Reading is a universal phenomenon and tradition, as there is practically no vocation across the world that does not require reading.
Even in contemporary times, artisans and tradesmen ought to be able to read and write so as to enable them to function properly in their day-to-day activities.
In all educational systems the world over, reading is considered to be a dependent variable, as no educational endeavour could thrive without the reading culture.
In a learning environment, the ability of a child to survive is anchored on reading, which requires some language skills, and pedagogues insist that a child’s reading skills have to be developed and strengthened, as he or she moves up the education ladder.
These days, however, there has been a growing concern that the reading culture among Nigerians, particularly the youth and students, has waned significantly.
The older generation of Nigerians recalled with nostalgia, those days when virtually all the towns and cities had public libraries, which catered to the reading needs of the residents.
Nowadays, the interest of most Nigerians in reading has dramatically diminished, as the people are now more interested in watching television and films or browsing the web, among other forms of entertainment.
The problem is becoming more alarming, as students of schools that have the privilege of having functional and well-quipped libraries do not patronise them.
Observers note that many students of such schools have never borrowed or read a single book in the libraries throughout their stay in the schools.
These developments, among other factors, perhaps, propelled the National institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) to organise in December last year, the 7th Annual Round Table on Cultural Orientation (ARTCO), with the theme: “Promoting Reading Culture in Nigeria: The Role of Institutions”.
The Executive Secretary of NICO, Mr. Barclays Ayakoroma, said that the theme of the roundtable was considered timely and apt because of the deteriorating educational system of the country.
He said that NICO’s desire to aid the reading culture campaign through the roundtable was partly informed by President Goodluck Jonathan’s efforts to promote the reading culture in Nigeria via the “Bring Back the Book” (BBB) campaign.
Ayakoroma said that the 7th ARTCO was geared toward evaluating the role of various institutions in improving the dwindling reading culture in Nigeria.
“The crucial role of parents, as the first level of contact with the children, is on the verge of collapse. Many parents hardly spend time with their children to groom them academically, spiritually, socially and so on.
“The required foundational orientation is usually lacking or in some cases, left in the care of house-helps who may also require such attention,” he said.
Ayakoroma noted that in Indonesia, for instance, pupils spent only three hours in school during weekdays and one hour on Saturdays.
“The implication of the arrangement is that Indonesian pupils spend more time at home for enhanced parental guidance, while they grow up appreciating their cultural endowments in a pragmatic way,” he said. “As it were, when complete attitudinal change is encouraged, the potential for achievement in our children is further strengthened,” he added.
Ayakoroma bemoaned a situation in which reading was only accorded priority attention whenever examinations were in view, adding that research, one of the major factors stimulating the people’s desire to read, had been largely abandoned.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Edem Duke, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, particularly blamed the students’ poor performance in external examinations nowadays on their poor reading habit.
Citing the 2011 WASCE results which he described as “discouraging” as an example, the Minister noted that less than 22 per cent of the candidates who sat for the examination, passed with credits in five subjects, including English and mathematics.
“It is, therefore, imperative that we work together to promote the reading culture, especially among our children and youths,” Duke said at the NICO roundtable.
“It is part of government’s strategic plans to promote the reading culture that libraries, which are well-stocked with good books, will be cited in different locations across the country.”
The minister stressed the need for churches, mosques, the media, parents and non- governmental organisations to actively participate in the nascent crusade to restore the reading culture in the Nigerian society.
Prof. Olu Obafemi, the Chairman of the NICO roundtable, nonetheless, said that Nigeria had yet to have any realistic project that could foster a purposeful reading culture in the country.
“Let no one make the mistake about the critical location of reading in a nation’s life; even the survival of our fledgling democracy depends on it,” he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, observers say that reading is a dependent variable in efforts to evolve a democratic and cohesive society.
Alhaji Abubakar Jijiwa, the Director-General of vo ice of Nigeria (vON), however, noted that the promotion of a reading culture transcended efforts to make reading materials available, adding that it also necessitated the ingenuity of teachers, care givers and parents.
“In the 1970s, pupils in primary schools were made to read according to their levels. Some pupils then sat under trees and read interesting books.
“Poems were memorised in such settings, where some literature were also dramatised,” he said.
Jijiwa stressed that efforts to relive the golden era of the reading culture should entail the sponsorship of workshops, seminars and discussions where a National Book Policy (NBP) could be developed and adapted toward specific societal needs.
“A Holiday Reading Programme can also be developed and sponsored by companies, while reading competitions can be organised by corporate organisations,” he said.
Even the labour movement is also involved in the campaign to revive the reading culture, as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is striving to play an important role in the campaign.
This is because NLC’s affiliates in the education sector are somewhat promoting the reading culture by actively engaging the government to initiate purposeful plans to develop the education sector.
Affiliate bodies such as the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) are very much involved in the campaign to promote the reading culture in Nigeria. Mr Muttaqa Yusha’u, an official of the NLC National Headquarters, said that the reading culture could be improved via the creation of incentives and sanctions for teachers, as well as the promotion of the reading habit in the home setting.
“Part of the NLC’s contributions to promote the reading culture is our two national schools, labelled ‘Rain and Harmatan Schools’, organised every year.
“The essence of these schools is to promote the culture of continuing education among the working class, so as to enhance their productivity in spite of the challenges of the working environment in 21st Century,” Yusha’u said.
However, Mr Seyi Adigun, the Chairman of the FCT chapter of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), recommended the use of indigenous languages in the country’s educational system and for the conduct of business and governance. “Books written in Nigerian languages can, therefore, become more useful tools as potent stores for our national memory and as priority choices for our leaders. “The establishment of an Indigenous Languages and Literacy Taskforce (ILLT), involving agencies and organisations, to articulate the ideas is also considered imperative,” he said.
In a nutshell, there is growing consensus of opinion that concerted efforts should be directed at reviving the reading culture in Nigeria, as this will engender the country’s development in pragmatic ways.
Analysts are, however, of the view that such efforts must necessarily involve strategies to instill library discipline among Nigerian students.
They also stress the need for Nigerian homes to promote the resuscitation of the reading culture by encouraging children to read more at home and give less attention to watching television, among other time-consuming activities.
Onifade writes for the News Agency of Nigeira.