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How a storyteller seeks achievement in writing: a conversation with Aliyu Jalal

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Aliyu Jalal is a storyteller, poet, journalist and copy editor. He also writes critical essays on various topics with a special interest in gender issues and national unity. His writings have appeared in various literary journals, blogs and newspapers. He is currently working on his first novel.

In this conversation, Aliyu talks to us about his storytelling, life, achievements, challenges, feminism and more.

Haneefah Abdulrahman: Good Morning, Aliyu. How are you writing and living?

Aliyu Jalal: Good morning. I expected you to start by asking about Nigeria first because it has a life of its own. Hahaha. But well, I’ve been coping with both writing and living. They’re part of each other for me.

Smiles, you mean more like the body and soul?

I can’t say because it’d be difficult for me to specify the soul and the body. But I know writing, in a way, gives my life some significant essence.

Oh, Great. The significance writing gives to your life is enough to bond. I am from Kogi, but I have been in Kaduna all my life, yet I can cope with both cultures. Where are you from? Where have you been in Nigeria, and how have you been able to cope with the diverse ethnic groups as a journalist and a writer?

I’m from Kaduna State. My hometown is Zaria. I’ve been to different states in Nigeria, including the southwest, where I spent a year, and I currently live in Abuja, where I also work.

It’s a core responsibility of every serious writer to cope with the ethnic diversity of Nigeria’s demographic. The very nature of creative writing requires one to be as open-minded as possible and be willing to understand reality from another person’s or culture’s point of view.

How many states have you covered in your writing? Do you agree that writers are ‘Must Explorers’?

I have been to only 14 of the Nigerian states in my life. But I wish to explore more states.

I don’t think it’s compulsory writers must explore. It depends on the particular interests of the writer in question. One can live all their life in a dungeon and still be able to write based on their experiences within that dungeon. In the end, the quality of the narration will matter.

However, exploring other cultures, beliefs, and orientations is a huge advantage for every writer. It exposes one to different realities that can be essential in the writing process.

Aliyu Jalal

What are your major areas of interest as a writer?

Life, generally, is my major area of interest. I’m an observer of human beings. I’m fascinated by so many things that others don’t seem to care about or notice. I think the complexity of the human condition is enormous, but bit by bit, we can write them into pieces that can build a significant whole. Our struggle as writers is the task to infuse some appeal, some glamour, some aesthetic, to the whole human drama. Ever wonder why you read a book about somebody struggling with so much pain and misery yet feel deeply inspired by their experience? It’s one example of the magic of pen.

From my research, you are also very interested in writing about gender. Why so?

Haha, yes, that’s true. I’m very interested in the gender conversation, especially the question of women in society. I grew up in a society where I feel women are not only somewhat subjugated and wrongly justified with culture or religion but are not allowed to be truly human beings in all the positive ways we are capable of being. By that, I mean the ability to explore and reach our fullest potentials and contribute significantly to society as members. Of course, things have been changing. Things are not as before, consequent of some inescapable social forces. But there’s a lot we must do. As a social member, I feel it’s strongly part of my responsibility to contribute to the struggle for that desperately necessary social progress. It’s about my convictions as a man, the calling of my conscience as a human being to want and recognize the need for fair, authentic and equal living conditions and opportunities for all members of society regardless of gender.

Can we call you a feminist or a womanist then? What’s your perception of these concepts?

I call myself a feminist because the concept is simpler for what I think of myself. I’ve read about womanism, and I understand that the concept tries to intersect other things into the subject of gender, which includes issues such as race. But I’ve never experienced racism. I grew up in Nigeria and still living there. Race, or being black, isn’t one of the things I consider as part of my social identity. I think of myself as a man among others. So the topic of gender is most relevant to me in this case. Feminism is about the equality of all genders in social, political and economic aspects of life. That’s what I aspire for in the world.

I watched a video where a man turned his wife and daughters into enslaved people. He let them do all the hard work that a man would traditionally do and calls himself a feminist, ‘What a man can do, a woman can do,” he said. He even ran away from an attack from hoodlums leaving his wife, calling it “feminism”. What would you say about this? Is this a misconception or what?

A lot of people don’t understand feminism. They see it as a black-and-white battle between men and women. That’s why men feel increasingly attacked by it and feel the need to prove it wrong. Of course, feminism isn’t seamlessly perfect. Like every ideology, it has its loopholes and contradictions, but most importantly, it also has its misconceptions.

