Monday, 20 June 2011

On the neglect of Imam and Shata


















In some sections of this week’s Blueprint, there are stories about Hausa land’s foremost artistes in the areas of music and literature. Alhaji Abubakar Imam, who was born in 1911 and died in a hospital in Zaria, Kaduna State, on June 19, 1981, was the leading creative writer in Hausa land. Alhaji Mamman Shata Katsina, who died in a hospital in Kano at dawn on Friday, June 18, 1999 at the age of 76, was the leading Hausa musician of our time.

Both men showed promise in their art forms right from a very young age -- barely 16 to 19 years. By the end of each artiste’s life, he was able to attain a level of dignity, acclaim and command of a huge following, a prowess which has outlived him. Each became a fabled member of the ruling elite. Each was awarded the enviable national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) by the federal government and an honorary doctorate degree by Ahmadu Bello University.

This was because each had contributed immensely to the development of our country, using his God-given talents. As a journalist, Imam had waged a war against what he called the “three evils” militating against progress in northern Nigeria -- ignorance, indolence and poverty. He also participated in the nascent political awakening in the region. In addition, his books have remained a yardstick for measuring the sophistication of creative writing in the Hausa language.

Shata, on his part, is still entertaining us even though he is no more. His songs are played on radio and television, and they are available on CDs (courtesy of pirates) for use at home and in our cars. In them, he titillates, educates and enlightens us on all those three evils that ailed Imam during his journalism days. Shata was also an active politician in the Second Republic. He chaired the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) in Kankia Local Government Area and was the chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Funtua LGA during the Third Republic. He must have, therefore, contributed to political awakening through his participation.

An interesting aspect of the life of these two geniuses is that while they had great opportunities to accumulate wealth, they didn’t. Many would be surprised to know that Shata in particular, whom some think was stinkingly rich, died almost a pauper. He lived as a humble man who would give away the monies and goods he received from his benefactors to lesser mortals, the way his father Alhaji Ibrahim Yaro did in his own lifetime.

Last week, Imam clocked 30 years in death and Shata clocked 12. This year also marks the centenary anniversary of the birth of Imam. While it is a matter of joy that we are still around to witness this epoch, a careful look at the family of each of these men shows that the memory of each one of them has not been given its due by those who should do so. In fact, it is sad that their families are left to fend for themselves without having an opportunity to reap from the fruits of their father’s/husband’s labour.

While Imam’s children live a comparatively better life because of the education they acquired, most of Shata’s sons -- and the wives he left behind -- are struggling. Some of Shata’s daughters are better off because they got higher education (at least four have acquired university degrees), but generally the family seems to have been abandoned by our thankless society.

This sob-story is similar to those of many other artistes in this country. My association with a variety of artistes has exposed me to many situations that make me sad any time I recall their fate. Almost all the artistes who were a cynosure of the society’s eyes at one time or the other have been left to their own devices; many are sickly or existing on the verge of penury.

Governments at local, state and federal levels should do something to redeem this ugly situation. There should be a hall of fame funded by various levels of government, and NGOs dedicated to the betterment of the life of artistes who have reached old age and their families when they are no more. It is an insult to the memory of people like Shata that even the name of the street where he lived for decades has not been changed to his name. The Katsina State government should find a way to not only immortalise this music giant but also assist his family; Imam, who was originally from Niger State, also had strong links to Katsina. With the right will, it can be done.

Published in my column in this week's edition edition of our weekly newspaper, BLUEPRINT, out today.

Photos above: Alhaji Abubakar Imam; Alhaji Mamman Shata (right) with a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Dr Aliyu Modibbo Umar, who was a Shata benefactor

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