Okechukwu Ofili: Why is the book reading culture on life-support in Nigeria?

By doing so we might find simple solutions, we might not be able to fix the roads, re-build the libraries or even print more books, but by using mobile devices and an easy SMS payment system, maybe we could be on to something.

As an author especially one residing in Nigeria, one of the many questions I get asked a lot is “Why Don’t Nigerians Read Books?” Almost every literary event from book readings to speaking engagements to discussion forums ask that same exact question! OK ok they don’t ask that exact question, but it comes in different variations such as “What happened to the reading culture of Nigeria,” “Why don’t kids read anymore” and “Jesus read the Bible but my kids no wan read Bible.” Almost immediately following the questions is a diabolical attack that often begins with “in my days”

In my days kids walked to the library and borrowed books, now the only place they walk to is the couch to talk on their cellphones.

In my days we read Chinua Achebe now kids only want to discuss Paris Hilton and Linda Ikeji.

In my days we discussed books with our friends and families, now kids only discuss rubbish on Facebook and Twitter.

Whenever I hear this I always look around quiet. Quiet because I realize that lots of people are still stuck in the past. Today’s generation is not that different from yesterday’s generation. They are not lazier, dumber or stupidier [sic], and I might even argue that they are smarter. Smarter because they are processing way more information and at a way faster rate than previous generations have. Back in the days you had to walk several miles to the library to get access to books, but today’s technology gives us access to an entire library of books with the flick of our thumbs! This thumb convenience means that the average kid is probably reading more content than his or her father did at that age, the reading medium has simply shifted from the library to the Internet.

Sadly, instead of embracing the technological changes in reading we often find ourselves criticizing and condemning it. We blame everything from television to cellphones to Britney Spears for the poor reading habits of our children failing to realize that the so called problem could actually be the solution. For instance what if we removed books from libraries and put them on the evil mobile phones or the dirty internet and then made them easy for our kids to access? Would our kids read? I will bet a book they will and here’s why – Nigeria has changed from what it used to be back then, our population has exploded, but yet our libraries have largely remained the same. And because our books have remained stuck in libraries and expensive book stores our reading culture has suffered. If we are to improve that reading culture we would have to accept 2 things – firstly, our kids want to read just as much as we did. Secondly, for them to read just as much as we did, we would need to move books beyond libraries and place them on to the very same medium we despise, the Internet.

Those are the 2 things I had to believe when I began working on a mobile book reading app specially crafted for the Nigerian market. The idea started brewing several months ago when I observed the relative ease at which people could buy and download ring tones on their mobile phones by sending a simple SMS message. Even more intriguing to me was the amount of people accessing the internet via mobile devices in Nigeria. People were able to read scores of articles (aka LindaIkeji and Bellanaija) all from the comfort of their cellphones. So I asked the question, what if instead of downloading music to mobile devices, we could instead download books to mobile devices? And that is when I started fully flirting with the idea. Working with the amazing folks at funmobile we were able to convert my first two books into mobile apps. The next step was to ensure that people could purchase the books via SMS, this took a lot of back and forth’s and tweaks before we could get it right. We tested the product variations amongst friends and family members and even strangers before we were confident that we had a quality product.

On August 13th we did a passive launch to the general public on Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry. And the reception so far has been great. In fact some of the many questions we now get is, “how can we get this on other networks outside MTN” and “Does it work for non blackberry phones.” I would even add my own question “what about other books?” and my answer to all those is that we are working on something… something (see figure below) that would work on more networks, more phones and would involve more books. We even hope that people reading this now could even start working on their own mobile book reading apps. We welcome the competition, because we know in a book reading contest we all  win.

If you want to test out the app on your blackberry and you have MTN simply text “Laziness” or “Stupidity” to 33110.

So the next time you are faced with the question “Why Do Nigerians No Longer Read?” refrain from framing your answer from the perspective of in my days, because that is the past. The Nigerian youth currently faces a lot of problems such as bad roads, poor economy and over-population that make reading challenging, to adequately answer the question we would need to frame it from their perspective. By doing so we might find simple solutions, we might not be able to fix the roads, re-build the libraries or even print more books, but by using mobile devices and an easy SMS payment system, maybe we could be on to something. Just maybe…


Okechukwu Ofili is an award winning  motivational speaker, author, success coach and  entrepreneur who blogs about life, success and entrepreneurial excellence. Follow him on Twitter , Facebook or subscribe to his blog for more success TIPS!” His latest book is titled How Laziness Saved My Life.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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One comment

  1. Love this multi approach to reading using apps/phones; mobile,literary and embracing technology. Good for such an economically challenged region. I lived in Lagos for several months and have just read Spider King's daughter – illustrates the complexities, but made me homesick for Lagos!

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