Like the case of the man you just said, who treated his wife and daughters as “slaves,” who forced them to do heavy works because he’s a “feminist”, which is an intentional mockery of the term, but that’s because he fails to realize that above the subject of gender, there’s a more important subject: compassion.

There shouldn’t be the argument of rights in a true marital home unless one feels their right is attacked. What should be at the forefront is compassion. A wife must love and be compassionate towards her husband and be willing to make sacrifices for the family because she wants to. And the husband, on the other hand, should be willing to love, be compassionate, and make sacrifices for his family because he wants to and because he feels the responsibility. Family is about building love and peace and also about making sacrifices. But when a man feels he has to force his wife or even daughters to do things they don’t want to do because he’s a feminist, that’s weak and mad. That’s not feminism. That’s madness.

Laughs. People need to do their research well before drawing wrong conclusions on ideologies. So, how did you start as a writer? What was your journey like, and how is your journey going?

I don’t know when I became a writer. Being a writer wasn’t an intentional decision I made. I just grew up finding myself reading and writing. But maybe reading was what influenced me. When you read some books and appreciate them, there’s that urge to also write. I’ve been writing for as long as I remember.

I remember during my JSS classes in secondary school, I used to gather my classmates to narrate the stories of the books I had read. I so much enjoyed doing it, and most of them enjoyed listening to me. Many people like to hear interesting stories but don’t have the patience to pick books and read, so they listen when they meet someone who can summarise them well.

I’ve two manuscripts. I started the first in 2015 but dumped it in 2019 because I was bored of the story and began another. I’ve made some progress into the current one, but work and other life engagements have not given me the chance to concentrate and finish it. But, I wish to be able to publish the two in the nearest future, not necessarily at once. But one after the other.

We are hoping to see those novels. As it is, I am curious already. Do you remember what your first writing was about?

I can’t remember my first writing. I’ve written several short stories since my secondary school days. Some of them at the back pages of my notebooks. Something interesting would happen in class, and I’d pick my pen and begin writing it down, so when I go home, I will show my mum and sister. It was really fun. I didn’t even have an idea that was writing. Just random storytelling. So I’ve been a storyteller for a long.

What are your greatest achievements as a writer? Are you satisfied yet?

My greatest achievement as a writer is the ability to write. That’s my greatest satisfaction. I derive enormous pleasure from the very act of writing, and most times, I think I write for myself to document my experiences, thoughts, beliefs, fears, etc., and the trajectory of my understanding of the world. You don’t want to see my diaries. They’re scary. Haha.

So to be able to do that itself is an achievement. And then whenever I share my writings with the public or some specific audiences or friends or family members, they appreciate it. That’s satisfying. I don’t measure my achievement as a writer from the number of contests I’ve won. This may shock you: I’ve never submitted my works to any writing contest. But it’s not that I think too big to do that. I feel it’s not necessary for me yet. I think what’s more important for me now, as a budding writer, is the sharpening of my writing skills. I believe good writing sells itself. Good writing promotes itself. And once you’re a good writer, the world will subsequently know you and your works. So the most important thing is to be excellent at what you do first. And that’s what I’ve been striving at.

Asides from writing, what other things or things do you think are part of your life’s purpose?

I want to be a good person. A kind person. I don’t know how to be, but I’m still experiencing life, learning, failing, regretting and trying again. I think the best purpose of life is to be good and live a decent life. To try as much as possible not to hurt other human beings or minimize the extent of that hurt. To try as much as possible not to harm anybody or to minimize the extent of that harm. To try to make life easier in some ways, if not for everybody, but a good number of the population or simply, even for at least one person. There are too many ways to achieve that, and I’m still learning what way best suits my uniqueness.

Smiles. You are a very genuine person. Lastly, what is your idea of a perfect world?

A perfect world is a world where we would not need the police, the army, the navy, the air force, the courts of law, and all those institutions tasked with controlling or managing negativities in human beings. A world where there’s absolute peace. But I don’t think that world is possible, especially considering the primal human nature and instincts. But it’s not outrageously irrational to dream of such a world. Sometimes we need to set extremely high standards to try and work towards something that, even if far less than perfect, is far less than bad.

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