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As originally posted on Nigeriannation….

Editor’s Note:  Ikhide analyses the reading tradition in Nigeria by criticizing the book Publishing sector for it’s “wretched productions” and appraising Nigerian teenagers who maintain their stride to share their rich contents on blogs…

First of all, let us abolish one myth. It is not true that Nigerians (and by extension, Africans) do not read. When you really think about Nigerians, we are not much different from citizens in the Western world. These days, Westerners do not read books, they do not read print. It is too expensive a habit and it just does not fit into how they live these days. Similarly, our people stopped reading a long time ago because like in the West it is an unnecessary luxury. Life is too short. Besides, how many of you have tried to read a book while perched on an okada on the Third Mainland Bridge?

Our people read. They read their bibles religiously, begging an indifferent God for relief from their thieving sons and daughters, our vagabonds in power. They read religiously: cell phones, smartphones, laptops, etc. Regardless, the writer-thinker keeps churning out ideas in books that few people read.

We need to redesign our attitudes and our mindsets. We are too busy being the sage on the stage when we should be the guide on the side of those whom we seek to influence. The amount of time we all spend online complaining about the poor reading culture of poor people could be more productively spent designing instructional materials that could be ported to the medium that our people now use.

It is not as if the books that are being produced in Nigeria are attractive enough to want to be read. Last year, I visited a number of bookstores in Nigeria. I found my way to about four bookstores including those at the airports. The bookstore is still alive in Nigeria. I was at the Jazzhole in Lagos; I found it to be a very eclectic place. I urge people to patronize it. You are never sure who you are going to meet there (I met the legendary Fatai Rolling Dollar) and the proprietors are filled with an infectious optimism and vision for reading in Nigeria. I bought several books by known and unknown authors. I was going home to the States to enjoy the books. I must say sadly that for the most part, these are wretched productions. There are some bright spots but the publishing stinks and one is left with a very poor impression of Nigerian writing and publishers.

Let’s face it: most Nigerian writers of note live abroad. Most of those that are left behind would like to escape. They live on the internet, communing with the world outside. The internet allows the West to further plunder our best brains. If you truly want to enjoy Nigerian literature, go to the Internet. Very soon, I will stop reading books and simply prowl the internet for good writing. The best of our writing now exists on the web. Our Nigerian writers are writing feverishly mostly in blogs, online journals and Facebook. There is some pretty good literature out there; it is just that we are still busy reviewing books. Have you ever met someone at a party that introduced him or herself as a blog reviewer? There is no such animal. There should be. We are missing out on some great gems out there. We should be reading and reviewing digital productions. And they are free. These writers should be paid.

We have great writers in Nigeria; however there is something that happens to their brains once they begin to write books. They become giddy. Pot-bellied generals begin to fall off the windows of their books, rapes chase incest and blood and alcohol and sh*t mix to form a potent brew to knock the reader senseless with boredom. It sells, I guess.

There are some truly great poets out there, but it just seems to me that the ones that are angling to be read these days lack range and depth. It is the same tired crap. And yet they complain that no one reads these days. I don’t blame the astute reader for choosing illiteracy over depression. This is not to minimize the pain that Nigerian writers feel. What the Nigeria government has done to our writers is grim beyond the speaking of it. It is a roll call of abuse degradation, death.

Beginning with Christopher Okigbo, many writers have paid the ultimate price for owning words. Wole Soyinka’s lengthy experience in the hands of Nigeria’s government is outlined with farcical detail in his various memoirs. Chinua Achebe sat in wintry exile in North America. On one level it is a shame, how Nigeria has hounded her wordsmiths to the grave or to exile. The loss has been incalculable. Even in peace time, Nigeria can be rough on a writer. Like ravenous termites, thieving leaders have decimated whatever media structures are there. I have said this before, there are some courageous people doing some really great things for the arts in Nigeria. But it is not enough.

It is criminal that these initiatives are still largely dependent on individuals, rather than on robust structures. Our leaders should be shot.

Written By: Ikhide Ikheloa for Naij.com

Ikhide R. Ikheloa writes for various online media and in his blog. Ikheloa is notorious for having strong opinions about the literature of Africa. He refuses to write a book because he stubbornly insists that the book is dying a long slow death.

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