Abdulbaki Ahmad: There is a new world in books

Young and promising Abdulbaki Abubakar Ahmad won the maiden edition of The National Engineering Science & Tech. Essay Competition carting home a whopping sum of N300,000. In this interview, Abdulbaki, a poetry fanatic, speaks for Nigerian youth and makes salient propositions on how to mitigate the issues plaguing the country’s power sector:

Congratulations on your win. Is this the first edition of the competition? If not, which institution won it before yours?

Thank you. This is actually the maiden edition of the prize and I am happy that my university left a legacy as the first ever winning institution of the prize. The competition was organized by Blue Apple, owners of the professional engineering website Engineers Forum. NESTEC is a private initiative and a product coming into existence out of frustration and the commonplace failures in the engineering profession that need to be addressed for technological development of Nigeria. Their first approach is raising 5,000 young engineers in 5 years with a clear understanding of the processes of developmental engineering entrepreneurship through innovative ideas. Fortunately, I am among the first to be in this initiative along with the remaining 12 finalists of this maiden edition.

Was there a general theme? If yes, what was it?

The theme is somehow broad here, I think. Invitation for paper cuts across electrical/electronic, mechanical and civil engineering and their subspecialties. Authors were given an autonomy to choose topics that are original and relevant to the needs of the Nigerian society.

What’s the title of the essay that won you the prize?

‘Smart Grid: The Viable Route to Trouncing Nigeria’s Recurring System Collapses’.

The title of the winning essay is quite inviting. What key points are there in for the authorities to look out for?

Smart grid and system collapses. Smart Grid, in my own stand, is the best and last resort for the government to change Nigeria’s fate. Electricity is the basic sine qua non for revamping and refashioning the economy of this country. Looking at the low per capita index of electricity consumption in Nigeria, one would outrightly guess the level of penury and economic difficulties faced by the country’s populace. Nigeria’s history of electricity is pathetic and hair-raising. As an engineer, I believe that an academic paper must be realistic and that’s what I considered in my paper. The first issue to be addressed in Nigeria is improving the electricity value chain. As you provide affordable power supply to the hoi polloi, I believe you are puffing soul into every other sector as all sectors depend on reliable and sustainable power supply. Generation cannot be increased without having a robust grid that can wheel the generated power from the generation points to the points of consumption. The national grid is still not capable of wheeling the totality of Nigeria’s present theoretical generation capacity, then how do we think the power that will be generated can be utilized? Therefore, the first step out of this dire mire is expanding the grid and revamping it with sensing and monitoring devices that can take care of the increasing complexities associated with increasing generation due to demand.

Do you subscribe to the comment that was once accredited to the President who said Nigerian youth are lazy?

I strictly don’t and will never subscribe to a notion like that. I still don’t know the motive behind that statement and what diplomatic gain it was intended for. With the unfriendly economy of the country and poor government provisions that left the youths hanging on nothingness without proper education that will shape their thoughts, what are you expecting them to do? To me, Nigerian youth are even trying, toiling in sweat day and night for a morsel of bread; youths who are porters of black destinies etched on their suntanned faces and crooked spines by failed experiments of leadership. All we the youth ask the government is an enabling environment. Reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity is the only thing we need from the government to skyrocket our pocket economy in no time.  Uttering such a sensitive statement in an international scene where important investors are watching and listening is a terrible mistake— tell me an investor who’d slush his money into the hands of lazy youths whilst expecting profit? I don’t think there is.

Is this your first time in Lagos? Who sponsored your trip? 

This is my first time in Lagos and my trip was completely sponsored by the authorities of my university through the directive of the Vice Chancellor, Prof Shehu Alhaji Musa.

Could give an insight into how you might likely be celebrated at your school?

(Smiles) I’ve already been celebrated in my school as per my view. The Vice Chancellor publicly declaring his fatherly appreciation about the achievement is a celebration that outweighs every other thing on my mind—even winning the prize. Seeing appreciation on the faces of my beloved lecturers and the smiles escaping the lips of my fellow students made me feel swinging aloft cloud nine. As we talk of now, there is a possibility of the university organizing a special ceremony to further instill writing habit into the younger ones by celebrating what we have achieved together.

Do you think the government of Kano State would be keen on this?

Sure, it will. Not only Kano State Government, but any other state that wants to see its populace wallowing in happiness and delight will adopt proper strategies that will ensure the reliability of electric power supply. However, as the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) is owned by the Federal Government (FG), the ways out recommended in the paper can better be executed by the FG.

Apart from prose, which other genre of literature do you write?

Poetry. I am a gourmand of poetry. I like poetry beyond any other genre of literature. Poets from the Arab and Western world, African poets and even south Asian poets have influenced my style and as Maryam Gatawa would say; my poems are somehow too inundated with imageries; the rascality, as Umar Sidi would also say, is also there. What I like most in literature is knowing a rule and breaking that same rule and poetry is my only haven for doing that. I am a poet who likes tormenting words, searching for the silent spaces between their gasps and spitting their innards with suicidal prayers. I like forging imageries out of the innocence of slit words, breaking them into shards of emotions, then sewing their mouths with my poetic license, depriving them their inherited meanings. I like catching blue phrases escaping the grasp of my tongue, sifting them into lean footnotes that can only be realized by a careful eye. I enjoy waking up my brain gagged with metaphors of every colour, stretching my lips into a question mark that I have to skin before I can brush my mouth.

What informed your decision to meet with Sir Eriata Oribhabor?

Sacrifice. His rare sense of sacrifice. He is a person whose sense of sacrifice is beyond the grasp of a common brain. One’s IQ has to be extraordinary to understand the depth of this venerable man’s sacrifice. I once read his interview with The Sun in which I learnt that sometimes he had to starve his family for the love of poetry. What then do you expect from a human being? It is only his soul that remains now and he might also give it out shall it be necessary (laughs).

What would you want to do in promoting poetry in your institution?

Everything in my grasp. I will go extra miles to see poetry coruscating in my school, I being a follower of Eriata School of Sacrifice (smiles). I am a certified policymaker by British Council, this I will use to plan strategies that will help me curve out a path to the realization of PIN’s mission on my campus. I am talking with a spirit of déjà vu as I could visualize PIN first reading session in KUST Wudil right now in my eyes.

What would be your parting comment for Nigerian youth, especially students of your school?

Read. Read everything, not specifically your field of study. Being an engineer or a scientist is not saying you won’t be good in the lore of verses. Break the manacles and shake the shackles to find solace in the texture of fresh books. Delve your nose into the smell of new-minted pages and the smell of memories hidden in the fragility of old books. There is a new world in books, new and different from this we live in. To me, beatitude lies in the flipping sound of pages. It is like a garlic-powdered chicken waiting to be devoured by teeth of inquisitiveness, breaking the soft bones of yummy words into the marrow of one’s brain. So read, don’t limit yourself, at least you will gain calcium of wisdom in the marrow of those fleshy lines well fed with inspirations of different muses and views.


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