BM Dzukogi is our guest for this edition of PIN Literary Interviews moderated by Semilore Kilaso. He speaks on burning issues including ANA politics, odds against literary promotions, dearth of governmental support for literary activities as well as his personal literary endeavours.
BM Dzukogi studied Physical and Health Education (PHE) at ABU, Zaria and has to his credit ten publications in various genre of literature: poetry, short story, essay, interviews, children’s literature, non-fiction and aphorism. He is one of the leading Art Administrators in Nigeria and responsible for the creation of many art programmes like the famous Annual Schools Carnival of Art and Festival of Songs (ASCAFS); initiator, Nigerian Writers Series (NWS) and Minna Literary Series (MLS); curator and draughtsman of the MBA International Literary Colloquium; initiator, National Teen Authorship Scheme; founder, The Nigeria Review; founder, Literature Voices; and the draftsman for HIASFEST, the largest teen arts festival in Africa and pioneer Director-General of the Niger State Book Development Agency, the founder of Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation (HCAF) and the Blue Resolution Initiative (TBRi). He is a former National Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors, and pioneer Chairman, Northern Nigeria Writers Summit (NNWS).
Often referred to as a literary activist and philosopher, BM Dzukogi has dedicated most part of his life to mentoring young people in creativity, education, sport, leadership, social life and society.
He is currently the Principal Sports Officer of IBB university, Lapai, Niger State.
- Sir, it’s a great pleasure having you on PIN Literary Interviews. Do tell us more about yourself.
My name is Baba Muhammad Dzukogi, people simply call me BM Dzukogi. I am the Principal Sports Officer of IBB University, Lapai; I midwifed the establishment of the Sports Unit of the university in 2006. I am from Bida in Niger State.
- How did you get involved in literature? Tell us about it and what sparked your interest in poetry.
I got involved in literature through my friend, Baba Akote. It all started from Government Teachers College, Wushishi where we were going into the bush to enact the scenes in Soyinka’s the Lion and the Jewel. Of course, we read many Newspapers, Magazines and books from our school library, bought many comic magazines, especially Ikebe Super, Super Story and engaged in reading current affairs, books like the Student’s Companion. At Ahmadu Bahago Teachers’ College where we lived, I was going into classrooms and hostels to pick books to read. All the time, it was Akote who showed great interest in writing which he began doing shortly after our teacher’s college. I joined him in writing a book about our friend, Salihu Ndagi. He wrote a chapter and I will write another. We wrote about our friend because of his predicaments while leaving with his uncle.
I got into poetry because Akote asked me to do it. He simply told me to start writing poetry “because you speak like poets”. I asked how to go about it. He said some things I cannot remember right now. However, I brought a few the following day and he said they were ok. That’s all! Akote is a Deputy Registrar at IBB University now.
- As poets, some of us tend to look at stylistics. How would you describe poetry in relation to your style and approach to theme?
I have never focused on any stylistics. I didn’t study poetry; I studied Physical and Health Education, what you call PHE. I am more concerned with the message that appreciates beauty of the environment, the philosophy of life and literary philosophy as well as the political. For me, poetry is about the message. What poets do with their poetry depends on the nature of the environment they dwell in and what dominates the environment at the time of writing a piece or a collection of pieces. No poet or writer can run away from his environment. So, each time I write poetry it is about passing on a message. Most poems today are free verse. I belong there.
- You founded Hill-Top Art Centre in 2004 while a teacher of Physical and Health Education. What prompted you? Tell us about the centre’s achievement over the years and expectations in years to come.
Well, when I realised, I could write, I began assembling pupils and students of Hill-Top Model School in 1989 where I was teaching. By 1991, I joined ANA. Again, it was Baba Akote who dragged me there. It was a tug of war because he had always said I should join them at ANA but football was what I wanted. I was playing in the State League, aiming to reach the national stage. At Hill-Top, my literary association with the students and pupils led to an anthology for the school (Echoes of Young Minds) in 1997. By 2004, I established the Hill-Top Art Centre. The reason being that, I wanted the young writers to attain excellence at school age. I wanted to experiment on how to beat the world through mentoring and training. I wanted to initiate a powerful movement in Nigeria, of young writers who will be one strong voice in the years ahead. I wanted to leave behind a legacy of one who had contributed tangibly in the reconstruction of society. I requested for a place within the school and Mallam Dan’Azumi Musa who was the Principal gave me. He believed so much in me, I was also the Exam Officer and a strong voice in the school. I started publishing books of individual students with Saddiq Dzukogi in his junior secondary, then Halima Aliyu and Zainab Manko.
