• Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Who dey read?


If you were banished to a desert island, and you could only take one thing with you, would it be a book? I’m sure you would not give that a second thought, if you are not the book type! What informed by piece this week was an exchange which occurred between Yeni Kuti and her aunt, Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, at the presentation of Keith Richards’ book, An Outsider Inside at Terra Kulture on a certain Thursday about four years ago. It was amusing how the exchange went almost endlessly between the two.

“I won’t buy for the shrine because they don’t read books,” began Yemisi who has this habit of always wanting to be identified as the head of the Kuti family at every event. “Aunty, I respect you but na lie,” replied Yeni from the rear seat. “Yeni, are you there?” asked Yemisi with surprise. “For shrine, dem no dey read books.” “Aunty that one no true o. For shrine, we dey read books well, well,” insisted Yeni. Adding, “Because of that, I will buy ten copies for the shrine.”

“Yeni, I know your dancers are brilliant boys and girls,” admitted Yemisi, conceding to Yeni’s vehement, yet subtle stance about the intellectual ability of the dancers at the shrine.

This brings to mind the poor reading culture in Nigeria. It is really sad that book presentations that are not politically motivated usually attract low turn out of people in Nigeria. There is no denying the fact that reading habits have changed considerably in Nigeria and not a few people find this is a worrisome development. It is generally believed that in a situation whereby a large number of people rarely read – either because they lack the skill or simply because they do not care enough to take the time to concentrate – poses serious problems for the present and the future. Of course, I need hardly to convince you of the importance of reading. It is essential to full participation in modern society, just as it adds quality to life, and provides access to culture and cultural heritages. Aside these, reading empowers and emancipates citizens, just as it brings people together.

Perhaps, more rational thinking members of this society will prevail on the minister of education to begin a process to reclaim the minds of Nigerian youths. Mental states such as semi-illiteracy and illiteracy do no good to them. The minister can begin this process by promoting a national reading campaign aimed primarily at primary school pupils in order to lay a proper foundation for their future learning and that of our nation. Such a campaign, amongst others, should encourage reading by these pupils, of at least, one book a month. And to complement and ensure its success, a system of book tokens, to facilitate the easy access to affordable books should also be introduced.

I readily recall when I was in The Netherlands. I came across a magazine which disclosed the outcome of a survey showing that in Holland, 43 percent would take their TV set with them, 17 percent the radio, and 17 percent a stack of magazines, but none mentioned taking a book, which according to the survey is strange, because a book has everything. The Ministry of Education should carry out this kind of survey in Nigeria too to start a similar campaign.

It is especially important at a time when an increasing number of our people are spending less time reading, and when reading skills are declining. At the same time, the new media requires excellent reading skills and have their own place in the full range of media. Every medium, whether printed or broadcast, caters to different needs. In this regard, I would say our society has a lot of work to do in this regard.

The general trend has been that people are reading less than they used to, in spite of a higher level of education; young people, in particular, are reading less; and a worrying percentage of children have trouble reading comprehension. This enough should prompt government to make the promotion of reading one of the top priorities in its cultural and educational policy. It is feared by some educationists, according to a report, that the negative trend will eventually lead to a split in the population: between those who do have access to information and the book culture and those who do not. This, of course, will seriously affect participation in culture and society, and may eventually pose significant threat to democracy and our national culture. For example: how can a voter make a carefully considered political choice if he or she does not have free access to information?

While a good reading culture will not, in and of itself, resolve all of our problems, as there is a huge gap between knowledge and know-how, it will at least, cause more of our youths to think and question their government’s actions and inactions and hold them accountable; which in the long run will serve us all well.