On the occasion of his new bilingual Arabic and English book, “Inner Peace During Pandemic Times”, Alhaji Jamiu Abiola, the Shettima Rasheed of Borno and son of the late Kudirat and MKO Abiola spoke with VANGUARD about his new book, his writing career and state of the nation:
It is good to have you once again, Alhaji Jamiu Abiola. Ramadan Kareem.
Nice meeting you again too. Ramadan kareem!
Congratulations on your new book. Could you please refresh our readers’ memories, and of course educate those who may not be very conversant with you as a writer; when and how did you begin your writing career? And what is this new book about?
I have been a writer for over a decade. I am actually the first Nigerian to write Arabic novels about Arab societies. My first novel is about Egypt, and the second is about Lebanon. But my bestseller is the book I wrote about my parents “The President Who Never Ruled.” As you know, politics is a seasonal thing. So, politics is not the only thing a serious-minded person should be doing.
From the title of this new book, it is easy to deduce that the COVID-19 pandemic was what inspired me to write it. The book is a modest effort on my part to motivate people so that we can all gather our thoughts, jointly and individually, in order to find more effective ways to cope with a pandemic that is threatening to rip the world apart.
I know there is now a vaccine, and that the epidemic has not been as disastrous here as it has been in some other parts of the world. However, the world is a global village. So, the present and future negative social and economic impact of this pandemic should not be taken for granted.
How do you plan to do that through a book?
When you read the book, you will find out. In a nutshell, it is a psychological book targeted at a general and broad international audience. Coincidentally, the book speaks to both the individual and the society as a whole. I really enjoyed writing it because I have never read a book like this in my life. It is also a bilingual book in which multilingual readers can read English from the front and Arabic from the back.
Why did you write the book in this way?
I wanted to use it as a medium to assist Arabic/English translators so that they can compare both English and Arabic texts from the same book and improve their translation skills; I am a translator myself and am lucky to have studied and received certification at the New York University for Arabic, French, Spanish, German and English commercial, legal and scientific translations.
But it is said that Africans do not read and that if you want to hide something from people in Africa, you should put it inside a book. If this is true, do you think you are wasting your time?
Well, I have faith that things will change, if that is how they are. You are right, though, that in Africa, we seem to underestimate the value of reading and writing, and this is a habit I am trying to discourage through this book; I spent a great deal of time highlighting the significance of writing.
In a similar vein, if China is great today, then part of the reasons is that the Chinese have been writing and reading their history for over a thousand years.
What will you say is the fundamental objective of the book?
To cut a long story short, this book aims primarily to get us to do more of thinking the right way, preserving our morals and values so that in this global crisis we do not only survive, we also thrive. When things turn bad, opportunities spring up for people to get better; bad times might therefore be a blessing in disguise. I am thrilled that I wrote this book and hope that readers feel the same way when it comes out.
Why did you write the book in Arabic in particular, and not in the other languages you speak other than English? Is the Arab world your target audience?
Good question. I was nine years old when I learned Arabic. Since then, it has been my primary source of motivation. The love I have for this language is what made me interested and fluent in eleven other languages. I owe the Arabic language so much, and from my opinion, the least I can do is to write my books in Arabic, apart from English.
That sounds interesting and impressive But, on another note, is it only the pandemic that is giving you concerns these days? Are you not worried about the level of insecurity in Nigeria? Do you not regret playing such a crucial role in the reelection of President Buhari?
Like all Nigerians, I am worried about the level of insecurity, but as a Muslim, I do not think I am entitled to have regrets. After all, I believe that supporting this president is something God would have wanted me to do.
To further respond to your second question, apart from believing in the president, I have so much faith in some of the people he is working with. It is not all the time that a country with a dark history like Nigeria has the fortune of having a government with moral and technocratic icons like the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and a list of extraordinary ministers in this government; people like Babatunde Fashola, Abubakar Malami and Mahmud Abubakar handling such sensitive ministries. The list can go on and on to include other ministers. So, there is simply no way I can regret supporting Mr. President.
And in the Koran, God has told us to expect trials over and over again. Whether we admit it or not, the whole world is currently on its knees and those causing destruction in Nigeria strongly believe that this is the right time for them to strike.
You have not really responded to my question about insecurity. Are you impressed with the way this government is handling it?
Yes, I am, and here is why: A major factor that would determine victory in this battle is the age of the key actors in the forefront of this battle; they have to be young and dynamic. That is why I like the fact that when picking his new Service Chiefs, the president also took age into consideration. The new Chief of naval staff, Awal Gambo, for example, is not only competent; he is also relatively young, and this is a major plus.
Furthermore, the NSA and the IGP, Monguno and Baba Usman, also have age on their side. Such experienced men can never lose a battle against bandits and terrorists operating with no ideology or purpose other than wealth acquisition and widespread destruction. The training, personal traits, and intellect of these people I have mentioned make me believe that in a few months, this frightening crisis will all fizzle away.
You sound very optimistic. But unfortunately, a lot of Nigerians seem not to share your optimism. The public opinion is that democracy has failed. Do you know that?
Well, if democracy has failed in Nigeria, then my parents died in vain. That will never happen, by the grace of God.
In truth, people might not have enough facts, but one thing we should all learn to do is to know how to draw the line and to differentiate between global and domestic problems. Sometimes Nigerians criticize government for a global problem and that is not fair. How would you feel if your son were to blame you for not being able to go to school because of the rain?
I hope you are right in your expectations for the sake of Nigeria. Should we assume you are no longer interested in politics and from now on you are dedicated to writing, since it appears that full-time writing and politics are incompatible?
In Today’s world, my motto is to be a competent Jack of many trades. I am involved in construction, petroleum retail and consulting. Speaking of politics and full-time writing; full-time writing, maybe yes, but writing and politics? When did writing ever become a clog in the wheels of politics? Barack Obama was a writer, and he became president. So did many others. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I want to be president, but writing can even make you more qualified for the post or any other political position. But that is another story.
That is very interesting! Where can one get this book?
By May 1, 2021, it will be on Amazon. And by June 1, 2021, copies will be sold across the country.