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Nigerians in History: Ali Akilu

Birth and Background

Alhaji Dr. Aliyu Akilu M.F.R, also known as Mallam Akilu Aliyu or Aqilu Aliyu was a Nigerian poet, writer, scholar, politician and one of the greatest Hausa poets of the twentieth century. Aliyu was born in 1918 in Jega (in a town called Kyarmi), in present-day Kebbi State. For his early education, he was trained in a Quranic school in Kano, under the Tijaniyya brotherhood, and later went to Borno to study under prominent Islamic scholars from the northeastern part of the country. He was an erudite poet who wrote in Hausa and Arabic, and his recitals drew great acclaim among many Hausa speakers. He started writing Arabic poems in the 1930s.


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Mallam Akilu spent most of his life in Kano, a place he went as an Islamic student in his teens. He was in Maiduguri for a few decades before returning to Kano where he lived till his death. He lived as an Islamic teacher, a tailor and a poet (poetry was a medium through which he taught thousands of invisible students). He established and taught in Islamic schools in Maiduguri and Azare.

Aliyu Akilu: Poet, Poetic, Protagonist

Mallam Akilu’s aptitude in poetry began to show while he was only a teenager. In an interview with Radio Nigeria, Kaduna in 1966, the poet said that he started composing in Arabic even before venturing into Hausa poetry. As at the time of the interview, he had over seven hundred poems to his credit some of which had up to 300 verses. In fact, he composed one with a thousand verses!

Another thing that further earned the poet respect was his acceptance of modernity. This could be seen in the flexibility of his poetry which touches almost all spheres of human existence like religion, occupation, leisure, nature, education, et cetera. One of the topics that attracted Mallam Akilu’s attention most was education. In fact, some verses from his famous poem, “Kadaura Babbar Inuwa”, serve as the signature tune for VOA Hausa Service’s educational program, “Ilimi Garkuwar Dan’adam”. In that same poem, he encouraged the youth to be engaged in professions like medicine, law, teaching, journalism, banking and others.

These are some lines from a poem:

“Wannan dai shine hoto na (this here, is my picture)

Wanda idonku yake kallo na (which your eyes are beholding)

Bayan na tafi gun Sarkina (after i am gone to my King)

Za ku tuna ni watan wata rana (you will remember me sometime, someday)

Ko wani ya yi kiran sunana (or if someone mentions my name)

Sai ku cane Allah ya jikaina (you should say, may God grant him eternal rest)

Ya Allah sa ku yi juyayina (God will make you remember me)

Har ku yi min addu’a bayana; (and you will pray for me afterwards)

Amin na roke ku zumaina (Amen, i make a plea of you all)

Allah dai ya cikan fatana.”(may God grant my wishes)

The above poetic lines were what Akilu Aliyu wrote under his photograph in Fasaha Akiliya, a collection of some of his poems in contribution to Hausa poetry in quantity and quality. To the best of this writer’s knowledge, is yet to be surpassed.


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The poet was most revered by fellow Hausa literati who considered him a senior for his exceptional poetic power. Professor Neil Skinner, the renowned Hausa scholar, in his book, An Anthology of Hausa Literature, described Mallam Akilu as “vigorous and highly productive poet.” Sheikh Na’ibi Suleiman Wali, an Islamic scholar and excellent bilingual poet (Arabic and Hausa), called the late poet a fasihi – a Hausanised Arabic word meaning ‘talented’. Alhaji Mudi Sipikin also held the poet in high esteem. When Alhaji Shehu Shagari was in power (he is also a poet, remember Wakar Nijeriya), he invited fellow Hausa poets to Argungu and honoured them and of course Mallam Akilu was among them. Mallam Akilu was also a recipient of a national honour as well as an honorary doctorate degree from Bayero University, Kano. Hamisu Muhammad Gumel said “there could hardly be a Hausa poet with greater patriotic zeal and sense of belonging.”

Popular Songs Include: Matan Aure, Dan Gata, ‘Yar Gagara, Hausa Mai Ban Haushi, Maza mamugunta, Wakar Najeriya, Cuta ba mutuwa ba.

He died on October 19th, 1999.

Sources:

Linguistics.ucla.edu

Wikipedia

Gikandi, S. (2003). Encyclopedia of African Literature. Taylor & Francis. p. 25.

Skinner, N. (1980). An Anthology of Hausa Literature in Translation. Northern Nigerian Publishing Company.

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Jeremiah Aluwong

Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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