Not long ago Yinka Odumakin, a columnist of Vanguard, reported JP Clark’s query relating to our country-people’s attitude to reading. JP Clark, one of our super eminent and super illustrious professors, writers and intellectuals, queried one of his family’s members’ guests thus: “How many people read?” I am not absolutely certain of what specifically led to JP Clark’s seemingly innoxious but pertinently painful question directed at the host. I am also not very certain that our distinguished, foremost lyrical poet expected an answer from the certainly chagrined guest. As a matter of fact, Yinka Odumakin’s report did not make the guest’s answer obviously plain. But the columnist was deeply concerned about our top scale belletrist’s worry and the afore-said guest’s silence to the question well posed to him by JP Clark to report it in his column.
I am interested in the matter of reading because reading is the best way to attain lasting happiness. Indeed, he or she who does not read in the modern time, this modern time, cannot change himself or herself. And if we cannot change ourselves, how can we change the world around us? How can we change ourselves and our country for the better and for the best if we don’t read? Those who may wish to dabble over this subject can do so as they desire, but the best way to change their place and circumstances in our country is to read and learn and practise how to read with a positive bent, goal or quest.
But to read to attain massive success is to study. The ability or bent to study can dramatically enhance our happiness. How many of us know this? How many of us study? This is another way of asking JP Clark’s question. But I ask, re-ask and reframe the question from what I want to call a sprightly, extraordinary perspective that is at once truly, intellectually provocative and gracefully relevant to everyday life and experience.
My newspaper vendor, an engaging personality whose impulses are clearly different from those of many a newspaper vendor, alarmed me two or three days before Christmas day when I asked him how many articles he had read from the newspapers he sold at least a week before Christmas. From his mannerism I could see that the question I posed to him was a rare one which discomforted and discomfited him at the same time. The literate, well educated man whom I vainly thought would give me an answer of illumination paid me back in my own coin with his rare reply: “What do I need to read for again? My duty now is to sell my newspapers to pay my three children’s fees in two different universities, federal and state universities.” When I asked him further if that was truly his desire, he said “Yes o. I pay their fees in the hope that they will read and study and graduate. When they finish they will help me and their mother to get basic needs”. My reply: “Really?” “Yes o. Reading newspapers will not give me money. But whenever I have the time I read your column and some news reports about our thieves called politicians. Nor be newspaper articles I go chop. Nor be newspaper articles go pay university money for my children.” Seeing that he had discombobulated me with his answer, as I had discommoded him with my aforesaid rare question to him, my rara-avis supplier of newspapers held on to his perceived advantage by discomposing me further: “How many journalists read newspapers, their own and the ones not their own? How many columnists read themselves and other persons’ contributions? I know you read by the many papers you collect and pay for everyday; you read, but how many columnists read and study one another? Every day I go to NUJ. I know what I know.”
When he said what I have just narrated, I felt not the need to disagree with him or to disclaim his discontentment with reading. I know too well that our values have since changed from what they were many, many years ago. Our students go to school today not because they value learning or studies, but because they can’t get what they want outside the four walls of school. No amount of studies can encourage or illumine the majority of the students’ minds and hearts where there are no lamps of illuminations. The secret life of their desire is how to experience and get their want without the rigour of hard work which rigorous studies illumine. To study is to illumine the well of darkness that many of us ride in.
And our political leaders and rapscallions should mend their ways and manage to illumine our unquenchable desire to study. Academics, professors and professionals worth their salt, who have not been reading or helping or encouraging the mass of our compatriots to study must change their ways and hence forwards be liberationists who must employ appropriate workable social theories to illumine the path of even the dull-witted to study rightly. This is imperative if our country must be our country and remain our country. This is a serious matter that we must take and tackle seriously and severely. Unless we do what we need to do, unless we do what we used to do long before we are where we are now, there will be more gnashing of teeth in the land. Ritual killers, kidnappers and crooks, real crooks that are more than real crooks and criminals, super criminals that are more than super criminals will keep on multiplying in our land if we do not change and change well.
Our youths in particular must be retrained to value what they must value through necessary reading and valuable studies. In truth, we must train the kids on how to read and read and study and study until they nearly die. But they won’t die. To study and study rightly is not to die; it is to live rightly and healthily. The churches must join our teachers to train and re-train our boys and girls on this path and direction. And we must not be tired to say so, to preach this sermon. This generation and future generations must outgrow our present time of crushing meaningless attitudes and values that are not values. We all must keep on reading and studying to repair our minds and country. We must not be tired of learning, reading and studying at whatever age for pleasure and for the moral edification of our sensibilities and ourselves generally. Reading and studying will remake us even if we hate being remade.
What I have said so far is, or may not be new to many of us. But what matters is that we must, whatever or whoever we are, agree in this new year to make all the nice and good things I have said here part of our new year resolutions. To study to enhance our motivations and happiness is good and more than good. Of course, it is onerous to study; to study is far more tasking than cutting grass or more disturbing than playing football or far more aching than committing murder as a political thug or far more time-consuming than stealing with the pen as director-general or as chairman or as president of this or that company or ministry or as polytechnic provost or as this or that governor of this or that state. But after all said and done, we must study rightly and do the rightful and the appropriate for the sake of Nigeria.
Happy new year, dear compatriots.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213859.
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