By Anote Ajeluorou
THE Booksellers Limited, where Mr. Kolade Mosuro presides as Managing Director, is a supermarket for books. It’s not just for its size, but also for the volume of human traffic. Men, women, the elderly and children find the Magazine Road, Jericho, Ibadan location a Mecca of sorts as they stroll in, make a purchase and saunter out to the expansive parking lot and drive away. In Lagos and many other Nigerian cities, it’s only a supermarket stocking household items that can match it. Yet, the shoppers are not there to pick up an exhausted item in the kitchen for breakfast or dinner.
They had come to buy a book! Before you forget, Ibadan is still an academic city, Mosuro reminds.
Yet, the boss of The Booksellers Limited insists Nigerians do not read enough. He should know, presiding as he does over, unarguably, the largest bookshop in the country. This would seem a surprise; his bookshop bears a semblance of testimony to Nigerians as avid readers. So, he says, “Yes, Nigerians read, but not enough; not enough. You called it a supermarket; a bookshop is really a market for books. So, in a sense and because of its size, The Booksellers Limited is a supermarket for books.
“As you well know, books are infinite because there’s no limit to human imagination, no limit to ideas. And so, there is just about a book in every subject at The booksellers Ltd. We try to cater for the reading public, from the kindergarten to the professionals and the general public, and that makes it a big bookshop, perhaps the biggest bookshop in the country”.
So, indeed, has Nigerians’ love for books actually waned? And how far badly has the country has gone as a consequence of their apathy to books? Mosuro argues, “Well, it’s reflected in just all we do. The level of discourse has dropped; the quality of graduates, from primary, secondary schools or university, the quality that we have is questionable. And, if we want development across the country, it has to begin with the development of the head, the intellectual development; this is where we’ve got to lay our emphasis. The more we do that the better for the country, because at the end of the day, it’s the head that will lead the nation.
“Nigerians don’t read to the extent that the people who visit the bookshop, there are some weekly visitors, some come fortnightly, some come in monthly, and there are some that come once in a year. But on the average, if we’re to ask people around, how many books have they read in a year, you’ll be disappointed with the kind of numbers they will come up with. That’s what I mean by we’re not reading enough; we’re not inquisitive enough, and we’re not making the efforts to enrich ourselves enough. Reading is a lifelong exercise for individual and national self-development, and something we have to do continually for the rest of our lives. And, it’s not limited to our professional reading; it should be just about every interest. If you have any interest, there’s a book to match that interest.
“So, you have books on football, on knitting, baking, the scientist is trying to find better answers in his lab; books that are related to his specialty. That is what bookshops and libraries are meant for”.
Perhaps one remarkable thing about Mosuro’s bookshop is its catchy pay-off line, ‘Books are stunningly beautiful’ with a woman with a seductive smile reading a book. One wonders then why books have failed to seduce Nigerians. Mosuro says, “It’s not just a catchy line; books are indeed beautiful. They represent us; they represent our beliefs, our opinions and our varieties. Books are sold in the bookshops, and you must say, human beings are beautiful because of the depth of their imagination; there is a beauty in there, that if you desire anything, just about anything, there is a book that will catch your interest.
“I believe we’re still struggling with a lot of mundane things in our society and we’re not using books enough the way we should. For students, books are just meant for examinations; yes, indeed, they are. But books go beyond that. When we begin to embrace books beyond their examination values, then we will begin to see the beauty that we refer to much earlier. I think that for the moment, students are just reading to pass exams, and once that is done, they stop. But the moment you stop reading books, you rust. We need food for our physical development; equally, we need for our mental development, and it’s got to be lifelong.
“I don’t imagine I could do any other thing. I’ve always loved books, I supposed. When we were in school, even when we did science, the headmaster emphasised literature; we didn’t see it so then. Much later, we discovered books. And I think, books have always sheltered me in the sense that I’m intensely private, and books give me the privilege to be by myself, to see the world through imagination, to meet other people, to enjoy thoroughly, and the process, the more I get involved in, the more I realise how deep the world was and how I need to search for more. So, it’s been a continuous exercise.
