An Image of Northern Nigeria’s Marital and Gender-Based Controversies: A Survey of Abubakar Gimba’s Sacred Apples

Being a paper presented at the 13th International Conference on Ethnic Nationalities, Cultural Memory and the Challenges of Nationhood in 21st Century Literature, held at The University Auditorium, IBB University, Lapai, from 30th August to 2nd September 2016.

An Image of Northern Nigeria’s Marital and Gender-based Controversies: A Survey of Abubakar Gimba’s Sacred Apples


Abu-Ubaida SANI1
Department of Educational Foundations
Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto
Phone No. 08133529736
Email Address: abuubaidasani5@gmail.com 


Muhammad Badamasi Tsaure2
Department of Educational Foundations
Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto
Phone No. 08133529736
Email Adress: abuubaidasani5@gmail.com


Gender issues in Nigerian literature (and beyond) have for long been the protagonistic thematic-preoccupation prevalent among male and female writers. Achebe (1958) in “Things Fall Apart” shows that man stands for everything in the world and women have to be submissive to the wills of their husbands. Amadi (1966) in “The Concubine” portrays women as nothing. Arma (1968) in “The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born,” considers women as just means to destruct men. Female writers on the other hand, such as Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Zainab Alkali and the contemporary born-again feminist – though a man –  Abubakar Gimba, tried as far as possible to x-ray women in their multi-dimensional write-ups as the sine quo non to the actualization of men’s burning instrumental objective. However, this paper endeavors to cast a look at the image of Northern Nigerian lingering controversy of gender equality versus equity in the Abubakar Gimba’s “Sacred Apples.” This is essentially considered as the thematic underpinning of the book. The paper thus suggests some possible panaceas to act as attempt towards molding literature as a means of calming the gender-related altercations. One of such ways is, in practice, understanding how seriously such writings could have influence on real life situations. Another is, ideally, orienting writers so as to make conscious contributions on the phenomena in question.


            UNICEF (2011) realized that, girls and boys face different obstacles to the full realization of their human rights. The UN (2001) considered men as allies for gender equality and thus gender equality is not possible until they (men) change their attitudes and behaviors in many areas. In fact, gender problem as a social phenomenon has for long been a topic to both the thinking and operations of international development institutions (Miller & Razavi, 1998; Hazel & Sally, 2000). However, another bone of contention is the numerous different views on the term gender inequality (Linda, 1990; Watkins, 2000; Ridgeway, 2011). Ridgeway (2011) considered gender inequality as not only perpetuated exclusively through differential access to and control over material resources, rather, gender norms and stereotypes – reinforce gendered identities and constrain the behavior of women and men in ways that leads to inequality. Defining feminism, Watkins (2000:1) affirmed that: “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” These and perhaps many other contemporary feminist debate over the meanings of gender lead time and again, as if the indeterminacy of gender might eventually culminate in the failure of feminism (Linda, 1990). Similarly, many Marxists typically argue that feminism is at best less important than class conflict and at worst divisive of the working class (Heidi, 2015).

 However, The Sacred Apples by Abubakar Gimba portrays an image of Northern Nigeria’s women as well as gender-based controversies. Nonetheless, most of such controversies are introduced to Northern Nigerian women by the teachings of the Western world. Such assertions could be considered anti-religious as well as anti-cultural ideologies. This is because, religious scriptures – The Qur’an and The Bible, as having majority followers in Nigeria – have prescribed how individual’s lives should be in general. Gender issues not excluded, thus all prescriptions are made on the rights and obligations of both men and women accordingly.

Moreover, an effort is made to delve into the relationship between literary works and human behavior. Many researches conducted in the recent years, have proved how significantly such works affect human behavior (Wheeler, Green, & Brock, 1999; Marsh, Meade, & Roediger, 2003; Appel, 2008;  Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011). On the other hand, it is ironical that female writers, more than the male writers, are dominating and discriminating their female counter-parts through their writings (Babura 2006). Mango (2010) considers such writings to be miseducating women, and alienating them from gentle-womanhood into unnecessary wants and needs introducing them to stressful and grief life. It invariably drains them (women) away from happiness into the search for unrealistic and nonexisting freedom and equality, thus finally, ironically increases inequality (Mango 2010).

Conceptualization of terms

            Controversy and concepts central to gender (i.e. feminism, gender versus sex and gender equality versus gender equity) are explained to counter analytical misconception of the terms.

Controversy: could be defined as a lot of disagreement or argument about something, usually because it affects or is important to many people (Cambridge Dictionary, 2016). Controversy is a type of conflict that exist when ones ideas, information, conclusions theories and opinions are incompatible with those of another and the two seek to reach an agreement (David & Roger, 1988).

Feminism: is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women (Ayo, 2014). A feminist is a person whose beliefs and behavior are based on feminism (Gilligan, 1977).

