Nigeria’s Dwindling Reading Culture; What Way Forward?

(By Nkannebe Raymond)

The love for book and the once known pride for reading is lost and left in the murky waters of the past. what a pity! The incentive for reading and writing which stems from most reading habit is not created in anyway. The government doesn’t seem to care but before blaming the government, the family has done more and we are no better for it. The result is devastating; it has led to a growing brain drain, massive failure in examinations, promotion of examination malpractice and puts us behind in the comity of nations as an illiterate nation. A reading nation they say is a moving nation and a country whose citizenry hardly reads stands at the edge of a precipice waiting that colossal fall. Waiting to reach its waterloo.

I had pondered over the subject of this piece as to what could be the most resounding title to adorn it for a little more than six hours yesterday and at the end of that mental hurdle that took a great part of my Sunday both physically and otherwise, I arrived at that which now crowns it and the reason for that may not be unconnected with the effect and threat the subject of the piece poses to our emerging society literally, academically and otherwise.

For some uncanny reasons, it is in the habit of the current breed of Nigerians to do “violence “to anything that lacks the prospect of terminating into immediate financial returns. There is a huge neglect to things or areas of human endeavor that cannot put food on ones table in the shortest time possible therefore any endeavor that unfortunately falls within this list is disregarded. It is immediately forgotten and hands being put into some other supposedly promising endeavor(s) with greater prospect of commercial returns in the shortest time and every other thing that accompanies it.

Unfortunately enough, the art of reading voraciously and writing happens to be at the tail-end in the schedule of an average Nigerian depicted above and nobody gives any damn about that – welcome to Nigeria.

I will in this piece of writing make obscure the dangers this drain in the reading culture pose on the present and the future generation, in between that, the observable reasons for this trend once alien in the character of the earlier Nigerians despite having little or no literary and reference materials at their disposal will be analyze, suggest possible solutions to curb this socio-cultural malaise enveloping us gradually and the duties of each and every one of us who are victims of this socio-cultural violence will be looked at.

Of course, too many a reader may want to ask what the Reading Culture is. The phrase “reading culture” on the face of it, is a combination of two distinctive words entangled in the phrase viz: Reading and Culture. As for the latter, sociologists will have us understand that it is the way of life of a particular group of people, race or origin and for the former, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines, “ as the act of LOOKING at written words and UNDERSTANDING what they mean” (Emphasis mine). A reading together of both words, finds one arriving at a plethora of definitions that hovers around a sort of a knack or passion for going through literary materials or written words in a bid to gather additional knowledge and not necessarily reading to pass examinations although which cannot be taken out of its scope prima Facie.

Ironically, although unknown to many of us, this reading culture, this desire to read literary materials, this crush if you like, for things written on paper or via the electronic media has become some herculean task which must be avoided at all cost and the society has helped to promote this ugly trend albeit not expressly but by the direct implication of the actions of government, the family and the organized private sector involved in driving a nation to its estimated height and this is where the HOW comes in, but I must say a little more before that.

A popular axiom has it that, “if you want to hide something from an African man, put it in a book”. This innuendo of a statement I make bold to say is not only derogatory to the entire African population but also a ridicule of everything the continent stands for at least in the estimation of “rightly” thinking members of the public but by our collective actions, we have stopped it from being so and have helped the Sayers to attain a status reminiscent of a prophet and I hope I am not expected to explain how and why. The fact has a way of speaking louder than words little wonder the lawyers will say in their jargonic tantrums, “res ipsa loquitur’ to the effect that- The Thing Speaks for Itself. What am I trying to establish here? One way or another, we have all struggled to justify the position of that axiom. It is collectively encouraged in Nigeria by the combined collaboration of both government and the citizenry. The habit of reading is fast becoming a taboo or “haram” as the Islamic clerics will have us understand. It is no longer considered fashionable or a prestigious activity among a vast majority of Nigerians.

The love for book and the once known pride for reading is lost and left in the murky waters of the past. what a pity!
The incentive for reading and writing which stems from most reading habit is not created in anyway. The government doesn’t seem to care but before blaming the government, the family has done more and we are no better for it. The result is devastating; it has led to a growing brain drain, massive failure in examinations, promotion of examination malpractice and puts us behind in the comity of nations as an illiterate nation. A reading nation they say is a moving nation and a country whose citizenry hardly reads stands at the edge of a precipice waiting that colossal fall. Waiting to reach its waterloo.

