The vanishing reading culture

A  damning assessment of Nigeria’s reading culture was pronounced recently by Professor Lenrie Aina, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Library of Nigeria who is also the National Librarian. Addressing a cross section of students at a Readership Promotion Campaign (RPC) in Enugu last week, he dropped the bombshell of Nigeria not being on the list of reading countries in the world. This, he said, became known when Nigeria was not mentioned in a recent study on the most reading-compliant countries globally. Interestingly, Egypt and South Africa were rated among the first 30 reading countries.

Even though Nigerians’ lethargy in reading books was public knowledge before now, the fact that the situation has deteriorated to the extent that the country is not even being rated at all among the reading countries of the world is a very devastating blow. With this revelation, no one needs to look too far for the reasons the country has not found the  appropriate ideas to lubricate its quest to be among the developed countries of the world. As Professor Aina pointed out, “Leading world nations pride themselves on their promotion of reading. They see a high level of literacy as a major source of their competitiveness and social maturity. The absence of a widespread culture of reading in the case of Nigeria acts as an effective barrier to our development and international competitiveness.’’

Nothing can be truer. A nation which neglects to read can hardly find solutions to the problem of underdevelopment. It can be said without any equivocation that when Nigeria abandoned the route of knowledge acquisition, it burrowed the path to national stagnation. Leading nations of the world not only invest heavily in books, they encourage their nationals, especially children, to cultivate the habit of consuming books, just like their daily meals. In other words, book reading to those countries has become a cause. The dividends can be seen in their leadership in virtually all spheres of human endeavour and in the knowledge world where those who have the requisite grasp of issues reign as kings.

It is apparent that in today’s very competitive world, the provider of solutions to the myriads of problems faced by billions of people is the leader of the world.  It is however not shocking that Nigeria is not on the list of the countries that value reading. The indicators are ubiquitous. The abandonment of book reading started when knowledgeable people started losing their pride of place in  the social estimation. They were quickly substituted by politicians, thugs and those who could scintillate the crowds. The change in the country’s value system was also a major culprit in the reversal. Those that Nigeria and Nigerians value today are not those who read books or profess the ability to read. Musicians, footballers, dancers, thugs and allied persons  attract more honour and attention in the country than those who exhibit very high intelligent quotients.

We however acknowledge the fact that blame for this sorry pass in the art of reading cannot be wholly laid at the feet of the Nigerian people. It stands against reason that anyone would be bothered about reading when their individual survival is at stake. Through the rapacious quest to empty Nigeria’s resources, government after government has made life unbearable for the people. Thus, on the ladder of needs, reading took a back seat without anyone giving any qualms. Yet, it is tragic for the nation if people don’t read. How can the nation develop without ideas?

Governments at all levels must be up and doing. They must make life less unbearable for the people so that they could pick up the pastime of book reading. The unflattering estimation of Nigeria in the ranking of the knowledge drive should be a wake-up call to the government and the people. We call on governments and ministries of education to ensure that Nigerians go back to this time-worn national treasure expeditiously. On its part, like the one it did in Enugu last week, the National Library must be encouraged to embark on intensive readership promotion campaigns across the country with a view to reawakening the reading spirit among Nigerians. In the process, other obstacles towards this goal would be identified and dealt with.

Government must also ensure that teachers are encouraged to read and enlighten their pupils and students on the need to make reading a vital part of their existence. Parents too must be encouraged to buy books for their children and  make them to read. If the nation is desirous of bringing back the immediate postcolonial ideal of quest for knowledge through reading, everything within its powers must be done to bring back the reading culture.

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