Gender is the socially defined set of roles, rights, responsibilities, entitlements and obligations of females and males in societies. However, the social definitions of what it means to be female or male vary among cultures and change over time USAID (2012). “Gender is now understood to be a social status, a personal identity, and a set of relationships between women and men, and among women and men” (Lorber, ND: 8).

Sex is the classification of people as male or female. At birth, infants are assigned a sex based on a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs and genitalia (USAID, 2012). Similarly, the term is defined as: “… the biological characteristics that categorize someone as either female or male” (Hazel & Sally, 2000: 3).

Gender equality: USAID (2012) explains gender equality as a phenomenon that concerns women and men and it involves working with men and boys, women and girls to bring about changes in attitudes, behaviors, roles and responsibilities at home, in the workplace, and in the community. Gender equality means that women and men, and girls and boys, enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections to make strategic choices and decisions about the course of their lives without the fear of coercion and violence (UN, 2005; UNICEF & UN Women, 2013).

Gender equity: “… denotes the equivalence in life outcomes for women and men, recognizing their different needs and interests, and requiring a redistribution of power and resources.” (Hazel & Sally, 2000: 2). Therefore, gender equity involves judicial treatment of both sexes including self human security which include ‘freedom from want’ and ‘freedom from fear’ (Yasin, 2015). 

Brief Biography of Abubakar Gimba

Abubakar Gumba was born in 1952 at Nassarawa in Lapai local Government of Niger State. He attended Government College, Keffi, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (B. sc. Economics, 1974) and the University of Cincinnati, U.S.A (M.A Econs, 1977) He joined the civil service in 1975 as a planning officer, first in the North Western State (now comprising Sokoto Kebbi, Zamfara, and Niger States), then later Niger state, rising to the position of a Permanent Secretary in 1981. He served in that capacity till his retirement in 1987. He died on 25th February 2015, at the age of 63 years.

            Gimber published among others the following books:

1-      Trail of Sacrifice (1987)

2-      Witnesses to Tears (1987)

3-      Innocent Victims (1988) and

4-      Sunset for a Mandarin (1992) among others (Gimba, 1994).

Northern Nigerian’s Gender-based Controversies in Abubakar Gimba’s Sacred Apples

            Despite clear explanations and guidance concerning roles of men and women and religious scriptures (i.e. Qur’an and Bible), there remain, still controversies concerning phenomena related to gender. Images of such gender-based controversies could be seen in Abubakar Gimba’s Sacred Apples:

When Ya-shareef and Zahra begin to discuss with regard to the break-down of Yazid`s second marriage, Zahra makes this remark clearly:

‘… why men are more irresponsible, commit profligate excesses than women, yet have more guts to preach the morality of marriage more loudly… why don’t they leave us alone…? we can take care of ourselves” (P. 109).

During another encounter with Yashareef, he asks her why she turns into women liberation movement. She says “… it is just that most men take women for granted… always talking about us on morality when they themselves are… morally slippery ground…” (P. 110).

 Ideally, these are all anti-cultural/anti-religious beliefs introduced to Northern Nigeria. It is a process of brain washing women’s mind as to feel cheated and deprived of their right, thereby fight for it. However, while Northern Nigeria is regarded as uncivilized and thus lacks equity (Walter, 2003; Paulina, 2006; Olufemi, 2014), people from Northern Nigeria not only view the issue from civilization point of view, but religious wise. Perhaps, the Western ideology of civilization is considered a move against the religious teachings. Ideally, it could not be imagined, which civilization is it to make hundred naked women appear in public (Vince, 2016; Kos Media, 2016; Ken, 2016). However, this is against the teaching of the two dominant religions in Nigeria. The Holy Bible instructs against anything that would lead to illegal association between women and men (Corinthians 14:34-35; Exodus 28:42; Timothy 2:9; Matthew: 5:28; Leviticus 18:6-23). The Holy Qur’an also is strictly against nudity (Qur’an 7:26; Qur’an 23:5-6; Qur’an 24:31-32; Qur’an 33:59).

            Another gender-based clash is when Marian and Zahra talk about the mediocrity of Midioka when he wants to define her (Zahra) character. Zahra says… “from now hence, I think he will know that whatever a man can do, a woman can also do…. and even better!” (P.91).

            In the last chapter of this novel (Sacred Apple) we understand that Umaymah is made with her lecturer, Dr. Haris who was invited to greet his would-be mother-in-low. In their discussion, we learn some traces of gender-based palavers when Zahra’s reiterates:

“… they tell us to stay at home and in the kitchen, while they roam the streets. When you keep someone in a closet, you shield him for knowledge… women are made ignorant by men…..we don’t know much about the world… we don’t know where we heading to…” (P. 298-299).