“Anybody that has a background to schooling must be able to have the background to read and use books. You’re what you eat. Similarly, you’re what you read! Book is a trust. It’s beyond business for me because my passion comes across. I enjoy books, like I say. In spite of my schedule, I make out time to read at least a book a week. And, I have manuscripts coming regularly and we go through them. So, I make out time to read because I’m trying to have a better bookshop, trying to be a better man”.
Mosuro’s passion for books is infectious. But beyond passion is a business sense to his mind-nourishing enterprise of making books available to Nigerians who desire to make themselves better through books. Mosuro says there is a need to reverse the anti-intellectual trend in the country and get Nigerians to love books again.
Mosuro says, “We have to constantly be abreast of the things that are relevant. We have to search journals, search bibliographic materials. We ourselves are passionate books lovers, and to some extent, it’s a scholarly assignment, and we do it with a passion. But of course, it’s a business and we operate it on basic business principles; that is how we acquire the books, through constantly searching.
“To get change things, you’ve got to start from the primary school; you really have to start from the beginning all over again. We have to, so much so, that even in the primary school, we’ve got to ensure that they have what is called ‘Literary Hour’, a moment where the student on their own, can search and read on their own just anything, for them to discover their own bliss. We also have to have teachers groomed over again to show students how to use books and to share books to them, to introduce them to literature, to use books for their subjects. Teachers can only teach so much; right from youth, you must know how to use books to complement; you must know how to use books at the end of the day. Almost like an addiction, you must be dependent on books; and as you grow older, it becomes second nature; because as you grow it, the discipline to sit down becomes second nature.
“And, as you develop along the line, you’ll be self-propelled. All of this will add to shaping collective performance to the nation. Not just give one book and make so much ceremony about it and it stops; it’s a continuous process”.
ON President Goodluck Jonathan’s Bring Back the Book campaign, which he launched last year, Mosuro states, “With all due respect, the president has shown his passion. It’s now up to the people in the Ministry of Education to grow it from; it’s not the president’s responsibility, really, to be involved with the nitty-gritty. He gives a broad outline, and the people in the ministry and those involved in education then embrace it and design what’s best for different areas in the country and have ways in which to measure that indeed that we can evaluate performance. It’s not just about reading books; we want our students to be better students; we want our citizens to be better citizens. So, it’s a whole lot more encompassing than just a student reading a book.
“Many university students really don’t use books the way they should. It’s part of it. Classes are all contracted; it doesn’t leave much room for library and book usage. The teaching process is such that the teacher teaches and students have to regurgitate in exams. We’ll need far more than that; we’ll need analytical thinking. Well need students to search on their own. We’ll need them to create; we’ll even need to go astray, just wonder on their own and use all the necessary tools, including books”.
While it’s all right to blame students for not reading enough, the absence of books or libraries for easy access to books is a source of worry to many book campaigners like Mosuro, who also part of a group that organizes a reading event in Ibadan.
Mosuro says, “There have been a lot of donor projects in the past few years. Unfortunately, we’ve done the projects in a holistic manner because some of the people handling them have not looked at the whole educational system the way it should be done. There are people in senior positions who really do not know the difference between publishing and printing; there are people in high positions who really do not know what bookshops are meant for.
“And so when you have project by which you’re trying to feed books to into the system without giving due consideration to the publishers, to the author, to the booksellers, the distributive aspect of books, you only give, you do not grow.
“And, when you have given, that is the end of it. So, there no cord that will take people back except those that they are given.
“The Ibadan Book Reading Forum has been wonderful and it’s been going very well. Ibadan is academic; Ibadan is cultural. We do this every other month, trying to create a platform for new and old talents, to share their creative works. What every creative artist wants the most is an audience. So, we give them that platform for them to present their works. And we also have a critical audience to enjoy and make suggestions”.