I had a most beautiful week, penultimate week. It was a week of reading. I read like never before in a very long while. Voraciously. It’s like the Spirit, a holy one, of the books, possessed me. Indeed, an angel of the books touched me. I had woken up at about 2:00 AM and literally pounced on my books, devouring everything on my path. I read till daybreak and then through the whole day. Just reading and reading. And I am still reading.
Ah, the joy my reading brought me that first day. An enduring joy. You see, my day is most made whenever I’m able to read something before hitting the sack at the end of the day. But often my busy schedule and the exhaustion it occasions don’t allow me that little indulgence of mine.
So this particular day, as soon as the angel of the books woke me up, all I did was read, read and read. I read. I kept turning the pages. I completed two books I’d been reading and started new ones. I read everything from history to politics, economics, biographies, leadership, personal development, and short stories. I read Prof. Kenneth Onwuka Dike’s cerebral classic, Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta 1830-1885 and his selected speeches, Issues in African Studies and National Education. I read Robert Greene’s amoral, cunning, ruthless, and equally instructive bold volume, The 48 Laws of Power and Robin Sharma’s international bestseller, Greatness Guide 2: 101 Ways to Reach the Next Level.
Few days later, at a book fair organized by the youth of my parish in view of an essay writing competition (I worked with them on that), I bought three books: Fela: This Bitch of Life (by Carlos Moore), The Caine Prize for African Writing 2011 To See the Mountain and Other Stories, and The Whispering Trees: Short Stories (by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim). I immediately set down to devouring them. That spirit of reading that possessed me won’t just let me go. And those three too, I was done with in no time. I savored the moment. Every bit of it.
And I learnt a lot from the reading. The books talk about planning, focus, hard work and teamwork. They speak about following one’s heart and pursuing one’s passion. About rising above life’s challenges to our God destined greatness. About loyalty, commitment, and family. They brought me great insight. And they brought me laughter too. Loads of it. I laughed so hard I sometimes had to stand up from my chair to regain my balance.
Then, they got me thinking. Thinking about the reading culture of this country. A professor of mine once mocked us, his students. He sarcastically remarked that Africans don’t read and that to hide any piece of information from an African, all one needed do was to write it down. The African won’t read it, even if you hand him/her the book. Irking as this might be, its meaning should not be lost on us. Has our development as individuals or a nation been stunted in any way because we do not read or have lost that culture of reading? How often do we pick up a book to read? In order to learn. To acquire new ideas. To grow.
Proper education of our youth, the shapers and leaders of our tomorrow, includes inculcating in them and re-introducing them to a robust reading culture. But then, how’s that possible when even as parents, governments, and a nation, we do not put our money where our mouth is? Indeed, talk is cheap. If not, how else does one explain that in the midst of all the “education talk” from the government, only N400.15 billion (four hundred billion naira), representing a meager 8.43 percent of the budget was allocated to education in the 2012 fiscal budget of the Federal Government of Nigeria? And of this amount, N345.091 billion (83%) is for recurrent expenditure while only N55.056 (18%) is for capital expenditure.
We seriously need to walk the talk in this country. I remember reading one of The Guardian Newspapers’ celebrated columnists some years ago. He had shocked his readers with a story of a third year English student of one of our national universities who was asked the author of Things Fall Apart and she gaffed: Pete Edochie. How sad. But then, how do we blame such a student when she had probably not had access to any functional library. Yes, there is no excusing her monumental unintelligent answer, which probably was occasioned by a lack of academic discipline (either on her part or on the part of her teachers from secondary school upward, which also speaks volume of our educational system) or by too much time spent watching videos and television. But then, most of our public or school libraries are in such sorry states, with empty shelves gathering dusts and in some cases boasting of few antiquity books with ripped out pages that no meaningful learning can occur within them.
But again, non-functional public or school libraries are not enough excuse for anyone not to read. Remember, your mind is where your treasure is. If you make books your priorities, you can afford one. Change starts with you. Challenge yourself. Read a book today. This week. Encourage your spouse, child, ward, friend, colleague, or student to read a book. Share with them an interesting book you’ve read. Read, read, and read. Don’t forget, you’re what you read. Read your way to wisdom, to empowerment, to success, to joy, to peace, and to blessedness. While you’re at it, smile and give thanks.
Remain blessed and keep smiling.