Of ISGPP, Book Readers and Leaders

Tunji Olaopa

Tunji Olaopa

“We all know that books burn—yet we have the greater knowledge that books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory. No man and no force can put thought in a concentration camp forever. No man and no force can take from the world the books that embody man’s eternal fight against tyranny of every kind. In this war, we know, books are weapons” – President Franklin Roosevelt (USA)

These quoted words of President Roosevelt were his direct responses to the large scale destruction of books and other intellectual materials by Germany during the Second World War. With Adolf Hitler’s blessings, books were drawn from universities and homes, piled up to be burnt. It all started in Berlin and the exercise of burning books was held across the country. In their own thinking, and intoxicated with a delusionary nationalism, Germans burnt the books to expurgate un-German materials from Germany’s system and thoughts. At the end, about 100 million books from 957 libraries and 531 institutes, amongst others, were destroyed.

It was therefore a great seminal event when the ISGPP Book Readers Club was formally launched on 8 August, 2018. The launch event witnessed a deep intellectual excursion into the trajectories of learning, documented ideas, the defining thoughts and their nuanced richness as served by the Chairman, Booksellers Limited, Dr. Kolade Mosuro, who was keynote speaker. As I am convinced that the reading public would benefit from the deep and rich ideas that Dr. Mosuro shared, I had plans to share some of his thoughts much more generously in my subsequent write up.

The Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) recognises the strategic importance of intellectual materials including books in the generation of new modes of expressions and experiences, to explore, represent or reform the society and human experiences. Beyond these, ISGPP is also interested in interrogating books as policies, thoughts and documented ideas.

Unraveling researched ideas that could enrich development thinking is therefore the motive behind the establishment of the ISGPP Book Readers Club, entrusted with the mandate of not just promoting the culture of reading books. The Club provides a vibrant platform for the interrogation of documented ideas, frameworks and paradigms thus engendering critical interactions and discourse among crucial members of the Nigerian public, on various issues that have serious bearing on the Nigerian condition

At the event, book aficionados agreed that lifelong education suggests that beyond the structured formal years of education, the process of learning continues in different forms. Globally, lifelong education has been identified as the most important driver of social, economic, political, technological, and environmental development. However, meaningful and realistic national development can only be achieved when sufficient attention is paid to strengthening the implementation of lifelong education. Therefore, it becomes imperative that governments and the private sectors make substantial sacrifices, in terms of resources, time, energy, and expertise towards the promotion of sustainable lifelong education in Nigeria. It is by this process that developing countries like Nigeria can derive the fullest benefit from lifelong education and achieve the desired development objective of improving the quality of life of its citizens.

The rate of access to the information resources and the extensive reading rate per capita are the development indices of a society; that is why the current world is called the information or the network society. The main feature of the network society is the elimination of spatial and temporal distances and information accessibility and utilizing them. However, despite the increasing extension of mass media, technology and internet, the matter of studying and book reading is still crucial. The number of published books, journals, libraries, readers, writers, translators and publishers of a country are all indices and fundamental criteria of its development. Thus, extending the culture of studying and book reading, developing libraries, publications and distribution of books and utilizing this unrivaled cultural instruments are the requirements and necessities of each society’s growth and, encouraging people, especially young people, to read and study is a crucial point in this regard.

Throughout history, societies have been formed, reformed and informed by the profound and well projected ideas of revolutionaries, writers, researchers and thought leaders who recognise the primacy of knowledge. The words of famous playwright, William Shakespeare, continue to resonate and ring true as relevant with humanity even centuries after this simple English man wrote the last of his plays. Shakespeare wrote enormously about kings and nobles as much as he wrote about commoners. He wrote about comedies, history and tragedies; King Lear, Richard the First, Richard the Second, Richard the Third, Henry IV, Julius Caesar, Tempest, Merchant of Venice, Macbeth etc. Humans have always marveled about men and women with power, fame, wealth and influence. Going back to the Romans, we have always enjoyed biographies so that the lives of great men and women can be moral lessons for us. We also like to peep. We like to see great people in their nakedness. What makes Shakespeare so enthralling is his unique insight into human foibles and his stories cover the theatre of life. Age after age, he is still persistently contemporary and relevant, and his works continue to resonate

Some of the things that sparked the French Revolution were the awareness created by books that gave a vivid account of aristocratic corruption in the presence of mass squalor. Jean Jacques-Rousseau’s Social Contract was a good part of the instigators, arguing for the collective will of the society as a mark of the collective will of the people, and that laws should draw from that collective will. With this, he challenged the traditional order of the society. We know from history and books that the masses rose in a revolution, stormed the Palace and took over, leading logically to the principle of majority rule. How bad it was in Paris before the revolution was captured for us by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities.

