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.
Onifade writes for the News Agency of Nigeira.
Fishing Out The Ritualists
It would be obvious to a growing number of Nigerians by now that much of the violent crimes in the country, from murder to kidnapping and armed robberies, have much to do with some fetish rituals. A most recent case of car-snatchers in Eleme axis of Rivers State can be used as an example, because there was a confession pointing towards working in collaboration with witch-doctors. Ritual murder of a young girl by an undergraduate student also pointed towards the involvement of a ritualist and sponsor as accomplices.
Witch-doctors and ritualists go far beyond what an average Nigerian would know. Without being uncharitable or alarmist, there is a need to look into the activities of numerous religious sects operating as visionary and exercise ministries. To say the least, there are witch-doctors and ritualist, using religious applications as platforms of operation. Was there not a case of a “clergyman” and “after-birth placenta pepper soup”?
Investigations into the exploits of witch-doctors and various brands of ritualists, in relation to their associations with criminal groups, reveal shocking details. The first issue has to do with a propensity to acquire some power, coupled with an illusion of invincibility. In agberolingo such power of invincibility is known as “Odeshi”. Unfortunately, those exploring and promising such extra-normal power engage in a number of activities whose end-results they know nothing about.
But they go on, heedlessly!
Those who heedlessly explore the psychic world without knowing its nature expose themselves and other people to serious dangers, one of which is the possibility of insanity. Thus, toying with psychic power, for political, economic, religious or criminal purposes, usually lead to unpleasant end. Actually there are centres of energy of various natures which anyone can make contact with, but the rule is that only the pure can reach-out to what is pure or noble.
At best, what witch-doctors, ritualists and other impudent explorers of the psychic world encounter and deal with are usually inferior and dark energy centres. Fascination with what is unusual and curious cause many gullible people to be carried away by the illusory nature of the psychic world. One rule is sure over there, namely: There is no free meal, neither can anyone get what he is not qualified to get. The only thing easy to get is illusion or clouding of consciousness.
Therefore, dabblers into the psychic world for whatever purposes, do a great deal of harm to themselves and others too. When those who do so are clergy men and women, there is the possibility of dragging the image of religion into the mud. Serious seekers of the light of truth do not associate with juggling fiends of the psychic world, because no wise person would go for mud when gold is not far to fetch. One has to know the differences and values.
There is a need to suggest that stricter regulations be placed on establishment of religious houses as well as proselytism. Possibly, preachers and operators of all visionary, miracle and healing ministries should be licensed, inspected and subjected to regular audit. As for various categories of witch-doctors, ritualists often mentioned by criminal gangs as their accomplices or consultants, they should be prosecuted. They are known to demand for human parts, including placenta of nursing mothers taken immediately after delivery. If there is no demand for human parts, then, there would not be ritual murder for the purpose of obtaining such parts. Similarly, the murderers are merely killer agents for faceless monsters who believe in money and power as chief goals in life. Quite often such monsters are rarely accessible or prosecuted.
The illusion of wanting to get something without paying an equivalent price for it is an issue which all stakeholders in human development process must jointly emphasize at every opportunity. Similarly the fact that dark and impure forces thrive where people hold such illusions about life is a reality which explains the sad rate of spread of evil propensities. Of the laws governing life hardly is there any which stipulates that anyone can get away with any wrong doing, not even when a visionary, exorcist or a marabout claims that such law can be annulled. People are simply gullible.
Arising from the illusion that natural laws can be annulled by those who claim to have a power to do so, may gullible people rush to those who make such claims? While we may not be able to stop anyone or groups of persons from making claims about possession of unique powers, those making such claims should be licensed and taxed as they operate. Authentification and verification of such claims would also be necessary before they become legal for public patronage.
A great deal of harm had been done by dabblers, intruders and fake practitioners in every sphere of human activities. In the case of the unseen and known, there is a need to protect the gullible public from harms which can arise from such charlatans. While the laws prescribe freedom of belief and association, there should be strict provisions to checkmate extremities and abuses. Such extremities and abuses include disturbing and noisy nocturnal ritual and hallucinations under the name of freedom of worship. Ban on noisy worship is necessary.
