Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
I was present at Pen & Pages bookshop Abuja few days ago to listen to Sarah Ladipo Manyika's read from her book "In Dependence" which is published in Nigeria by Cassava Republic. Apart from the privilege of getting an autographed copy of a writer's book, one of the other main attractions to Book Readings for me is that intellectual discourse on writing and Publishing in Nigeria which always comes up. The opinions of the audience often either provides me a consolation in the realms of "you are not alone" in the challenges you face as a budding writer chief among which is getting a publisher or a new line of thought on what could be done to rescue Nigerians from their chronic poor reading habit.
Sarah Ladipo's reading wasn't an exception. During one of the usual questions and answer interludes someone directed a question to the book publisher wondering if they really intended to make sales with the cover price of the book which was N1200.00. Responding Bibi Bakare said many things from which I picked out this rather interesting line, "Nigerians Talk too much".
Bakare's argument was simple. Nigerians spend (and do so with no qualms) on the average N600.00 every day on GSM recharge card just to talk and would find it difficult investing the same amount in a book which will not only continue to be theirs until they die, but will also provide them entertainment, education and companionship.
I left the reading (with an autographed copy of "In Dependence" of course) thinking about Bakare's statement not because it was news, but because it was a situation that should worry us all as a nation. Giving it a little thought would reveal that much of our problems as a nation, the reason why we've been variously described as a failed state, the reason why we are not going to meet with delivery of any of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and indeed the reason why we are spending billions in what we call a Re-branding campaign, is simply because we as a people are simply talkative.
We talk and talk and talk and do nothing. It is not just about buying recharge cards now, it's about our very conduct and attitude to those things that affect us. We react by talking. The light goes off and we are content to shout "Nepa" and then we put on the generator. We hiss and curse inside the buses about the pot hole infested road and that is all. In the secured comfort of our homes we lament about the failure of leadership yet we don't own a voters card against the next election. We decry deregulation but when NLC organizes a rally against it, we sit back at home and do more talking.
We talk and talk and do nothing. At the newspaper stands. At the Bus stops. At the beer parlours. The radio and television is lined with programs appropriately described as "Talk shows". In the churches and mosques, we talk. Our Government is perpetually rubbing minds, with retreats and conferences and workshops. All the talk has led us no where. We sit there tight at the bottom of the pack.
GSM hasn't helped issues in this regard. I remember the signature line of one of the foremost GSM companies which read "Talk d Talk Now Now". Indeed Nigerians in obedience have been talking their lives away. We are all guilty of this. I think of the amount of money I spend on recharge cards in a week and I imagine what library of books it would have bought me. No doubt the importance of communication in our lives can not be over emphasized, but do you know what difference it would make if we talked less and read more?
It's a shame that in a country of over 150million people of which at least 70 million are literate (Can read and write English language or their mother tongue) writers should be poor and writing considered an appendage profession. It is a shame that books that sell 5000 copies in Nigeria are considered to have ‘sold well'. We are all familiar with the popular joke which says that the best way to hide something away from a Nigerian is to put it in a book. It is a shame that such a joke should be made about us and an even bigger shame that we tell ourselves the joke and laugh about it because we know how true it is.
I think the joke has gone too far and the laughter lasted long enough. If we must save this country from final collapse then, we must go back to the book. This in my opinion should be one of the main objectives of Dora's Re-branding Campaign. Only an enlightened and informed people that can first appreciate their immediate challenges and be better equipped to forge ways of solving them. This enlightenment doest come only from acquiring university degrees and bogus certificates from the ends of the earth. It comes from taking time off to turn through pages of critical and literary works and imbibing the wisdom contained therein.
I love it when I listen to my father quote Shakespeare with glow in his eyes when speaking to me. I will love to quote Sarah Ladipo for example to my children. That's how we raise a nation of informed minds. That's how we can re-brand. You too can join in this march. Spend less on those recharge cards. Spend less hours talking in the clubs, buses or places of worship. Buy a book. Use books as presents to your Children and friends. Talk less and Read more.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
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