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‘Why reading is difficult in Nigeria’

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Odafe Atogun


Author of two books, Tadunos Song and Wake Me When Im Gone and Abuja-based Mr. Odafe Atogun has said the Nigerian society is not yet structured to aid the consumption of cultural products, especially literary books for the immense pleasure inherent in them.

Although, he lives entirely as a writer, he admits to also doing some irregular consultancy jobs in-between writing, which he notes, keeps him rooted on his passion for writing.

Atogun successfully got two book deals from publishers abroad, Canongate, Penguin Random House, and Archie Verlag, which place him in fairly comfortable financial position not to hold a day-job as against most of his peers in the writing business.

Without a vibrant book reading culture, he says, creative writers will always operate on the margins of the cultural eco-system, as their book offerings will remain unsold and so remain impoverished. It is the reason Nigerian writers cannot live off their writing alone, but have to work 9-5 day jobs to keep body and soul together.

Many reasons account for why reading is hard in the country, according to Atogun. First, he points to the country’s lamentable and shambolic transportation system, saying it stifles active book reading and its promotion. He said the amount of time spent commuting would have been properly utilised to read if only the transport system is convenient for that pastime. Atogun argues that until the transport system is redressed active reading would continue to suffer.

According to him, reading is a difficult task in Nigeria. We stay in traffic for two to four hours. In Europe there are trains that you can travel in and you can read comfortably, but not here. Our reading time here is very limited. Most of the reading is done in Europe while commuting. As long as we don’t have good transport system we can’t read. We’re not used to the culture of reading while commuting. You can’t read in the type of buses we have. Our public transport system is a huge distraction to our reading habit. We don’t have good trains or buses that help us to read. So, the time we have to read is like a few hours a week, which is not good enough.”Not only the transport system, Atogun states, militates against active pleasure reading that literary works engenders.

There is also the general stress of living in a country like Nigeria, Atogun says. You have to put in so much effort for the hustle compared with what happens in western societies. You put in so much time to put food on the table. The pressure of life in third world countries could affect reading reading is a thing of the mind. You have to be in a good frame of mind to read.

Also, Atogun agues most Nigerians live in appalling accommodations that do not support for reading, saying such poor dwelling places impact negatively on the way they consume literature.Disruptive technology such as, smart phones and social media, Atogun says is a big distraction to reading. Social pressure of being abreast of social culture, he says, is another disruption to reading.

You either choose to give more time to reading or socialising. Technology is a big factor; people being glued to their phones, TV, and the cinemas. So, it comes down to apportioning your time well. Imagine someone living in the village and having access to books; he’s more likely to give his time to reading books than the one in the city.

Atogun also decries the cost of books and absence of bookshop as other factors militating against the flowering of a vibrant literary culture that consists of writing and reading. So that while the writerly community appears alive and doing fairly well, the case is different with the reading community that appears to be shrinking.

With Nigeria’s economic woes, which is at the root of most of the factors given above unrelenting, it seems a long way off before respite comes to that aspect of the country’s national life. This also means that the country will continue to regress in all areas, as modern civilization is founded on literacy, which book reading, whether for academic pursuit or pleasure, stands for.


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Odafe Atogun
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