Undoubtedly, activities of ritualists which include witch-doctors, marabouts, religious and cult groups, who engage in various orgies, are going into extremities that should be put under control. The current hard and difficult times in the country should not be a licence for ritualists to exploit the gullible masses to practise their trade for a fee. Some demand weird items for exorcism.
More importantly, the police should intensify activities in this direction by fishing out ritualists of the criminal hue and place a check on other groups to ensure that the public remains protected. Despite the difficult nature of such a task, ritualists of all kinds pose real dangers to society.
Border Closure: What Gain For Agric Sector?
It’s been three months since the Federal Government shut the major land borders in a bid to check smuggling of goods, especially rice, light arms and other contraband items from neighbouring countries into Nigeria. Government had explained that the action was taken to strengthen the nation’s security, protect its economic interests and grow the agricultural sector, especially in the area of rice production.
Last Monday, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, insisted that the borders will remain closed until the neighbouring countries are ready to play by the ECOWAS rules.
He gave conditions for the reopening of the borders which include: “There should be no modification whatsoever to the packaging on those goods imported into an ECOWAS member-state destined for Nigeria; so, with the original packaging they must be escorted from the port directly and transferred to the Nigerian Customs Service; for goods predominantly produced in ECOWAS member-states, the rules of origin must be certified, so we have to avoid any possibilities of dumping; so, if goods are produced in ECOWAS member-states, those goods must be in majority produced in those countries or if they are coming from outside ECOWAS the value addition made by an ECOWAS country must be over 30 per cent.”
Going by the diplomatic tussles these conditions might generate between Nigeria and other West African countries that may not accept them or may come up with their own conditions of doing business with the country, some have opined that the reopening of the borders might not be in sight. Expectedly, some have condemned the extended border closure, saying it will continue to hurt businesses, especially the small and medium enterprises, leading to more hardship in the nation.
Many other groups and individuals have, however, thrown their weight behind the federal government’s action, maintaining that it is in the interest of the nation. Prominent among the last group are Nigerian farmers and those in agro industries. Rice farmers across the country have reportedly been commending the federal government, saying the border closure is the best decision President Mohammadu Buhari’s administration has taken.
Alhaji Faruk Rabi’u, chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Kano State chapter, told newsmen that, “The border closure is a clear indication that the Federal Government is ready to boost agricultural production by insisting on the patronage of the home products.
“With this development, farmers will have more confidence that their products will be patronized. Therefore, they can invest more on their farms because they know that, after harvesting, their farm products will be sold”.
“If we continue to import rice, despite the fact that the locally produced one is the best for our health, people will continue to buy it,” he insisted.
In the views of a former Director, National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi, Niger State, Dr Mark Ukwungwu, despite the fact that Nigeria is not yet self sufficient in rice production, there are many gains associated with the border closure. He itemized them: – the rice value chain (production, processing, and marketing) will become more vibrant; it will generate employment opportunities; more land areas will be opened up for rice production; the citizens will be consuming fresh home-grown rice rather than expired rice from Asia.
He suggested that to sustain these gains, government and stakeholders have to boost the agricultural industry in the following ways: offering of grants; granting loans at cheap interest rates; encourage funding from foreign agencies; revamping irrigation systems so that two cycles of rice could be grown in a year; invest in research and extension services; stakeholders should also invest and innovate in the rice sector; example, the innovative partnership between the Governments of Lagos and Kebbi States which gave birth to LAKE Rice in 2016.
While he encouraged Nigerians to patiently bear the attendant shock, pains and hardships of the border closure, which he said will fizzle out gradually, Ukwungwu advised that “the closure should not be for long. Rather the agencies involved in manning the borders should be more alive to their responsibilities to ensure that smuggling is at the barest minimum.”
In the opinion of the Research fellow/ Scientist, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, Ibadan, Dr Uche Asogwa, the agricultural sector and the nation in general stands to gain immensely from the border closure if effectively and efficiently managed. He said though the action was taken in a rush by the federal government, without any prior notice to stakeholders, it was long overdue, given the enormity of what goes on at the borders.
