From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Chief (Mrs) Bukola Ladoja, wife of former governor of Oyo State, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, is president and founder of Reading Awareness Society for Development in Africa (RASDA), a non-governmental organisation launched in January 2007 to address the dying reading culture. One of the ways the organisation tried to do that was through a television reality programme, ‘Read-To-Lead Africa.’ In recognition of her tremendous contributions to promoting literacy in Nigeria, the author, publisher, leadership development consultant, farmer and industrialist who has authored several books will, on September 8, 2021, during the 2021 International Literacy Day, be formally decorated as Ambassador by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) as the national body converges in Lagos to mark the day. In this interview, she, among other things, provided insight into her passion for promotion of reading culture and her efforts to encourage Nigerian youth to read.
What actually prompted you to initiate Reading Awareness Society for Development in Africa (RASDA)?
I founded RASDA to address the issue of dying reading culture in Nigeria. The major thing that made us to start it was the falling pass rates of WAEC results that time. That was the major thing we came out to address. As at 2005, 2006, it was only seven per cent of the students that sat for WAEC that passed. I think by 2006, it came to 15 per cent. By 2007, it came down again to ten per cent or 12 per cent. Then I started thinking that if we continued like this, these are the next generations of leaders in Nigeria, I mean, the students that were writing WAEC.
I saw them as the next generations of leaders. I saw them as the people that will take up the management of the economy later. Doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers and every professional stratum will arise from them. And it is WAEC results that they will use to enter higher institutions. The implication is, if only ten per cent have five credits, including Mathematics and English that means they are the ones that are eligible to go to higher institutions. That is the percentage that will come out, may be four or five years later with certain professional results from the higher institutions. And I felt that if this continued, that means there would be dearth of professionals in the nearest future. There won’t be enough doctors to manage the hospitals and there won’t be enough engineers, lawyers and so on.
We felt that there is nothing these children were not taught in school. They must be the ones that were not reading. Even, if there were some problems in the teaching methodology or some problems with the government management of education, we still had people from history, who did not even see the four walls of any school and made it like Chief Afe Babalola (SAN). So, if these children have focus and vision, even if you don’t have mathematics teacher, there is nothing stopping them from passing mathematics if they sit down and are serious about it. They will have a way out of it. We have discovered that they are becoming like play-abouts. So many things like Information Technology (IT), games playing and many social media indulgences were happening to them. We said okay, let’s begin by telling them who they are. It is a self-discovery. If you don’t really know who you are, and your importance in a nation, you will not even know that this nation needs you, one way or the other. So, we launched it and we started going from one senatorial district in Oyo State to another. We really had heavy presence at Oke-Ogun in Oyo North senatorial district. We went to Saki, Tede, Ago-Are, Ago-Amodu and so on. In Oyo South, we had our presence. We also had in Oyo Central.
In 2012, RASDA launched a television reality show for students in public secondary schools. What brought about the idea and why couldn’t it go beyond three years before it was rested?
When we were going from one place to the other to tell the children the importance of reading, and their own usefulness to the nation, I was getting weary about moving from one school to the other. Then, we said there must be a way out. We decided to use the mass media, so that our message would go far, rather than moving from one school to the other, from town to town and from one hamlet to the other. So, we launched the first of its kind Read-To-Lead Africa Reality TV Show, in 2012. What we did boosted the pass rates. We organised exams, and the questions were drawn by standard WAEC teachers and they were WAEC-based questions. If the students read to pass our exams, they have already prepared for WAEC.
We instituted some baits because we discovered that they are a generation that loves money. So, we said we would give them N2 million scholarship to higher institution. We were able to use it as bait. We did not want it to be private schools issue. So, we dealt with the government of Osun State at that time and they gave us their students to write RASDA exams for the TV Reality Show. It was like Big Brother Africa. We housed them and we eliminated them one by one until the winner emerged, but in a cerebral way.
