By Ray Ekpu

There is a revolution, a silent, noiseless revolution, that is going on in Akwa Ibom State now. And because it is not cacophonous or ear-splitting many people within the state may not have noticed its birth or its flowering. And its self-effacedness is amplified by the fact that it is not politics related. Political activities draw large crowds of women and youths who expect that when all is done and dusted there may be some sharing of goodies or what is loosely called dividends of democracy or if you prefer to put it more bluntly stomach infrastructure. That revolution does not fall into this category. That revolution is about books, the reading of books, a culture that has faded and is fast vanishing in most parts of Nigeria today and making many Nigerians, even educated ones, progressively illiterate.

As a primary school pupil I used to read a newspaper called the Outlook, published, I think, by the Government of Eastern Nigeria. My father subscribed to that paper and the vendor always brought it to our house in the village. Before my father returned from work as a member of the Customary Court of Appeal I would have been back from school. I would devour the paper before he gets home. That is where I got the thirst for words that sparkle, something for which I admired Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who appeared in that paper often. When I got into secondary school I used to read James Hadley Chase novels and what was known as Onitsha Market Literature. Such literature was very popular in the Eastern region at the time. The ones I easily remember that I consumed were Veronica, My Daughter, How tro write applications for jobs and How to write love letters. We learnt how to say to our potential girl friends in well crafted handwriting “you are the sugar in my tea and the milk in my coffee. As I write this missive to you I am swimming in the ocean of love. Please come and swim with me.”

Reading has virtually disappeared for a number of reasons: decline in the quality of education, shift in values from education to the quest for ill-gotten wealth, high cost of reading materials and a high level of poverty and the advances in technology which have downgraded the serious business of reading in preference for the ephemeralness of the trivial. The Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) is worried about the decline of reading which has affected the print run of their newspapers. The Association is working on measures to revive the dying culture of reading. That culture is still treasured in South Africa, Japan and India today despite the invasive prevalence of technology. Their newspapers have lost grounds to the trivial that is hyped on social media.

The reading revolution I referred to earlier was started in Akwa Ibom State in 2015 by Dr Udeme Nana, a lecturer at the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua. Dr Nana studied Mass Communication at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and capped it with a Ph.D from the University of Uyo. He was a Media Adviser to Governor Victor Attah and Governor Godswill Akpabio. At the 2014 National Conference he was the head of the Akwa Ibom State secretariat whose responsibility was to provide research materials to the delegates on matters germane to the state at the conference. Dr Nana, a public intellectual and a connoisseur of books is the founder of Uyo Book Club, whose members meet monthly to sink their teeth into book matters, reading, reviewing, networking etc. They have held book reading sessions in honour of William Shakespeare, Professor Wole Soyinka, Architect Victor Attah. And when I turned 75 last year they surprised me with an unforgettable reading session to mark the event. This intellectual hub has now mushroomed in other towns in the state such as Eket, Abak and Ikot Ekpene. The tribute for the spread of this reading revolution goes to Dr Nana in full measure. I expect that the newspapers that give awards yearly to Nigerians who have distinguished themselves in various fields will take note of the contributions of Nana to the growth of their business and recognize him appropriately. And if those who recommend people for awards at the national level are interested in reviving our dying reading culture, this man who has devoted a lot of his time, energy and money to this pursuit ought to get national recognition.


Why is book reading important? Books are a repository of knowledge and pleasure. They increase or improve our understanding of the world around us apart from improving our communication skills. A book may not glitter in look but it is gold because a book is the equivalent of a multitude of advisers, consultants, teachers and mentors rolled into one. According to Richard de Bury, “books are masters who instruct us without rods or ferules, without words or anger, without bread or money. If you approach them, they do not fall asleep; if you seek them, they do not hide; if you blunder, they do not scold; if you are ignorant, they do not laugh at you.” A book is a loyal partner. Where you leave it, there it stays; it doesn’t walk away, no separation, no divorce. It is the equivalent of a Catholic marriage, for better for worse. Even if you leave it on the shelf for months or years it remains there, unmoving, unperturbed, unfazed.

A book, any book, carries a pregnancy. Until you disvirgin it you will never know what is in its belly, whether it is a child or a toad, and if it is a child whether it is deformed or undeformed. You can find in the belly of a book solutions, honour, humour, education, vision; almost every problem has a solution buried somewhere in the belly of books. These solutions are buried, waiting to be discovered by those who peel the pages of books. I don’t use electronic devices to read books. I read a book from a book, a hard copy which I hold in my hands as if I am holding my lover. In any case, my book is my lover. As I hold it caressingly that increases the romance between us, between me and my book. A book in my hands is the equivalent of a hug and a kiss between lovers. It increases the depth of the love when I see the book seductively designed, professionally produced, and it smiles at me and I return the favour by peeling its leaves one after the other, enjoying the ecstacy of its content. I also enjoy the sparkle of its words as a worker in the words world. This transports me, catapaults me, to a new and refreshing world, like the astronaut who steps on the moon for the first time.

When I saw the picture of Nigeria’s Vice President Mr Kashim Shettima squatting in a bookshop somewhere with piles of books drowning him I was thrilled. I said to myself that if all our leaders read they will lead us well because the solutions to our problems are buried in books, national conference reports, commissions of inquiry reports, newspaper reports etc. The 2014 national conference produced a report that made more than 600 recommendations on Nigeria’s problems but nobody is looking into those reports. Nobody looked into those reports before now. Nobody is looking into those reports now. We live in a world of amnesia. We permit ourselves to forget the past, we tell ourselves that the past does not exist because the past is gone, the past was yesterday, the past is past. Today is the present; only today exists.

There are many book aficionades in the world, people who are famous and rich, who read books voraciously, gluttonously. One of them is Warren Bruffet, an American billionaire who drives one car for 20 years but reads 500 pages of books or reports per day. He is eminently successful. Oprah Winfrey, a well-known broadcaster who has a book club and discusses books with her guests. Bill Gates, the technology legend who dropped out of Harvard University is said to read without fail at least 50 books a year, on science, technology and biographies. Tony Robbins, a well-known author has been on record as reading 700 books in seven years. Mark Culean, an investor and the owner of Dallas Mavericks reads books for three hours every day. Mack Zukerberg, the CEO of Facebook reads one book every two weeks despite his busy schedule. Elon Musk, the billionaire technology deity used to read for 10 hours a day as a child. Now as an adult he still reads voraciously. Is that why he is very successful? Yes. In Nigeria Chief Richard Akinjide, the famous Senior Advocate of Nigeria was a well-known lover of books. He usually read two books at a time which is probably why he was such a smart and brilliant lawyer. John F. Kennedy, the former American President who was an orator was capable of reading 100 words per minute.

In Nigeria you may find cynics who may say at this difficult economic period in response to a revival of reading culture campaign, “na books we go chop?” My reply will be “yes, we chop books.”

Originally published in The Guardian, April 16, 2024.

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