Enhancing Nigeria’s reading culture – Controversy over poor reading culture in the country is an issue that will not go down in a hurry. While some intellectuals argue that Nigerians do not read, others insist on the contrary, arguing however that Nigerians are very selective in what they read. Those that buy into the allegation of poor reading culture note, for instance that more people, especially students engage in other activities such as watching films, adding that the proliferation of information technology also has its impact on the negative reading culture. In fact, to these analysts, the use of school or public libraries is almost becoming alien to students. Even parents and teachers who are supposed to enforce the reading culture are faced with other social challenges. It has often been said that a good reader makes a good leader. This suggests that for a country to have good leadership, there is the need to have products of good reading culture.

It was in light of this development that the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, plans to launch a reading campaign on Monday, December 20, 2010, where Nigerians would be charged to uphold the habit of reading to enhance human and material productivity. This campaign is expected to translate cumulatively into a virile economic and political advancement in the country, especially in the present political dispensation. The campaign, which the presidency tagged ‘bring back the book,’ will be held in Lagos where important dignitaries are expected to gather for intellectual brainstorming.

On assumption of office as the president, Jonathan had opened a facebook account on internet network with the primary aim of engaging himself in discussions with Nigerians on the issue of governance and other related cases. According to sources from the presidency, a lot of valuable advice and criticism have been passed across the president from all class of Nigerian citizens through this medium. The information garnered through this medium has been packaged into a book entitled, Goodluck Jonathan- My Friend and I. The public presentation of this book will also take place on same day and Nigerians would be availed the opportunity to have access to the collective information of the voice of the people in this compiled conversation between Goodluck Jonathan and Nigerians. After the presentation, the president will engage children in reading session from this book wherever he goes to immortalise the culture of reading. This effort is to register into their subconscious mind the relevance of reading to mental development.

Making the declaration in Lagos recently, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Research, Documentation and Strategy, Oronto Douglas, observed that it was the spirit of resilience, togetherness and unity of Nigerians that had put the country together during its trying period of political uncertainties. He lauded the president for the achievements he has recorded since he was sworn in on May 6, 2010, after the demise of the late president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. According to Douglas, the president sets the agenda of his government on three major issues, which include, electoral reform, electricity and energy security in the Niger Delta and Nigeria. In the review of these agenda, Douglas noticed that the appointment of Attairu Jega as Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman was a pointer to the president’s effort to achieve a free and fair election in Nigeria since he intended to form an electoral body that would be purely independent. According to Douglas, campaign of free and fair election has become a song for the president which he claimed has been mentioned up to 1640 times as at Thursday December 2, 2010. Reflecting on the president’s goal for justice, he said the political climate in Nigeria has changed for better because the president plans to leave a legacy after leaving office. He made reference to Edo, Anambra, Ekiti, Osun and Ondo States where the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidates lost out and candidates that legitimately won the mandate of the people sworn in. He also claimed that in the issue of electricity supply, though not at its perfect best, the country has experienced some marginal improvement. For energy security, Douglas recalled how the emergence of Jonathan practically took care of vehicular queues in fuel stations, a condition, he noted, had led to loss of life and properties in the past. He further declared that about two months ago, the National Examination Commission (NECO) and the West African Examination Council (WAEC) released the results of the students that sat for the current examinations, stressing that the state of the poor results informed the president to summon an educational summit to look into the standard of education in Nigeria especially because of his background as a teacher. Douglas claimed that the aim of the president is to achieve a comprehensive legacy that will enhance improved social, economic and political stability especially when the citizens are properly informed.

The book campaign, according to Douglas, will project and promote the vehicle that will enhance improved knowledge, education and empowerment. It will also be an avenue to promote the Nigeria culture. “The primary intention of President Goodluck Jonathan to join the facebook as he promised when he went to deliver a convocation speech at the University of Port Harcourt, is for ordinary people to have access to him for advice. The book contains the conversation between Nigerians and Goodluck Jonathan, and policies,” he affirmed. Douglas said though the president’s aides may give him advice that will suit their purposes, the desire to set a medium of communication between every Nigerian through the facebook is to harness direct communication network, and to listen and learn from Nigerians who would not hide their feelings. “The journey to bring back the book is not politics.

If we do, we will fail. Politics come and go but it is our knowledge that will take us to the kingdom of fulfillment,” said Douglas.

Recalling his past, Douglas claimed that his childhood days at Abeokuta made him to enjoy the free education policy of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.  “Though my parents could afford to send me to school, I tell you, it was a great privilege to enjoy the free education programme of the late sage regardless of the fact that I came from Niger Delta. How many of Nigerians today are privileged to have free education and have access to information? This is what the president wants to achieve,” he stated.

Douglas stressed the preparedness of the president to liaise with literary groups to promote knowledge and encourage them to be more productive. “We need to unleash into the society new books. The fertility of our imagination should be employed to change the state of time. We need to translate this vision into action. The president plans to leave a legacy of reading culture even after leaving office. Our democracy must be consolidated,” he said.

In his response to a number of questions raised especially on policy formulation and actualisation, Douglas assured that the presidency is determined to sustain all the programmes it embarked upon since each has been programmed for a renewed structuring. He lamented on the issue of National Endowment Draft Bill that the National Assembly has not been able to pass since 2004, suggesting that a strong body should be empowered to monitor the actualisation of this dream within a limited time frame. He also advised the media to continue to use its medium to educate and enlighten the populace without fear or favour.

It would be recalled that Douglas, an environmentalist and lawyer was recently named among the 20 most influential writers, thinkers and activists in the world. He was listed in a recent book, Political Awakenings: Conversation with History by Harry Kreiser the Executive Director of the Institute of International Studies, University of California. Douglas was selected with 19 others, from 485 interviews of people, which the book described as “distinguished men and women who by the power of their intellect and strength of character shape the world.” Douglas made the Science, Food and The Environment: Movement for Justice category which comprised select individuals that have challenged corporate power which seeks to disproportionately reap the benefits of science and technology to the detriment of the society.

The two other individuals listed in the same category with Douglas are Michael Pollan who has in the past 20 years written books and articles about places where the human and natural world intersect, and Eva Harris, a molecular biologist, who implements a programme to distribute DNA technology to third world clinics to fight diseases.

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