Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



Socialist Democracy chats with AJ. Dagga Tolar, the Chairman of the Association of Nigeria Authors (ANA), Lagos Chapter, on his comments on President Jonathan’s so-called national reading campaign tagged ‘Bring Back the Book’. Excerpt:
Socialist Democracy: What is your take on the initiative of President Jonathan’ ‘Bring Back the Book’ and how do you envision the role writers would play to make a success of the campaign?

DT: I would expect writers to distance themselves from this “spin-doctor” venture of the Jonathan campaign machinery to create a false impression that this government is out to do something about the waning reading culture in society, when in actual fact the reverse is the case. If anything the intentions are far from ”Bringing Back the Book” to interest Nigerians in reading. Nigerians have been condemned into the abyss of poverty these past 50 years when in actual fact no citizen of this country should be living in the corridors of poverty given the enormous and abundant resources of the country. Jonathan and the entire capitalist ruling elites know that if more Nigerians are reading, they would have a revolution coming out against them.

Socialist Democracy: Are you saying that writers should have nothing to do with a reading campaign programme?

DT: Exactly and for the simple reason that the campaign itself is inspired mainly by selfish intentions among which include the need to have Jonathan hit the front pages and the headlines, and create a increase his popularity as an education-friendly and or writer-friendly candidate in the 2011 general elections. It is the same thing they are doing with actors, theatre practitioners, musicians and others in the entertainment industry. This is part of a grand design to bring as many key sections of society on board the Jonathan’s presidential campaign. Don’t forget that they have already thrown $200 million dollars fund at actors. It is simply a ”Ghana-Must-Go-Bag” affair, no more, no less.

Socialist Democracy: Are you therefore turning your back on this programme?

DT: Yes, and would urge all other writers to do the same. A popularity show can in no way improve Nigeria’s dismal reading culture against the background of the following indices. One, there is a growing illiteracy rate in Nigeria with over 12 million school age children who are out of school and are instead begging and hawking on the street. There is 98% failure in our schools going by the May/ June 2010 WASSCE result. Equally no Nigerian University is ranked among the first 500 universities in the world or even among the first 50 in Africa. Added to this is the fact that this country year in year out denies over 800,000 qualified youths university education in the face of barely 200, 000 available admission places. Only a serious government-driven effort to improve the quality of education, build functional and well-equipped libraries in schools and communities can make a serious difference.

What is the government’s policy on books, how much of resources are devoted to making books available in our libraries? Do we still have public libraries? What state are they in? Are they even adequate? Any wonder why the best of our writers in Nigeria can only devote their leisure time to writing, or face the choice of being permanently unemployed. How can anyone disconnect the state of the education sector from the deliberate under funding policy of the government? We have lost count of many times ASUU has had to go on strike to draw government attention to this, with little or no success. This for me are the issues that government should and must address, so as to allow more Nigerians to become interested in reading books, not this NGO approach, which like we all know is basically aimed at winning election.

Socialist Democracy: What are you then suggesting that government should do to reverse the waning reading culture?

DT: Government should concern itself with the fundamentals, which for me would mean providing adequate public funding for education and a living wage to match the rate of inflation for the working masses. But this is not possible with government adoption of the economic philosophical framework of neo-liberalism that seek to develop the capacity of the self seeking profiteering class by enriching their pocket at the expense of the rest of society.

To therefore think that Jonathan’ “Bring Back the Book” can achieve anything is to live in fools’ paradise. And I expect writers not to be fooled. For only a workers’ and poor people’s government that breaks link with capitalism and seeks to employ the resources of society to meet the needs of all, by nationalizing the commanding sector of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working people, can fund education adequately and bring the necessary development to bear on all key sectors of the economy. This would impact tremendously on the standard of living of the working masses and only then can people now seek to read both for the knowledge and for the fun of it. Also, only then can writing in Nigeria be transformed into a respectable profession, as opposed to the present situation wherein writers knock their head against the wall of a profit system, squeezing out their blood to get works published and without anyone bothering to read them.