Habit of reading speedily approaching freezing point in Nigeria, says National Librarian, Anunobi
Nigeria not a reading nation, can’t develop, says don
Ipoola Jegede wins Mushin LGA reading contest
By Anote Ajeluorou
AFTER what seemed like a long wait by stakeholders, the National Library of Nigeria woke up to the quest of many Nigerians to take reading to conventional and unconventional spaces and deepen literacy among the populace. With Minister of Education, Malam MAdamu Adamu flagging off the campaign on September 15, 2022, the National Librarian/CEO of the National Library of Nigeria (NLN), Prof. Chinwe Veronica Anunobi is on a road show to take the Readership Promotion Campaign (RPC) to the 36 states of the federation, with many states already covered. On Tuesday, November 28, 2022, it was the turn of Lagos state, with Mushin Local Government Area as choice for the campaign. Lots of reading materials were distributed to attendees that included students, market women and artisans drawn from across the council area.
The day before, the national library had taken the literacy advocacy campaign to the Mechanic Village at Ilasamaja, a suburb of Mushin LGA, to sensitise the artisans on the importance of reading even in their own mother tongues. What is noteworthy of this exercise is that the campaign is not only about being able to read in English, but in mother tongues. This is revolutionary for the inclusivity of the hundreds of neglected languages across the country. Only on Wednesday, November 30, 2022, at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting of the Federal Government in Abuja, Minister Adamu had told journalists that the language spoken in a child’s environment has been adopted as the one for instruction in primary schools. This is cheering news to advocates of the promotion of Nigerian languages that have suffered acute neglect due to the absence of official endorsement. Minister Adamu was, however, quick to admit that the policy would take a while to implement, because of the logistical challenge of preparing for its full take off. But perhaps the biggest challenge to this policy that should have been in place decades ago is the proliferation of private schools across the country and the attendant shortage of teaching personnel to teach the indigenous languages. Perhaps, one small step at a time, which is what the pronouncement has certainly achieved.
At the Mushin Readership Promotion Campaign that had the Chairman, Hon. Emmanuel Olaerenwaju Bamigboye Vice Chairman Tunbosun Aruwe and other officials of the council in attendance, a reading and spelling bee contests were held for six secondary schools. For a local council that boasts of having the most public schools in Nigeria, such representation was unarguably poor, but perhaps it was better than nothing. Ipoola Jegede, a female SS3 student of Ilupeju Senior Secondary School, Ilupeju, won the reading contest and went home with an iPad as star prize. Perhaps, the NLN should consider giving out Kindles that are loaded with books as prizes in their next outing, as iPads might turn out needless distraction to the winning students.
In her opening remarks, the National Library of Nigeria’s CEO, Anunobi expressed delight at undertaking the Readership Promotion Campaign across the country, “which forms part of the statutory mandates of the apex library of the nation. RPC is a call on all Nigerians to embrace the habit of reading in order to eradicate the rate of illiteracy in Nigeria. The campaign is designed to awaken reading consciousness among Nigerians by way of promoting the availability and use of good reading materials by all and sundry as well as collectively seek solutions to the obstacles to reading culture in Nigeria. This engagement will take place in all the 36 states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, with a focus on donation of books and other materials to primary/secondary schools as well as other vulnerable groups in support of their learning.
“This year’s campaign is expected to impact on the indigenous people – ‘the-Hard-to-Reach.’ Thus, it is being held in the hinterlands where out-of-school children which was put at 20 million by UNESCO as well as the uneducated adults and internally displaced people are found. When we say ‘Hard-to-Reach,’ we are not only talking about geographical spaces, but language barriers. It is worthy of note that reading does not necessarily mean reading only in English. Reading must also include learning to read and write in mother tongues. So we are taking the campaign to royal palaces, to meet the royal fathers who will galvanize support by identifying volunteers, which will drive the project in those communities. The campaign is not expected to be a flash in the pan, whereby once we turn our backs, the project will end. Accordingly, we have provided these communities with whiteboards, markers, writing materials and basic reading materials, in other to engender basic literacy skills. It is time to help our children, adults and the excluded to be included. They will be encouraged to learn the basics of reading in their mother language (tongues); they must appreciate and be able to recognize their geographical location as well as other basic literacy and numeracy. This move is expected to serve as a spring board to community book clubs which the National Library will nurture in due course.”
Anunobi also stated that other objectives of the campaign was to entrench reading as a panacea for sundry societal vices that have been on the rise in the country, as reading makes for humane individuals in society who would not hurt their fellow men and women but toe the right and peaceful paths.
“Considering the need for inclusiveness and desire to address national problems such as Yahoo-yahoo, 419, get-rich quick syndrome, banditry, suicide bombing, terrorism, insecurity, mental degeneration, misinformation, fake news, etc, which are the outcomes of lack of reading, this year’s theme was chosen to be ‘Reading as a Panacea for Societal Problems.’”
