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The University Of Lagos Bookshop I saw

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Martins Oloja

Martins Oloja

I returned to my alma mater, (University of Lagos) last week, courtesy of the very vibrant UNILAG Mass Communication Alumni Association (UMCA) that organized its 2nd Distinguished Lecture to mark the 50th birthday of the journalism school that has produced most of the brightest and the best (journalists) in Nigeria. I was impressed by the university’s physical environment I toured. The lecture titled, Building a New Generation of Media Professionals in a Changing World Order delivered by a distinguished alumnus, Mr Debo Adesina, of The Guardian was profound. But at the end of the illuminating lecture, the University of Lagos Bookshop that I explored for two and half hours depressed me a great deal. What is worse, on the Ground Floor, the bookshop displays more primary and secondary school books. I was really shocked that the Great University of Lagos bookshop couldn’t maintain more than one floor of bookshelves that no scholar anywhere could be proud of. As a collector of good books, classical and modern, I paced up and down looking for great books. I checked the mass communication and English Language sections, I was moved to tears that I could not find any books that students of communications and media studies or journalism could buy to improve on writing skills. I was shaken when I recalled what Mr Adesina, told the alumni and students: that in addition to the certificates the university awards, the other certificate we should award ourselves should be reading widely. In all modesty, I did not find any good books to produce leaders of tomorrow in journalism, engineering, philosophy, political science, business administration, accounting, computer science, law, education, etc.

It is a paradox of development that the University of Lagos bookshop we patronized in the early eighties near the mass communication department was better and bigger than the very stuffy one I saw last Thursday. One of the dividends of democracy that the politician cannot track about Nigeria now is that good books, academic books are available in good bookshops such as Glendora, Readers are Leaders bookshops. So, why can’t one of the best universities in the economic capital of West Africa, Lagos, have a good bookshop that should be a reference point?

No doubt, the University of Lagos is a great citadel of learning that has produced so many successful professionals, governors and bureaucrats at all levels. The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo is a product of Unilag. Mr Adesina, who delivered the Alumni Lecture that propelled me to the bookshop testified to this when he observed in the opening paragraph of the lecture, “One of my favourite books is titled, All I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. He continued: “Let me just say we are all still students in the university of life but all I really needed to prepare me for that school, I learned in UNILAG… I left this institution about 30 years ago but the values it instilled in me, especially through the Mass Communication Department, remain indelible and they have ordered my steps till now…I got a certificate and much more…I got an education and much more. There is indeed no greater honour than being a Great Akokite…” I can testify that Mr. Adesina, my predecessor in office as Editor of The Guardian is a resourceful journalist, a great product of the Mass Communication Department of the University of Lagos. There are many more successful professionals in many other disciplines including Dele Olojede, a great product of the UNILAG Mass Communication Department before departing for New York where he obtained a post-graduate degree and won a Pulitzer prize in journalism.

There is a sense in which Olojede and others such as Mr. Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed, Dare Babarinsa, Lade Bonuola, Segun Osoba, Emeka Izeze, John Momoh, etc. could say like Adesina, all that really prepared them for their professional journey, they learned at the UNILAG. There are many others including the current Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode who are products of the University of Lagos. There are many others including former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, who obtained their post-graduate degrees from the Akoka-Yaba based University. I recall too my former boss and a former Editor of New Nigerian, Alhaji Bukar Zarma, who hails from Borno, obtained his B.Sc & MBA from the University of Lagos.

This lamentation is really not about the parlous state of the University of Lagos bookshop. It is just another entry point for continuation of the several articles I have written here on the expediency of better universities, not more universities in the country. On Saturday June 4, 2016 on this page, I wrote on “Why we need better universities, not more”. On June 11, 2016, the follow up was, “Better universities will lead to Nigerian exceptionalism”. On June 18, 2016, the subject was, ”Better Universities will trigger organizational learning”. On July 9, 2016, the title here was, “Let’s elevate our teachers as super stars”. The August 13 intervention was, “Before legal education council ruins open university”. Before all these, on April 16, I had written on, “Mediocrity, everywhere you go”. That speaks to the issue that absence of quality education triggers mediocrity.