            This is also a phenomenon introduced to Northern Nigerian women gradually. They are made to believe that, restrictions in modes of dressing and mobility is a deprivation of right. However, the controversy is it that, while Northern  Nigeria is considered a place where freedom of women is deprived (Walter, 2003; Paulina, 2006; Olufemi, 2014), they (people from Northern Nigeria) affirm that, they respect the personality of women more than the Western world. Women cover their body as instructed in the scriptures of both the two dominant religions in Nigeria (Islam and Christianity), thus in the Qur’an and the Bible (Siddiqi, 1952; Azeem, 2004). Meanwhile, the religious teachings are considered (in the North) as the best sources of civilization. Perhaps as God knows best of civilization. Also, human, would have to learn civilization from animal if nudity was civilization. Furthermore, places where women expose nudity experience more rampant cases of rape, adultery and fornication. Meanwhile, there is always minimum experience of such vices in areas where women’s decency is respected (Josh, 2012; Daniel, 2013; NAN, 2015). The President of Catholic Women Organization in Nigeria (CWO), Ngozi Chukuji affirms that: “Decency matters, while a lot of rapist are outside, it’s the way we dress that attracts these people to us…” (Chukuji in NAN, 2015). Beside, since gender equity denotes the equivalence in life outcomes for women and men, recognizing their different needs and interests (Hazel & Sally, 2000), it (gender equity) is practiced where women are not assigned a hard and stressful-men-like labor. Rather, men bow to shoulder their responsibilities while they rest at home. 

Literature and Human Behavior (Which Affect Which and How?)

Literature and human behavior are mutually interrelated and they influence each other respectively. It is obvious that the influence of literature is indispensable in human’s mind. (A’azamiyyun, 1962; Shirley, 1969; Helmut & Jurgen, 1991; Abu-Ubaida, 2016). Yet, what is written in literary works has a lot to do with the writer’s behavior, background, environment and personal philosophy (Abu-Ubaida, 2016). Bloom’s ideology of poetic influence is also salient here. Bloom affirms the influence of one’s literary write up on individuals, where he concludes that:  "one poet helps to form another" (Bloom, 1973:5). However, Helmut & Jurgen learned that, literature writings do not only influence the readers, rather they affect the ideology and thoughts of other writers (Helmut & Jurgen, 1991).

A series of studies have been conducted on the impact of fictional narrative experience on human behaviours (Green, Strange, & Brock, 2002; Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011). On the other hand, researches on different aspects of literature have been conducted in relation to different fields. For instance, such researches were conducted in organization studies (Patient, Lawrence, & Maitlis; Phillips; Reitzug in Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011), cognitive psychology (Marsh, Meade, & Roediger III, in Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011), and communication sciences (Appel; Appel & Richter in Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011). The studies however, show that the experience and events in literary works may alter people’s beliefs about the world in different ways (Wheeler, Green, & Brock, 1999; Marsh, Meade, & Roediger, 2003; Appel, 2008;  Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011).

However, human attitudes, values and characters are sharpened as a result of literary works such individual reads. This is indeed the reason of motivating the production of more books that teach morals, humility, humbleness and kindness among others. Perhaps especially for children, as of after the second world war, during which it was considered strive towards molding children’s character positively (Eric, in Helmut & Jurgen, 1991).

Shirley (1969) attempted the study of effect of reading on concepts, attitudes and behavior. He asked 420 Arizona High School students to report any changes in concepts, attitudes and behavior that they had experienced as a result of reading. Result of the study shows that, though the overwhelming number of changes occurred in the cognitive areas, about 15 percent of the reading influences results in behavioral changes.

Similarly, Schneyer (1969) conducted research on effects of reading on children’s attitudes. His research shows that, children’s stories have a positive effect, at least for a while on children. A similar assertion is made by Martin & Lois eds (1964), Gauntlett, (1995) and Ferguson, (2014) where mass media (TV and Movies) is noted to have effect on children’s attitudes (Helmut & Jurgen, 1991). Nonetheless, there have been contentious phenomenon as to “crossing the borders between the disciplines of law and literature” (Chompson, 2012:8). Mutual and inter disciplinary relationship is observed to exists between the field of law and literature (Anthony, 1999; Richard, 2002; Gwen, 2004; Chompson, 2012).

Miall & Kuiken (2002) have proposed a typology of emotional reactions to fiction reading consisting of four types of feelings: evaluative, narrative, aesthetic, and self-modifying feelings.

i.        Evaluative feelings are reported by readers when they experience joy, pleasure, or satisfaction as a result of carrying out the activity of experiencing the narrative (Miall & Kuiken, 2001 in Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011).

ii.      Narrative feelings differ from evaluative feelings in that these are the feelings that are evoked by the events, characters, and the setting of the story within the narrative. Narrative feelings arise from the content of the narrative, that is, the events and characters in the imagined world of the text (Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011). Example of such feelings is empathy with a character or resonance with the mood of a setting (Miall & Kuiken, 2001).

iii.    Aesthetic feelings are reported by readers in response to the formal components of a narrative (e.g., the stylistic features of the text) (Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011). An instance of such feelings is when a reader is struck by a particular metaphor that is used in the narrative (Kuiken et al., 2004)

iv.    Self-modifying feelings refer to those feelings people have when a narrative changes the image people have of themselves. They restructure the understanding of a text and simultaneously the understanding of the self (Miall & Kuiken, in Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011).