There are many achievements in the production of new writers in Nigeria who are on their way to the top. We publish children free; they own their books at young age. Niger State is the largest producer of teen authors in Nigeria through Hill-Top. We have the largest teen arts festival in Africa courtesy Bala Abdullahi Kwatu and Aliyu Trust Foundation. We are visible in 19 states of Nigeria. We are one of the few art organisations with a physical headquarter in Nigeria. We are not in our bags or computers. We are going to start building our national headquarters in Minna, shortly. Our members are winning prizes everywhere. Our members are featuring in national and international journals. We have our own journals too featuring writers across the world. We have successfully created the movement we envisioned who see themselves as one family across Nigeria. You need to hear them out each time a new member joins the group, they chorus: welcome to the family. We are a family. There is none like us! We are the fastest-growing literary art organisation in Nigeria. We admit all forms of young artists, not just writers. However, one great achievement we are not losing sight of is that: almost all Nigerian writers applaud us for this giant creation, and what we do. We are aiming at a continental structure that will feed Africa as well as related effectively with the art world.
- What role does mentorship and fellowship play in developing one’s interest in creativity?
It is not just developing interest in creativity; it leads the mentee to faster results and excellence. It steadies you on the course. You readily become focused, hopeful and excellent. Mentoring should be an essential point of focus for any art organisation, it is phenomenally a requirement for the growth of any sector in the society. It is time-consuming and demanding but once the rhythm is struck coasting home is easy. Fellowship is targeted which could assume a higher form of mentoring or production. Nigeria is so sick that nothing of this happens here except at Ebedi. So, young writers aspiring for quality production jet out to other countries to seek opportunities. And they actually look better at the end. This country kills a lot. When our national headquarters come on stream, we shall start our fellowship too, at Hill-Top.
- Your children Saddiq and Zakkiyah are poets. How does this make you feel? What advice do you have for individuals whose parents do not support their creative endeavours?
I feel great about them. I feel humbled by the gift of nature that continues the growth of a noble tradition sparked in the family by me. Praise be to Allah for such a gift. Their mother is a writer too. She has a book of poetry in Hausa. These new poets in the house are rewards for keeping other people’s children at Hill-Top. Zakiyyah doesn’t show me her poems. Her winning poems are mostly unedited. Saddiq was coming around my room to read some poems to my hearing but that’s the only contact. Even yesterday (11th June, 2021), I was sitting at the at the Centre alone, with Mahmud and Saddiq called to greet and ended up asking me to listen to his newest poems. I did. Zakiyyah is politely stubborn about her poems, she doesn’t want anything changed. Such arrogance of poets! She just sends them out on her own. We feel great. The house feels great. They are not the only ones. Yusrah and Mahmud write poems too. Zaynabu has the capacity but doesn’t write. We are grateful to many Nigerian writers who have been supporting our children in return to what we do to other people’s children. We are grateful to our sponsors who thoroughly believe in what we do at the Art Centre.
- There is a paradigm shift in Nigeria literature. As one who has been actively involved in promotion of literature for decades, what do you think of contemporary poetry?
Robust and dynamic. Young Nigerian poets are audaciously defining their perspective without remorse which shows the growth and maturation of their art at young age. They are highly experimental and bold. The old guards have largely ignored them in Nigeria but they go elsewhere to conquer. Well, in a country where you have such huge convergence of young poet, you expect nothing but dynamism. Everybody isn’t going to think or do things the same way. So, contemporary poetry, whatever that means to anybody, is a response to the times we are in. it is great to be in these times. Greater it is to see large number of Northern Nigerian youth find comfort in literary art.
- Barring the odds against the promotion of literature and the arts, how have you been weathering this unfortunate situation?
