by Dolapo Aina
There is a new generation of Nigerians who cannot read anything longer than 140 characters-not words, characters.
I paid Fifty Naira for my first guardian newspaper in 1994 or 1995 during school holidays. I remember that I heard the vendor’s horn(a rarity in some parts of Lagos, nowadays) and had to rush out of the house, out of the gate, looked left and right(didn’t see the vendor) but ran towards my right and finally located him on the adjoining street. On that day, unbelievable but true, I read every news item on every page of that edition. Since then, the daily I prefer to buy or glance through has been the guardian newspaper.
While in SSS1-SSS3 (senior secondary school), The Guardian, Time, Newsweek and USA Today became regular features in my class, courtesy of two classmates by the names Dapo Adesanya and Gbenga Orimoloye. Needless to say, that those of us, who were globally and news inclined, feasted and took turns to read these highly prized and rated newspapers. With this brief nostalgia of my secondary school days at Apata Memorial High School and the preference for the aforementioned newspapers, I was saddened to have learnt of the demise of the publisher of The Guardian newspaper (Dr Alexander Uruemu Ibru) on the 20th of November 2011.
While writing the first and second paragraphs of this article, I couldn’t recollect my personal events of that day, but on getting to the last sentence of the second paragraph , I remembered I kept a diary for 2011, I checked and remembered that Sunday was the same day Libya’s former intelligence chief who was Ghaddafi’s brother-in-law was allegedly captured. Also, that I was reading “Say It Like Obama” by Shel Leanne. How would I have recollected this day, if not that I wrote down the activities of each day? As anyone would know when you read, you write.
In the last week of December 2011, I went through The Guardian papers of December 12-15, and went through all the pictures of those who paid condolence visits to the late publisher’s family and pictures of the service of songs. After perusing through the 3 editions, a rhetorical thought passed through my mind. Where are the writers? That is, where are the writers of this new generation? The thought came about because majority of the faces in the pictures I saw in The Guardian and other papers were faces of literal dignitaries who were once journalists or who were and are still in the social commentary circle. From Prof Ali Mazriu (the famous Kenyan), General Ike Nwachukwu(once a journalist and former foreign affairs minister), Late Chief Olusegun Olusola (the brain behind the popular TV series of the 80s-The Village Headmaster), Akintola Williams (the accountant guru), Nduka Obaigbena (publisher of Thisday newspaper) and Chief Olusegun Osoba (who I never knew was once a journalist until another famous writer and publisher-Chief Pius Odebiyi of blessed memory told me several years ago about one particular journalistic achievement of Chief Osoba during the first military coup in 1966) to mention a few.
A re-visit and proper digestion of these editions of The Guardian was postponed for several weeks until I received a flurry of replied text messages from another young writer on the deplorable state of the reading and writing culture amongst the new generation in this era of 6th sense Smartphones, micro-blogging and soon to be launched Google goggles phones (eyewear phones).
The young writer is Harry Okoh whom I met during my university years. Harry Okoh is a known name among the young intellectuals in the Nigerian music industry for his clear-cut analysis and for his A&R skills. To be candid, Harry is a modern day Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe put together (but he is too candour to admit it). Also, you would have to include into the mix, an overdose of the British wittiness into his writing and reasoning. While in the same department at the university, Harry gave me a steady supply of the famous British daily newspaper-*The Daily Telegraph* (a paper I had daily access to read, pre, during and post the first Gulf war in Iraq).
After a few text messages on an earlier published article of mine, Harry texted *“you know, I really wish I could write again. But I have lost the appetite. Nigerian leaders are patently evil while the Nigerian people are blissfully ignorant. I am not sure writing can make a lot of difference. There is a new generation of Nigerians who cannot read anything longer than 140 characters-not words, characters. All of this works in the interest of the ruling class. My guy, don’t let bore you with my epistle. Have a great day, Harry”.
He sent another text *“and lest I forget, our wholesome worship of money”*. I sent a rejoinder and in summary I texted that our leaders read the dailies……. and “*you know writing is what you are good at*”. Harry replied *“I know they read. But because they don’t suffer the consequences of their inaction, there is no incentive to act. Plus, you have to understand that people that are in positions of authority are thorough- going narcissists. Or how else do you explain why a public office holder has a larger than life portrait of himself hanging on the wall of his office or why he cannot insist on being addressed as Mr President/Governor instead of His Excellency? Plenty to ponder”.
Ruminating on Harry’s texts and juxtaposing his opinions with global trends, there seems to be a widening or disconnect between this new generation who are more politically aware (who spend more time micro-blogging 140 characters into cyberspace) and her leaders (who are desperately seeking newer ways to stifle the freedom available to micro-bloggers cum government critics in cyberspace e.g. China’s recent regulations on having a micro-blog account). So, I ask, where are the young writers with wit and wisdom in Nigeria? Or have they blended into the new generation who micro-blog their opinions (140) characters) on “6thsense-touchscreen, motion-sensing Smartphones? If so, how would they lead, since it is known that leaders are readers and writers of words and not 140 characters? Or has the zeal dissipated among young Nigerian writers/ commentators because they can see how one prominent Nigerian columnist with a large readership has transformed when the individual crossed over to the other side (the same insensitive political clique the admired columnist constructively lampooned for 12 years).
And most importantly, is the reading and writing culture in dire need of a revival considering the fact that it is jostling amongst micro-blogging, BB-pinging, for her noble survival? And isn’t it possible, a majority of opinions on social networking sites are instantaneous, knee-jerked, unchecked speculations and disjointed literal ramblings rather than being thoughtful opinions? It appears so. One sure and unblemished truth is that one needs a clear mind to write or to read anything worthwhile. Anything short of this should not be the conventional standard.
* Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.