• Wednesday, February 28, 2024
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Books! Books!! Books!!! (1)


Just Man and Just Woman, my Monday morning callers, had shocked me as they coolly narrated what they did to the nation’s youth consigned to their care (“You’re Wasting Your Time!” Sunday August 16). Not as though I had never heard of the national scandal of our tertiary institutions called sorting, which they called their “survival formula” or the professoriat’s feeble answer to the political class who “carted off the nation’s wealth in the millions and billions in ghana-must-go bags.” I had heard it before; but a horror is a horror is a horror even if you’re hearing or seeing it for the tenth time or even living with it daily. Anyway, I decided to try and turn the tables on them.

“What about books?” I asked.

“What about them?” They sounded surprised and uncertain.

“How do you solve the problem of books?”

“We don’t,” said JMan. “We can’t. Books haven’t been available on Nigerian campuses for decades. We are neither printers nor publishers nor importers or exporters.”

“We photocopy some relevant pages from some old books and sell them to the students,” said JWoman.

“Which they don’t even read,” said JMan.

“The whole world knows that Nigerian students don’t read,” said JWoman.

“Why bother to read when they can get an A for just paying N50,000?”


“Are you still there?” asked JWoman, her voice tremulous with apprehension.

“Your defences have crumbled, and you know it!” I screamed.

“Call it what you like,” said JMan.

“The reading culture collapsed long ago in the entire Nigeria,” said JWoman.

“Excuses! Excuses! Lame excuses!” I must drive the spear-point home. “You can’t explain what you are doing, let alone justify it. So little imagination! Brain-dead!!”

“You’re trying to insult us.”

“We won’t be bullied! Who do you think you are?”

“You’re beneath contempt! Scum of the earth!” I was quite beside myself.

“We will drop the phone!”

“Go ahead! Drop the phone! You called me, I didn’t call you!”

Prolonged silence.

“You can’t drop the phone, can you? Miserable cowards. You know you’re so wrong! Your conscience is killing you. You thought you’d killed your conscience. But now you worry what to tell your children when they find out what crimes their so successful father/mother commits daily. Murdering their children’s future N50,000 at a time.”


“Are you still there?”

“Listen, Mr O. J. . . .”

More silence.

“You’re lost for words, aren’t you? You don’t know what to say or how to say it, do you?”


“You want a way out? . . . . I’ll give you a hint . . . . You say you’re not printers or publishers. Why don’t you become printers and publishers? Flood the higher education system with books, books and more books. And make honest money doing it. With your heavy takes from sorting you have the seed money to start.”


“Why don’t you lead a crusade to revive the reading culture in Nigeria, starting with the universities and polytechnics which you know best? For once, assign research papers based on materials actually read and experiments actually conducted. Conduct exams and award grades of A, B, C, D or F actually earned, with the accompanying + or – where relevant.”


“Why don’t you revive the tradition which continues unbroken in those nations whose towering achievements continue to astonish the entire world—achievements in science and technology and the arts—the  literary arts, graphic arts, architectural arts, cinematic arts?”

“What is the tradition?” they asked in unison.

“The tradition of ABC and 2+2; of H2O and E=mc2. The tradition of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. The tradition of reward deserved. The tradition of achievement through hard work, through assiduous application of both brain and brawn. The tradition of investment, of returns commensurate with relentless commitment of God-given physical and mental resources by individuals and their collectivity in a shared vision.”


“This is also the tradition of our forefathers, evident in their insistence on a job well done, their strict enforcement of laws, and the primacy they accord to communal progress and well being. Their values are well captured in their proverbs, slogans and saws, which they share with many other peoples of the world:

A lazy boy will be a poor man when he grows up.

If you don’t have the strength to cultivate yams, nor the wisdom to partner with your peers, you will eat cassava all the days of your life.

If you defecate on the path to your farm, you will meet flies on your way home.

As you sow, so shall you reap.

Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.”

“That’s Naija exactly!” exclaimed JMan.

“We haven’t seen whirlwind yet,” said JWoman. “These are just baby breezes…”

  To be continued

Onwuchekwa Jemie