BONGEL: A chat with Maryam Bobi

Maryam Bobi talks about her novella, BONGEL, with Praxis Magazine’s Saddiq Dzukogi.

Saddiq Dzukogi in a conversation with Maryam Bobi, whose novella, Bongel has just been released. She speaks about her art and how she has come to fall in love with writing.

Saddiq Dzukogi: Bongel is like the most anticipated book from northern Nigeria. How does it feel to finally have it out?

Maryam Bobi: The feeling is unexplainable, but I can compare it to the feelings a mother has looking at her new born child after years of being barren.

SD: I am curious as to why it took several years to have it out, even when there were rumours of publication a few years back. What really happened?

MB: Yes, it took several years. It is my first work which I wrote years back, and with every book I read and with every encounter I have with older writers, I learn a lot and feel the need to re-work the story. I used this story to learn and build myself. Ahmed Maiwada and BM Dzukogi believed in the story and used it to make me a better writer. Yes, it was published in 2013 by Mazariyya; but like I mentioned earlier, after seeing the book, I felt it wasn’t ripe for the audience. I discussed with Ahmed Maiwada. Again he agreed and gave me his blessings to re-work Bongel. I looked at the work with a mature mind and consulted with my friends (Paul, Saddiq and Halima). They encouraged me to work on it again, and here it is after about 8 years.

SD: A lot of early praises have been pouring in from writers across the country. Do you think the book is going to do well in the market?

MB: I am optimistic it will insha Allah. I worked hard and invested a lot in the work and believe it won’t go in vain.

SD: What do you think you have done differently, that writers your age haven’t?

MB: I think I have been able to train myself patiently and brew my work to satisfaction without rush. I never got tired of re-writing the story, effecting corrections and taking care of criticisms observed by the older writers. A lot of writers my age will just want to publish; they are impatient to take corrections from those who have been in the art for a longer time. I accept constructive criticisms irrespective of who is giving them.

SD: I want to ask how you started writing; is it ok to ask?

MB: (Laugh) Of course, you can ask.

SD: All right then, what is the story of the beginning in this exciting journey?

MB: I love reading a lot from my early years. I borrow a lot of story books from friends and from the school library. I became Assistant Library Prefect in primary 5. Then I met BM Dzukogi during my early years in Hill-Top Model School. I have read his books and I admire him a lot. I spend most of my free time with him, listening to his inspiring words and on one of such days; I walked up to him and said these words: “I want to be a writer like you.” He smiled and said, “you can be.” I ran off, got an exercise book and started scribbling the story of Bongel.

SD: What is the process of writing like for you?

MB: It all depends on how the story comes. Sometimes, a whole storyline comes and I write it out, go over it, give other writers to have a look at it and effect their observations. Some other stories come in bits, so I pen down the bits, then put them together and start the editing.

SD: I learnt that you got selected for the Farafina Workshop in 2013, and you didn’t go, why?

MB:  That’s true. I got selected to attend the Farafina Workshop, and I looked forward to participating but my mum said no. She was scared of letting me travel alone to Lagos and unfortunately for me I was the only person from Minna. In life, we make certain sacrifices to step up to other opportunities. I sacrificed the Farafina Workshop to give my mum the benefit of doubt, that despite my exposure, she could still mould me. That one thing I did made her realise a lot of things. I am sure she wouldn’t mind letting me go anywhere now.

SD: Is Bongel a story of personal interest to you? I mean, is the writer telling her own story?

MB: (Laugh). It is of personal interest to me, but it’s not a story about me – I am still single (laughs). I lost a friend to early marriage in primary four (she got married and I have not heard from her again). I come from a part of the world where girls are married out at a very tender age. My cousins are still being married off as kids. Some of these girls have dreams, and I have watched these dreams go down the drain. I researched on the disadvantages of early marriage, and that was what I capitalised on in the story of Bongel.

SD: What do you expect of your contemporaries?

MB: The task ahead of us is not an easy one. We are victims of a degenerating society; we must strive to remain sane and morally upright to build a society fit for all. We must use our pen as a tool for regeneration.

SD: Are there writers you admire?

MB: Yes, I admire Mariama Ba, Zainab Alkali, the late Abubakar Gimba, Jeffery Archer and John Grisham.

SD: Chimamanda Adichie is on a crusade of liberating women, through her strong feminism campaigns. What do you think necessitated this? Do you think it is a relevant cause?

MB: I think it is because of her belief that women are subdued by men. I have listened to her speak, and I feel she is angered by the special attention and privilege given to men. Personally, I don’t subscribe to that: God created us differently and as from creation, women were created from the ribs of men, and it is stated in both books. The Qur’an reads, “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means.” And the bible reads, “Wives, submit yourself to your husbands.” So for me, the whole idea of feminism is faulty.

SD: What do you think is the most important tool to liberate women from the dominance of men, in the society?

MB: Education. It is only through education that women can understand the role they can play in the society and hence attain enviable positions in the society.

SD: What is this Minna Literary Series? Could you explain it for the benefit of those who haven’t heard of it?

MB: Minna Literary Series is an initiative of BM Dzukogi through the Niger State Book and other Intellectual Resource Development Agency (NS-BIREDA) where writers based in Minna are published with the government taking responsibility of 70-100% cost of production. So far, five titles (Sunbeams and Shadows by Saddiq M. Dzukogi; Saint Sha’ade by Paul T. Liam; Thirst by Fodio Ahmed; Bongel by Maryam Bobi; EWA by Deborah Oluniran; and Fire on the Tip of Ice by Halima Aliyu) have been published, and several others are on the way. The idea is to support writers who have completed works but are not able to publish them to do so.

SD: What else should we expect from you?

MB: Great things!

Maryam is a Minna based writer who has attended a number of literary workshops across Nigeria including ANA/Atiku workshop on Children Literature, 1st Northern Writers Summit and ANA International Conventions. She mentors creative writing at the HilltopArts Center, Minna. Her short stories have been featured in ‘Shadows’ an anthology of short stories and ANA Review.

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