Gone are the days when people took pride and raised their heads up as a result of the number of books one read. Gone are those days when novels and other literatures littered every nook and cranny of the house. What do we have today? A total opposite- People choose to blind their ears and endanger their eardrums with ear devices in the name of listening to some music or whiling away precious time watching some mp4 video clip and so on and so forth. A direct contrast with what was obtained in the past. Download of musical items has hit an all time record as against download of e-books and other literary materials left away in the electronic media. Opening links to musical materials, football clips and the like supersedes the number of newspaper articles being read in the social media and the like and it is not surprising to see a young boy of 8 wielding a handset device with ear-piece strapped to his ear, meanwhile he could hardly make a sentence containing the elements of a proper sentence. Even though it is in the name of the so-called civilization, why not attempt a balance at both? The future worries me.

And now, let’s play the blame game- I will start with the family being the first and most sensitive agent of a child’s socialization. Those days are gone when the family played a role in the overall development of the child. The days when parents made it a point of duty in assisting in the academic activities of the child, they are gone and the memories still very fresh. I grew up in a home where reading has a paramount importance. I found myself brought up by parents who were happier seeing me read through a short story and then relate the plot to them than they did when they saw me ejecting a particular video cassette from the video recorder in those days when the video set littered an average family home. The resultant effect was my being able to read through a large cache of novels, short stories and other contemporary literary materials at a very tender age but it is saddening to note that the reverse is the case in most families today. Its either the father or mother is too engrossed in their job so much that they hardly care to discharge this parental obligation. Most parents of nowadays would rather watch home movies in the company of their children and the best you could hear is: “junior, have you done your homework?” and every other thing is secondary. One need not be told of what become of such kids when they grow up.

I once read through the biography of Dr. Ben Carson. And in this capturing paragraph the great neurosurgeon said, “my mother stopped me from seeing movies and had me read and review a book I have read at the end of every week. I saw it as some sort of punishment in the early stages until it became another part of me and today I am better because of that little bit of hard work and discipline” no one knew that someday the young Carson would become a renown neurosurgeon after travelling with his team to Zambia, South Central Africa to separate the first set of Siemens twins Luka and Joseph Banda who were joined at the top of their heads. And the professor of Neurosurgery, Oncology, Plastic surgery and pediatrics at the John Hopkins Medical Institute gives much of the credit to her hero and mother Sonya Carson who helped in setting the pace.

In Chinua Achebe’s memoir, the literary sage made mention of how his Catechist-Father made him read through the many Biblical passages, church periodicals and almanacs and how that early background laid the pillars upon which his literary mansion would grow in the future. Who knew that Achebe would become a household name in Africa and the world over and why we ponder over that, let’s take out some time to also plunder on what would have become of him, had he not such parents whom he described as, “outstanding and Courageous individuals”. Same also goes the story for the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and the list may continue to go on ad-infinitum if I venture to veer that path. Having said that, what is the point therein? Present-day parents have hardly toed this line or this parental masterpiece of Achebe, Carson and Soyinka and a host of others. They are too busy; they alleged and in that process, water the ground for the poor level in the attitude towards reading and attempt to write. The luxurious entertainment industry has occupied us to the injury and we have fallen into its pit.
It is no longer in the habit of parents to set up a mini-library or stash a number of books in a mini-shelve to at least engineer their young lads into believing that there is an Art, a great art of reading and reading and reading again. On the contrary, ostentatious electronic appliances and state of the art gadgets now adorn our homes. Nobody cares much about reading. Who wants to allow their ward go through that rigorous exercise? The children grow with such habit and their only attempt at reading becomes upon the compulsion of examination. And why not so? Old habits they say, hardly dies and if you cannot teach them when they are young, you cannot get any luckier when they are grown. Sadly enough, these words hardly exist in the mental vocabulary of parents today. If you train up a child in the way they should grow, nothing will ever act as a barrier towards behaving in such manner when they are grown but not even this biblical truth could assuage the problem on the part of parents.

