Nigeria: “Not for sale” is for sale

November 16, 2018 Nigeria , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Carsten ten Brink photo



Abdulyassar Abdulhamid



Many public affairs analysts and educationists are pointing an accusing finger, unrelentingly, at poverty, corruption, poor reading environment, lack of reading language and paying attention to frivolities; and the dearth of libraries as serious impediments to the formation of reading culture in our clime. Of course, they are not less sanguine; each is a devil in its own right; and contributes immensely, in one way or the other, to the expiration of reading culture in this part of the world.


Unfortunately, when one takes poverty as an agent, for instance, teeming families are living below the poverty line. Many a family head are struggling day and night to feed their households, much less to cater for the educational needs of their wards. This must have been, by some means, if the households are attending school at all, affecting their access to books and other reading materials thereby risking their performance at school, which depends on good reading habits.


At every moment corruption, whether at grand scale or small scale, is mentioned, what comes to mind are politicians and government officials. Quite alright, they contribute to about eight percent, although it is subject to argument, to its prevalence in Nigeria; but corruption has eaten up deep into Nigeria’s fabric that very few imagine its true portrait. Due to grand scale corruption, the education sector has been ill-funded. Many schools have but few teachers and most of them are unqualified. Some learning environments are derelict buildings of some sorts and many classes take place under shades or trees in the open thus subjecting the poor pupils to the danger of the elements.


However, to add insult to the pitying condition of our education, reading language may be introduced to the learners late. It may likely be used only within the four walls of classrooms or at most within the school premises. By the way, how many have reading habits even in their first language?


Even so, in some cases, frivolities may be accused for the decline of reading habits, as some students’ minds, especially those from the middle class and attending private schools, are diverted by distractions: phones, social media, games, whatnot. On the shelves of libraries of some private schools I visited were Shakespeares, Dickens, Achebes, Soyinkas, Wordsworths, etc; but amusements would not allow the texts to pass through the students. The books are there only as beautifiers.


The demise of libraries, which is the subject matter of this piece, is taking center stage. The expectation is that a library promotes reading culture. Public libraries where books are kept, as reserves for study and nerve centres of every knowledge-driven endeavour, are not adequately funded nor stocked with suitable and modern reading materials that will positively impact on the lives of the citizens.


Findings have it that in many public schools there are not even traces of functional libraries. The existing ones have been caught in death throes. They will give way to it after the last kicks. Our sweeping generalities of the assumption that the government ill-funds libraries may be proven wrong, if we were to scratch the surface of the whole saga.


How important is a library to the school? Recently, two supervisors flew into Nigeria from as far as Saudi Arabia. Their mission was to inspect the condition of a school under the auspices of an organization formed to help Muslim youths.


When they came into the library, they went straight away to the shelves and glued their eyes thoughtfully on them. On them were outdated Arabic books for primary school pupils and shreds of dirty, outmoded English and mathematics textbooks; and some torn pages of agriculture and technology textbooks.


His first question, as I was told, was: “where is the English shelf?” to which the person in charge pointed nonchalantly. One of them dubbed his hand and told him he could not see any; and neither could his interlocutor. It struck him as a betrayal of trust at its peak. From the professor’s looks, he tacitly deduced something: they had provided the school with reading materials; but they could not see any; or better the books had been cornered by an influential person(s) in the school.


By the time he got back home, he might have a rethink as to why the books refused to present themselves, although they had provided the school with the required texts or funds for the procurement of the reading materials – perhaps with “not for sale” inscription or the organization’s logo on them.


However, whenever reading enthusiasts pass by a dying library, whether a school’s or public library, they blame the government for refusing to either stock it with needed materials or for its nonchalant attitude towards it. When one asks the teachers why the libraries in their schools are degenerating, they advertently pass the buck onto the government since every government in a blame game is a carry-all. But the truth is that there is one intrepid killer whose oath of service was to protect it with all his might, yet he is working to bring down the roof; and so the killer does.


Sometime last year, I organized an in-house debate for a family I gave lessons to. The prizes for the first and second positions were two carefully selected texts – Mary Shelley’s celebrated novel, Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s timeless novel Treasure Island. My intention was to kill two birds with one stone: to incentivize the children on one hand and on the other, to introduce them to the pleasure of reading. This was what I did.


At my arrival at a stall in a market whose owner deals in books, something shook me to my marrow. Of course, I got the simplified version of the texts I was looking for. They were new for hardly someone read them. But flipping through the pages, I discovered on each page one catch-phrase written boldly: “Not for sale”. This was flanked by FGN-UBE 2013/2014. An echo murmured, in my mind, back to me: “Not for sale, for sale?” By God, how comes this?


Marvel of marvels, I told him the books were not for sale, pointing at the affirmation. His words were the opposite: “Here, they are for sale that is why you see them here.” He even asked me to take a look at other bookshops.


My curiosity could not let go. Asking an examination officer of a school to know why there is this disturbing large-scale pilferage, he told me that the government does provide schools with reading texts and his school is one of the beneficiaries, but only that the books disappear just like that without trace. He told me of a stock supplied lately. Some of the texts are Mnguember Vicky Sylvester’s Song Shadow, Adamu Kyuka Usman’s Hope in Anarchy, and Mariam Ba’s So Long a Letter, etc, yet the students cannot read them. How can they when someone is shamelessly trading the books away?


From all indications, those books are sold, in person or by proxy, by some persons charged with the responsibility of delivering them to the students. And nobody, perhaps, seems to be offended by this sheer heartlessness of selling out “not for sale”.


The saddest part of all this is the languid indifference shown or the absence of emboldened minds to challenge this unsteady conduct that will one day consume us all. But, as Jane Austen would say, if we do not have hearts, we have eyes; and they give us torment enough.





Abdulyassar Abdulhamid

Abdulyassar Abdulhamid, Kano based, is graduate of B.A English from Bayero University, Kano. He is a budding writer, social analyst, freelancer at Sunrise Language Practitioner (SLP) and regular contributor to Nigerian dailies. 
His writings have appeared in The Communicator, a magazine published by Kano State Polytechnic and in Dailytrust, The Triumph and The cable newspapers. He has a strong interest in literary theory.

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