- Says There’s Book Hunger In Nigeria
By Anote Ajeluorou
HOW can scientific innovations be derived from Africa’s vast oral heritage to bridge needed technological gap on the continent? How can African governments harness this oral, folklore heritage to galvanize its youthful population for meaningful employment and engagement? In fact, do oral tales contain ingredients capable of being transformed into scientific innovations? One of Africa’s folklore experts and professor of Oral Literature and Folk Science at Delta State University, Abraka, Gordini G. Darah, has canvassed the need to exploit the connection between Africa’s vast repertoire of folktales and science if the continent genuinely desires to play a role in the global knowledge economy.
Darah made the submission at the recent Nigeria International Book Fair, which was held last week at University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos. He spoke on the theme ‘African Youth Empowerment through Book for Sustainable National Development’. The president of Nigerian Oral Literature Association (NOLA) argued that embedded in the continent’s oral narratives that African governments and intellectuals have rashly abandoned for the written text and the magic of the television are ingredients for serious scientific explorations that could change the technological pace of the continent. While other peoples were still collecting their folklores and studying them for the richness of body of knowledge embedded in them, Darah said Africans have consigned their rich patrimony to pastime fit only for grandmothers in the villages to regale children with.
He said the Japanese were the first to make the connection just before the turn of the last century when her scientists were tasked with collecting the country’s oral narratives and studying them for their knowledge wealth. Today, Darah said, Japan is a world leader in science and technology. He also noted that till date Americans still collect folk tales from around the world, adding that it wasn’t just a pastime for American anthropologists, but a genuine desire to obtain the knowledge and sciences that governed those communities centuries ago.
“Folklores contain the knowledge wealth of a people,” Darah stated. “In the oral traditions of a people are to be found the tangible and intangible experiences, the scientific knowledge and philosophies that made it possible for them to survive all through the ages. The developed world has exploited their own folklores to create scientific innovations. We need to do the same with our folklores. We cannot continue to abandon them in an era when we need the wealth of knowledge they contain to guide and also sustain us the way they guided and sustained our ancestors many years ago”.
He, therefore, called on governments to encourage and support the collection and research into Africa’s oral heritage for the knowledge hidden in them to lift the continent from the tab of a ‘rich continent with the poorest people’.
INEXTRICABLY linked to Africa’s vast oral wealth that should be exploited is the continent’s young population that needs to be harnessed for sustainable development. The oral expert said Africa’s youthful population was being under-educated, a situation he said explains the high level of illiteracy that necessarily inhibits development. Rather than focus only on mining the myriads of mineral wealth that makes it ‘the richest continent with the poorest people’, (mineral wealth that Africans rely on foreigners to mine, as they do not have the technological know-how) Darah said the time had come to properly educate Africa’s youth so as to mine the wealth in their brains, as other successful countries are doing to advance their societies.
He said it was unacceptable, for instance, for Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy, from recent rebasing, to devote a paltry eight per cent of her national budget to education whereas Ghana devotes 25 per cent to education. It explained why Nigerians with a little means send their wards to Ghanaian universities where conditions are far better than at home. He recounted the instance of South Korea, which does not boasts of a single mineral wealth, but is currently the most technological advancement in the entire world. He noted that the founder of modern South Korea, after the 1950s war with its brotherly North Korea, embarked on aggressive educational investment programme that later saw to the transformation of relatively backward South Korea to the most advanced societies in the world.
The folklore scientist advised in-coming Muhammadu Buhari-led government to prioritise education and heavily invest in it and free Nigerian youths from illiteracy so as to unleash their latent potentials for the country’s economic growth. Closely related to education, Darah noted, is the parlous state of the country’s book publishing business, which accounts for very little, with over 98 per cent of books consumed in Nigeria being imported or printed abroad. He argued that this was reason for high costs of books and a disincentive for educational advancement.
The seasoned university teacher then canvassed for a free and compulsory education for all young people, as a means of bridging the development gap between Africa and the rest of the world. As he put it, “In the modern world, the spread of education to all is a prerequisite for development. Without a literate and educated population, African countries cannot attain the status of a knowledge economy. As Chief Adegoke Adelabu said over 60 years ago, ‘Education is the foundation of freedom. Ignorance is the basis of slavery. If you must free a people, first and foremost, educate them’.”
He noted that leader of Western Region of Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, took Adelabu’s educational philosophy to heart and made it free in his region. Darah said without Awolowo’s free education, he might not have been educated himself, adding, “Awolowo’s free education scheme has reproduced a critical mass of educated elite, making the Yoruba areas of Nigeria the densest constituency of educated people in Africa”.
According to Darah, “The result of the rebasing exercise showed that the information and communications sector accounts for 10.94 per cent of Gross Domestic Products (GDP). Of this figure, telecommunications services are rated 8.69 per cent while publishing has only 0.03 per cent. Motion pictures (film or Nollywood), sound recording and music production account for 1.42 per cent. The arts, entertainment and recreation sector has 0.08 per cent. Education is allotted 1.65 per cent. In all the sectors of the economy connected with education show the lowly position occupied by intellectual production and book-related business in the country. All the stakeholders in the book business and intellectual property production should study these data in order to plan strategies for survival and sustainable growth”.
FOLLOWING from these grim figures for education and book-related business, the oral narrative expert challenged government to do more so as to put a halt to the infringement on the fundamental rights of young people by denying them education. He noted that there was book hunger in the land. He stated, “By under-developing the book industry in Nigeria, government is guilty of the breach of the fundamental rights of citizens to benefit from the spiritual and ethical values that books provide. The young people who are the main victims of this book hunger are being systematically disempowered and dehumanized. The problem is that not just those who need books are denied access due to severe shortages and exorbitant prices, even public libraries are not provided. Unfortunately, President Goodluck Jonathan’s ‘Bring Back the Book’, which was to develop public libraries and stimulate a reading culture failed to satisfy public expectation.
”Books are the vehicles through which education and knowledge are transmitted and preserved. The problem of shortages was aggravated in the 1990s following the devaluation of the nation’s currency. With a weak industrial base and dependency on imports, book suppliers and distributors faced enormous difficulties”.
The folklore scientist also argued that there were too few universities and polytechnics in the country. He cited the case of Indiana State of America that has ‘137 university institutions’ compared to Nigeria’s ‘over 130 universities’, and stated, “The portals of education are shut to millions of young people who… are unable to move to the tertiary institutions due to the limited opportunities there”.