TITLE: Hatching Hopes
AUTHOR: Bukar Usman
REVIEWER: Khalid Imam
PUBLISHER: Bookcraft &Klamidas
Not all nonfictional accounts are strictly personal. A good number of autobiographies, memoirs and biographies not necessarily of notable political figures, religious leaders, heroic military men or great warriors, famous entertainers, erudite intellectuals, preeminent poets and novelists have the magnetic force and valuable information to tell splendid public stories. This is largely so, because there are many personal stories of other people such as leading technocrats, journalists, economists, bankers and teachers, which may also reflect significant epochal occurrences in their lifetime or during their public service years. True, a great number of major national histories, transformations and political events, their twists and turns do not just happen, there are personalities behind them. And knowledge and history would surely be incomplete without reading from such persons’ narratives being drivers of change and transformations. It is not hard to understand that the wellbeing of all nations is radically shaped or moved by the lives of individuals as drivers or participants. And whenever such persons narrate their tales, their personal stories reveal quite a number of major public stories. Why is it so? It is simple to accept that people who had the rare privilege of being active participants in formulation or implementation of intricate or key national policies or reforms are the true architects with hands behind most of the socio-economic life, political, religious and multi-cultural experiences of their countries, continents or the world as a whole.
is a thrilling story of one of such influential but utterly invisible architects named Dr. BukarUsman. This gripping autobiography starts by narrating a captivating tale of a Babur/Bura speaker born at a time the inhabitants of his northeastern birthplace Biu town were still sharing with hyenas the neighborhood hills and plateaus surrounding their agrarian village. The hyenas, as the narrator would recall, were then living in the nearby hideouts in the mountains sitting by the foot of their huts and farms.
The boy Bukar, like most of the few school going children of his generation, was not enrolled in Western education by his parents. Rather, he was “arrested” in 1951 by a man “wearing a dull, multi-coloured gown” (25). The brave boy showed no fear or resistance to the strange man who picked him on the street while he was playing. Eventually, the man turned out not to be a kidnapper, but one of the emir’s messengers taking to the palace children old enough to enroll in school. The man immediately arraigned this boy before his royal majesty. And the emir wasted no time instructing that Bukar and one other boy named MammanTukshil be taken to school. And “nobody sought the permission of my parents nor was that required” (26). Since the emir’s power was absolute, the boy Bukar and the other boy were straightaway taken to school. It was that very singular royal instruction that set him off on the path of a new beginning— a beginning that culminated into a glorious public service life to the adult Bukar Usman decades after his life at the King’s College, Lagos (57-66) and graduating from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. (67). It is not out of place to note that, at that material time Bukar was first taken to primary school, in the Muslim northern Nigeria, parents not only preferred enrolling their children into Qur’anic schools, but considered Western education as a serious taboo, partly out of fear of the activities of foreign missionaries in most of the major traditional African societies. The Western schools, to the Muslim natives were traps set for the new converts to the Whiteman’s religion.
Hatching Hopes is a true-life story segmented into twenty chapters. In each chapter, the storyteller offers detailed accounts of his life. From chapter one titled “Biu”, one reads about “the plateau among the plain lands of Borno” (p.1). One also sees the picture of a school boy taught not only the Whiteman’s alphabets, but trained on proper “personal hygiene” not only because a team of health inspectors from the regional administrative headquarter Kaduna regularly visited their school, but because teachers then discharged their duties more diligently. (29). In chapter three: “Biu Routes,” the narrator recalls his many exciting journeys outside Biu to Maiduguri, and plying the roads linking Biu with other towns helped his young mind appreciate the beauty of nature not minding whether “the heaven has fallen” as native Biu people put it upon hearing news of the demise of their king (42). Chapter four subtitled, “Biu Roots” discusses the beauty of Biu’s “arts and culture” with graphic details and deftness (44). Chapter seven which runs from pp.70-78 captures the author’s exploits in sports as an outstanding athlete during his youthful school days.
“Civil Service Destiny” is the title of chapter nine in which the reader would come to the inevitable conclusion that the storyteller was quite a lucky civil servant not just for enjoying a steady rise from 3rd Class Clerk position in 1965 to the post of a permanent secretary in the presidency, the position from which he meritoriously retired in 1999. He is truly blessed, being regarded as one of his country’s finest, gifted and well-informed public servant who worked in different ministries and the cabinet office or the presidency with some of the best hands in Nigeria’s federal civil service. It was his destiny to tap from the wealth of knowledge and experience of the likes of Prince Solomon Akenzua, P.C. Asiodu, M.O. Feyide, F.R.A. Marinho, Abdul-Azeez Atta, C.O. Lawson, Allison Ayida, A.L.Ciroma, Grey A.E.Longe, Shehu Musa, OluFalae, Aliyu Mohammed, Mustapha Umara, Aminu Saleh, Gidado Idris, S.B.Agodo and many other seasoned public servants most of whom rose to the pinnacle of their careers as heads of service and secretaries to the government of the federation before their retirements (89). The narrator was either a witness to or an active player in all the reforms or policies of all the governments from Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to General Abdulsalami Abubakar who finally handed over power to civilian government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in May, 1999. This rich book, to say the least, is an invaluable reference material that chronicles not only the story of Nigeria’s public service, but also with mastery and dexterity aptly captures the country’s history and rich cultural diversity not forgetting its chequered socio-political life especially during it’s dark days of military juntas. For instance, in the book, the author, who was at the Cabinet Office (The Presidency) since 1972, highlights how the People’s Bank of Nigeria was conceived and the role he played (141). Still in this book, one reads about the strategy and skills involved in negotiations with NLC, ASUU, NUPENG and PENGASSAN from an active player on the side of FG during the heightened days of many strikes that rocked the nation.
Being an autobiography, the author takes the reader through all the various segments of his fascinating life in one chapter or the other. For instance, one reads about his “early role models”(115), his “Lagos lifestyle” (123), his days working at the “Cabinet office” (133), his “public interactions” (147), his “family beginnings” (153), “entrepreneurial spirit” (167) and “marital healing” (171). At home and at the regional level, the narrator shares with a reader his roles in rights campaign and Nigeria’s leading role in watering the tree of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) in 1996 which he served as a delegate (179). While in chapter nineteen, the author invites the reader to read about his “different feast” (185) and in chapter twenty, he reveals to the reader his journey “back to the familiar” serving in numerous Presidential panels and committees such as Presidential Panel on National Security (193). And the book which opens with “about the author” on page 7 and “notes on the second edition” on page 9, concludes with a “postscript” (201), “second edition postscript” (207), “appendix”(213) and index” (269).
In the final analysis, this is a book about Bukar Usman and about Nigeria’s journey to democracy and its leading role to bring lasting peace and democracy in Africa from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the first civilian leader of Nigeria to its last military president General Abubakar Abdulsalami days when the author finally exited the scene into a new life in retirement. This is a rich material for students and scholars interested in public service, politics and history of Nigeria.
Khalid Imam, a Nigerian, teacher, poet and playwright, coordinates the All Poets Network (PIN). He was among the ten finest Nigerian writers selected by the Wole Soyinka Foundation in 2018 to participate at the SAIL Program in Lebanon. Imam, is the immediate past Vice Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors Kano State Branch. Khalid Imam has authored over a dozen books.