From Wilson Okereke, Afikpo
There is a saying that if you want to hide something from an African, you put it in a book. This notion is affirmed by the World Culture Score Index, which ranks Nigeria as one of the lowest reading culture countries of the world.
Available statistics from the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education shows that 38 per cent of Nigerians are non-literate as four in 10 primary school children cannot read for comprehension.
Experts link the decline in the standard of education to the abysmal reading ability. The daily struggle for economic survival provides little or no time for people to cultivate a good reading habit. Also, the high cost of books, particularly imported ones, has contributed to low readership promotion in the country.
National Librarian and Chief Executive Officer of the National Library of Nigeria (NLN), Prof Lanre Aina, in 2020, led the campaign for boosting the nation’s reading culture. He said the report propelled the NLN to intensify reading campaign, including visits to nursing mothers and vulnerable group in the society:
“Only two African countries were listed among countries that are reading. They are South Africa and Egypt. Nigeria was not among these countries.
“As a matter of fact, Nigeria was rated as one of the lowest reading cultures in the world. This has prompted us to see that we try to make Nigerians to read.”
His organisation embarked on reading campaign to primary and secondary schools across the country as well as approaching nursing mothers and hospitals to read to their children: “Research found out that reading actually starts from the unborn baby as when such a child is born, it will embrace reading culture.”
Similarly, Fanev Readers’ Club recently took reading campaign to Ebonyi State by organising “Reading Challenge, Spell Quest and Quiz Competition 2022.” A total of 48 students drawn from 16 schools took part in the event at the Federal Government College, Okposi (FGC), Ohaozara Local Government, for junior secondary schools between October 27 and 29, 2022.
Founder of Fanev, Nwachukwu Eze Aja, noted that in Nigeria, reading culture had suffered from widespread poverty, corruption, ineptitude and a dearth of dedicated quiet reading spaces like libraries. He said the decline in the standard of education has seriously affected reading ability.
He, however, encouraged students to imbibe reading culture as it boosts wellbeing, community connectedness and student grade improvement. He charged teachers to adopt the habit of studying motivational books as that would go a long way in transforming the lives of their students and improve their reading culture.
Aja disclosed: “It was after I had seen the impact of reading in my life that I decided to groom others in the same manner. It was on this note that I developed the passion to organise National Youths Quiz Competition around 2019 using two books from the Bible and ‘I have a brain: A teen’s guide to think big’ by Ben Carson.”
The idea later metamorphosed to Fanev Club where he was encouraging people to read online and its membership grew in different parts of the world such that by October 26, 2022, they had studied 52 different books.
He thanked Anayo and Mercy Foundation (AMF) for its financial support, the participating schools, teachers and the parents for providing the students with all the necessary assistances:
“I am advising government to adopt the strategy involving reading, spelling and other competitions so that the educational standard will be revived, mostly nowadays that examination malpractice has become a norm. To achieve it, the teachers should also learn how to read other inspirational books rather than relying only on their lesson notes.”
Dr Kingsley Okoro and Mr Darlington Anoke, principals of Eziokposi High School and Community Comprehensive College, Mgbom N’Achara respectively, described the event as a big challenge targeted at improving the students’ reading culture and level of communication. They believed with the exercise, children’s interaction in English Language would be accelerated.
The overall best student in Oral Quiz from Prime College Immaculata, Miss Amos Favour Ikechukwu and another winner in Spelling Quest, Godsplan Chekwube, said the book did not only enhance their knowledge but also improved their reading habit.
Traditional ruler of Okposi Okwu Autonomous Community, Eze Onyiba Chukwu Agwu, told the children: “It requires serious reading for one to know history and needs the same reading to perform creditably in whatever subject as contained in the school curriculum. “This exercise is fundamental to the basic of your knowledge. This is why we need to be grateful to the organizers of the programme. I must confess that Nigeria is globally known for poor reading culture because on daily basis they do engage themselves in the activities that will make them to junket without having time to think and on this background, we need to appreciate the organizers and the partnering agency.”
The prizes were in three categories. They are the best three schools; the best three students and the best three coaches.