Na’Allah Unveils Three Books

Scholars and lovers of Arts were recently held spellbound when one of their own, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja, Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, unveiled three books; two plays and a literary review of Dadakuada, a traditional Yoruba oral genre. Raheem Akingbolu, who witnessed the presentation of the books and the life performances that heralded them, writes that the author has successfully established the place of cultural heritage in the development of religion in African societies.

It was a moment of truth, told in both comical and radical voices. For everybody present, there were lessons to take home. Perhaps intentional, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja, Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, in whose honour the people gathered, had indiscriminately invited guests that cut across the political, traditional and business communities. There were also youths –the leaders of tomorrow, in their hundreds. All assembled at the main lecture theatre, Faculty of Management of the University to witness the public presentation of Yoruba Oral Tradition in Islamic Nigeria: A History of Dadakuada and two plays- Seriya and Omokewu.

Himself a respected deep thinker, the chairman of the occasion, who is also the Executive Secretary of the National University Commission, Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed was the first person to notice the seeming contradictory but progressive setting at the venue when he humorously queried the author’s choice of reviewers.

The chairman started by admitting that the event would be interesting but wondered while Prof. Na’Allah, who is believed to be of the moral school went for Prof. Ibrahim Bello Kano of the Bayero University, Kano, one of the most visible literary Marxists in this part of the world as reviewer of one of the books. Meanwhile, the other book reviewer, Prof. Sola Olorunfemi of the University of Ibadan is also another brilliant literary giant of the radical school.

Prof. Rasheed commended the academic for remaining committed to his professional engagement while holding a key leadership position.
“It is very rare for a sitting vice-chancellor to write a book. He is an exceptionally brilliant literary analyst. NUC is happy with the change already manifesting at the University of Abuja and we will work with all arms of government to ensure that the institution takes its place at the leading University in Nigeria,” he said.

As the event progressed, the observation of the NUC boss was quick to manifest as Bello and Olorunfemi, maximally explored the podium and the lessons in the book to send a message to Nigerians on leadership and followership. In particular, Olorunfemi frowned at the time spent to recognise many people who came late to the event instead of focusing on the main business of the day.

While, the two plays, Seriya and Omokewu, reflect the communal philosophy, discipline and local upbringing of the playwright, and draw on the need to build a valid future for subsequent generations, the Yoruba Oral Tradition locates the oral performance of Dàdàkúàdá genre of music within the Islamic Yoruba setting and helps to fuse tradition, creativity and politics, thereby asserting the significance of the form.

In the book, Na’Allah, traces Dadakuada history and artistic vision and discusses its vibrancy as the most popular traditional Yoruba oral art form in Islamic Africa.
In dissecting Omokewu, Prof. Bello, commended the author for the clever manner he infuses music and dance into the play, which in all contributed to the early development of Islam in Ilorin. He was however quick to add that the task of his reviewing exercise was not to ease the knotty issues in the play but to expose them.

“As a master play right, Na’Allah shows class in the manner he introduces his character and their roles. Through the play, the author presents to the world the culture and religion of Ilorin in a dramatic but interesting manner,” he stated.

Olorunyomi, who expressed concern over the manner in which Nigerians have almost allowed their cultural heritage to be suppressed, commended the promoters of Dadakuada and Na’Allah in particular for sustaining the tempo. He pointed out that Dadakuada has since given birth to two other genres of literature.

While condemning intellectual laziness among today’s scholars, Olorunfemi commended Na’Allah for standing tall and not allowing himself to be embroiled in plagiarism. “I have learnt a lesson from Na’Allah, which I want all scholars to take seriously. In Dadakuada, Na’Allah is honest enough to make reference to even his own previous work, wherever he uses something there. He didn’t assume that he is the author of both but still references,”
The University of Ibadan teacher however challenged the author on the need to domesticate his work by looking inward for local publishers, who would make his work more accessible to Nigerian students and scholars.

To reinforce the beauty of the genre, the current king of Dadakuada, was ushered in and the elderly man captured the mood in line with the tradition of the founder, Odolaye Aremu and danced with Na’Allah and other Ilorin prominent guests at the event. He reeled out evergreen messages that saw many Yoruba guests gesturing in agreement.

Perhaps because of his relationship with Ilorin, Prof. Olu Obafemi’s take on Omokewu, could be said to be authoritative, considering his tone of conviction. According to him, the book stands out because of its unobtrusive combination of cultural heritage, religious consciousness and a deep sense of community and history.

He also pointed out that the dramatic narrative and performance convey ‘totalist theatricality’ and that all the moving symbols and icons, images and metaphors, proverbs and aphorisms realign to typify the essential reality of modern Ilorin in a way that defies pure history or sociology but made possible on the dramatic turf.

“The concluding, spirit-possessing, subliminal outcome is both mesmerizing and fascinating. The play flows eloquently in the vibrant rhythm of the Ilorin human culture. It is good to read it as drama but best to live it on stage as I have done, where all the salient elements of gesture, the visual, vernacular wordage and kinesis connect,” he stated.

