A prominent academic and theatre scholar at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria Dr. Salihu Bappa is dead. Malam Bappa is of the Department of English at the Ahmadu Bello University, 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. Salihu Bappa was, in fact, with the Nobel Laureate 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 disclosed 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 operationalizing 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. Salihu Bappa’s specialization 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 characterized 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 an approach to politics. But that was in the early 1980s before the coup against the Shagari regime in 1983.
As a person, Dr. Salihu Bappa 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.
According to The Intervention, 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.
According to Authoritative sources close to the process, he was told point-blank that he had just a 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. Salihu 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 lied in Zaria.
Two, one of the most active and restless soul 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.
According to The Department of Theatre and Performing Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, “Theatre Scholarship in Nigeria and indeed the world just lost a rare gem in Dr. Salihu Bappa. He was humility personified. A theatre scholar per excellence. Our living theatre library took a bow tonight! He lived for the service of humanity. A man with uncountable children and friends. He brought relief and smile to many faces. May Allah forgive all his shortcomings and grant him aljannah Firdausi.”
Malam Salihu Bappa will be buried according to Islamic rites today, Saturday 31st of October 2020 by 10:00am immediately after the janaiza prayers at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria Central mosque.
Dr. Bappa is survived by seven children, four boys, and three girls.
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