between 1965 and 1969 Gimba was at Government College Keffi, Nasarawa State where he obtained his West African School Certificate. He then enrolled into the School of Basic Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria from 1970 to 1971. Later he secured admission to read a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics in the same institution between 1971 and 1974.
After graduation Gimba observed his one-year mandatory NYSC program me at Akai Ubium in the then Southern Eastern State. Gimba then joined the North West State civil service in August 1975 as Planning Officer in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and in April, 1976 he was transferred to the newly created Niger State.
1976/7 saw Gimba at America studying at the University of Cincinnati for a Master of Arts degree in Economics. He returned to serve as Economic Planner in the service of Niger State Government and was subsequently appointed Permanent Secretary of the newly created Ministry of Economic Development.
Between September and December, 1982 Gimba attended the University of Bradford’s Project Planning Course. He was a member, Board of Trustees of Nigerian Books Foundation, and on November 22, 1997 he was elected National President of Association of Nigerian Authors.
Gimba writes in virtually all genres of literature. But he was most concerned about arresting the ebbing-away morality of the society. Perhaps that is why he wrote many ‘letters’ —Letter to the Muslim Fundamentalist (2004), Letter to My Children (2006), Letter to the Unborn Child (2008) etc.
In my final year in school, my project supervisor rejected all the topics I proposed. Exhausted I threw up my hands and asked her to select for me whatever topic she sees fit. She refused but invited me to her house where she handed me two books by Abubakar Gimba: Footprints and Letter to the Unborn Child.
‘Read them’ she said, ‘and see what you can make out of them.’
After reading the books—and ingesting the disturbing but truthful messages he kept hollering at us, the society— I was in my supervisor’s office the next Monday with a project topic: The Writer As a Moral Compass of the Society: Examining Abubakar Gimba’s Letter to the Unborn Child.
That was who Abubakar Gimba was; a moral compass of a straying society reminding the society the difference between wrong and right. He won’t let us rest as he highlighted the social mishaps that bedevil the society. But he didn’t stop there, he went further to show us the solutions to these problems. Abubakar Gimba’s commitment to moral uprightness in the society cannot be overemphasized. He was a writer with a clear purpose. In his own words:
I set out to be a novelist with a cause. With a mission. Mine was a literary adventure in advocacy. To get the society in which I live to be a better place for our generation…
My business as a writer is to try in my little ways to remove the moles in the eyes of Nigerians so that they can see the so many possibilities that would make our nation grow… Basically, I write about social issues… things I see around me. And why I do this is to draw attention to issues and let people judge. You try to mould opinion in a particular direction. But I must also say that a writer must try to convince people not to incite.
Professor Vicky Sylvester of the Department of English, University of Abuja said this of Abubakar Gimba:
He (Abubakar Gimba) would want the people and state to change for the better especially for the sake of the Nigerian child whom he believes has no optional country to Nigeria and must necessarily move away from the conduct that bedevils the nation. He thus adopts the epistle in which he is a passionate narrator capturing the devastating reality, perception, and delusion of the compromised situation of Nigeria. He adopts an ethical stand point evaluating conduct of Nigeria and the country’s down trend since independence.
After examining all he has achieved one may be tempted to water down the loss by using the cliche, ‘Oh I am not going to mourn him. I am going to celebrate him for a life so well lived.’ But, however one tries to, no one can talk away this loss, this painful tragedy that befallen us in the form of the death of this nectar of knowledge. It is just as an African proverb aptly captures it: when an old man dies, a library burns to the ground. Adieu!
(Please Plant a Tree Today.)
The writer is on Twitter @ngugievuti
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