According to the research fellow, “the neighbouring countries have shown flagrant disobedience to all the protocols of the ECOWAS treaty and trade agreements. The continuous influx of these agricultural produces and processed products, if not properly checked, will stifle our local produces/products. The local farms and industries were at the receiving end before now. But thanks to the border closure, we have no other choice now than to think Nigeria and patronize the locally grown and processed foods. With this high level of patriotism, the farmers will be encouraged to produce more, knowing full well that there will be market for their produce as the competing alternative will now have to come into the country through proper channels”
He stated that beyond the border closure government and stakeholders should take all necessary steps towards improving the agricultural sector and achieving food sufficiency for the nation. Some of the measures include: granting tax holiday to local farms and related agricultural businesses operating in the country; giving incentives in terms of loans and inputs to real farmers, not political farmers; provision of basic infrastructural (roads, power, healthcare and water) to the rural communities to minimize rural-urban migration; capacity building of farmers, especially unemployed graduates, to take up farming as a profession; resuscitation of all existing farm settlements and establishment of new ones; reorientation of Nigerian citizens to drop our newly acquired tastes for foreign foods and embrace consumption of our local foods.
Asogwa said there should be no going back on the borders closure until they are sanitized and the rate of smuggling activities and illicit business going on at the various land borders are curbed. He added that “we should take cue from China and other notable countries that shut down their borders for years so as to grow their local economies to enviable heights.”
Another respondent, Mrs Blessing Lerabari, a Port Harcourt-based farmer, expressed her pleasure over the border closure, saying that the action will help farmers to reap from their sweat. She agreed with the previous respondents that there is no way a country of about 200 million people, and a projected population of 400m by 2050, blessed with large, fertile land, will continue to depend on other countries for its day-to-day needs.
She noted that a lot has been said about the need to diversify Nigeria’s economy, making it less dependent on oil by promoting agriculture and the best way to succeed is proper manning of our numerous porous borders.
Lerabari, however, regretted that some Customs officials and other bodies saddled with the responsibility of enforcing the law on contraband goods are so corrupt and selfish that they collect bribe from the smugglers and allow these goods into the country, not minding the harm that it will cause the nation and the people.
She suggested that for the border closure objectives to be realized, the problem of corruption which has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation must be sincerely tackled headlong.
“It is this same corruption that has made some greedy, selfish people to mop up the local rice in our various communities, causing artificial scarcity of the food item and hike in its price. So the authorities have to look into it and ensure adequate price control of goods so that some greedy merchants will not be milking the poor people to their own advantage”.
On Unicameral NASS And Governance Cost
Although the heavy cost of maintaining Nigeria’s 469 federal lawmakers has always been a source of concern, “sitting politicians’’ have joined in the campaign for the reduction of the number of federal legislators.
In fact, one of the converts even suggested the scrapping of the Senate as, according to him, it is the House of Representatives that represents.
The converts: Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State Sen. Rochas Okorocha, former governor of Imo State and Chief Osita Chidoka, former Minister of Aviation, made their suggestions at different fora.
Chidoka who advocates for a unicameral legislature, made the suggestion after President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2020 budget.
“In Nigeria, we need a unicameral legislature with six members each from the 36 states and two members from FCT.
“The legislature with 218 members will be less than 50 per cent of current members and term limit of three terms.
“The 2020 budget for the National Assembly (NASS) is N125bn, higher than the combined budget of Education N48 billion (excluding UBEC and TETFUND), Health N46 billion and Social Investment N30 billion.
“Reducing National Assembly members by half will provide over N60 billion annually for the social sector, that will be N600 billion over 10 years.”
Chidoka said the new National Assembly would be both efficient and economical.
He described the budget of N125 billion for the National Assembly as “hugely extravagant,” in an economy adjudged to have over 100 million poor people with gross infrastructure deficit.
The former aviation minister said that funds saved from the contraction would be available for investment on policies and projects that would serve the common interest of the greater number of the population.
On his part, Fayemi advocated for the scrapping of the Senate in order to save cost and reduce financial burden on the government.
He also advocated for the adoption of Stephen Orosaye’s report which recommended the merging of federal government’s agencies that perform similar functions.
Fayemi said the type of legislative system that would be more productive for Nigeria in this current economic situation is a unicameral legislature.
“As it stands, the country’s legislative arm consisting of 109 Senate members and a 360-member House of Representatives, on yearly basis gulps millions of Naira.
“We do need to look at the size of government in Nigeria, and I am an advocate for a unicameral legislature.
