IZZIA AHMAD: WORKER IN THE MINISTRY OF POETRY
Do you know how to know? When known can you expressively put back together a broken knowledge? Who among us is courageously faithful to the continuous conversion from one thought to another and from one experience to another?
The knowledge which encompasses thought and experience dances the heart to glorious spaces. These are the spaces that Izzia Ahmad -- Poet, Musician, Mystic-dared to inhabit.
Artistic and existential challenges got him charged inspirationally. He taught me how to woo poems. He taught me how to bear physical hunger with grace. He taught me how to question authority -- of whatever kind - diligently. He tried teaching me how to play the guitar but was frustrated by my inability to sit in one place for long.
Yes, he was my teacher. And my friend: we dipped in and out of churches and nightclubs in Lagos, Minna, Kaduna, and Ibadan. We danced, we sang, we argued, we quarrelled. We shared books. He introduced me to the writings of Marvin Peake. I introduced him to the works of Paul Celan. He brought the music of Willy Nelson to me. I gave him the music of Afam Ogbuotobo.
Seasides and beaches were also places we liked spending time in. Many of our conversations had the sounds of waves as background music. I remember stopping over once at a bar in Masha Junction in Surulere, Lagos, a few minutes to midnight in January 1990 with Sanya Osha and Izzia. We got yakking about political poetry, novel writing, love, women…
"Why do poets get emotional when a discussion turns to poetry?" I asked.
" It's because they think it is sacred" replied Izzia.
As another war in the Gulf looms, I recall Izzia's statements in Room 71 of the Faculty of Arts in the University of Ibadan on Wednesday night January 23 1991 during a reading tagged "Poetry For Peace" Pacing round a lectern and intermittently eyeing his audience, he lectured:
"What is happening in the Gulf at this time is something that began in the hearts of individuals. A manifestation of individual disorder...War is not only when nations rise against each other. War is when a person is no longer at peace with himself. Hatred rises from fear. Fear rises from insecurity. There is war in the Gulf today because men are afraid of each other. But the Gulf war is first and foremost an economic war. Some things common to all men are selfishness, hatred and fear. When we begin to see ourselves as men and not as numbers, we can start to respect each other. Man has got to give up his heart of stone."
Isn't his message still apt for this perilous season?
Izzia Ahmad was a very complex but sincere person. Sitting on a grassed and flowered park in February 1990 in Lagos, he soberly held forth on his beginnings. He told me the story of his early life as a bricklayer and blanket weaver in Kano and Zaria before working as a clerk in Jos prior to his entrance into the university of Jos.
"One girl walked into my office and set up an explosion and two poems fell and my collection got finished" Izzia notified Eyakatang Udofia the poet when we visited the latter in his place near Lawanson Bus stop, Lagos. Udofia had asked him about the poetry volume (titled MY COEVAL) he has been working on.
A day to his resignation as copywriter in Grant Advertising Agency
(where he worked with Kunle Ajibade), he informed me: "There is going to be a PULLING OUT ceremony for me in the office tomorrow. My service chiefs are coming. I am not going to wear a necktie tomorrow."
He was visibly and gallantly happy. Happy? Of course, he would henceforth have the time to write his poems and short stories and face his publishing projects.
So, Izzia Ahmed is dead? Gone with his vitality, humour, generosity and boyish pranks? Born in 1960 and dead in 2003? I thank Obin'enu that made our paths cross. Izzia was a great blessing to me and to Nigeria, my trouble-prone country. May he go well.