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Needed urgently: A reading culture

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‘World Book Day’ as designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) was marked lately in Nigeria, together with other nations of the world. But it is regrettable that on that day, early in the month, what should have been a major event nationwide, indeed in every nook and cranny of this country happened with too little activities to make an effective impact on the psyche of the populace.

Although the major focus of the World Book Day is on children and youths, adult too are encouraged to read as a habit and to develop a love for books.  But if in Nigeria today, there is any issue deserving from both young and old, the utmost interest –even passion- comparable to say, football, we should think it is books and reading. The reason is simple: The world is fast turning into a knowledge-driven global village. It is trite to say that, in the relentless competition among nations for resources of all kinds and overall superiority, the better and faster thinking people outsmart and as history shows, dominate and colonize the mental laggard. This is the stark about new world.

Books, as repositories of knowledge are forever useful for several reasons that include their educative purpose and as portable reservoirs of transferable information. Progressive nations are book writing and reading nations. Consider the United States, arguably the most advanced nation today. The journals reveal that, ‘there are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the U.S. alone and many of those …are self-published.’ It can be argued that, the greater access to books of various kinds, on just about every topic under the sun, the more likely that people will read them either in part or in full. Research by a private institution is reported to have found that Americans read ‘a mean average of 12 books per year’ although in the age of e-book, not necessarily in hard copy form.

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While some other nations may be doing even better in this respect, it can be said that these are the reasons for America’s enduring leadership in intellectual resource, innovativeness and domination. It is a knowledge-driven and a thinking society, which explains its food security, its energy security and its military security, among other forms of national security resources.

The point to make therefore is that Nigeria must consider much more seriously first, to make books available to and affordable for the citizens. Secondly, there must be, on the part of government measures to on the one hand, encourage book production by subsiding the inputs through tax waivers and no interest loans for specific mass appeal types of books.  On the other hand, government must nurture a reading culture by bringing back the functional, well-equipped public libraries and reading rooms of the good old days. If the old colonisers could encourage the reading habit among Africans –albeit not for pure altruism, there can be no excuse that under self-government, Nigerians cannot enjoy these facilities.

Third, the saying goes that to know more is to be more. Even as government must do its part, Nigerians must, in turn, desire to know more by imbibing the reading habit. After all, you can force the horse to the water but you cannot make it to drink it.

Coinciding with the marking of the World Book Day, it is reported that experts blamed teachers for not doing enough to inculcate into pupils and students, the habit of reading more than their text books. Parents too have been blamed for not providing in the homes, a reading-friendly environment. That includes where possible, a study/library, or at least book-equipped shelves in the house. These are fair observations. The point must not be lost that teacher education is crucial not only to the immediate impartation of knowledge but also consistent guidance and counselling of students. You cannot give what you do not have. We hold that teachers must be empowered in the fullest sense of the word, to be able to both teach and guide their pupils and students on the reading habit as well as the very important reading skills.

Indeed, in the spirit of leading by example, teachers as well as parents can encourage reading among children by themselves reading, and being seen to do so consistently.

It is regrettable that, except for those who can afford it, or bibliophiles who are compulsive, incurable buyers and readers of books, hard times have made it nigh impossible for the average middle class citizen to earmark a percentage of disposable income to buy books. Nevertheless, the argument can be made that, in this 21st century age of the Internet of Everything, there are cheaper alternatives to knowledge that is not necessarily to patronise the bookstores.  Besides, there is the need, as stated earlier for more public libraries and reading rooms. On this, both government and private interests must get involved one way or other.

It is also a matter of regret that in this materialistic and money-driven society, intellectual excellence is disdained and even discouraged.  Inevitably, reading, knowledge and critical thinking that are aspects of it are on the decline. In the context of the debased values of the times, many – young and old – would rather be counting in the present, money and the goods it buys, than reading books to discuss esoteric idea of the future. Now, money answers everything. Or so it seems.

Reading is to the mind as exercise is to the body according to Sir Richard Steele. And out of minds well-exercised come the great ideas that build, sustain and advance nations. There is an overwhelming proof of this in the trajectory of modern nations. This being so, it behooves everyone in this polity to make a habit to read and every government at each tier to provide the infrastructure to support an indubitably noble habit. ‘Knowledge security’ we dare to state, is the fountain from which other forms of security flow.  Reading of books –and other things- is an important route to knowledge, which is the only resource some great nations actually have today.


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