Literature in the service of anti-graft campaign
For grooming better citizens that will shun corruption and other vices, Emeritus professor of English, Ayo Banjo, has urged Nigerians to embrace the country’s literature and read it widely. Not only that, he tasked leaders too to read more literary works, rather than the biographies and such books, so they could be better enlightened on morality that seems in abeyance at the moment.
Banjo also argued that literature as a cultural offering reinforces morality and good conduct that could root out corruption for good governance to emerge.
Banjo made the assertion in Lagos at the handing over of this year’s entries for The Nigerian Prize for Literature worth $100,000 to the chairman of judges, Prof. Dan Izevbaye of Bowen University, Iwo.
According to Banjo, “Our country needs the cultural reinforcement this prize offers. How has all our wealth been utilised? We hear mind-bogging sums that are alleged to have been stolen everyday. So, you need cultural reinforcement and morality in terms of good conduct and good conscience in the people who run the affairs of state for more transparency. That good conduct is what consumption of literature can bring to any society.”
In an exclusive interview, Banjo lamented that the Nigerian society was yet to imbibe the humanising values literature embodies by not reading enough of it, saying literature differentiates between bad and good and offers the better course people should take.
According to him, “Literature creates a different world from the one we have now. Call it utopia. Ultimately, it is an ideal world, which people act in accordance with high principles. It is a period in which good triumphs over evil. In children’s television or folk tales, for example, the good guys always win even if the bad guys had the upper hand in the beginning.
“This teaches the children from an early age that doing the right thing always pays. This makes children want to be like the heroes who do what is good and condemn what is bad. This helps to create an ideal world for everyone. The onus tied to this is morality and good conduct. By conduct, I mean discernment. These are what the writer addresses in his or her work.”
Banjo then emphasised the need to steep children early in the habit of reading literary works, starting from children’s story books that stress morality, so they grow up not only knowing what is good, but also avoid what is bad. He blamed the lack of a mother tongue for the country as reason why consumption of literature is so little and why it has failed to permeate the consciousness of citizens to do good. English, he said, is still a minority language in Nigeria and has proven inadequate in transmitting the various cultural ethos.
He stated, “Those who consume literary works are in the minority. The fact that English is the common language in this country may be the cause. The minority you are referring to are those who speak and read English and the writers are writing in English. That means it is only this ‘minority’ that can be reached and that is quite unfortunate. If we all spoke one language in this country, then we could ask the writers to write in that language in order to reach many more people. The Literature of the country should be one which can reach majority of the people.
“So, the only way in which literature is reaching a substantial portion of Nigerians is through the schools i.e. through the texts, which the students read. That is why children’s literature is very important because people go to school for about seven or eight years. By then, they would have been exposed to the morals embedded in the literary materials while they were in school.
“If we were a monolingual country, there would have been no problem because the writers will write in a language everybody can read. Everyone would be literate in that one language that everybody is sharing. But at the moment, it is very difficult.”
Banjo further lamented the dual morality ethos Nigerians uphold when they transit from the rigid moral code of their village communities to the culture dilution that happens in cities, which they see as no-man’s land and a tenuous place for morals.
Banjo stressed, “Those in government will not steal when they are in their villages where they come from, but they do in towns and cities, where nobody knows them. That is why they take a little back to their villages after stealing in the cities to appease them. This is basically what they do. They do it in the city because they can always get away with it because nobody knows them.
“When people migrate to urban areas, their attitudes change. Everything boils down to the different sets of values that we have. We have different moralities. The new values do not agree with the ones they were brought up with in their villages.”
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