Some 50,000 years ago, settlements in te region now known as Minna first sprang. Over the preceding years, Islamic culture filtered into Minna by way of the ancient Saharan trade routes, and with the coming of the Europeans, Christianity followed, making Minna a peaceful co-religious and cosmopolitan city.
The thing with Minna is the different and various routes and entrances it allows you to visit. This home of two of Nigeria’s former rulers, President General Ibrahim Babangida, and Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar is connected to various neighbouring cities, by road, water or rail. The Federal Capital, Abuja is only a few hours drive away. The major railway to Northern Nigeria’s commercial hub in Kano is connected through Minna; the rail linkway to Nigeria’s commercial capital in Lagos, passess through Minna.
Minna is a city carved underneath the valleys of rocks and hills. A view from the famous hilltop area, one finds the whole city sprawled in a valley in all its glory, urging tourists and visitors to explore its nooks and crannies. What do these nooks and crannies have to offer? The goodies of Minna: teachers, statesmen, academics, writers. Minna is the valley of philosophers and poets spending a greater part of their lives penning down a strong literary heritage.
Incidentally, the first bookshop in the Northern region region was opened in 1914 in Minna. It was a missionary shop called Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) Bookshop which had an additional book kiosk at Minna rail station. It thereafter spread into the rest of the country: Jos in 1924, Kano 1945, Kaduna 1957, Lagos 1960, Ibadan 1964, Port Harcourt 1965. Today, this bookshop is called Challenge Bookshops with different branches spread across the length and breadth of the country. So began, the intellectual rise of Minna city, with a little bookshop that spread the tentacles of the literary domination of Minna.
The Home of Writers
Perhap, the most prominent writer to come out of this city is the Kagara-born Alhaji (Dr.) Abubakar Imam. Imam pioneered the trend of literary accomplishment with his celebrated publication, a three – volume Hausa work, in the style of a thousand and one nights, called Magana Jari Ce. Prior to writing of Magana Jari Ce, his first book, Ruwan Bagaja stunned the Judges, of the writing contest in 1933. Imam is the real pioneer of true African literature in the country using the indigenous language which was well received among his target audience and speakers in the West African region specifically in Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, and Niger to further literary development in a region where books in local languages are scarce. These works are considered as truly classical African books in African lingo of Hausa and its development.
Imam handed the baton to another Minna-born writer, late Cyprian Odiatu Duaka Ekwensi in 1948 with a dual debut of An African Night’s Entertainment and When Love Whispers. Cyprian Ekwensi proudly depicted the Minna of his own time in his own works.
The Valley of Poets
Saddiq Dzukogi is the most celebrated poet of these times to come out of modern day Minna. Saddiq is a known name in poetry circles with three collections, with a fourth bok coming soon, and his work consistently published in a variety of international publications. Saddiq’s poems are works of emotion, versatility and simplicity. This Minna born poet imbibes in him the literary spirit of the city with the impact his work is having far away from the city of Minna.
When you hear Saddiq speak of Minna, you would not want another description of it, ever:
Minna is a bed-nest of poets and writers. It is quiet and opens up a person’s third eye. Minna is a place that does not care whether you are Hausa or Yoruba or Igbo, we have somehow learnt to live peacefully as one Nigerian, this is a thing that have proven so difficult for other parts of Nigeria. There is a reach literary tradition there and a sort of Mentorship Scheme championed by a group of volunteers at the Hilltopart Foundation, mentoring secondary school students in various forms of creative expression. I came to be through that mentorship scheme as a mentee, and right now I am trying to give back as a mentor, from the little blessings I have gained thus far, in this creative struggle. Minna is a wonderful place to be for the creative.
The Soldier Poet
Major General Mamman Jiya Vatsa, popularly known as the soldier poet, Vatsa was a rare combination of talents; an excellent military officer, a dedicated teacher, a children’s writer and a committed poet with a passion to promote the art both at private and official levels.
From 1972 to the time of his death in 1986, the soldier poet produced over twenty works mainly in poetry for children and adults. The most popular among them are; Back Again at Wargate (Cross Continent Press, 1982), consisting of war poems dedicated to the South African struggle against apartheid, and Voices From the Trench (Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1978), an anthology of poems by soldiers of the Nigerian Army, which he edited, introduced and contributed to. Today, the official residency of Niegria’s apex body of writers, the Asosciation of Nigerian Authors frist formed by Chinua Achebe is named after the legendary Minna writer, the Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village.
Until 1976, Minna was just a serene railway town with only one major road passing through it. The creation of Niger State and the emergence of the town as the capital city of the new state altered the fate and prominence of the town. Today, Minna is a city of global reckoning, with the names it has birthed, raising its flag all over the world. Minna as a city has been written by the inks of its progenies to create a global and vibrant city of imagination.