Turning to the government, they have not created any enabling platform to foster the art of reading and creative writing and where they have done, abandons same. Apart from establishing institutes of learning that are a far cry from what they should be, the government both at the center and grassroots does nothing more. Literary organizations founded and funded by government with the goal of harnessing and refining the literary wealth of its citizens has never caused any government to lose sleep instead it is more interested in the entertainment industry and when a president gives out a whopping 3 billion naira to the entertainment industry in the name of support, one needs no further proof to buttress their position. What then becomes the fate of the art of reading that often bears the fruit of writing? Nobody seems to care. That is what happens in my country and also that is why the menace of examination malpractice may be far from ending. I hate being a pessimist although.

With regards to the organized private sector, they are so engrossed into the entertainment industry to the tune of making every single entertainer an ambassador of its brand and lavishing stupendously huge sums of money on these so-called entertainers whose works scarcely impact positively to the health of the nation but instead promote social and moral promiscuity among the unsuspecting general population as a result of the Actor-Observer syndrome. Viewers can only end up practicing and advancing the kind of life style that greet them every now and again as they switch their T.V sets or tune in to various radio stations and who are these viewers? You and I who ought to have been racing over completing the entire Shakespearian texts or trying to rummage through some article or any piece of writing whatsoever. But that is not the case. The notion that whether one reads or not cannot change the situation of things has been crested in the gullible minds of all and particular mention must be made of the youth population who we are told are the leaders of tomorrow. Am I the only person seeing this irony? I hope not.

TV and radio programs every now and again, bother us with programs and reality events that bother on the promotion of other skills with the influential private sector coming in to sponsor and advertise its products and in the process, make stars and celebrities of the participants at the end of the day thereby, leading the gullible minds of the youth into believing that its greener on the other side. You know why? They compare the luxurious lifestyle of these celebrities so called with theirs and the only wish- is to become like them someday and how is this going to be achieved? By “swimming” in the uncensored waters of the social media in a bid to listen to some latest tune that is robbed of any literary excellence but only fine tuned with the present depth of technology with instruments that puts the icing cake on them, begging to be retweeted or followed back on the twitter network, face booking and liking face book pages of these artistes and so on and so forth and the resultant effect is seeing the reading culture as a nemesis, as on “Osu” or an “ Abiku” which must be abandoned and killed at all cost.

At the risk of sounding somewhat biased against the entertainment industry, I must say that I have attached no particular sentiment to my submission herein but rather objective conclusions predicated on facts and everyday societal life. What has been done to the Chimamanda Adichies, the young El-nathan, the Tolu Ogunlesis, the Omojuwas and a host of other promising avid readers and writers whose intellectual strides betters our society and nation at large, whose intellectual works puts our nation in front. They are forgotten and allowed to paddle in their boats alone with little or no recognition.

There must be a synergy among the family, the government and organized private sector as they have a great role to play in bringing back the book on people’s mind, in the development of young writers who are mostly avid readers in order to engender the performance of men and women who believe in the paradox that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Parents should guide their wards into reading anything that come their way irrespective of subject and give out prizes where tenable at the family level in order to encourage and serve as incentive to others. The school system cannot be left out in this. They should make reading and short story writing a part of their syllabus in order to propagate the trend and help in catching them young. The government at all level should sponsor literary works of young writers and consider aspiring writers for publication as the dream of every young writer is to haven being published. Literary clubs and publishing houses like Farafina books and a host of others should be partnered with in helping to harness the literary deposits untapped in our population and excellence awarded where it is attained. Literary/writing workshops/book reading seminars should form the agenda of the education ministry and adequate funds released to ensure its actualization while keeping corruption at its lowest ebb.

The organized private sector must be encouraged to extend their charity and supposedly reward for excellence to the areas of reading and writing as it forms part of their corporate social responsibility. Reality shows and other TV sponsored program should be promoted to re-invigorate in the populace the value and significance of the art of reading and writing while promoting the works of published authors and supporting the neophytes in the writing school financially and otherwise.

With the disappearance of books, a hope for a civilized society with value based on enlightenment, rational arguments and tolerance will be lost and that we cannot wish our beloved nation. No nation succeeds when her population are illiterates and bunch of do-not-knows. To read is to know and to know is to be enlightened. A stitch in time saves nine.

Nkannebe Raymond is a Law student and a public affairs commentator.

(Source: Sanity0407)

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