Someone said books are orbits by which you could reach the heaven. Man’s education follows through many generations. The first generation educates the next, the next, the one that follows, the one that follows, the one after it ad infinitum, each succeeding generation advancing, evolving in small steps. Through Plato’s Republic, we discovered Socrates. And with Plato, we learnt that ideas are ageless and incorruptible, and the relentless passion for human development rests squarely on ideas.

Reading not only has tremendous power when it comes to fueling the development of all aspects of language ability, its importance to the entirety of a human life cannot be overstated. Books and, by extension, reading expands the reader’s horizons coupled with in-depth discussions and assimilations of different viewpoints, all contributing to increasing knowledge and appreciation of the world around. And history is filled not only with great leaders who were avid readers and writers (remember, Winston Churchill won his Nobel Prize in Literature, not Peace). They believed that deep, broad reading cultivated in them the knowledge, habits, and talents to improve their leadership capacities.

Through the documented ideas of others, leaders are further enriched with principled leadership as a resource for decision making and evaluation, taking into account power, influence, followership, roles and citizenship.
James MacGregor Burns in his seminal work, Leadership stresses the impact of intellectual leaders. I consider thought leaders to be the most important. Is there a greater power than the power of a big idea? Is there a person with greater influence than one who can convey an idea differently?

Reading has many benefits, but it is underappreciated as an essential component of leadership development. The leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging. Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as history, sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them in governance are more likely to innovate and prosper. Reader-leaders also have a stronger and more engaged awareness of social issues and of cultural diversity than non-reading ones. Regular readers reported 57 per cent greater cultural awareness and 21 per cent more general knowledge.

There has been a consistent and steady increase in the numbers of young Nigerians seeking and getting Higher Education. People’s general interest in acquiring knowledge and skill are on the rise and this underscores the importance of reading in social life and its role in the development of creativity, innovation and initiative spirit. Sadly, this huge figure has not translated to an increase in book reading culture, even amongst the youths in Nigeria.

As global symbols of social progress, books have always been targets for those who reject freedom and tolerance. Research shows that over 135 million books have been published in the history of humanity and establishes that a heavy reader will at best get through 6,000 books in a lifetime. I cannot over-emphasise the need for the promotion of a book-reading culture as a viable tool for the reconstruction of the society in a positive direction. Unfortunately, a study carried out on the reading rate in Nigeria, in comparison with some developed countries, revealed Nigeria’s unsatisfactory position as well as the urgent need for effective strategies to promote the culture of reading in the country. For example, there are 4,000 libraries in Sweden with the population of 9 million while in Nigeria with the population of more than 150 million, the total number of public libraries is only 1,610. This intellectual poverty is one of the sources of significant gaps between Nigeria and a country like Sweden in terms of educational, socio-cultural, socio-economic growth and healthy social institutions.

There is an urgent need for the government to promote book reading as a culture through direct and indirect policies. Directly, the provision of necessary social and educational infrastructures like public libraries and reading rooms across the federation would complement other policies in the education sector. There should be strong encouragement of local publishing businesses through necessary policies including lower tariffs on the important items of publishing including machines, inks and paper. The author-publisher connection would lead to increased capacity for Nigerian writers to publish more titles. The government should also have a literacy policy and a committed execution of the policy would yield great benefits for the country especially in respect of out of school populace.

*Olaopa is a Professor of Public Administration, Lead City University/Executive Vice Chairman ISGPP Ibadan (tolaopa2003@gmail.com ; tolaopa@isgpp.com.ng)

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