Cheta Nwanze: Of false literacy and “The 7 Habits of Highly of Highly Effective People”

My brother make you no follow book, look am and go your way

—Fela Anikulapo Kuti
In 2001 Chxta walked into a friend’s room and borrowed a book, Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. Reading that book took the rest of Chxta’s UNIBEN life on a spin, a spin of which the effects are still being felt today by Chxta. At the risk shifting the blame for Chxta’s own laziness, that book dispensed some advice to Chxta which Chxta took too literally, and which turned a once promising student into one who barely made it out of UNIBEN with a teddy bear*.
The main effect of the book on Chxta’s life was that it totally ruined Chxta’s priorities for the next three years of his life. Chxta’s number one focus during that period of his life was money; the pursuit of money, the acquisition of money, and the ability to go to the bank and look at Chxta’s bank balance, then compare it with those of Chxta’s mates and feel good with Chxta’s self.
It never occurred to Chxta in all that time, that the amounts Chxta was gloating over were peanuts compared to what obtains outside the student world. What mattered to Chxta was that within Chxta’s own circle which was mostly made up of students, Chxta appeared (one of) the wealthiest. In all that relentless pursuit of the cheddar, Chxta made few friends and more enemies, some of whom still hold grudges against Chxta till this day. That unfortunate period of Chxta’s life was largely influenced by the lure given by motivational or self help books.
Whilst, on the one hand Chxta reads anything (or almost anything) that comes Chxta’s way, over the years Chxta has come to realise that some literature are (for want of a better word) pure crap, and generally tend to appeal to people who are insecure about themselves. Rich Dad Poor Dad, as an example, has not produced any millionaire except the author – and the publishers. And this is coming from someone who applied the rules set out in the book diligently.
Chxta finds it rather sad that these kind of books (why is it that 99 odd per cent of the authors of those books are American?) are becoming way too popular among Chxta’s contemporaries in Nigeria. What are the real lessons to be learned from those books? None says Chxta.
Another motivational book which Chxta devoured during the period in which Chxta’s life went off the rails was Steve Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Chxta read that one towards the tail end of June 2004 on the recommendation of a friend, and Chxta thinks that that is the moment that the scales began to fall from Chxta’s eyes. In this book (which like most motivational books except Kiyosaki’s is a long arse, boring read), Covey summarises the seven habits as follows: Be Proactive, Start something with the end in mind, Put first things first, Think to win, Seek first to understand before you are understood, Work with people, Partake in recreational activities!
Whilst, Chxta is loathe to criticise a book which has sold 15 million copies worldwide, Chxta feels duty bound to point out that Mr. Covey didn’t need 358 pages to expand those seven pointers above. They are all common sense which you can get for free anywhere. To butress Chxta’s point about the motivations of the writers of such books, each motivational writer out there writes spin offs (Kiyosaki’s book has at least four sequels) and they make loads of money not from royalties per se, but from public appearances dispensing ‘advice’. No thank you, Chxta would rather take advice from Mike Bloomberg.
The advice given in Kiyosaki’s book, whilst is appealed to an uncultured mind like Chxta’s back in 2001, is dangerous because it doesn’t take reality into account. Kiyosaki encourages people to all be entrepreneurs while forgetting that someone has to be the employee. He encourages people to focus on one investment while forgetting that every successful economy is multi-faceted. Worst of all, he downplays the importance of a proper education while forgetting that an incomplete education is far worse than no education at all. This last advice, which Chxta swallowed hook, line, sinker and fisherman’s hand is the one that threw Chxta off the rails back then, and the one that Chxta hasn’t quite forgiven the man for…
On the other hand, you have authors who are into their craft for the love of literature. Chxta finds it sad that not so many Nigerians Chxta has spoken with have read Half of a Yellow Sun! Positively disgraceful. That book presents a lot in an entertaining fashion, and most importantly, you drop the book with a better knowledge of the human angle of the Nigerian Civil War. For y’all who don’t like digging your heads in history books, it is a lot better than reading Alex Madiebo’s The Nigerian Revolution and The Biafran War**.
One of the best books to have ever come out of Nigeria is Cyprian Ekwensi’s The Passport of Mallam Ilia. Not only do you learn a great deal about life in what was to become Northern Nigeria at the turn of 20th century shortly before the Brits established their hold over the region, but you have a very good read as well. Yet some people would say that it is a children’s book! Chxta felt positively insulted when a dear friend described Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as a kid’s novel. Chxta lent her Chxta’s copy, and thankfully Chxta believes that notion has been put to sleep for good. Oh the stuff you learn about our country from reading those books. Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana lets you know that a lot of the ‘moral’ issues we are facing today in Nigeria are in no way new.
Let us not restrict ourselves to Nigerian novels. A read of Michael Crichton’s Next, a thoroughly researched novel provides you with a fascinating insight into the billion dollar world of genetic research. You drop that book having assimilated enough to stimulate your interest in that area. There are many more examples that Chxta can provide off the top of Chxta’s head, but that is not the point.
The point, my Nigerian brothers and sisters, is that we should not put too much stock in books which undermine true literacy to the detriment of real national treasures***.
*Teddy bear in UNIBEN parlace means Third Class degree.
**General Madu in Adichie’s novel is based on General Madiebo in real life. The train journey that Madu endured happened to Madiebo shortly after Lt. Col Okoro was shot in Kaduna during the coup of July 29 1966.
***This piece was first published on the author’s blog in 2008.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (5)

  1. Nice piece, most Nigerians follow fads so no suprise there, a pinch of salt is definitely required when reading these motivational books…btw, why does Chxta keep referring to Chxta in the 3rd degree?

  2. What an irony… You still use Amazon links for these books that are no good (?); thus encouraging people to buy them. My one cent, shaa. Nice one, Chxta.

  3. Nicely put Chxta. I share most of the opinion you have espoused and l dare say we Nigerians are a major contributory factor to the wealth these motivational writers have amassed. Its like a fad in this country to read and own these books just so you ''belong''. Truth is the fantasies contained in most of those books are far , very far from reality! Thanks once again.

  4. I generally agree with you: I read enough motivation and religion in my teens, read (and liked) Kiyosaki in early twenties, and now find most motivational books are irritating and long; I would browse, not read them. And that includes the Malcolm Gladwells and Thomas Friedmans.

    Good novels are better. Things Fall Apart and Mallam Ilia are wonderful.

    My additional complaint is that Many novels nowadays are too long. The editors should use those scissors – cut cut. A book should be no longer than it needs to be to do its job (teach+entertain), and rarely longer than 100 pages. (But the foreign market desires 200+ pages, so who am I to say?)

  5. Yep. Motivational books, yeah, they're mostly scams and easy ways for their writers to make money. Same goes for what we know now as life style coaches, packaged personalities.

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