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Last Updated on September 9, 2018 by Memorila
Abubakar Gimba’s Witnesses to Tears tackles issues revolving around morality and uprightness in the human society and there are lessons to be learnt from it, Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy writes
Perhaps, no writer has shown more concern for the younger and future generations of Africans as Abubakar Gimba, and if any measures close to him, it would be Chukwuemeka Ike. Gimba works are didactic as they expose the corruption, greed, and evil that has come to characterize our society. His Trails of Sacrifice captures ethnic hatred and issues of moral standing among young people. Witnesses to Tears exposes our dirty moral fabric to everyone’s gazes and shows how society has come to accept the unacceptable, abnormal, and unjust as acceptable, normal, and as how things are done. No one complains or demand for a change in the status quo, everyone just follows and move on with things.
Standing outside it and carrying out a cross-examination, it all seems crazy yet it is a craze that we all have been part of. What is really happening to the human society? Are the changes in time affecting human character also or is our generation seeing things in a different light? Whatever happens to the values of humanity, values of honesty, dignity, discipline, hard work, uprightness, sympathy, and goodness? Are they eroding with time or are these values no more relevant in modern human societies? Abubakar Gimba’s Witnesses to Tears seems to ask these questions without making it obvious by presenting a story that allows us to mirror ourselves for the purpose of a cross-examination.
When Mr. Anas (a widower whose ideals of honesty and discipline is never compromised) meets Lahab (a younger teacher who assists his daughter to get home by giving her a lift), he seems to have seen a younger version of himself in Lahab. The similarities in their lives would become even more poignant when Lahab, like Anas, loses his wife during child labour with the only difference between them being that in Anas’ case, the child survives and grows up to become his only child and beloved daughter, Hussaina, while Lahab loses both mother and child.
Perhaps seeing a bit of her father in young Lahab also, Hussaina becomes enamored with the young teacher and they quickly fall in love and get married months after the demise of Lahab’s first wife. Anas finds it difficult to bless the marriage, something about Lahab bothers him, his image of Lahab as a young person who understands the values of modesty, uprightness, discipline and honesty have been tainted by a singular act of giving bribe, albeit to save his (Anas) neck from unjust police persecution. He does not feel comfortable with the act and he begins to develop a second thought about his prospective son-in-law. However, he could not deny his daughter her happiness and he allows the marriage.
Anas dies soon after the marriage and his reputation as one of the very rare few who are discipline and stand upright in a society that has lost its moral compass rises to the high heavens even in death. Many who had known him or had dealings with him in the past all had good words for him and condolences poured into the home of his daughter and her husband from all corners and walks of life. The popularity of Anas in death helps Lahab to get a promotion to the position of the acting vice-principal, a position through which Lahab enriches himself employing nefarious and illicit means of receiving bribes, stealing, and doctoring the books, including framing up his messenger. Lahab becomes so stinkingly rich that he becomes an embarrassment to the educational board, for how else does a civil servant of Lahab’s level explains off such stupendous wealth but to accept that he has been syphoning funds meant for other purposes.
Lahab is soon transferred to another school and seeing the handwriting on the wall, he quickly resigns and dovetails into business, in tandem with the advice of his trusted friend and sorcerer, Dr. Saahir. Soon after comes a rapid downturn in Lahab’s erstwhile booming businesses, he runs to his trusted friend and sorcerer to seek help but Dr. Saahir consults his oracle and tells Lahab that a sacrifice would be required, it would be a sacrifice of someone dear to both of them (Lahab and Saahir) and they would both end up as witnesses to tears.
What could this sacrifice be? Would it fail or become a success? And would the family of Lahab remain the same after this sacrifice? The answers to these questions lie at the beginning and end of the novel, make them a quest of them and find the book.
Gimba seems to show us how easy it is for a finger stained with oil to stain other fingers, with one evil comes many others. For instance, Lahab pilfers a substantial amount of the school fees deposited in his care and frames the messenger by setting a trap for him; Lahab is then forced to lie and swear to defend himself, and have the messenger sent to jail. Dr. Saahir is another good example of this; in an attempt to cover up one murder and ensure that no one recognises him when he takes Hussaina to the hospital, he commits many more murders.
