An astute civil servant and prolific writer attained the landmark age 70 on December 10. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke relives the memories of his first encounter with him
“I’m wearing red clothes,” the voice on the phone informed the visitor who had just arrived Abuja from Lagos.
Meeting place: Sheraton Hotel. Dr. Bukar Usman was indeed sporting an oxblood-coloured French suit and was observing his visitor as the latter approached one of the back entrances of the hotel. The visitor, who was meeting him for the first time, was relieved and showed it when he shook the offered hand warmly.
Minutes later, Dr. Usman was driving his visitor to towards his hotel. Just as the clouds suddenly relieved themselves of a torrential downpour, he asked if the flight from Lagos was smooth.
“It was indeed,” replied the visitor.
He was in Abuja at the instance of Dr. Usman for the launch of his autobiography, Hatching Hopes. The former permanent secretary at the presidency had decided to tell the story of his life. Born December 10, 1942 in Biu, Borno State, he was educated in the prestigious Kings College (from 1964 to 1965) and Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria (from 1966 to 1969), among other institutions. His decades in the civil service were interspersed with his several national assignments.
He had, for instance, served as a member as well as secretary of the Committee on Public Safety and National Security from 1972 to 1999. Also as a member of the Organising Committee of Second World Black and African Festival of Arts & Culture (Festac) he toured countries like Italy, Yugoslavia, Finland, Sweden, France and the UK in 1975.
Of course, his national assignments were not just about serving committees, of which he served several. He was a member of several joint commissions and international conferences as well as membership of presidential panels. Naturally, his national service offered him numerous workshop opportunities.
But he needed no workshops to start writing his autobiography in 1992. He later completed and published it in 2006 through the publishing house, Klamidas. Between 1992 and 2006, he published a few other books, namely: Press Policy & Responsibility (Klamidas 1998), The Interface of the Muse & Government Protocol (Klamidas 1998), Democracy Human Rights & National Stability (Klamidas 1999) and VOICES IN A CHOIR: Issues in Democratisation and National Stability in Nigeria (Klamidas1999).
“I left service on April 31, 1999,” he recalled. “The book VOICES IN A CHOIR, a compilation of my speeches and media interviews on public administrative matters and policies, was presented at the International Conference Centre, Abuja on May 20, 1999, barely three weeks after my retirement. All the aforementioned books with the exception of Hatching Hopes were therefore written while I was still in service.”
Hatching Hopes was presented at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja on November 18, 2006 along with four other books on folktales, which were also published with Klamidas. The books were The Bride without Scars& Other Stories (Klamidas 2005), The Stick of Fortune (Klamidas 2006), Girls in Search of Husband & Other Stories (Klamidas 2006) and The Hyena and the Squirrel (Klamidas 2006).
Dr. Usman soon developed interest on writing folktales in Hausa. “I found that area to be a treasure and quite enriching experience,” he enthused. So far, he has published the about 14 titles in Hausa. “The books in Hausa were published in two batches,” he explained. “The first batch of six was in 2005 and the second comprising eight others were in 2009. The publishing house was Gidan Dabino Publishers based in Kano. They are all in circulation in and outside the country.
“One important and encouraging development is that the books have attracted the attention of a German NGO, IRENE Sahel, which sought my permission and I readily granted free-of-charge for them to publish some of the stories in ’Boko’ and ‘Ajami’ side-by-side to educate the girl-child in Qur’anic schools in Niger Republic. The use of indigenous language in teaching in some parts of the world is an initiative which UNESCO is vigorously propagating in its current programmes worldwide.”
Some of the books were eventually included in the curriculum of the Kano Capital Primary School. For a man, who wrote his first book at 50, Dr. Usman has been prolific. Even though he was a late-bloomer in the literary world, he was adequately prepared for the vocation as an arts student and by his collective life experiences. He also alluded to his subsequent association “several people of sound literary minds.”
A trail of endorsements from these literary minds hailed his efforts. Among them was Okion Ojigbo, one of his colleagues in service and author of several books among which are 200 Days to Eternity (Ojigbo 1979) and Nigeria Returns to Civil Rule (Ojigbo 1980). In his comments, Ojigbo had, after reading the Hatching Hopes manuscripts, written: “Generally, it is a fascinating manuscript and it makes interesting reading. It will raise a wave of nostalgia as readers reminiscent about their own school days, their growing up and life generally. These are strengths of this life story, written in plain, clear and easily understandable English. But this narrative will be much richer if the story is more detailed in order to give it flesh and soul...
“...I have read your manuscript thoroughly, and I have put on paper what I think of it in order to improve on it. If my marking pencil has been quite obvious, it is because I want the best out of you, my friend, as you put pen and ink to paper in your autobiography. I believe the manuscript will add to our growing literature.”
Dr. Usman also acknowledged influences and editorial inputs from several others. “I also benefited immensely from the editorial expertise and comments of several other authors, academicians, diplomats and medical professionals including Abubakar Gimba, a notable writer and former President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA); Dr. E.O. Akinluyi a university don, former speech writer to President Babanginda and later Nigeria’s representative to UNESCO; Joe O. Abolade my former tutor at King’s College; Mohammed H. Okorejior Director-General Voice of Nigeria; Bilkisu Yusuf-Mustapha Bintube a media executive; Ray Ekpu also a media executive of The Newswatch; Dr. Tunji Olagunju former publisher of the Whip in his days at the Ahmadu Bello University and later a diplomat; Dr. Ode Ojowu a university don and later member of the National Economic Intelligence Committee and National Economic Adviser; Professor George A. Obiozor Director–General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and later Nigerian envoy to the United States of America; Professor Emeritus Tekena Tamuno a university don; Professor Osato Giwa-Osagie a classmate and Gynaecologist; Dr. Eyantu Ifenne a pediatrician and former federal Director-General; Dr. A.O.O.Ocheoha, Dr. Inno Nwadike don at Namdi Azikiwe University Awka, Professor C.B. Nze another don at University of Nigeria Nssuka and George Amadi a school mate and Media Consultant.”
Gimba the writer had said, “I very much enjoyed the manuscript (Hatching Hopes). I admire your style, its simplicity and beauty. I am particularly impressed with scenic descriptions, especially for instance, the Biu Plateau. It was like walking along side your humble self through the terrain. Quite excellent!
“Overall, the writing is very beautiful. I find this more captivating than your earlier Voices...You have a style that would make a great novelist. And I mean it. By the way I was very touched by what happened to your first wife and daughter: may their souls rest in peace. You managed to bring out the tragedy powerfully.
“Finally, let me say well-done; although I don’t know much about you (before Hatching...) I know that this is not your full autobiography. You have however put up a great work. I admire your power of memory and recollections.” Even after turning 70 on December 10, Dr. Usman’s enthusiasm for the literary arts is yet to wane.