In secondary schools, and even in higher institutions, most students who regularly make use of the library are, in many cases, respected by their fellow students. Not just because they are usually academically sound, but majorly because most of the library-goers know stuff. They know things beyond the walls of the classrooms. They know historical events. They know about other countries. They know about the world, the people, and their culture. They have broader knowledge, a different way of viewing the world, and a better sense of reasoning and analysis. That is what a library offers.
“Libraries are important cornerstones of a healthy community. Libraries give people the opportunity to find jobs, explore medical research, experience new ideas, get lost in wonderful stories, while at the same time providing a sense of place for gathering.”
We have gotten to that stage, in Nigeria, where we have to take very drastic (positive) measures when it comes to our educational system, especially if we want to have a ‘healthy’ community or society. In March 2020, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) urged the Federal Government of Nigeria to declare a state of emergency on education for the next five years. That is because education, in Nigeria, has been thrown to the dogs; public schools are thoroughly under-funded and the students learn in very horrendous environments. Many substandard private schools are springing up in almost every corner of the country. In the end, the people who feel the brunt of it all are the students who don’t have the opportunity to learn as much as their foreign counterparts.
The decadence of the educational system is heavily reflected in the poor reading culture of many Nigerians – especially those who cannot read a social media post because “it is too long jare”. There’s a rapid decline in the reading culture of many Nigerians. We can blame this on the advent of social media and it’s low attention span or the impatience of Millenials, but the truth is that a very huge number of Nigerians did not grow up reading books outside their mandated school books. This poor reading culture is fueled by the fact that many Nigerian schools do not have a library. Schools with libraries either have underfunded ones – with ancient of days books or unconducive reading environment. It is only a few schools and communities in Nigeria that have a standard library.
Let’s break this further:
Good education, in Nigeria, is expensive. If you decide to send your kids to good private schools – emphasis on good – this means you will be spending hundreds of thousands as school fees. Now, many financially stable parents don’t want to send their kids to state schools because many of them are poorly funded. Many students in public schools sit on windows and floors and the classrooms are nothing to write home about.
Again, recent statistics have shown that nearly 61% of Nigerians are living in extreme poverty. This means that over half of Nigeria’s population are extremely poor and they cannot afford to go to expensive private schools or access private libraries. The best way to imbibe the reading culture in Nigerian children – and Nigerians in general – is to build libraries in every community, one that everyone can have access to without breaking their pockets. One that will attract children and encourage them to read. It doesn’t end there, these libraries must be equipped with the latest gadgets. We now live in a digital world and it is important that our children keep abreast of the digital innovation taking place around the world.
Libraries in Nigeria
According to Academic Journals, there are about 316 public libraries in Nigeria, splattered across 36 states. “The establishment of public libraries in Nigeria, however, has been mostly limited to urban areas. That has resulted in illiteracy and ignorance among young people in rural areas. The inhabitants of these rural areas are without education. The library can have an important role in the advancement of knowledge.” While many urban areas, towns, and cities have public libraries, many rural areas are left behind and rural dwellers have no access to enough books. For instance, in Abudu village, Edo state, there’s a College of Education there. There’s also a hospital, a Catholic school, and many (mushroom) private schools. Yet, there is no community library.
It is the same in many villages in Nigeria.
Lagos has a population of about 20 million people. But as of 2016, there were only 12 public libraries in the state, according to the Lagos State Library Board. Although there are libraries in Ikorodu, there are no community libraries in certain rural areas like Agbele, Agunfoye, Offin, etc.
Before 2002, there were no libraries in the whole of Bayelsa state. As of 2018, only three libraries were established. In the Elebele town of Ogbia Local Government, there is no single community library and the schools there have no functional libraries. Same with most of the communities in Bayelsa.
Why We Need To Do Better
Through reading, you can sit in one spot and visit the world. Reading opens up our minds to information, knowledge, and opportunities. In Nigeria, today, our history has been distorted and a lot of political information has been compromised. One of the reasons why there are so many religious and tribal wars is because too many people are close-minded and unwelcoming of other people’s socio-economic/cultural/political views. Reading will help open young people’s minds to the world beyond and the many possibilities it presents.
Ensuring that every child has access to a library is not an unachievable task. One way to do this is to ensure every state government builds at least one library in their state. The Federal Government should build at least one library in each state and every Local Government Chairman should be mandated to build a library in their LGA. These libraries should have computers, internet access, books, chairs, and tables for learning and should be soundproof. It doesn’t have to be ‘ultra-modern’ or ‘state-of-the-art’, Nigerians are tired of all that serenren. Just build something that will give our kids, youths, and adults access to learn and study.
When it comes to education, the world seems to be leaving us behind. A lot of underprivileged Nigerian graduates cannot operate the computer. They have no money to buy gadgets, they are being taught only theories in school and their schools/communities have underequipped or no libraries. How will they compete with their peers in this digitalised world?
According to the World Education Forum (WEF) Nigeria ranks 125, out of 140 countries, and 25th in Africa, when it comes to education. Since the Nigerian Government has insisted on not investing in quality education, the least they can do is to invest in community libraries so that Nigerians can study and learn on their own. Our children and youths deserve to have access to quality education.