Tuesday, March 30, 2021 9:18 am
By Nehru Odeh
Just imagine this heart-wrenching scenario. You are holding a book and walking leisurely on the streets and you happen on a child. The first thing that comes readily to its mind – if you are lucky enough not to be looked at as someone from Pluto – is that you are holding a Bible. “You’re holding a Bible,” he will say with counterfeited glee. “My daddy have (sic) a Bible!” you are assailed again with puerile ignorance.
And God help you if you meet the child’s parents, still flaunting the book, if they don’t look at you scornfully and call you a pastor or derisively call you, “Reader!”. This nightmarish scenario is what one experiences on a daily basis because people no longer read or see any reason that they should do so.
Of course why should one read when the book is considered a ticket to living a life of poverty and squalor? Why should one read when virtually the people “making” it in our society have never read a book or seen any virtue in doing so? Why should one read when books, like western education, are forbidden in our society? Why should one read when even our leaders don’t read?
But why should this bother anyone, or be a topic of discourse, as the only book people read nowadays are the Scriptures since they need divine intervention in these “perilous” times, these end time, as they say.?
Welcome to Nigeria where the death of the book has become a metaphor for a society that has not only lost it but speaks volumes about the loss of values that have eaten deeply into every fabric of our national life. Welcome to Nigeria, where the only gateway to affluence and power is lack of good education or self-development. Welcome to Nigeria where reading is considered a sheer waste of time and energy.
It also speaks eloquently about a society that has virtually kicked the dust and thrown decency to the winds and of course is beating funeral drums to the grave. In Nigeria people are so busy with making ends meet, they are so busy with satisfying their existential needs that, as they say, they don’t have time to read any longer.
In Nigeria today it is dangerous to be seen with a book. If you are seen with one, you are either regarded as a crank or somebody wasting his precious time and doesn’t know what to do with it.
In Nigeria if you are seen with a book, especially one you are reading for leisure or to acquire some personal knowledge outside the school system, you are, as they say, on your own, for not only will you lose friends you are at risk of being branded public enemy number one.
In Nigeria if you are seen with a book or as it obtains in the north attending an institution where books are read, you are as important as the money to be made from collecting ransom when you are kidnapped. And of course many young boys and girls have fallen prey to kidnappers, bandits and terrorists in Nigeria. Is any one surprised that Boko Haram means Western education is forbidden?
Still, the intriguing thing is that the words book and Boko contain the same alphabets and could easily be twisted and rearranged to form either of the two. So is anyone still surprised, again, that books are as dangerous as Boko Haram terrorists?
Of course, na who book help? The words Na who book help? has become a national lingo in our society where people no longer read or are proud to be seen with a book. The words, Na who book help? has become a national lingo because those who spend some certain years in an institution reading books forcefully end up walking the streets with worn-our shoes and tattered clothes looking for jobs that are not there. Of course, this does not come as a surprise as the so called affluent in our society have never read a book or no longer have time to read one.
This is indeed a sad development. Gone are the days when people were enthusiastic about reading. Gone are the days when people prided themselves on who had read what. Gone are the day when people majorly read for pleasure, when people jostled to read the latest James Hardly Chase’ novel, when people rushed to read the latest John Grisham’s novel or the latest Nick Carter’s novel, or the latest Agatha Christie’s or Sidney Sheldon’s novel.
Gone are the days when as pupils in elementary and secondary schools we jostled for books in the library, as we attempt to beat one another regarding the number of books one had read. Gone are the days when as a teenager yours sincerely rode his mum’s bicycle from one town to the other – specifically from Ozoro to Oleh in the then Bendel, now Delta, State – just to make use of the then public library and borrow books.
Gone are the days when as students of the University of Ibadan, we buried our heads in books – literary works, Marxists and postmodernist texts – and discussed them excitedly with friends and colleagues. Gone are the days when we were eager to be the first to read what book. Gone are the days when we walked leisurely on campus, proudly brandishing a book we were reading, for that was comforting enough.
Those days are gone. People no longer read. And if they read, may be they are being forced to do so to pass examinations. And immediately they get out of that system, books then become a foregone conclusion and are in a hurry to dump them and hustle in the streets.
Where are even the public libraries we used to spend our time in while growing up? There are no public libraries any longer. If there are, they are few and filled with dusty shelves crying for books and patronage.
The question then is what becomes of a society like Nigeria where people no longer read? First that society is moving gradually to extinction because not only will its citizens be brutish, they will find reason why the society shouldn’t even exist in the first place.
They will see no need for mutual co-existence. There will be a war of all against all, as it is currently happening in the country, where banditry, kidnapping and terrorism hold sway.
In a society where people no longer read, decency is thrown overboard, criminality such as robbery, corruption, cyber-fraud or what we call yahoo-yahoo will be on the increase. There will be mindless killing, looting, kidnapping, rape and banditry and the idea of nationhood will be called into question.
In a society like Nigeria where people no longer read, it is dangerous to be seen with a book because the society itself is living dangerously. And you will end up either being killed by bandits, kidnappers, herdsmen, armed robbers, fraudsters or you will end living a life of poverty because you will be left behind in this mad rush to make it and live the good life, no matter how. Did I hear you say it is not as bad as that? But the warning signs are already there.
– Nehru Odeh, journalist and writer, is the author of The Patience of an Embattled Storyteller, a book that foresaw the adoption, rape and murder of females by terrorists in Nigeria. He writes for TheNEWS.