History is filled with great leaders who were avid readers and writers (remember, Winston Churchill won his Nobel Prize in Literature, not Peace).
Throughout history, societies have been formed, reformed and informed by the profound and well projected ideas of revolutionaries, writers, researchers and thought leaders who recognise the primacy of knowledge. The words of famous playwright, William Shakespeare, continue to resonate and ring true as relevant with humanity even centuries after this simple English man wrote the last of his plays. Shakespeare wrote enormously about kings and nobles as much as he wrote about commoners. He wrote about comedies, history and tragedies; King Lear, Richard the First, Richard the Second, Richard the Third, Henry IV, Julius Caesar, Tempest, Merchant of Venice, Macbeth etc. Humans have always marveled about men and women with power, fame, wealth and influence. Going back to the Romans, we have always enjoyed biographies so that the lives of great men and women can be moral lessons for us. We also like to peep. We like to see great people in their nakedness. What makes Shakespeare so enthralling is his unique insight into human foibles and his stories cover the theatre of life. Age after age, he is still persistently contemporary and relevant, and his works continue to resonate.
Some of the things that sparked the French Revolution were the awareness created by books that gave a vivid account of aristocratic corruption in the presence of mass squalor. Jean Jacques-Rousseau’s Social Contract was a good part of the instigators, arguing for the collective will of the society as a mark of the collective will of the people, and that laws should draw from that collective will. With this, he challenged the traditional order of the society. We know from history and books that the masses rose in a revolution, stormed the Palace and took over, leading logically to the principle of majority rule. How bad it was in Paris before the revolution was captured for us by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities.
Someone said books are orbits by which you could reach the heaven. Man’s education follows through many generations. The first generation educates the next, the next, the one that follows, the one that follows, the one after it ad infinitum, each succeeding generation advancing, evolving in small steps. Through Plato’s Republic, we discovered Socrates. And with Plato, we learnt that ideas are ageless and incorruptible, and the relentless passion for human development rests squarely on ideas.
Reading not only has tremendous power when it comes to fueling the development of all aspects of language ability, its importance to the entirety of a human life cannot be overstated. Books and, by extension, reading expands the reader’s horizons coupled with in-depth discussions and assimilations of different viewpoints, all contributing to increasing knowledge and appreciation of the world around. And history is filled not only with great leaders who were avid readers and writers (remember, Winston Churchill won his Nobel Prize in Literature, not Peace). They believed that deep, broad reading cultivated in them the knowledge, habits, and talents to improve their leadership capacities.
Through the documented ideas of others, leaders are further enriched with principled leadership as a resource for decision making and evaluation, taking into account power, influence, followership, roles and citizenship. James MacGregor Burns in his seminal work, Leadership stresses the impact of intellectual leaders. I consider thought leaders to be the most important. Is there a greater power than the power of a big idea? Is there a person with greater influence than one who can convey an idea differently?
Reading has many benefits, but it is underappreciated as an essential component of leadership development. The leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging. Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as history, sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them in governance are more likely to innovate and prosper. Reader-leaders also have a stronger and more engaged awareness of social issues and of cultural diversity than non-reading ones. Regular readers reported 57 per cent greater cultural awareness and 21 per cent more general knowledge.
There has been a consistent and steady increase in the numbers of young Nigerians seeking and getting Higher Education. People’s general interest in acquiring knowledge and skill are on the rise and this underscores the importance of reading in social life and its role in the development of creativity, innovation and initiative spirit. Sadly, this huge figure has not translated to an increase in book reading culture, even amongst the youths in Nigeria.
As global symbols of social progress, books have always been targets for those who reject freedom and tolerance. Research shows that over 135 million books have been published in the history of humanity and establishes that a heavy reader will at best get through 6,000 books in a lifetime. I cannot over-emphasise the need for the promotion of a book-reading culture as a viable tool for the reconstruction of the society in a positive direction. Unfortunately, a study carried out on the reading rate in Nigeria, in comparison with some developed countries, revealed Nigeria’s unsatisfactory position as well as the urgent need for effective strategies to promote the culture of reading in the country. For example, there are 4,000 libraries in Sweden with the population of 9 million while in Nigeria with the population of more than 150 million, the total number of public libraries is only 1,610. This intellectual poverty is one of the sources of significant gaps between Nigeria and a country like Sweden in terms of educational, socio-cultural, socio-economic growth and healthy social institutions.
There is an urgent need for the government to promote book reading as a culture through direct and indirect policies. Directly, the provision of necessary social and educational infrastructures like public libraries and reading rooms across the federation would complement other policies in the education sector. There should be strong encouragement of local publishing businesses through necessary policies including lower tariffs on the important items of publishing including machines, inks and paper. The author-publisher connection would lead to increased capacity for Nigerian writers to publish more titles. The government should also have a literacy policy and a committed execution of the policy would yield great benefits for the country especially in respect of out of school populace.