Gimba shows to us the dirty state of our moral fabric, we live in a society where drunk policemen feel they can impose their will on others and frame innocent people, we live in a society that has come to accept bribery and corruption as the norm, we live in a society where everyone seems to have been bitten by the bug of the ‘get rich syndrome’, we live in a society characterised by ritual killings and a lack of contentment leading to vaulting ambition. Gimba seems to say to us that if things remain the way they are, the possibility of a boomerang might not be ruled out, we may all soon become witnesses to tears. We should read of the story of Lahab and make a change for the better.
On the story’s construction, the idea of writing the story in media res gives life to the story for by holding us under suspense, the writer uses flashback to tell the story. Without the flashback, the story, if told in a chronological order, might have been quite boring. The writer is also good with descriptions for minute details which might have eluded a casual observer are noted by him in the description of both his characters and settings. Using Mr. Anas as a symbol of the old ways and as a foil to the character of Lahab is quite clever, but killing him off in such an ugly manner is horrible and unsettling for me. His, not Lahab’s, seems to be the greatest tragedy. Also, presenting Lahab initially as a gentleman only to later hint us of his dubious mien does not flow well.
But there is that which I am yet to understand about Gimba, why does he seem to abhor local colours? In his Trails of Sacrifice, Gimba captures the rippling after-effects of the Nigeria Biafran Civil War but fails to mention the country’s name or even names of places associated with Nigeria. Rather, he creates imaginary names of places and even currency for what is glaringly a Nigerian story, or perhaps African. Witnesses to Tears also has its setting in northern Nigeria but Gimba fails to capture the speech mannerism of a northerner. Here, I do not just refer to accent but certain speech markers which reflect the northern religious and socio-cultural cum economic landscape. For instance, the world “Allah” appeared for the first time far into the fifth chapter, Gimba had hitherto favoured the use of the word “God” making the work read like a translation. Even Nigeria appeared much later, when the writer could no more afford to leave it out, names of places are not the same as the ones we know but are relatable. Why does Gimba do this? Maybe to divorce his story from any ethnic background and let his reader tackle the issues he has brought to the table without seeing them as problems peculiar to certain sects or group of people since greed, corruption, and criminal acts are universal anathemas of most human societies.
In the story’s narration, we wonder what happens to Hussaina after the arrest of Lahab, I also do not understand why Saahir’s oracle tells him a blood relation of Lahab or someone close is to be sacrificed yet Saahir goes out seeking a random child, just as I do not understand the essence of having Lahab go on pilgrimage to Mecca while the deed is carried out, he could as well have been around.
One peculiar thing about the novel is that it seems to be idealistic and futuristic in its setting, the novel describes Khartoum Hospital as a government run hospital with sophisticated technological equipment, the use of telephones, an efficient transport system are also worthy of note. Until much later in the novel, I had been wondering if Gimba’s setting was anywhere in Africa. The introduction of the police saga, and corrupt practices of Lahab and his cohort however douse such doubts. But if anything, I think Gimba wants us to see how a good and efficient society should run as against a bad one.
Nonetheless, Abubakar Gimba’s Witnesses to Tears tackles issues revolving around morality and uprightness in the human society and there is a deluge of lessons to be learnt from it, bad friends corrupt good manners, we must learn to be content with what we have and shun avarice, one act of evil is often the gateway to many others, no society thrives where there is an instituted system of bribery and corruption, and for every evil act, there surely will come a day of reckoning.
Abubakar Gimba’s art is not of pleasure, like the great educator which he himself was, the writer sees the art of writing and telling stories as a way of educating young minds, correcting the moral ills in the society, and helping to create a conscientious generation of young people who would retain and pass on the good qualities and values of humanity. And this is what his Witnesses to Tears has come to stand for.
Yes, I think you should read the novel and thank you for reading this review.
© Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy 2018
Read Eazy’s reviews on Memorila every Saturdays!