A First Lady’s Milestone


With the formal presentation of her maiden novel, ‘An Abundance of Scorpions’, Kaduna State First Lady, Hadiza Isma el-Rufai, has joined the league of literary stars, writes Peter Uzoho

First, she loves reading. Then, she picked interest in writing. But how can she write creatively and appeal to a sizeable portion of readers without learning the craft of writing? She took the bull by the horns – went and learnt the craft; got the needed inspiration and then, the result – ‘An Abundance of Scorpions’.

Hadiza’s February gift to society was the 319-page captivating novel published in 2017 by Ouida Books Publishing Company, Lagos and, it tells the story of the protagonist, Tambaya, a vulnerable Northern-Muslim woman, who faces turbulent times, but is resilient and courageous in the midst of her challenges.

The book was launched at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Zone 4, Abuja, and the occasion attracted high calibre of guests from all walks of life including top political actors, royal fathers, diplomats, captains of industries, notable authors/literary stars, and women and students.

Some of the big names present included Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammadu Uwais, Ramatu Tijani Aliyu, First Ladies of Imo, Sokoto, Gombe, and Nasarawa States, amongst others.

The Chairman of the occasion and Chairman, United Bank for Africa, Mr. Tony Elumelu congratulated the author, Hadiza for writing such a wonderful novel.

“Hadiza I must commend you for this great work. It’s a wonderful novel. Though, I’ve not read the book much. I only read few pages and from the one I read, I think the book is worth reading. I urge everyone in this hall to try and get a copy of the book,” Elumelu said.

“I must also commend you again because it’s not easy to write a book. I’m really impressed and I encourage you to keep writing. Also, I’d like to thank His Excellency, Governor Nasir El-Rufai for his support which I believe helped our sister, Hadiza to concentrate and write this piece,” he added.

Elumelu made a cheque donation of N10 million in support of Hadiza.

At intervals and as the events unfolded, the hall was enlivened by artistic presentations created from scenes in the novel for the audience’s enjoyment which also helped them to appreciate essential themes and messages from the story.

In a book chat, Hadiza said writing the book was inspired by a volunteer work she did at the Abuja Children Home, Karu, noting that she wanted to use it to show that women in the North are quite different from the stereotypes held about them by their fellow Nigerians.

“The idea of the book came from the volunteer work I did with the Abuja Children’s Home, Karu. I’m grateful to the children I met there – a few of them provided the inspiration for some of the characters,” Hadiza said.

“I wanted to show that life of women in Northern Nigeria is different from a lot of stereotype people have about us. Unfortunately, in Nigeria some people have poor understanding of the North because of the stereotype. So I want people to read the book and see that we in the North are not different from them,” she said.

Pointing some of the similarities between her and the central character in the novel, Hadiza said: “The protagonist is a woman of courage like me. She is Northern Nigerian Muslim woman just like me. She has suffered a lot, I also suffered a lot. So I guess we have a lot in common. We have similar culture. But apart from that, the story is pure fiction; I made the whole thing up.”

The new novelist also said she got even more motivated to write the novel following the exile of her husband in 2008 and the travails the family went through after political enemies allegedly tried to undermine her husband as a result of his doggedness and resoluteness in office.

“It was when my family was almost torn apart that I realised that I had always wanted to write. The situation opened me the more to the literary world and this is the product of my thoughts,” Hadiza explained.

“I remember that I used to love to read books and, at first I attempted to write. So while doing that I discovered that for me to write a book I needed to learn the craft of writing which is the advice I will give to anybody aspiring to be a writer –to try and learn the craft of writing. So when I knew that I went to do an MA in Creative Writing. I went to University of Bath Spar.”

She said she has started working on her second novel and that her readers should expect more of her books at book stands. “I want to keep writing for the rest of life,” she said.

The First Lady thanked her husband who she noted encouraged her to be what she wants to be. She announced that all donations and royalties coming from the book would be channeled to the Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation (YELF), a pet project she established in 2003 in memory of her late daughter, Yasmin.

In her welcome address, the Publisher and host, Mrs. Lola Shoneyin said being the publisher of the work gave her joy and sense of fulfillment.

“Indeed, the author nurtures and delivers the baby but being a midwife has its joys too. I enjoyed every moment and feel greatly privileged to have been involved in guiding the delivery of this book,” Shoneyin said.

“I am very proud of Hadiza Isma el-Rufai. I remember when I was about to introduce her at Ake Festival. I whispered to her that this was the end of all that “Your Excellency”. I explained that you haven’t really “arrived” as an author until people refer to you by your first and last name. She looked at me with a wry smile and said, ‘I am very happy with people calling me by my given name’.

