Aminu S. Muhammad discusses his writing and estate surveying with AWAAL GATA.
How and when did you start writing?
My first attempt at writing came quite early, when I was around 10yrs old and still in primary school.
My father was a civil servant who, daily, bought and brought home newspapers that formed my earliest appetite for reading. Each time he dropped a newspaper after reading it, I picked it to read. He noticed my love for reading and soon began to buy me children’s story books and magazines. I was also attracted to reading classic novels and books of Abubakar Gimba that my brother and father owned. Again, I benefited from my neighbours library where I remember reading my first comic strip, the ‘Adventures of Tintin’ series.
Getting to read this wide in my early years, naturally led me to start scribbling poems and stories which I was sending to children pages of newspapers and magazines in Lagos.
I continued with this tradition while in secondary school such that as I was leaving the secondary school at seventeen, I had my draft of a novel and numerous stories, poems, and news reports in the traditional media.
Between the time you started and today, how would you describe your achievements? Are you where you envisaged at the time you started?
I can say I have attained some modest achievements. These include two published children’s works (poetry and fiction), numerous publications in online and traditional media as well as anthologies.
Over the years, I have also been engaged in Arts promotion as the Founder/Curator of The Arts-Muse Fair which is a platform that promotes contemporary African Arts and creatives.
I am not where I wished to be yet. I write across the three genres of poetry, fiction, and drama. I want to have more of my poetry and fiction published as books. I also want to have my drama scripts performed and subsequently published.
So, I still have a lot more to work on and produce before I could say I have fulfilled my dreams as a writer.
Which were the books you were consuming in your formative years and how did they influence you? Do you still those writers with the same eye?
Growing up, I read up every printed material that came my way without discrimination so long as the writing captivated me. I read from my father’s modest home library of mostly professional, religious and biographical works. I also fed on some western classical books my late brother had from his days at Government College Keffi.
But, I was ultimately drawn to creative fiction through the Macmillan Pacesetters series which published Nigerian writers, The African Writers Series which published African writers as well as the books of James Hardley Chase. A combination of these varied experiences of reading different writers in their different styles greatly influenced my thoughts and writings.
And yes, I still regard those writers with the same esteem I had for them when I first encountered their works.
How did reading make you a writer?
The wide exposure I got from reading of different cultures, religions and experiences as mine certainly made me a writer. One gets inspired to want to write too after getting educated, entertained or even rattled by works of other writers.
What do you want to achieve with your writing?
I used to feel my writing, and indeed all writings could drastically change society. And this is actually a tall, even far-fetched dream. So, I am just content with telling my own stories that affected me deep enough that I want to share them with the public in the hope that some people may learn a few new things or find them relatable and true of their own experiences.
Do you think literature has the power of influencing a nation’s socio-politics and economy? How do you want your oeuvres to reflect these?
Every word, written or verbalized has the power to move the human mind and limbs to action. Literature possesses a lot of this power. When written deeply, it’s impact could be far-reaching. All impactful literature work by first awakening the mind of the reader and subsequently moves them to action. When it captures the deep feeling of a people, their fears and hopes, literature can truly influence our socio-political and economic thoughts. We saw how African literature worked from the early 20th century to fight the colonization of African countries. As for me, I want my work to reflect deep human stories. These may be social, political or economic.
How do you jostle between estate agency and writing? Do they influence one another or would you say they encroach on one another at times?
My major occupation as an Estate Surveyor and Valuer does not affect my other vocation as a writer and Arts Administrator much. To each, I give its time and attention. They complement each other in an interesting way. The income from my Real Estate/Marketing practice majorly sustains my body while my writing and general Arts work soothes and satisfies my creative mind and soul. So, they work perfectly well as a pair to keep my body and soul together. They influence each other in positive ways by giving me great inspirations and insights to deeply understanding and expressing the other.
You are also into photography in recent times; what inspired it and what do you want to achieve with it?
I have always been fascinated by visual arts as much as literature. In my pre-teen years I dabbled into drawing sketches but didn’t take it up further. Years later the fascination seems to have shifted to photography where I found myself getting inspired to write, especially poems, by just looking at images of nature and humans. I get a sort of deep connection with the objects in an image that I get inspired to produce, out of it, other forms of arts like poetry and fiction/nonfiction. So in photography, I just found another way of telling stories, visually. So far, I am liking it.
How would you assess contemporary Nigerian writers and their work? Do you think they have evolved or are there loopholes that should be fixed to foster optimization?
Contemporary Nigerian writers have a lot going well for them. The internet has made access to materials and resources easy for us. We are utilizing it well to grow our craft and produce quality works. The ability for easy cross-cultural and inter-generational collaboration amongst creatives have seen many contemporary writers produce great works that are gaining national and global attention. It’s easier to write and get published today compared to decades past.
What have been your literary and artistic challenges?
I would say the demand of making a sustainable living in Nigeria. Living on writing alone does not generally pay. Some arts projects I have worked on or wish to work on require some resources that does not come from the art sphere. The Minna Book and Arts Festival (Minna-BAF) easily comes to mind. After holding a very successful maiden edition in 2018, it’s been challenging to have another one due to challenges of resources. However, my co-founder and I are working to have a 2022 or 2023 edition of the Minna-BAF.
What are you working on now and what should the world expect from you soon ?
For many years now, I have been working on a drama script ‘The Flight to Abyssinia’ which is a historical play that documents the migration of Muslims from Arabia to seek refuge in the Christian land Abyssinia, Africa. I have been enamoured of this story since I encountered it decades ago. It speaks to religious tolerance and harmony against oppression that I feel we badly need in Nigeria. I have the script ready but I wish to have it performed first before a critical audience before it is published. This may come this year or in 2023.