Aina: Our dream is to make Nigeria a knowledgeable economy

Professor Lenrie

There is no doubt that apathy towards reading has remained on the increase, especially among the young generation, who are further alienated by social media. As part of efforts to combat the trend, the National Librarian of Nigeria, Prof. Lenrie Olatokumbo Aina, stated some of the measures in place, including digitizing the library for ease of access to books. He is, however, worried by increasing cost of building the library. He spoke to BRIDGET ONOCHIE in Abuja

From N10 Billion, It Will Now Cost N78 Billion Or More To Build A National Library

Is there a Link between poor reading culture and lack of development?
Of course, there is a link between poor reading culture and the backwardness experienced in our development. Anytime you travel abroad, whether you are in the train or in the aircraft or even in the bus, you see that a large number of people are reading something. You see novel in their hands or books or whatever; but a typical Nigerian, when they are many in a place, they will be shouting and talking verbally. But it was not like this before. We were reading when we were growing up in the 1960s and the 1970s. As a matter of fact, as a young man, the best way to secure the friendship of a lady is when you start talking about different books that you have read.

What is the role of parents in encouraging children to read?
It has been said that parents have a crucial role to play in improving reading culture in the country. Like we have even been saying, when a child is in school, maybe at age 11, age 10 or age nine, during his birthday, parents will buy cake, biscuit and drinks to take to school, but they will never buy books. If there is this culture of parents buying books in addition to soft drinks, biscuit and cake, many more people would be encouraged to. So, you realise parents really have to play a crucial role in this regard.

How much attention does government pay to library?
I think government gives a lot of attention to library. The problem we have is that we are not complemented by the society; that is the way I see it, because the government cannot do everything. A government that established a national library and established branches in all states of Nigeria, is interested. But the problem we have is that we leave everything to the government. Hardly do you see people dedicating all the books they have to the library in their wills. Those people who have books in their collections hardly do that. Because the society has refused to give library the position it deserves, I read in the papers one time where someone said he went round Abuja and couldn’t see any library, and that the people do not read except to make money. At least, let the society support us. There was a time Rotary Club came here and donated a lot of books to us; these are things that we expect. We don’t expect government to do everything.

What is the state of the new library head office building?
The place we are now is our headquarters and it is temporary, but we have started building our permanent site since 2006. Unfortunately, up till now, it is only about 40 per cent complete because of lack of funding. When it started, it was going to cost over N10 or N12 billion. Later, it was reviewed upwards to about N38 billion. Later, they said it was N51 billion, now I am even hearing something of about N78 billion to build the permanent headquarter. And, if that structure were in place, we will be able to do so many things. Where we are now is so limiting; these are the problems but sometimes, you ask yourselves, ‘will you ask the government to give us N78 billion to complete this project and neglect other things?’

So, this is the problem that we have. Government is committed to helping us complete the building, because they started it and it is a national monument. It is not every country that has a national library. Nigeria is one of the few countries in Africa that have a national library.

How can the funding challenge be resolved?
Fortunately, we are on the path of trying to have what we call public/private partnership. As a matter of fact, I just created a committee to see how we can carry out the project and the minister has given us the go-ahead with involving the private sector towards completing the project. If we depend on government, like I told you, it does not have the money to complete it for now.

What we are planning is to involve the National Assembly committee on Education in our readership programme. We believe that if we are able to win members of the committee to our side, they would be able to influence other members and with that, the campaign towards improved reading culture can be successful since they have the grassroots support. So, we are trying everything possible.

How about the dilapidated state of National Library in Lagos?
I was there recently because they invited me to look at the place, and I wrote a letter to the minister, stating the problems. I am sure he is paying attention to it. So, anytime from now, we will see a new Lagos branch.

Under which Ministry is the National Library domiciled?
In some states, you find it under education while in others, you find it under art and cultural information, but we are under education here at the national level.

What in your view is responsible for apathy towards reading among Nigerians?
One of the reasons was as a result of change of values. What interests people now are not in the line of reading. People now want money; anything that can make them get money is what is of interest to them. People don’t consider gaining knowledge anymore; everybody is looking for money, even people who are very rich still want more money. The average Nigerian is no longer contented. People in the past were contented with just one house, but people have plenty houses now yet they still want more. Once you are in that race, you will not have time for reading because reading takes time.

For example, on Sunday, I buy five, six papers and I want to read every page. Sometimes, I won’t finish them that day; I will continue the next day. That is a lot of sacrifice that people are not ready do.

Do you consider endowing prizes in education as part of incentive for reading?
Like I told my colleagues, this readership programme we are doing must identify people. Like when we went to Plateau State branch during their readership programme, I was surprised to see that prizes were given to the person that used the library the most. People come to the library, but the operators were able to identify one of their clients, who was there regularly and they gave him a prize. I was so happy.

Similarly, I remember when I went to Ibadan, the head of branch introduced me to a man who was a regular user of the library. We have to involve other organisations and give prizes, bring people into the library and let them know its importance. We are working towards that.

Without enough space, how does the library collect books as expected?
The principal objective of a national library is to collect all books published in that country. So, we must collect any book published in Nigeria, also any book published about Nigeria around the world, and we are still doing that – any book written about Nigeria, either by a Nigerian or a non-Nigeria, as long as Nigeria is there, we collect. Also, any book written by a Nigerian that is not about Nigeria but written about Chinese language, as long as the book is written by a Nigerian, we collect. Collection is free; you are the one who will give the book to us by law. You must give three copies to national library of Nigeria. If you don’t do that, then you are contravening the law. Recently, we transformed one of our units here – the legal deposits division to a department, and they are trying to see that people obey this law. Space is not our problem because we have branches in almost all the states of Nigeria, and we are trying to build what they call prototype branches, where there is large space to take the books.

In any case, we are aiming to digitize the library so that people can always get any book we have online.

Do you consider opening branches in local communities?
Of course, we are considering that. In fact, we also plan to buy local newspapers and put in the branches so that people get to read about their communities. So we are working towards that. Finally, I want us to create this awareness. I want the society to be a knowledgeable one. That is where the world is going. In the Western world, people no longer go to work; they now work from home because it is a knowledge society. Hardly do you have big structures. You see a company of about 250 people and maybe their head office can only house 10 or 15 people, others are working from home, and that is because they are in a knowledge society, and that is my dream. We should all work to become a knowledgeable society so that wherever we are, we are working.

So, my aim is that we should prepare the ground for making Nigeria a knowledgeable economy. And it can only be a knowledgeable economy if people read.



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