Anunobi reiterated that “a reading nation is a moving nation and a country whose citizenry hardly reads stands at the edge of a precipice awaiting a colossal fall. The habit of reading is speedily approaching freezing point in Nigeria in general, and the hinter lands in particular. It is worthy to note that no individual will be left behind in this voyage of attaining inclusive growth and development. Every Nigeria is as important as the other, thus needs to read, learn and grow. To connect and build informed citizenry, the National Library of Nigeria will never rest on her oars towards ensuring a reading nation, for a reading nation is a leading nation. Show me a good leader and I will tell he is a reader.
“Let us join hands to ensure you that every Nigerian reads a book, a sentence in (their) mother tongues or English language. The making of a great village, city or town starts small. Do not allow this candle we light in your village to extinguish; help us to help you. We are available to play our own part, so endeavor to do yours. To our young readers some of who will excel in reading today, please do not renege in reading, for a reader is a leader. Today is your opportunity to build your great tomorrow. For the teachers and volunteers, I enjoin you to gird your loins and guide our future by supporting our today’s people to read.”
The Executive Chairman of Mushin LGA, Hon. Bamigboye, who was initially represented and spoke through his Senior Assistant on Education, Hon. Karaole Ishola Semiu, and later joined the programme, commended the National Library of Nigeria for choosing Mushin for the reading promotion programe and said, “Reading should be encouraged among the children who are future leaders, who imbibe should a reading culture and embrace platforms and reading environments put together by governments (and individuals) for such purposes. They should be responsible and conscious readers and should be aware that education and reading are continuous processes in our lifetime.”
Bamigboye, who said he was a library assistant as a primary school pupil, said his council would support the project, particularly the Mushin Book Club that was eventually set up to continue the objectives of the readership promotion campaign.
While delivering a paper on ‘Reading as a Panacea to Nigeria’s Societal Problems’ was Dr. Racheal Opeyemi Odunlade of the University of Lagos. She gave a damning verdict on Nigeria’s level of reading as a direct offshoot of her lack of development: “Show me a man that reads and I will show you an informed person! Show me a nation with a reading culture and I will show you a developed society! Reading has to do with literacy. The day a people come to the realisation that the root of their development – educationally, socially, psychologically, emotionally, economically, politically and otherwise lies in the level of their literacy is the day they are liberated,” adding that “most of the societal ills such as poor standard of education, illiteracy, terrorism, poverty, child abuse, nepotism, rape, corruption, unemployment, insecurity/insurgency, ignorance, inequality, child mortality, bad leadership, domestic violence, hooliganism, tribalism” that are plaguing Nigeria “would have been better managed if only we are literate.”
Odunlade concluded her lecture by saying that a lack of reading culture in any society is an impediment to its growth and global competitiveness: “The absence of a widespread culture of reading in the case of Nigeria acts as an effective barrier to our development and international competitiveness. The economic, social and political health of our nation today depends on building literate citizens that are able to read widely and apply it practically for development. It is therefore a necessity to making the present generation more aware of the benefits and importance of reading and ensuring that they have the literacy skills required in the modern society. Reading in all its variety is vital to being better informed, have a better understanding of yourself as well as others. It makes man to be a thoughtful and constructive contributor to a democratic and cohesive society. 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.”
She then suggested some smart tips that could enhance reading for young people, as a means of catching them young, even while they are still unborn and in their mothers’ wombs such as “encourage reading right from the womb (by reading to the unborn by mothers), reading to our children (story books) even when they are babies, putting them in school at the right time, discouraging too much television viewing in our homes, engaging our children in reading activities and giving rewards to motivate them while illiterate adults can go for adult education, and government should embark on more (reading) awareness (campaigns and programmes to motivate citizens to read).”
President of Network of Book Clubs and Reading (Culture) Promoters in Nigeria (NBRP), Mr. Richard Mammah then inaugurated the Mushin Book Club with three officials from Mushin council, with two officials of NBRP and two officials from the National Library Annex, Lagos, who will help pilot the affairs of the nascent club to maturity. He emphasised the importance of book clubs in a place like Mushin and all other under-served communities, as a means of getting books and the gospel of reading to the grassroots.
Some of the dignitaries present at the event were Head of Education Department of the council, Mrs. Oguntoye Bimbola, royal father of the day, His Highness Oba Fatai Aileru, represented by Baale of Ladipo/Mushin Markets, Alhaji Akidu Oseni, Coordinator of Mushin market women, Mrs. Taibat Borokini, and the council’s Head of Administration, Mr. Adeshina O. Osikoya. Also from the National Library Annex, Lagos were the Deputy Director, Mrs. Obianuju Onuorah, Directors, Human Resources and Administration, Mr. Bamidele Jacob and Collection Development and Technical Services, Mrs. Anthonia Onuoha, respectively.