Reading culture: illiteracy, bane of economic development

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By Caleb Ayansina, WORKSHOP

It is no longer news that the Nigerian reading habit is generally low and this has been confirmed by several experts and as part of efforts to stem the tide, the federal government launched the Bring Back the Book, BBB project on December 20, 2010.

And in furtherance of this agitation is the reinforcement of National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) in the pursuit of its statutory mandate to improve the reading culture of the people organised many workshops.

However, one thing that still raises concern is that, despite all these efforts to inculcate in to young ones the best reading habit, nothing seems to have changed as all shouts, efforts are like a drop in the ocean.

It was on the basis of this that experts at a one day media workshop with the theme; Media Strategies for Propagating the Book Culture in Nigeria organized by National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) in Abuja identified low intellectual capacity, unsuitable curriculum, illiteracy, austerity, poverty, and inadequate funding and mismanagement of fund meant for education among others as major impediments responsible for poor patronages of books and the slow development of a reading culture.

From right: Ben Tomoloju, Executive Secretary, NICO, Ayakoromah, representative of NUJ President, Gbenga Onayiga, Director of Culture, George Ufot and Major Gen. Efeovbokhan at a workshop organised by NICO.

In his message to the seminar, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke decried the situation, telling the leaders and people not to pretend as if it is all well with Nigerian reading culture.

According to him, “the vision 2020 blueprint which aspires to make Nigeria one of the 20 top developed economies in the world by year 2020 will be a mirage, if the citizens are not properly repositioned to appreciate and imbibe the culture of reading which is imperative for global competitiveness”

Continuing he said the president underscored the importance of a vibrant educational system and a sustainable reading culture for national development as according to him “it is my suggestion that we focus on restoring a book reading culture with particular emphasis on children and the youth. This is following the well known slogan ‘catch them young.”

Maj. Gen. Mathais Efeovbokhan (rtd) a guest speaker at the workshop in his paper tagged; Book culture as an imperative for national development and actualizing vision 20;2020 said that illiteracy among the leaders at all levels remain the bane of any meaningful development in Nigeria.

“All the predictions that Nigeria will be great will be meaningless if our leaders remain illiterate and these advantages the country had can not translate to meaningful development, why is it that we are still illiterate in the way we do our things or the way our leaders pursue their material wealth.”

He pointed out that the book culture died shortly before the civil war and since no nation that is illiterate or mediocre driven succeeds, there is need to revive the reading culture.

Mrs. Dupe Ajayi Gbadebo while speaking on the impact of Nigerian media in sustaining the book culture noted that the media has power to shape people’s opinions as populace relies on information from the media to form the views and decision, but it is constrained by issue of commercialization.

“In our contemporary democratic society, the mass media, the most strategically important and main channel of communication the citizens rely on as a source of information and the basis on which they form their opinions and decisions.

“The media, which ought to be the critical establishment for books of various forms from the serious journals to the most unserious reading matter, has not seriously constituted itself into a tradition of support for the literary community.

“This is understandable as until recently in the mainstream media, art pages were not considered as serious and prosperous as sports, politics and business pages and so on in newspaper paging consideration, the reason of which we shall see in due course. This is perhaps why our book reviews may not have been deeply rooted in critical inquiry.”

She disclosed that book exhibitions do not receive enough coverage because book publishers do not spend enough money on publicity. “Publication of book is one thing but the communication aspect of it is not complete until the reader gets hold of the product.” She noted.

At the end of the workshop, the experts advocated the use of media strategies to boost book culture in Nigeria. This, according to them includes debate and easy completion with use of cinema as exemplified by India which used cinema to transform their country.

They also called for a 5years marshal plan on reading culture and proper implementation of reading policy of the federal government.

Participants canvassed for proper funding of education system and judicious management of the resources accrues to it by its managers.

They also called on the government at all levels to demonstrate strong political will that will turn education sector around for good, stressing that no nation record progress with dwindling education system.
On his part, The Executive Secretary of NICO,Barclays Ayakoromah stated that our value system is dying by the day and people now realize that through book you can get knowledge and knowledge.

Idea to him, rules  the world so everything boils down to value system and that is why NICO is trying to create that awareness. He also advised the media to start by themselves by reading widely so that they will be able to relate what they are doing with the reality on ground.

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