I think it will be a bogus claim to state that reading culture has died in Nigeria. On this note, I offer an unreserved apology for such a misleading title.
Truth be told, Nigerians read.
But a thousand and one questions will be raised and downright dismay elicited if we probe into what we read. From the nearest newspaper junction in your area where pedestrians cluster to read the latest premiership scores from the myriad of sports dailies to the newspaper dailies on the reception desk of any serious office, to hostel rooms, houses and toilet ends where phone pages are opened to online blogs like Linda Ikeji, Bella Naija, Sahara reporters, MyMindSnaps, YNaija etc. Not excluding the youth catching up on people’s posts on Facebook and our ever-zealous religious lot who are reading the books written by their papas and mamas.
Well, before I proceed further, I think it is pertinent to understand what reading is. Reading is simply the process of gleaning and scavenging out information. Information in this aspect might take the shape of ideas, news, trending gossip, articles, latest fashion and fads, academic and religious literature. With this exposition, I believe it is clear that Nigerians read. However, it’s clearer that majority of Nigerians do not read required and necessary information. This is so evident in our conversations, conclusions, analyses and actions. So, there is nothing wrong with our reading culture. There is something however habitually wrong, clinically disturbing, intellectually dumbfounding and mentally debilitating about the choice of what we read.
As a secondary school teacher and a bookshop and library operator, I have taken the pain to observe our society and have come to realize that the majority of Nigerians avoid balance. Either a Nigerian is in love with reading only religious, academic or motivational books and is strongly averse to reading entertainment magazines or biographies. Or he is interested in reading only his notes and has no room for what he will never be taught. Some church people will never pick up any book not written by their church leader, and some science students will never read any novel, no thanks to the misguided belief that novels are for girls and art students, and calculation and figures for scientists. In fact, the most disturbing trend in our secondary schools presently is that students read only their notes while their textbooks are left to decorate their lockers.
Now, if you think this is limited to teenagers, then you are in for a shock. I once advised an adult to read Nnamdi Azikiwe’s autobiography. The woman boldly told me that there was no time for such literature in her life when she is yet to consume legions of Hagin and Meyer’s books. I prodded further, insisting that she’d understand the history of Nigeria better if she read Zik’s book; she smiled and remained adamant with her declination. Personally, I always find it disturbing when people walk into the bookshop and I discover that they are only interested or have only be reading books on religion, academics or motivational. When you try to proffer a book outside their regular niche, they frown at such.
I have seen doctors – other professions inclusive – who, once you take them away from their medical field, are complete olodos. I am not advocating that one should be a master of all by reading all manner of books, no. All I am proposing is capped in the famous saying: “Variety is the spice of life and monotony kills interest.” I believe whatever profession you belong to, knowing a little about other things will help enrich your knowledge base, improve your proficiency in your chosen profession and increase your adaptability tendency. More so, it will make you more refined and save you from the disease of one dimensionality which is currently ravaging our national psyche.
Be that as it may, it will be unfair if I do not point out another general impediment to reading. I believe when it comes to knowledge, teachers symbolize it, and are the human face to the art of reading. A growing child sees a teacher as a well-read person. Now, if this is true, then I think saying that teachers are one of the reasons for the dearth of the reading culture is not far-fetched. It’s not unknown that young students don’t want to be like their teachers; when students look at the wretchedness of their teachers, many of them spurn and are motivated to see knowledge as a panacea to a misery and a path to a happy life. More regrettably, when they see the increasing list of charlatans, school drop-outs and semi-illiterate men who are industrialists, a question tag is raised on the need for one to cultivate the habit of seeking knowledge.
Once upon a time, teachers and schooled people were the most opportune in the society. However, the tide has turned and it seems the most educated are the hungriest and the most frustrated. In fact, there is no doubt that most people go into teaching these days because of a lack of something better to do. Majority of our teachers will quickly ditch their profession for any higher-paying job. The result of this anomaly is that we have teachers who do not believe in what they are doing, teachers who lack the capacity to rekindle the habit of reading in their students. In fact, a high proportion of the teachers we have presently have not read anything new since after their graduation. Thus, they cannot inspire their students to cultivate the habit of reading and seeking for new knowledge.
I believe the time has come to declare an educational emergency. To solve the myriad problem buffeting our nation, people need to outgrow the habit of reading books on a particular discipline and be more versatile and adventurous in their reading. The government needs to place premium importance on our educational institutions. Also, teachers should find alternative means of livelihood and stop seeing the teaching profession as a business. In addition, students and citizens need to realize that reading is a life- long profession and a truly educated mind is a peaceful mind. The more peaceful minds a society is filled with, the more peace and progress the said society will record. No society has grown on the wings of mediocrity, wishful thinking and luck.
To this end I state unequivocally, in my short life, I am yet to see one truly successful person that is not one or two of these – an avid and versatile reader of books, a deep thinker, a risk taker or a committed observer of life. So I dare to state, show me a society or a person that mocks books and I will show you a prodigal son who is bound to make avoidable mistakes.
May God open our eyes of understanding.
Written by Tobe Osigwe