I have been working through some books lately, in which Nigerians “in general” (and you know how I feel about generalizations) have been criticized for not having much of a literary culture. People say Nigerians
only mostly read Christian or self-help books, and news papers. Honestly, I cannot say that this isn’t true. It’s a terrible problem, made even more terrible by the fact that very few people actually consider it a problem.
I believe it starts with the way literature is taught in most Nigerian schools – to build up a catalogue of practically meaningless facts, rather than to grow literary curiosity and thought. I remember one of my literature teachers in secondary school very fondly – the one who did her research and actually seemed to know what she was talking about, not the lazy one who said “basically” at least twice in every sentence he uttered. Every time we talked about forms or genres, she would always say that an example of the epistolary form is “Mariama Ba’s So Long A Letter“. She repeated this phrase in this particular arrangement so many times, I can hear her voice saying it even as I type it. Not, “So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba,” not “Mariama Ba’s novella,” not any other variation of that phrase.
This was a fact that I learned in order to pass exams. It was introduced to me as such, and it stuck. We never discussed the actual text and its merits as a distinct work of literature. I wonder now if my teacher had actually read the book, or if she was merely reeling off facts she herself had come across in her education. I had always assumed that she must have read it, but thinking back now to how she hardly said anything else about that text in spite of how often she mentioned it, or how she never had any other examples for the epistolary form, I wonder.
We can’t excel at things if we don’t teach them practically! We would have more literary curiosity if we taught literary curiosity and appreciation. We would have more sporting champions if we taught students games on the fields rather than in the classroom. Like, why on earth do I know the dimensions of a basketball court, the rules of scoring, and the history of the game, but I never touched a B-ball all my years in secondary school? Why did I learn about Cricket, and different kinds of sporting injuries? Just… why?
We did far more literary analysis in my CRK (Christian Religious Knowledge) class than we did in my Literature class. So, it’s no surprise that the students grow up to appreciate texts that expound on biblical teachings but not much else. Nigeria’s most read books seem to consist entirely of self-help self-published books. Bible is awesome and all, but literature is also essential!
Maybe people would recognize the fiction in newspapers if they were exposed to other forms of literary fiction. And maybe we would have more respectable Nigeria-based publishers if people had a home-grown appreciation. This way the best writers don’t have to pander to Europe/America and all the ideological pressures that come with that. If Nollywood can thrive, why can’t home grown literature?