The first edition was done at Olashore International School, Iloko, Ijesha, during the holidays. So, when we did it, till today, the pass rates of Osun State went up because those children were looking up to that scholarship; they actually studied hard to pass our exams. They asked us what they should read for the exams, and we told them to take their WAEC syllabus and read hard. We told them that questions would come from the syllabus. We worked with Rivers State government also. We were able to influence them there also. It was few governors that bought into the idea. But for the three years that we did it, it was really impacting. But we were constrained later with finances. It was a capital-intensive project because we had to pay discounted rates to the television stations. A lot of things would go into the production of the programme also. But it is something that would have still been working well, preparing students for senior school certificate examination.
But there were some constraints because we wanted to speak to every student in Nigeria. How do we do that? That was when we started to use the mass media, through the reality television show. So, we did well until we could not go ahead because of the heavy financial obligations. Of course, we did not have any major support from any multinationals. All they were telling us was they would have supported if the programme was about entertainment or sports. So, nobody came to our aid to sponsor us. I could not go far with it, though we are planning to resuscitate or revive it now, and maybe use the social media.
Within the three years, there was none that we did that was less than N60 million to N70 million. It was a mega programme. We would do exams for thousands of students. We would print question papers, and conduct the exams all over. It was a major investment. Apart from that, by the time we moved the successful candidates to the Read-to-Lead House, there were human involvements. People worked for us, and we had to pay them. We would bring cameramen, editors, a lot of equipment, lighting and, so on, for one month. We would kill cows and we would feed them three times a day. We used costumes a lot. We do a lot of sport. That was at that time.
Many of the students that passed through the Read-to-Lead House are doing well in the society today. For instance, there is this boy at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; he’s rounding off in Law now. He wouldn’t have been able to go to higher institution if not for RASDA. I can say he was one of the worst scenarios that we picked. Through the show, financial support was mobilised for him because he lost his father and mother, and only lived with his poor grandmother. It was his teacher who had been helping him financially that brought him for entrance examination. Though he was not the winner of the edition, people rose to help him when they heard about his story as an orphan.
Over the years, you have been so much passionate about promotion of reading culture. Personally, how did you catch the bug of reading that you have been promoting?
I was born and bred by parents who were not educated. I am the first child among 20 children. But somehow, my parents loved education. As young children at that time, we were always playing when our parents were out of the house. But my father would return from his shop at about 6pm. Between 6 and 8pm, I would take any book I could lay my hands upon and pretended as if I was reading. Anytime my father was leaving for his work place, he would urge us to read our books. But I was not really interested in studying but only wanted to trick him. So, the easiest way was to get some storybooks and pretend to be reading. Then, we had the African Writers Series, Pacesetter series, among other good books. So one day, I got a Pacesetter series book and after I finished reading it, I was hooked. Then, I went to get another book and before I knew it, I was always eager to finish what I was reading in order to get another book.
So, anytime my father saw me reading books, he would be happy, and would advise the other children to also study like I was doing. At that time, I didn’t know that would make me to have a very robust mind, and today, I can creatively discuss any issue.
I also learnt a lot from the Pacesetter series. One of the books, The Director, taught me not to be corrupt. The subject matter in the book, The Director, was very corrupt and he lost everything. I also learnt values of life through literature and I was also able to have a large heart through imagination. This is what reading does for anyone who reads. When you read, you will be able to form the mental picture of what you are reading. As a result, I was able to experience many cultures and ‘visit’ many places through my imagination.
Studies have revealed that the youth of nowadays prefer watching adaptations of books in audio-visual forms to actually reading the books. What is your take on this?
Why books differ from television is, the audio-visual, which is the television, will show you the picture of the story. But the books will allow you to build the mental pictures by yourself. The meaning of this is that through reading, you are working on your mind and your brain. Therefore, through literature, I find myself at the top wherever I am. The books I have read have built the leadership in me. I have a library where children come in to read different books.
This is important because once children start reading, then you must always provide them with books. So, through my library, they were sure of getting good books. Also, writers must know that they must continue to produce good books for the consumption of children, who have caught the reading bug; they must always have something to read. So, I thank the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) for appointing me as an ambassador for reading culture.