By Anote Ajeluorou
“NIGERIA is a chronically bookless country and most Nigerians are neither great lovers, great buyers, avid readers, nor fanatical users of books!” That was the stark verdict of a linguist and African Languages expert regarding the fate of the book among Nigerians last week in Ibadan.
It was at the yearly Authors’ Forum organised by University Press Plc to examine the state of books, reading and literacy in the country.
Dignitaries at the event were U.S.-based distinguished Professor of English at New Orleans University, Niyi Osundare, former chairman, National University Commission, Prof. Peter Okebukola, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo and Akin Bello.
With the theme, How Safe Is the Book Today?, Prof. Emmanuel Nolue Emenanjo walked the path other intellectual greats like Niyi Osundare, Peter Okebukola and others had taken in lending their intellectual strength to synergies designed to stimulate awareness about the dying book culture in the land. With statistics, facts and empirical evidences drawn from within and outside the country, Emenanjo made the staggering verdict of ill-health of book industry in Nigeria.
Emenanjo further stated in his diagnosis of the health of the book in the country, “Nigeria produces less than one percent of her actual book needs, which should now stand at some 199.76 million books per year. This calculation is based on a modest estimate of 4 – 6 books per child in primary school, for 20.4 million pupils; eight books per student in the secondary school, for 6.4 million students; and eight books per student for close to one million students in tertiary education…
“Nigerians have the lowest rate of paper consumption in the world with only 3 kilos of printed materials per person, per year as against South Africa, with 100 kilos; Europeans with 250 kilos; Americans with 270 kilos; and Japanese with 300 kilos”.
Another staggering statistics reeled off by Emenanjo is the library per population ratio, which was even more frightening. He noted that the ratio for America stands at 1: 17,000; Japan 1: 47,000; Germany 1: 60,000, with Nigeria standing at 1: 1,350,000! This height of booklessness in Nigerian society is record-breaking, indeed.
Grammar versus literature
The discourse later dovetailed to complement the argument that the literature or literary works (books written in any language – poetry, prose/novels/short stories, drama) constitute the workshop on which that language is tested, trusted, used and perfected by its users.
Indeed, learning the bare grammar of a language without studying the literature written in that language usually produces poor result for that language usage and its users. Emenanjo reaffirmed this sobering thought in his submission when he faulted the educational policies that separated the three big Nigerian languages from their literatures for students.
Expectedly, students opted for the local languages and shunned taking the literature subject in them. The result? Emenanjo averred. “The experiment in Nigeria languages killed books in the creative genres, and literature in Nigerian languages. Yet, it is literature, not grammar, which establishes and sustains literacy, the book culture and the socio-linguistic vitality of human language. Thus, when that innovation or policy was in operation, all the major languages through formal education and textbooks, produced 1,075,325 people who were functionally illiterate and only 6,336 who were functionally literate… And so the book suffered and continues to suffer in creative literature and literary studies. And so, literacy will continue to have a field day and the book will continue to be endangered.”
Also, Emenanjo said aliteracy was another impediment to the growth of the book culture in the country, which he said was even more pernicious for the development of the book. He bemoaned the pervasive indifference many Nigerians exhibit to reading, writing and numeracy, adding, “Aliterate people have no business with buying, reading and promoting books for themselves, their children, their wards and their community!”
Emenanjo also pointed out poverty, film (Nollywood) and social media as other great impediments for the growth of book among young people. However, the professor submitted that the book would not die given the ability of man’s creations to adapt, especially with the emergence of ebooks and other digital formats.
Also, he lamented President Goodluck Jonathan’s inability to make good his intention for the book, as encapsulated in his campaign Bring Back the Book, which he said though “the name of the campaign has some rhyme and rhythm about it, the reason behind it is still to be known. Instead, it’s Nollywood that appears to count more in the non-verbal communication of our president.”
Reaffirming the seeming immortality of the book across time, Emenanjo declared the book, “An engine of change, the window on the world and the lighthouse in the sea of time, the book will continue to remain a telescope because through it we can look at the distant stars and speculate about life. It will remain a never-ending film, which the entire human pageant and, indeed, civilization passes in review. It is the only time machine that can recreate the events of the past, capture the totality of the present and open up vistas to the future. For without the book, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled and thought and speculation at a standstill.”
By way of recommendation, Emenanjo stressed strengthening the educational system, longevity of educational policies, programmes and practices and making literature in English and in Nigerian languages compulsory in the entire formal school system including tertiary institutions and instituting a national book policy.
EARLIER, chairman of University Press Plc, Dr. Lalekan Are said as “authors who are knowledge providers, we are attitude and character molders. We build the intellect and shape the consciousness of the people and populace. This role has become exceedingly germane, considering the serious challenges that face Nigeria”.
Are noted that as part of University Press Plc’s CSR, it donated books worth N5 million to secondary schools in Oyo State and would establish Readers Club in each school starting next year. Organising a quiz and essay contests in schools, he said, were also in the offing.
The Managing Director, Mr. Samuel Kolawole raised alarm of activities of Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) in asking publishers to vet the books they bring into the country. Kolawole said such directive from SON was wrong and unconstitutional and well outside its mandate. He called on relevant authorities to call SON to order, as such anti-book directive was capable of violating UN’s free movement of books charter.
The book is an engine of change, the window on the world and the lighthouse in the sea of time, the book will continue to remain a telescope because through it we can look at the distant stars and speculate about life. It will remain a never-ending film, which the entire human pageant and, indeed, civilization passes in review. It is the only time machine that can recreate the events of the past, capture the totality of the present and open up vistas to the future. For without the book, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled and thought and speculation at a standstill.