Nigerians do not read. How true is this statement?

I have rephrased the topic into three sub questions to understand further.

  1. How many Nigerians can read?
  2. How many Nigerians can afford to read?
  3. How many people who can afford to read actually read?

For the first question, it’s no news that about 70% of the Nigerian population live in abject poverty. Education and poverty are so intertwined that the former cannot occur without the absence of the latter. I say this because in order to be educated, one must have access to certain resources that foster enlightenment such as formal education, stationery, books, tablets, phones, pamphlets etc. More times than not, these resources are not disseminated for free or are remotely affordable. Many Nigerians cannot even afford to feed themselves talk more of educating themselves. The majority of the population do not know how to read simply because they cannot afford the resources to teach them how to. Therefore, the thought of learning to read or learning at all simply is irrelevant, “surviving” is all that matters.

Question two. For those who do know how to read or have managed to learn to read, how many can afford to keep reading? The answer to this question has been explained by the first question. The typical Nigerian society is one of struggle; Struggle to make a living, struggle to eat, struggle for transportation and for those barely trying to make ends meet, allocation of resources is matter of priority. Living in a country like Nigeria, many cannot afford to give even a quarter of their earnings for self-improvement because they are too distracted and consumed with the struggles in their daily lives. Opportunity cost is mostly at play here. For instance, one might ask “why should I buy books when I cannot afford to pay my rent?” For many of these people, the only type of books they might accommodate are Holy or religious books as they tend to believe that their destinies or change of status rests heavily on it.

Final question. Based on the paragraphs above, poverty can in fact be a determent to a strong reading culture however, wealth or lack thereof does not imply a causal relationship. In fact, for those in the upper echelons of society, education or reading often becomes an option and not a need. Many people in this category decide to get educated or read not based on the availability of resources but simply on individual preference. Education here becomes a choice that could easily be adopted or dismissed because their lives or position in society do not necessarily depend on it. They tend to view education in general as a “means to an end”; where education is seen as a prerequisite to a proper job and a higher salary. Being already wealthy, education to them would then be irrelevant. They choose not to read at all because they ask themselves “What exactly am I studying for?” This does not mean there aren’t rich people who think otherwise but based on observation (which you’re free to assume is flawed), majority have this notion.

For the average or middle class citizens, education is also mostly viewed as a means to an end but in this case, education is key. Many people in this category read mostly due to the acknowledgements and accolades that society dons on you when you read. For instance, secondary school students study hard and binge read on tons of academic books because the attainment of As or a WAEC certificate supersedes the need for knowledge. Many business owners subscribe to self-help books like the ever popular “Rich Dad. Poor Dad” mostly because they believe these books are the source for instant wealth-making. So many Nigerians in these category do read, quite voraciously if I must say, but not for the purpose that these books were made for. It is for this reason that many Nigerians cannot be bothered to read informative books about history and society after formal education or be moved to care about fiction as they see it as a waste of time.

Another thing that must be considered with respect to the reading culture in Nigeria, is the digital media trend. The way people consume information has changed dramatically over a 40 year period thanks to the internet. The advent of the mobile phone in the 90s gave rise to an unprecedented method of acquiring and disseminating information that transformed the world. What is most fascinating is the number of Nigerians with access to the internet. Today, Nigeria is 8th in the world with respect to the amount of internet users. It is not surprising then that people prefer to receive their information on devices that enables them the most access to the internet. For Nigerians, this is the mobile device. Information garnered on a mobile phone must be terse and straight to the point due to the limitedness of space and time. The need for blogs that summarise news and stories, short videos and audio content is an all-time high. This has led to the dramatic decrease in the need for books with a cornucopia of complex information.

The statement “Nigerians do not read” mostly uttered by learned Nigerians in a condescending tone is sometimes preconceived. While I agree that many Nigerians do not read, the reason behind this should be taken into context. If majority of the population is poor with thousands still struggling then it should be expected that only a significant amount of the population are concerned with reading. It should also be stated that Nigerians who can read and have access to reading materials might not read books necessarily but statistics have shown that a lot of people, thanks to the mobile device and the internet, do read but mostly short contents laid out in a simple format. For some who might be described as “avid readers”, they might even be reading for the wrong reasons-possibly to seem learned or to acquire societal accolades -and that needs to be checked. On the other hand, those who can read, can afford to read and don’t read at all are the ones that ought to be criticised. Aptly put by Mark Twain, ‘The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read. It would be sheer ignorance to forgo the benefits of acquiring knowledge in this knowledge-driven world today.

I believe that the economy has a role to play in the lack of a strong reading culture in Nigeria. However, do I think Nigerians read enough? No. I don’t think so. I think the structure and approach of the Nigerian society is highly to blame – A society where just good grades are rewarded but practical knowledge in issues relevant to development as a people do not necessarily matter. A country where hard work and dedication rarely yields dividends. A country where individuality and creativity is suppressed. Do I think Nigerians read relevant information? Not all the time and this is not always entirely bad. I can attest to the information I have derived from twitter- a social network. Information in this context is subjective. I agree that not all things read can be “useful” but reading in general is great for entertainment, mental stimulation, vocabulary expansion and writing. Reading useful information however should not be undermined. In conclusion, inculcating a reading habit would definitely create a “New Nigerian” with an ability to communicate, comprehend and contribute more effectively to society in many substantial ways.