Two weeks to the burial of Dr. Yima Sen, another male member of the defunct Women in Nigeria, (WIN) is dead. He is Dr. Salihu Bappa of the Department of English at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He is scheduled to be buried Saturday, October 31st, 2020 in Zaria.
His is the passage of one of the academics who gave Theatre Arts at Ahmadu Bello University its radical and guerrilla flavour. A product of the University of Ibadan and a student of Wole Soyinka, Dr. Bappa was, in fact, with the Nobel Laurete in Stockholm, Sweden when Soyinka collected his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.
Before he gained admission to the then Jos Campus of the University of Ibadan and the subsequent transfer to heartland Ibadan, he attended Gindiri Boys High School, Jos. It was along with Tanimu Abubakar, one of the most solid remaining literary theorists in contemporary Nigeria. Dr Bappa did his graduate studies in the sub-Department of Drama at ABU, Zaria where he entered academia and remained for the rest of his life.
Professor Jibrin Ibrahim who is his contemporary in those years in Zaria told Intervention how seriously Dr. Bappa took propagating popular theatre, especially in the small peasant settlement called Bomo near Samaru Campus of ABU, Zaria. Bomo was the ground for operationalising Hausa traditional theatre packaged under the framework of “Kallonkowa” within the larger idea of community theatre which has been part and parcel of the Theatre Arts academic programme in Zaria.
Prof Tanimu Abubakar, Prof Ahmed Babajo and Prof Umar Buratai who were late Bappa’s colleagues in the Department of English, ABU, Zaria added, among others, how he acted in both ‘Cockcrow at Dawn’ as well as in ‘Magana Jari Ce’, the collection of stories in Hausa which the NTA was producing but in English.
The three academic colleagues disclosed how Dr. Bappa’s specialisation was in performance, not in essays or books as such. It is not surprising that the academic essay that came up against his name in a quick search is a 1981 essay titled “The Maska Project: drama work for Adult Educators”. He was a judge of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (ANA) Literary Prizes as late as 2017.
In the tendency schisms which characterised the Ahmadu Bello University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, (FASS) in the 1980s, he was in the Zaria Group which was ideologically opposed to the PRP ideologues led by the equally late Dr. Bala Usman. The now defunct Zaria Group did not think the People’s Redemption Party, (PRP) or the politics of the Bala Brought Ups, (BBU) followed correct theoretical cum doctrinal lines and that it was bound to be consumed by the contradictions of such approach to politics. But that was in the early 1980s before the coup against the Shagari regime in 1983.
As a person, he is generally described as a gracious soul. Again, Prof Jibrin Ibrahim was spot on in describing him as very jovial, extremely active and always in a hurry. The dramatist in him could never be missed. Dr. Bappa retired from the services of the university about six months ago but remained in Zaria.
His last four years have been one of a health challenge, the story of which must be told for the lessons in it for the living even as that goes against the journalistic principle of not disclosing anyone’s medical details. A heart or heart related ailment troubled him. He had been to Egypt, Dubai and India for medical attention. In all these places, doctors declined to carry out any operation on him because they thought he would not survive it. It was a US based Nigerian Professor of Medicine who established a medical facility somewhere in Southwestern Nigeria that eventually carried out the operation.
Authoritative sources close to the process told Intervention he was told point blank that he had just 10% chance of surviving the operation. On the other hand, he had no more than three days to live if he chose not to undergo the operation.
He chose to undergo the operation. Miraculously, he survived it, or it was successful although he was told he was unlikely to live longer than four years thereafter. That is almost exactly what has happened.
In other words, Dr. Bappa is a message to Nigerians in many respects. One, Originating from Jos, educated in Ibadan and a student of our own W. S, (Europe has her own W. S in William Shakespeare while Africa has its own W.S in Wole Soyinka), Bappa taught and lived in Zaria. Two, one of the most active and restless souls in his adult life came to confront the sort of medical challenges he confronted in the evening of his life. That draws attention to the mystery of life. Third, he is a message in how we would not need to embark on medical tourism if we could be less careless as a nation to put this house in order.
Dr. Bappa was between 65/66 at death, leaving behind seven children, four boys and three girls.