Lifting literary awareness in Nigeria

Posted: March 30, 2018 in general
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Kebbi student

A student participating at the flag-off of statewide campaign on Reading Culture and Reactivation of Literary and Debating Clubs for Primary and Secondary schools in Kebbi State which held at the Ummaru Illalu Model Primary School in Birnin Kebbi

Undoubtedly, one of the few highpoints of the country’s educational sector was achieved early March, this year, when 40 year-old Nigerian father of three, Bayode Treasure Olawunmi set a new Guinness Record in the ‘Longest Marathon Reading Aloud’ Category as he clocked 120 hours at the YouRead Library Yaba in Lagos, beating the previous record set by Nepal’s Deepak Sharma of 113 hours and fifteen minutes set in 2008.

Up until now, the gloomy scene has only left many shaking their heads wondering what has become of a system coated with huge potential. And while those who can afford it have since shipped their kith and kin abroad for better opportunities, the rest rather unfortunate ones have to wade through the sorry state of Nigeria’s educational system hoping to salvage whatever they can to improve their lot.

The problem may be multi-faceted, but the root appears to be in the capacity of the sector to build the future leaders of tomorrow as a consequence of sustained neglect and abandonment by governments at several levels of the larger society.

In December, last year, the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai directed the immediate sack of 21,780 teachers in the state for shockingly failing a Primary Four-level competency test conducted by the state government for them. About 33, 000 sat for that test.

Reacting to the Kaduna teachers episode at the State House in Abuja during a special retreat of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on the challenges facing the Education sector in Nigeria themed: “Education in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects,” President Muhammadu Buhari said: “It is a very serious situation when teachers cannot pass the examination that they are supposed to teach the children. It is a very tragic situation we are in, and this our gathering is one of the most important ones in this administration.”

The recently-released West African Examinations Council (WAEC) results of West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), for private candidates in 2017-First Series recorded a 17.13 per cent pass in English Language and Mathematics.

Head of Nigeria Office of WAEC, Mr Olu Adenipekun, said the percentage of candidates in Mathematics and English Language in the WASSCE for private candidates in 2017 was a mere 26.01 per cent.

The case is not with Kaduna State alone, it is a national problem. Pupils still study under tree shades; classrooms remain shockingly over-crowded; teacher to pupils’ ratio is embarrassingly in favour of the former. And all that in addition to the new menace of terrorism with its attendant abduction of students from their schools by armed groups who appear bent on crippling whatever little progress that may have been achieved in the past.

Nigeria did not attain the second of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched at the turn of the century which called for every child in the world, boys and girls alike, to receive a full course of primary school education by 2015.

According to the Guardian UK research, in 2012, the most recent year for which worldwide data is available, 58 million children aged between six and 11 were out of school with the problem being more pronounced in Nigeria and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, where roughly 30 million children were affected.

Speaking exclusively to Oracle Today, President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Mallam Denja Abdullahi, said: “I do not readily have the factual data but I know we are not there yet. There is still widespread illiteracy in our society. There are also some other kinds of illiteracy beyond just the inability to read and write in any language. There is internet illiteracy and other kinds of sub-forms, which altogether affects societal response to general reading, writing and comprehension.”

Such is the dilemma of the Nigerian educational sector that the effort initiated by lawyer and philanthropist, Yusuf Ali that is geared towards driving literary awareness and entrenching it as a culture in the country becomes better appreciated.

In February this year, renowned legal practitioner, author and dedicated philanthropist, Yusuf Ali (SAN) doled out the princely sum of three million naira to the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) for the 7th year running for the funding of the ANA/Yusuf Ali Nationwide Literary Awareness Campaign.

The grant was first secured by the National Executive Committee of ANA in 2012 and all state chapters of the association received sub-grants of N150,000 at various times between 2012-2014 for local literary awareness campaigns involving secondary schools across the country.