A former Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Bolaji Abdullahi; simply described the three books as a key to the historical and religious development of Ilorin. “Through the three books, Prof. Na’Allah has simply taken us on a traditional excursion into our early life and challenged us on the need to uphold our cultural heritage. The timing of the unveiling is particularly apt, considering the value erosion the society is currently contending with,” Abdullahi added.

For the author of Morountodun and other plays, Prof. Femi Osofisan, the beauty of Seriya lies in its radical, progressive thrust, as well as its bringing to stage, so, vividly, vignettes of life in a section of the country that most of Nigerians are not familiar with, and rarely see. “A potentially powerful play here, which may eventually turn out to be a significant contribution to our repertory,” Osofisan stated.
But according to Obafemi, the main strength of Seriya is its dialectical blend of religious and political education, with an unmistakable revolutionary intent.

According to him, with the play’s woven intricate but unobtrusive dialogue, with palpable images of light and darkness, fusing theocracy with politics in a palpable, simple and lucid lyrical tone, Na’AlIah has “given us a new play, which proposes a new path to social liberation in which manipulative partisan politics is unequivocally unmasked.”

Obafemi, who is also a former President of the Nigeria Academy of Letters (NAL), added: “The wedlock proposal which comes at the end between the radical Mariama and the cleric Aafa is instructive of a future in which love and moral rectitude, shorn of external material trappings, becomes the defining features of socially just polity of our dream.”
Commenting on the community play, Omokewu, Tim J. Cribb of the University of Cambridge, UK, said the author has done what many notable writers did for their people.

He said: “What Synge did with Riders to the Sea for the West of Ireland, and Dylan Thomas did with under Milkwood for the fishing villages of Wales, and Soyinka did with The Lion and the Jewel for Egbaland, and Walcott did with Dream on Monkey Mountain for Trinidad, landmark plays all, Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah has now done for Ilorin in Northern Nigeria.”

According to him, Na’allah has given back to the community its own “myths and traditions and songs, condensed and lifted up into a play, a joyful occasion, a festival for all seasons and for all peoples. On the wings of Islam, it can travel around the world.”

As pointed out by the various commentators, the author examines Dàdàkúàdá relationship with Islam and discusses how the singers, through their songs and performances, are able to accommodate Islam in ways that have ensured their continued survival as a traditional African genre in a predominantly Muslim community.

Speaking to journalists on the sideline of the event, Prof Na’Allah said he wrote the books to show leadership in scholarship and interrogate certain societal ills, adding that the world cannot move forward if scholars are asleep.

“It is my job as a scholar to do scholarship and the kind of scholarship that I do is that of identity, culture, literature, comparative studies, poetics and as the VC, it is important for me to show leadership in scholarship — to scholars in my university, Nigeria and all over the world, it shows that even if you take a position of the VC, you are not exempted from the scholarship. The truth is we have so much to do in the areas of interpreting our culture, engaging in research to find solutions to the problems of this country,” he said.

He takes a swipe at the manner in which globalization is being viewed in Nigeria and that the concept has almost become a global threat.
“For instance, the issue of cyber fraud is prominent in the country. That is, using technology to commit fraud but technology is about goodness, convenience, comfort and earning money in the right way. In other countries like the United States of America, young people are billionaires because they are creating great things using technology but in Nigeria, it has been turned upside down. So, we now need to go back to our culture and show the world, especially the young people that our culture is all about goodness.”

On how he was able to pull through the rigorous work of writing while holding a leadership position, he said: “I write any time I have an opportunity to do so. Sometimes, on the plane; I try not to sleep, and sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night even if it is for just an hour of writing. I just create time because I want to finish the manuscript that I started. As we speak, I have about four manuscripts that I am working on in different areas.”

He urged lecturers in universities to engage in research as much as they perform the duty of educating the students
“We definitely have to do more because we owe Nigeria that much. It is wrong to be collecting salary as a lecturer in the university system and claim that you cannot work. Teaching is only part of what you do as a scholar. You also engage in research, scholarly works, creating products, collaborating with industries, working with Non-Governmental Organisations, helping the government in formulating policies, mentoring and so much. The world cannot move forward if scholars are asleep”, he said.

Looking back at the last two years as the one at the helm of affairs of the University of Abuja, the Professor of English and Comparative Poetics said the journey has been very resourceful, eventful, with a lot of opportunities in different directions.

“Our goal is to have academic staff that are world class in their development, training, strength and also in their activities. Also, world-class in terms of resources that are available to serve our students and in terms of the facility we are creating in the university,” he said

Some of the dignitaries at the event include; a former governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatah Ahmed; Registrar/Chief Executive of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Professor Isha’q Oloyede; Prominent Lawyer Ilorin based legal luminary, Yusuf Olaolu Ali, Ambassador of Venezuela to Nigeria, David Valasquez Caraballo; Emir of Jiwa, Alhaji Idris Musa and representative of the President’s Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, among others.

Beyond the message passed with the books, Na’Allah, who was a pioneer Vice-Chancellor of the Kwara State University Malete, with close to 30 books, hundreds of academic articles and poems to his credit, has simply demonstrated that leadership should be by example.

He had his first and second degrees in English from the University of Ilorin and obtained his PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada and was subsequently professor and chair of African Studies at Western Illinois University.

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