Hill-Top started long ago our national headquarters is 17yrs old, this year. We are earlier than most contemporary art organisations in Nigeria. So, consistency has helped people to develop confidence in us in Niger State to the point that we are able to gain supports. In fact, our primary support base in our early life were the Nigerian writers themselves. Today, we are getting bigger supports from Senator Muhammad Sani Musa of the Niger East Senatorial District to build a library for us, this year. Similarly, the Federal Member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Saidu Musa Abdul will be constructing a block of two classrooms for us while the Aliyu Trust Foundation has promised to build our Art Residency as well. None of these people that we wrote any letter to, our visibility and consistency is winning favours to us. This is to the point that, a mere text message from me to them is believable. Art does not enjoy big-time patronage in Nigeria especially in Northern Nigeria. And Government that should be ahead in documenting our life is highly insensitive to art too. Any society that does not document herself, does not exist.
- Do you think corporate and government support will make any difference in literary and art promotion? What can we as literary bodies do to change government poor attention to arts in general?
Of course, government’s support is highly desirable in Nigeria; in fact, it is a duty. State Councils of Art should be made functional. LGs should establish their Councils too. This will make a huge difference. These councils should offer grants, commission artist to document the life of communities, governments should give scholarships, they should appropriate these young writers from now otherwise they will go and service other lands.
The well-to-do citizens do not bother about literary art as well. Communities manage to pay attention to crafts. So, literary art should gain more attention from governments, more so that, it has over the years, been responsible for the elevation of Nigeria’s profile in the world. Writers give credible name to Nigeria more than any sector. Not even football can compare.
One way we are trying to institutionalise creative writing and bring attention to it by government is the inauguration of a new organisation: Contemporary Literary Art Associations of Nigeria (CLAAN) which will engage governments to focus on literary art through policy enactments. CLAAN will engage in continental events as well to promote literary art.
- As the past General Secretary of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), could you highlight on your service and tenure?
My being the national Secretary was not a day’s journey. We planned it when we noticed that Northern Nigeria had little or no representation in ANA national. There is no Northerner, from our time, who ascended to ANA national Exco that did not have the hand of Niger behind him or her. In fact, some were compelled to go because they were good. We fought many things in the Nigerian literary establishment from 1994. We arrived and began breaking the gatekeepers’ seals by publishing ourselves when nobody was there to do it for us, we got shortlists and wins. We went further to deconstruct the existing protocols and the traditional notion that only adults were capable of writing and publishing books by kick-starting publishing teenagers in 1997. You know, each time you wanted to publish a book, they tell you, you are in a rush. Such trash! In Nigeria, young people do not know how to do things, such a tragic positioning. How do you tell a teacher like me, such nonsense? We vigorously began eliminating that evident wide gap and birthed teen-writers who will compete and surpass their fathers across the country. We wrote and published essays announcing our intention to cause a massive change in the existing literary protocols. We broke the leadership gates held by cliques, weighed down in their traditionalism. I hatched a new platform of mine (Hill-Top) and watered it, should the powerful cliques’ reign subsist through the use of politics, ethnicity or religion to stand in our way. It was a plan B. We propagated the ideals by being loud about using the teens’ production as the game-changer of the future. They all saw us as we dragged them about in their school uniforms as teen authors in their midst. We loved the beautiful labels they gave us for our resilience which we saw as forms of commendations, anyway: Nonconformists, Rebels, Minna mafia, Literary activists, Revolutionaries etc. In time, other states started bringing their teen authors too. We got the labels because we were young too, bold and fearless with fierce flame of commitment. If you yank off 30yrs from my age now, I will crash to 26. At the time, also, we were concerned about the status of literary production in Northern Nigeria. We wanted thousands of voices from the north who would be capable of attraction universally, in the future. We do not lay claim to the buoyancy of literary arts in Nigeria today alone, however, 30yrs ago, the national writers’ platform that was nationally visible was the Association of Nigerian Authors, and we were principal actors there, as well. We got limitless friends from across Nigeria who endorsed our focus. Everyone loved what we were doing. The solid walls within ANA got broken through our activities and friendships. Finally, we opened the space. Our activities in Niger emboldened many ANA chapters in the North. We inaugurated the Northern Nigeria Writers Summit. Writers elsewhere cried out but we were unstoppable. Dr. Okediran supported the move and helped knocked off the resistance from southern writers that we were dividing ANA. We weren’t going to stop, anyway. We were merely decentralising for development.
Many of those stoppers are still living in the past, today. This period we are in, is the true golden age of poetry in Nigeria, it has only not peaked yet. Without sounding outlandish, I doubt if there is any country in the world that has the largest concentration of young writers and poets as Nigeria. The Niger State’s contribution to the new literary boom in Nigeria is always missing in the mainstream narrative and studies of recent literary development in Nigeria. The climax of our push was my quest for the Presidency of ANA to bring to bear my visions for literary art in Nigeria. They didn’t like it, but I had another potent option – the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation. Today, ANA is on the decline. It is natural with every power; they decline with age.