In 2015, the grant was applied by the then National Executive Council of ANA to host a workshop on fiction writing in Abuja in which about 25 students, drawn from tertiary institutions across the country via a competitive process, participated.

In 2016, the National Executive Council of ANA opted to focus on innovative literary awareness campaign among tertiary institutions across the country through the States’ chapters using the grant which was awarded to 16 State Chapters that met the requirements.

In 2017, the grant was used to publish three children’s literature titles under the Nigerian Writers Series (NWS) which have been distributed to chapters of ANA Nationwide to power ANA‘s A-Book-A-Child nationwide project.

“The project has been on-going since 2012 through a yearly grant received from Yusuf Ali (SAN). Over the years we have executed a number of innovative literary awareness projects in secondary and tertiary institutions across the country through our chapters in 36 States of the Federations and the FCT. The project has given our association a sustained linkage with our educational institutions across the Country and has led to the discovery of new young writers and infused the habit of reading for general purpose in the students that have been encountered,” said Abdullahi.

For Oyo State chapter chairman of ANA, Funso Omotoso, who rated the literary awareness in his state as ‘poor,’ the Yusuf Ali Literary Awareness Campaign ‘has a two-way benefit. One; it helps ANA members whose works are purchased with the grant. Two; it helps the students to whom the books are donated.’

Continuing, Omotoso said: ‘The campaign is anchored on having students read the donated books from questions will be asked. A date will then be set at which winners will be awarded prizes. Generally the programme has helped a great deal in promoting the reading culture among secondary school students in the state.’

On ways to improve the campaign, the immediate past Ebonyi State Chapter chairman of ANA, Elder Matthew Odono said: “If a single person, Yusuf Ali, could provide N3m to the association annually, imagine where the Federal, State and Local Governments can provide N50m, N20 and N2m respectively for the association activities, without politising it. I bet you, a lot of transformation will be achieved in the reading, writing and behavioural lives of the people. Wealthy individuals too, especially serving political leaders can come up to assist in this area.

“They can call it their constituency project, raise fund for ANA to mentor budding artists, give cash prizes to people that excel and so on. This is preferable to drugging the youths and giving them guns to cause mayhem in the society. In our state, Distinguished Senator Chris Nwankwo funded the organisation of training for aspiring creative writers, though not through ANA. The beneficiaries of that training are doing marvelously well in the creative industry today. We need more like him.

For the current Chairman of the Ebonyi State chapter, Mr Richard Inya: “A project of this standing needs partnership with the government of the benefitting states to further take it down to rural areas. We have put plans in place to partner the government of our state in this direction. We as well seek to identify individuals, groups, corporate bodies and organisations that share the ideals and aspirations of the association for the project.”


Malam Denja Abdullahi

On his part, Abdullahi said: “I think we have to creatively move the campaign into the larger society. The focus on schools over the years by ANA and other bodies has been overwhelming but the result has not been that overwhelming. So we need to look at what we are yet to do better to achieve better result. We will need the partnership of governments at all levels to help bridge all the gaps and overcome the shortfalls. There are also other sectors of our population we are not capturing in this drive to make reading interesting.

“Sometimes we assume some sectors do not consist of literate individuals particularly the informal sectors which may not be altogether true. What are mechanics and other artisans reading? What are bankers, lawyers, architects and other professionals reading? Do soldiers, policemen and others read? What kinds of books are they reading and what should they be diverted to reading? We need to start answering these questions with practical activities which governments must support us to answer,” he said.

Summing the position of the scholars and education stakeholders across the country, Inya opined: “It must be stated without fear of contradiction that no project, policy or programme in this nation in the dimension of improving the reading culture or increasing literary awareness can be compared with the Yusuf Ali nationwide literary awareness campaign. Its consistency is astute; its gains are high, and its vision, clear.

“The project has a very high capacity for sustaining the level of literary awareness in the state. We have benefitted twice, and on each of the occasions embarked on activities that opened avenues for our people to realize what lies ahead and how to be part of it.”


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