Thursday Column with Mohammed Adamu
My first experience, in 1988 with Column-writing was almost contemporaneous with my baptismal as a reporter with just a Degree in English from the University of Sokoto and a spell on the Benue State NYSC ‘Orientation Broadcasting Service’. But what I had better than those was the naïve conviction that Sokoto had cooked in me the ideal literary averter, and that in fact I was already a keg of literary gunpowder waiting to explode. Only ‘time’, ‘space’ and ‘chance’ stood in the way of my readiness to begin to disarrange the dictionary by doing with ‘pen on paper’ what Picasso did with ‘brush on canvass’. As the British novelist Bulwer Lytton said “Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword”. Or as his Irish counterpart Seamus Heaney advised, a good writer’s pen must rest ‘between his finger and his thumb’, and “snug as a gun”. But it was not by chance that I did my Project on one the Works of William Shakespeare; a choice as suicidal as what Shakespeare himself describes as “taking a serpent by the tongue”. –especially considering the implication of almost having to digest most of the playwright’s 37 comedies, tragedies, tragic-comedies, history plays and 7 impregnable poems, of which the ‘Sonnets’, ‘Venus And Adonis’ and ‘Rape Of Lucrece’ are a Gordian knot. But thanks to my Indian Supervisor, Dr. Sanyal, I escaped with a ‘B’ even though I narrowly missed the ‘A’ that I needed to make an ‘Upper’.
The motivation to brave Shakespeare was itself from an adage in his ‘First Part of King Henry the Fourth’ where he says “The blood more stirs to rouse a lion than to start a hare”. Meaning, to achieve the highest delirium or to get the best kick, you need the most mind-bending substance or the most daring adventure. As Thesaurus-inspired writers would say: ‘why settle for less when you have in the ‘dictionary’ the Lord’s plenty?’ And although to Geoffrey Chaucer -author of ‘The Canterbury Tales’- belong the fatherhood of English literature, Shakespeare’s poetics had given me the greatest inspiration, to deliver words by weight, not by numbers. Shakespeare’s style gave the world of poetry a touch of the realistic humor that is need to survive the mechanistic tedium of raw poetry, even as he has put a touch of ‘existential surrealism’ to the weird cubism of Picasso on the rainbow of life. Let’s say I had the greatest undergrad fun indeed swimming in the yummy entrails of his Folios grasping the tapestries of ‘English literature’. In their book ‘Three Keys to Language’, Robert Estrick and Hans Sperber say that “Language is the armory of the human mind, and at once contains the trophies of its past and the weapons of its future conquests”.
My daring University adventure to hug the blue flame rather than settle for the luminous literary limelight, was informed by the high, even if infantile, hope that someday, if I would not deliver my words by the tonnage of a Shakespeare’s, at least I should, like the famed English poet-peer of the British Parliament, Lord Byron shape up to be ‘incapable of writing a dull sentence’ –a feat that Byron achieved because he would not “hunt down a tried metaphor”. And even after decades of journalism experience, I make no pretence to attaining the station of Byron; far be it from that, every time I return even to my most magnum of previous literary opuses, I see that I am still ‘very CAPABLE’ of ‘writing dull sentences’. But so too did some of the great literati of old. They had battled to avoid the malady of ‘dull metre and verse’. Walter Pater, the English essayist whose hedonistic brand of literature was said to have inspired the Irish-born writer Oscar Wilde, was so plain insipid sometimes, he was accused of having the “English language ‘lie in state’”. To pen well, said the U.S. poet A.R. Ammons, “One must write and rewrite till one writes it right”. And the French poet Nicolas Despreaux, narrating his experience, admits “Of every four words I write, I strike out three”. This has always been the path even of the masters. As the weapon of war requires regularly to be improved, so does the “armory of the human mind”, language, -to be regularly polished. There is no middle ground said the English poet John Sheffield, between writing and not writing well: “Learn to write well or not to write at all”.
In 1988 just after my Youth Service, I had still naively felt I was already a proud, Lord Byron in the making, freshly-toothed with some of the wisest molars of the greatest imaginable literary masters, from poets to playwrights, essayists to dramatists. I believed that I was already an upstart crow beautified by the rich colorful feathers of the Shakespeares and the Soyinkas, and of the Eliots and the Wathiongos. I was eager –pen at hand- to rock William Safire’s literary world of contrapuntal turnarounds; -yes that media world of exhilarating phraseology which hitherto I had only impatiently gleaned with bated breath, from my Sokoto Ivory Tower, as that famous quartet of Newswatch Magazine’s Dele Giwa (whose sister, Abibat, ironically was my study mate), Yakubu Mohammed, Dan Agbese and Ray Ekpu, had, with eclectic aplomb and with élan and with éclat, rocked the tabloids with some of the most inspiring metre and in verse. This was all the world that I had craved. This was the world I was determined to have.
And so I was hardly surprised, in 1988, when the then GM of Niger State’s Bi-Weekly Newsline Newspaper, the amiable Hassan Kolos of blessed memory and his work-personifying News Editor Solomon Nyaze –only minutes after I had dropped my first letter of application and was about to leave the premises- invited me in and rather mockingly said that the bombastic, self-extolling magniloquence that they had just read in my letter of application, had left them with no choice but to request that I take a seat at the newsroom’s intimidating round table, there and then to prove my rodomontade. And although I got my first job the very day that I submitted my first letter of application, sitting at that round table on a challenge to put my pen where my mouth was, was an excruciating mental and psychological ordeal I will never forget. I held my pen over some off cuts and for a very long time I starred at the paper as I mentally racked what to write about! And for the first time in my life I realized that I could do even with ‘dullest sentences’ –if Cadmus, the Greek god of writing would be kind enough to inspire them in me. It was the first time I would wonder why even ‘dull metre’ and ‘dry verse’ should not constitute another genre of literary endeavor; so that writers too may create a form of psycho-medical literature couched in the dullest sentences as therapeutic tranquilization maybe for insomniacs and for those with sleep-defying maladies. And it had to take another ten years before I would realize that such literature does in fact exist –‘boring literature’. There are in fact, ‘boring books’ deliberately written to battle insomnia.
In any case, my ordeal ended that day after I wrote –at a sitting- a piece titled ‘Of Heroes And Hero-worship’. And it would not only earn me my first job as a journalist, it got me my first Column to –‘The Countryside’; first in trust for Ambassador Udegwe who was proceeding on leave and thereafter mine to keep. It was why I said at the beginning that my first experience with Column-writing was almost contemporaneous with my baptismal as a reporter. And since then, in all the subsequent years of my journalism career –rising from a Correspondent to Editor in Concord Press of Nigeria, CPN and a Bureau Chief in its sister African Concord Magazine- my journalism practice had never been without a column or two to manage: from Newsline’s ‘Countryside’ to Concord’s ‘On The Beat’; from Sunday Concord’s ‘From The Presidential Villa’ to Peoples Daily’s ‘My Take’; from Sunday Vanguard’s ‘The Spectrum’ and now to the current ‘Mohammed Adamu On Thursday’ syndicated first by Peoples Daily, Vanguard and The Daily Times, and now by Peoples Daily, The Nation and The Daily Times newspapers.
It is this Column that I am resting today as I am about to go see if I can put a Wig on a Law Degree (LLB) which I had obtained some five years ago; even as I need some time also to quickly complete an academic Project for a Masters Degree in Law (LLM) which I must round up before the Law School commences in a few weeks from today. See you when I see you.