While contesting for the General Secretary, I had my manifesto published into a book which included: National teen authorship scheme; Nigerian Writers Series; ANA Magazine; Ratification of ANA constitution; etc. these things were done. For the teen authorship, Hajiya Jummai Babangida Aliyu; Wife of the former governor of Niger state, provided the fund to publish teen authors from various chapters in an anthology (Beyond Limits). The book was published and distributed to Chapters. Ten titles of the Nigerian Writers Series, a replication of African Writers Series, were published. Dr, Babangida Aliyu, our former governor, provided N10m to the national ANA for that. The ANA magazine was also birthed, I used my money to do it and got paid back. The amendment of ANA constitution was completed and ratified. Of course, I did some other things but these ones were central to me. In my time, my agenda formed the fulcrum of operations at the national Exco. They don’t like to hear this. If I had stayed beyond two years, I would have achieved all I listed in my manifesto booklet. I do the things I say.
- The literary world is aware of an ongoing crisis in ANA. What’s the way forward?
Let the two sides vacate their stands at the end of this year and be gone and done with the leadership of ANA. Let them go and manage their own platforms. Nominate two visible writers and academics from each geopolitical zone to form an assembly. Let all members of the so-called Advisory Board be dissolved whether they exist legitimately or not. They have lost credibility as elders in the eyes of many. It is unfortunate. Let all past Presidents get out of the way. Let the nominated assembly constitute an interim exco amongst themselves and stay for two years. Organise a new election. No former member of the national exco in the past shall be eligible for any office in the next eight years including the factions. A new Advisory Board should be reconstituted by the assembly without any former exco member or the dissolved board included. Old people/writers should go back to their communities and nurture literary art by supporting the young ones abeg. They should go and create platforms for young writers in their communities. They should leave ANA alone; they have complicated matters there.
- What Nigerian poet(s) do you continually revisit their works?
- There is one popular book of yours entitled: Sex is Beautiful. What’s the main thrust of the book?
To protect the girl-child from sexual harassment. I wrote it for my Art Centre girls, and girls at home. They are the most vulnerable in the society. They regularly get beaten by the oddities of our society. They get harassed during wars, social strife, school, at the corners of our streets and even at peace times. They get harassed by their uncles, teachers, adults, peers and all. They have been made commodities for pleasure and the young girls seems to grow into liking that. This dishonours the community; illicit sexual proliferation disintegrates the society stealthily and leads to all kinds of social crisis and chaos. In the end, society disintegrate and collapse. This notorious occurrence happens as a result of the cut in the tiny bonds that join the profound concepts that relate with themselves to keep the society sane. I thought I should leave a guide behind for the girl-child.
- As a Writer and teacher of physical education, what would you say is the link between both? Will you mind sharing your experiences on your professional calling?
Poetry is life. It elevates anything it touches. In sports, the most essential element is motion. Motion in the lives of men activates their dreams and quests. Poetry without a feeling of movement, rhythm, sequence which is the inherent qualities of sport, becomes lifeless and inactive. The beauty in sports acts is not the result as in scoring a ‘goal’ or ‘landing’ but the athleticism in the procedure leading to it. Poems take this beautiful sequence too. What is poetry without performance or rendition? Sport is performance.
- What in your opinion is the place of poetry as a genre of literature in Nigeria? What future? What opportunities for Poets?
Poetry is the language of the noble. It is the primary preserver of the essence of communication. Poetry gives differentiation from the ordinary to the extra-ordinary meaning of verbal communication and life. It is the classical language of the heavens down the earth that man may understand more meanings. Without poetry, religion loses its tongue. And since man hardly gives away his pleasurable state, the artist is strengthened by his poetry to stand aloof for truth and for correct portrayals. When men settle down, away from their unseriousness for the home truth about their affairs, it is their poetic tone that distinguishes the serious from the mundane.
Emotion is central to the potency of poetic effusion because emotion-laced activity brings about quality in such engagement. So, the emotional chamber of man is the Diaz where poetry stands to flourish. However, Poetry is not a mere recollection of spontaneous flow of emotion; it is the spiritual and classical nucleus of expression. It is that aspect of language which evokes the fundamental subject of a message whose capacity to transmit such messages does not only lie in its understanding but as the only vehicle for deciphering the unintended essential meaning inherent in it.