All told, the trip to the Unilag bookshop has moved me to appeal to the powers that be in Abuja and the 36 states that while they are grappling with economic recession and attendant security challenges, they should always remember that there is a direct correlation between quality of education and development of a country. What this means is that all our leaders should at all times remember to fund education more than even roads and housing construction. It is not just funding education as a way of laundering money. I am fully persuaded that even a good secondary school should have a good library and a good local government that maintains such schools should have good bookshops nearby where parents can buy books. All I needed in essentials of English language for further education I learned at the Divisional Teachers’ College, Ode Aye, in the then Okitipupa Local government Council (1979-81). And there were then good bookshops that had good English language books to buy for verification of teachings of mostly Ghanaian teachers of English.

That was where the foundation of what I share in “Inside Stuff Grammar School” every week was laid.
Most of our big men always include even a two weeks training programme at the Harvard University, for instance, in their curriculum vitae. Have they entered the Harvard University Bookshop run by the Cooperative Society? It is awesome. Apart from the University’s virtual library that students and teachers can access on their mobile devices, the bookshop of normal books provides a veritable avenue to read widely without buying books. The bookshop of a higher school or university should have most of the text (books) that the university depends on for research and reading. These two scholars support this notion. Their words: “Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light (Vera Nazarian). “If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

And here is the thing, Mr. Adesina’s Alumni Lecture titled, Vessel in a Storm, speaks well enough to the construct of Clayton Christensen’s seminal work on The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997) and The Innovator’s Solution (2003). He (Adesina), a practicing journalist, looked into the seed of time and warned both journalism teachers and students on the dangers of teaching and learning only the modules of traditional journalism that has been ruthlessly disrupted by the rampaging social media. He noted in a context: “It is the reality now that anywhere you turn, someone has a camera or any other media tool and can do exactly what we do for a living. Their output may sometimes be in poor quality and those we know as citizen journalists peddle a lot of false stories. Notwithstanding, the competition is real and life threatening to professionals whose monopoly on news gathering and dissemination has been broken….”
So, when I got to the bookshop I expected to see a lot of books on “Digital Journalism”, modules, which now produce digital journalists that can run modern newspapers, radio and television stations. It is heart warming to note that the Mass Communication Department now has a multimedia centre. The Unilag radio is attached to the department and a television licence is being pursued.

But the point is that the curriculum of the mass communication department they used in training us more than 30 years ago must be disrupted to reflect the current reality in the industry, lest we should be the last as Lenrie Peters warned long ago. This is an emergency that the Minister of Education, the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC) and all the university administrators should face. It is not only journalism curriculum that should be reformed. All technology courses, medical science courses, defence and security studies, all the tertiary institutions’ courses must be reviewed as they radically did, for instance, in Journalism School at the Columbia University in New York. For the new post-graduate course in journalism, the school (Columbia) has joined Journalism with Computer Science to produce a complete module in Digital Journalism (Journalism + Computer Science = Digital Journalism). So, any holder of the Columbia PG certificate or degree can work as a print, radio, television or digital newspaper specialist. This is the point the NUC should note: That the old curricula cannot produce workers for today’s factories and market. It is a new day. Really, the innovator may have been in a dilemma when new technologies cause great firms to fail but with research orientation of our universities the industries should be able to create and sustain growth. That is when the innovator’s solution would emerge.
The Great University of Lagos authorities should therefore wake up today and disrupt any business model, which has sustained that reproach called the University of Lagos Bookshop. Let’s bring back our books through a good university bookshop.

Inside Stuff Grammar School:
Using “Contact” as a Transitive Verb
Though the word “contact” is commonly used as a transitive verb, purists consider its use as vague. Do not contact people; get in touch with them, look them up, telephone them, meet them or find them.
“Currently” Vs “At the Moment”:
In serious writing, avoid the use of “currently” in the sense of now with a verb in the present tense. Currently is usually redundant; you can achieve emphasis when you use a more precise reference to time.
1. We are “currently” reviewing your application (bad)
1. We are “at this moment” reviewing your application (good)



1 Comment
  • Dr Jide Rotilu

    I understand your concerns but most Books and Journals are read on net these days.