Notwithstanding, literary works could are on the other hand definitely affected (to some extent) by the central setting of the community (CNRS in Science Daily, 2014). Perhaps, “The the central setting of the community in one way or the other likely influenced writer’s mental power and experiences. Whatever he might say could then have elements of cultural influence” (Abu-Ubaida, 2016: 11-12).

Writers as Sources of Controversial Ideologies: A Challenge to the Nationhood

            Although, each and every writer is at liberty to state his/her vision of life and what he/she thinks an ideal society should look like or be, writers should, as a matter of necessity focus on the current challenges bedeviling the country in which he/she emanates (Kabir, 2006; Jatau, 2006). With this, literature remains the raison d’etre for sustainable development, national/international integration and panacea to the hydra-headed challenges of the nationhood. Since, however, as it has been contended an African woman cannot, by all means, change and shift the powers of African tradition (Taiwo in Kabir, 2005), feminist, especially the writers, should as a matter of fact, shift the thematic-preoccupation of their writings from instigating gender-consciousness and or gender inequality to the equal educational opportunity for women (and equity as general phenomenon). However, because according to United Nations: “… it will take until 2490 before women reach equality with the men in decision making positions” (UN in Mango, 2010: 1). This is for the reason gender equality is only a possibility rather than a reality  and a myth that can never be realized by any society (Mango 2010).

            Therefore, writers as the sources of gender controversies instigate women to what has been termed, indirectly, as the next-to-impossibility (Mango, 2010). Differences between man and woman are a natural phenomenon. All over the world, there is generally a good deal of social distance between men and women (Uduiguomen in Mango, 2010). But today’s writings only succeed in continuance domination of women. Females are dominating and discriminating their female counter-parts through their writings (Kabir, 2005). The writings, however, (literary works i.e prose, poetry and drama) miseducate contemporary women and alienate them from gentle-womanhood into unnecessary wants and needs, it invariably drains them (women) away from happiness into unrealistic freedom and equality and finally increases inequality rather than reduces it for them (women) (Mango 2010).


In conclusion, literature of whatever kind sharpens the intellects, morale and attitudes of the readers or the audience. What one writes and what one reads are invariably intertwined and or interwoven together. Thus, one cannot draw a line of demarcation or a kind of dichotomy between what one writes and what one reads. More so, crystal as it is, according to the words of Aristotle literature stands as the mirror of the society. It really x-rays the happenings of the society thereby depicting the life as it was, as it is and as it ought to be. With this, writers ought to ponder and consider what to write.

            However, gender-based-controversies as portrayed by Gimba in the Sacred Apples features/pictures exactly what happens contemporaneously in the Northern part of the country (Nigeria) many think and or view the people of the North as gender-biased and gender stereotyped that women are taking to be the second-hand citizens (to coin another concept). This generates lot of temporal and pseudo-temporal discussions, arguments among the male and female writers on one hand, and among the critics and analysts on the other. Women actually are not relegated to the back lash as this remain only a sheer cliff that pretenders of this belief want black mail and or black-paint the Northern Nigeria of (being so biased and barbaric).

            Women in Nigeria should consider the issue of gender-differentiation as not a controversy but a natural phenomenon. All over the world, throughout the history of mankind, men and women are not equal. They are different and should remain such until eternity! To this end, writers should bear in the mind that Islam (especially in the Northern Nigeria) elevated and or exonerated womenfolk so much that Qur`an speaks time and again the portion of girl-child inheritance. Islam prescribed the practice of purdah so that married women would not wander and squander aimlessly.


i.        Writers should be properly and accordingly oriented, and guided towards making conscious, unbiased and meaningful contributions on the phenomena in question. That would be as pioneer towards conscious positive thematic control by writers. Perhaps considering how seriously such (literary) writings could have influence on real life situations.

ii.      The motifs of writings should address issue such as women education or girl-child education, protection against HIV/AIDS infection, lowering infant and child mortality rates, lowering maternal mortality rates and increasing women`s labor force participation rates and earnings among other important areas.

iii.    As a matter of building stable foundation, it should be incorporated in literature content of the nation’s curriculum, guidance on thematic selection and content build-up. That would help in upbringing writers with rationally focused minds, to positively transform the world of literature as well as the physical world. In line with this, there should be agency for guiding and monitoring literary works. This would help to parade all (literary works) towards positive transformation of humanity.


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