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World Book Day: Rediscovering Nigeria’s Lost Reading Culture

By Itunu Azeez Kareem
23 April 2023   |   6:00 am
"One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time." – Carl Sagan World Book and Copyright Day, otherwise known as World Book Day, is celebrated every year on April 23. The events done to honour the day are…

“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” – Carl Sagan

World Book and Copyright Day, otherwise known as World Book Day, is celebrated every year on April 23. The events done to honour the day are organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to promote reading, publishing, and copyright.

On this occasion, UNESCO and the international organisations representing the three major sectors of the book industry – publishers, booksellers and libraries, select the World Book Capital for a year to maintain, through its own initiatives, the impetus of the Day’s celebrations.

“Indeed, books are vital vehicles to access, transmit and promote education, science, culture and information worldwide,” said UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay.

April 23, however, is a symbolic date in world literature. It is the date on which several prominent authors, William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died.

This date was a natural choice for UNESCO’s General Conference, held in Paris in 1995, to pay a worldwide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone to access books.

With the active involvement of all stakeholders, authors, publishers, teachers, librarians, public and private institutions, humanitarian non-governmental organisations and the mass media, and all those who feel motivated to work together in this world celebration of books and authors, World Book and Copyright Day have become a platform to rally together millions of people all around the world.

By championing books and copyright, UNESCO stands up for creativity, diversity and equal access to knowledge, with work across the board – from the Creative Cities of Literature network to promoting literacy and mobile learning and advancing Open Access to scientific knowledge and educational resources.

UNESCO’s theme for 2023 – Indigenous Languages!
Last year saw the start of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-32) and it’s a UN priority to uphold and promote linguistic diversity and multilingualism. Indigenous and local languages feature as part of the World Book Capital Network Charter, and the Charter recognises a less rigid concept of ‘the book’, i.e., acknowledging various forms of literature (including oral traditions).

Of the almost 7,000 existing languages – many of which are fast disappearing – the majority are spoken by indigenous peoples who represent the greater part of the world’s cultural diversity. The UN does not put restrictions on who or which cultures can be termed indigenous, but many of you will be aware of indigenous communities either from your own country, residing there, or among those you have worked with abroad

As a result of the rise in the number of digital devices and social media platforms, traditional reading and writing practices have undergone a lot of change. E-books, audiobooks and online reading have made it easier for people to access literature and consume content in a new and exciting way.

Globally, it is estimated that the total number of new book titles released yearly is around 4 million. In 2022 alone, it was projected that more than 12.25 million ebooks would be published.

Poor Reading Habit Impact Nigeria
Though Nigeria has what seems the largest number of publishing houses in the continent, the figure is still not encouraging. There is no vibrant book industry.

Recall that the Federal Government had established paper and pulp-making industries and an elaborate plan was drawn up for achieving self-sufficiency in the production of books for the nursery/primary, secondary, and tertiary tiers of education. Unfortunately, all that collapsed following the nation’s economic downturn of the 1980s.

Reading culture in Nigeria has been on the decline over the years, and this owes much to reasons such as a lack of access to books, inadequate educational resources and a preference for other forms of entertainment.

However, one indication of the unhealthy state of the book sector in Nigeria since 1981 has been the number of task forces, study groups, conferences, and committees set up to make recommendations on various facets of book production and distribution, including ways to equip the book sector and make it meet the needs of the educational system.

One of the major challenges facing the reading culture in Nigeria is the lack of access to books. Many Nigerians do not have access to libraries or bookstores, and even when they do, the cost of books can be prohibitively expensive. Additionally, many schools in Nigeria do not have adequate libraries and those that do often have outdated or insufficient books.

Another challenge is the focus on academic reading and neglect of reading for pleasure. Many Nigerian schools and universities prioritise academic reading over reading for leisure, which can lead to a lack of interest in reading outside of academic requirements. Additionally, the Nigerian educational system tends to place a greater emphasis on learning and memorisation, which can stifle creativity and critical thinking.

Poor reading habits can have a significant impact on Nigerians, both individually and as a society. Some of the ways it has impacted society include:

Limited access to knowledge: Poor reading habits can limit an individual’s access to knowledge and information. This can lead to a lack of understanding of important issues, a narrow worldview, and a lack of critical thinking skills.

Poor academic performance: Reading is essential for academic success, and poor reading habits can negatively affect academic performance. Students who struggle with reading may find it challenging to comprehend textbooks and other academic materials, leading to poor grades and a lack of academic achievement.

Reduced employability: Reading is an essential skill in many jobs, and poor reading habits can limit a person’s employability. Employers often seek employees with strong reading and comprehension skills, and those who struggle with reading may find it challenging to secure employment.

Limited personal growth: Reading is an essential tool for personal growth and development. Poor reading habits can limit an individual’s ability to learn new things, explore new ideas, and develop new skills.

Reduced national development: A society that struggles with poor reading habits may struggle to achieve its full potential in terms of national development. A lack of critical thinking skills, a limited understanding of important issues, and a narrow worldview can all contribute to slow economic growth and social development.

Despite the challenges facing books in the country, there are still Nigerians who enjoy reading, and this is evident in the number of bookstores, libraries, and literary events across the country.
The government has put up a lot of initiatives to promote literacy and reading, such as the National Library of Nigeria and the National Book Policy. Private organisations and individuals are also working to promote reading through book clubs, literary festivals and online bookstores. However, the number of people who read for leisure is still relatively low compared to other countries.

The Rediscovery Of Nigerians Reading Habit
The creation of online and E-library was supposed to boost our spirit and shoot us further forward, however, this has also led to concerns about the declining popularity of traditional books and the impact on people’s attention spans and critical thinking abilities.

Some argue that reading in a digital format has made people more distracted and less capable of deep reading, while others believe that technology has revolutionised the reading experience and made it more interactive and engaging.

Encouraging reading habits in Nigeria can be a significant challenge, but there are several ways that individuals and organisations can promote a culture of reading in the country. Here are some suggestions:

Establishing public libraries: Nigeria needs more public libraries to encourage access to books and other reading materials. Government and private organisations can come together to build public libraries in different locations across the country.

Promoting reading clubs: Reading clubs can be established in schools and communities to encourage reading as a social activity. These clubs can provide a platform for members to discuss books, exchange ideas and learn from one another.

Providing reading materials: Schools and communities can provide reading materials like books, magazines and newspapers to encourage reading habits. These materials can be made available in libraries, schools, and community centres.

Organising reading programmes: Reading programmes can be organised by schools, libraries, and other organisations to encourage people to read more. These programs can include reading competitions, book clubs, and other activities that make reading more fun and engaging.

Encouraging parents to read to their children: Parents can play a significant role in encouraging reading habits by reading to their children at an early age. This can help to develop a love for reading and make it a part of their daily routine.

Leveraging technology: With the increasing use of technology in Nigeria, organisations can develop reading apps, e-books, and other digital reading materials to encourage reading habits.