“You’ll hear that name quite a lot today. It won’t just be because Hadiza Isma el-Rufai has become a member of what is still an elite group of published Nigerians, it won’t just be because she has earned our respect; it will be because her baby, her book, An Abundance of Scorpions, is beautiful and worth celebrating,” she added.

Shoneyin thanked her husband, Dr. Olaokun Soyinka for supporting her in guiding and seeing to the publication of the book. She also thanked Governor el-Rufai for his unflinching support and understanding to his wife, stressing that “if more Nigerian men resolved to support their wives in achieving their dreams, the way that you do, Nigeria would be more prosperous, more productive and life would be sweeter for us all.”

The book reviewer, a Book Editor and Literary Consultant, Ngozi Osu Anene, described the book as “a heart rending and riveting story of a woman in her quest for love, peace and happiness.

“It is a cry for freedom, an expression of agony yet a voice of hope as we experience the travails of a Muslim woman in her journey of life. We are taken into her world; we feel her pain, share her joys and celebrate her triumphs. We cry with her, we smile with her, and we feel the anguish when her heart is broken. Her story is intense. And Hadiza Isma el-Rufai tells it very well,” Anene said.

Anene added: “This is an interesting, thought-provoking book that brings the potential of women to the fore in different spheres of life. An Abundance of Scorpions is a beauty to read, and Hadiza Isma el-Rufai is indeed a talented writer.”

In his keynote address, a renowned Hausa Poet, Dr. Anwalu Anwar who spoke on the ‘Significance of Northern Women’s Voices to the Nigerian Literary Canon’, said women writers in Nigeria including those from the North, centered their writings on issues such as the girl-child education, early marriage, polygamy, gender, domestic violence, unpredictable and often sour relationship with in-laws, among others. He said such writings which Hadiza’s book also talked about were societal issues requiring continuous intervention from writers through their creative works.

Advising on ways to address such issues, Anwar said: “Northern leaders at all levels should sponsor the translation of women literary works from local to international languages. Our governors should embark on genuine education reforms and development, especially at the primary and secondary levels. Government at all levels should pay more attention to vocational and technical education.”

In his goodwill message, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who was represented at the occasion by the Dan-Malikin Kano, Ambassador Ahmed Umar, congratulated Hadiza for achieving such a milestone. Sanusi pledged his support to the author in her future endeavours. The Emir urged wives of political office holders to take a cue from Hadiza’s feat to do things remarkable too.

Also in her goodwill message, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Hajia Amina Mohammed, represented at the occasion by her younger sister, Hindy Mohammed congratulated Hadiza on her first novel.

“Hadiza, I’m very proud to be here today to congratulate you on your first novel. As a woman of substance who has achieved so much in her life, you are an inspiration to our women and children,” Mohammed said.

In his excitement, el-Rufai while giving the vote of thanks glowingly extolled his wife, Hadiza for achieving such feat, describing her as multi-talented, creative and hardworking.

“I first saw her on the 19th of August, 1976 – that’s about 42 years ago and, in Amina Hall, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria,” the governor said, almost sweeping the audience off their feet.

“I went with a friend of mine who wanted to date her. After chatting with her, in five minutes I concluded that I’ve seen a lady who is a lot smarter than me, that I want to marry her so that my children will inherit her brain,” el-Rufai said.

He said his wife is multi-talented and that with the right atmosphere she can do greater things. “Hadiza is multi-talented, creative and hardworking. I do not doubt her competence – that is why I married her,” el-Rufai said.

“Hadiza is one of the few people I know that are multi-talented. Part of the reason why she ended up with three degrees – Architecture, Business Administration and Creative Writing is because she can do well in everything. I will not be surprised if she gets her first Master’s degree in Nuclear Physics. She is incredibly clever and very creative and, I love her very much.

“I’m highly excited and happy that she has produced her first novel and, I have very little doubt in my mind that by the grace of God and if God continues to bless her with long life, she will be the female Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka of Northern Nigeria combined. When you give her a task you can be rest assured that the work would be done. For us it is a great feat she has achieved.

“So Hadiza, I congratulate you. We’ve come a long way since the 19th of August 1976. And I want to thank you for all the support that you have given to me,” the happy husband said.

The governor urged other writers to engage in literary works that have the potential to change the world, stressing that words have powerful tools.

“Writers must begin to write creatively in solving societal problems. We cannot undermine the power of literature. Also, Nigerians should cultivate the culture of reading because through reading, ignorance disappears, mystical things are unraveled,” he advised.