The spirituality of communication is its poetic content whence its elegance and beauty is the deployment of figurative tongue that aptly conveys messages in pleasant and memorable sounds which vividly brings home the versatility of verbal communication and the vast meaningful content of it. Without poetry language hardly grows.
Poetry is the garment of the philosopher, it is the mouth-musk of the king, and it is the sweetener for the melody-maker. In the poet, is a naked being; a puritanic absolutist, a hard-core craftsman in quest of perfect order. In the story man, I see an admonisher, a satirist, ironic and a cynic in search of order. With his little logic, he appeals to mortals to see light. A playwright comes to me as a comic character, a logical entertainer that caricatures the folly of man. The philosopher comes to me as a Wiseman, a thinker, a leader and light, so sober and reflective. He is a master of deeper meanings. However, what is final is that poetry is the soul of creative writing. With it, all other genres come alive. Any gathering of humans without a poet is a bunch of soulless mortals.
Since poetry is an emotional thing, it must evoke inner power and logic. The logic of poetry should contain good sense of reasoning, rhythm, sequential arrangement of thoughts and meaning. These primary elements should be brought to bear for a wholesome creation. Craft and musicality add colour and glamour to its wholesomeness. The first identifiable quality of a poem is the thrills it sends down the writer’s spine upon rendition to self.
Poetry is not just about entertainment; it purifies the communicative mind. The poet is likely to succeed as a politician or a leader than the unpoets. This is because the poet has the capacity to forgo the material that others may want to garner. He is a naked being and less materialistic. He is the one with the third and the fourth eyes, and since politics is the vehicle for attaining leadership, it is those with extra eyes that should lead the rest.
The poet is a bolder character with limited audience. The philosopher is a bold character with great audience. And you can only have one poet or philosopher on earth. If one comes to you as Obi Nwakama or Ahmed Maiwada or Saddiq or Gbemisola Adeoti or Ubu Udeozo or Emmanuel Egya or Maryam Gatawa or Gabriel Okara or Wole Soyinka or Mamman Shata or Zakiyyah Dzukogi, they are just one being with one language. This is the place of poetry in humanity.
Poetry is the most widely written literature in Nigeria but less patronised. Why poets keep emerging in Nigeria without restraint and pouring forth poetry without audience is strange. The future of poetry in the world is in Nigeria. The world of poets would be overtaken by Nigerian poets because they are currently heading Westwards where their brilliance is promptly accepted. They are mostly young poets who are attaining their excellence at prime. In Nigeria, these young poets have no any opportunity. So, checking out is the only option for them.
- What’s the place of partnerships in literary promotion?
That is the next phase that should proliferate the Nigerian literary space in the next ten years, among the contemporary literary art associations in Nigeria. Our HIASFEST at the Hill-Top is one such example of another form of partnership with Alhaji Bala Abdullahi Kwatu and the Aliyu Trust Foundation. The Niger State Photography Contest is a partnership with AbdulBerqy U. Ebbo. Our LG anthologies currently going on in eight LGs of Niger South is a partnership with Alh. Hassan B. Etsu. This is how Hill-Top survives. Partnership among literary art organisations or between individuals or institutions is the ultimate in the years to come.
- What’s your opinion about Poets in Nigeria as a vanguard of poetry renaissance in Nigeria?
It is one of the contemporary literary art organisations that upsets the unlimited influence of the old order and poetic custodianship in Nigeria. ANA’s prizes for poetry are either non-existent or petty; PIN has many fat prizes. How can ANA claim to be the biggest in Africa and be coming forth with Joseph’s lean cows? PIN is full of young writers and poets that provide unlimited spaces and opportunities for young writers. And to be solely dedicated to poetry is an ace unmatchable.
- Thank you for time. Please leave us with few lines of your poetry (max 12 lines)
Once the crescent turns bloom at eventide, we gather outside
To sing our wuru dance
But when the illuminating
Sky becomes evil-eyed
It renders our playground a morgue.
Soon, oppressive odour
Wafts across the arena
And our plain hearts pound silently
From the creeping voices
Of owls hooting strange eulogy
That ebbs the vitality of our evening…