“What we really need is the House of Representatives because that is what represents.
“You have three senators from little Ekiti and you have three senators from Lagos State, I guess the principle is not proportionality, but that if you are a state, you get it automatically.
“But I think that we can do away with that. There are several things that we can do away within the government,” he said.
Okorocha, the immediate past governor of Imo, now the senator representing Imo West, on his part, called for reduction in the number of federal lawmakers representing a state.
He suggested that a senator and three members of House of Representatives should represent each state.
“I want one senator and three House of Representatives members per state, which will cut expenses.
“A senator and three House of Representatives members can do what many have been doing.’’
He said that the reduction in the number of representatives from the states would help cut cost and ensure effective representation.
While advocating for ways to cut cost and ensure effective representation, Okorocha said he would sponsor a bill that would seek for the reduction of the number of senators and House of Representatives members for each state.
The Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), has endorsed the suggestions for the reduction of the number of federal lawmakers.
CNPP, via a statement from its Secretary-General, Willy Ezugwu, said Okorocha spoke the truth concerning the need to reduce cost of running the National Assembly.
“The former governor simply told Nigerians the truth when he said what three senators from a state can do; one lawmaker is capable of handling the same.
“Like Sen. Okorocha asked, what is too sacrosanct that senators and House of Representatives members are doing that only a senator per state cannot do?’’
Also, two professors of political science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Jonah Onuoha and Aloysius Okolie, agreed with the advocates for unicameral legislature, which they reiterated would reduce the cost of governance.
Onuoha, who is the Head, Department of Political Science, said bicameral legislative system is not cost effective, especially in a country like Nigeria, where federal lawmakers receive bogus salaries and allowances.
“It takes huge amount of money to maintain bicameral legislative system, especially in a country like Nigeria where federal lawmakers receive bogus salaries and allowances monthly.
“Bicameral legislative system is not only costly but delays legislative processes of passing bill into law, since the bill will pass through the two chambers.’’
Onuoha, who is also the Director of American Studies in UNN, urged the country to adopt unicameral legislative system as it is cost effective.
“If the country settles for unicameral, the extra money it could have spent in paying salaries, allowances and maintaining the two chambers which runs into billions can be used to carry out capital projects,” he said.
He said if the country insisted on running bicameral legislative system, the number of lawmakers should be reduced.
Aloysius Okolie in his contribution said that it was as a result of bicameral legislative system that every year the budgetary allocation to the National Assembly had remained the highest.
“I subscribe to opinions in some quarters that the country should adopt unicameral legislative system as it will reduce the cost of running government as well as quicken legislative processes.
“The country is spending much to pay salaries, allowances and maintaining the two chambers — 109 senators and 360-members of House of Representatives,’’ he said.
Okolie, former chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities, UNN branch, also said that as part of measures to reduce cost of running the government, the country should return to the regional structure.
“If we have one federal parliament and one regional parliament in each of the six geo-political zones, it will go a long way in cutting down cost of running the government,” Okolie said.
However, a legal practitioner, Mr Dele Igbinedion, said that people should not clamour for unicameral legislature just for cutting cost, adding that the issue is not whether or not a bicameral legislature is good or bad.
“I believe the bicameral system should remain because it has been proven to be sustainable and necessary. The process of law making is a very serious business which cannot start and end within a short time.
“The problem with the unicameral system which we have at the state level is that a bill can be introduced and passed the same day and sent to the governor for assent.
“This is not the case in the National Assembly; the two chambers must meet and possibly form a joint committee to look at the bill before sending it for presidential assent.
“The rigorous process a piece of legislation has to pass through forms part of the beauty of democracy.
“I think Nigerians should stop looking at the legislature each time there is a slight challenge and asking if we really need that arm of government.
“The judiciary often doesn’t respond to executive excesses, except there is a case it initiates, but in the legislature, a member can raise it as a matter of urgent public importance, national importance or ethics and privileges, and the attention of the parliament can be brought to it.’’
Apparently, Igbinedion was surmising that many state assemblies have become rubber stamps because the governors could easily “conquer’’ them, because it is only a single chamber.
Stakeholders say that unicameral and bicameral legislature have their advantages, but the country should settle for an option that cuts costs and wastages.
Ukoh writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.
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