“My alma mater was books, a good library…. I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.”- Malcolm X
Nigeria is an inverted country. Across spheres and facets in the country resonates a pong that baffles every rational mind into asking how we got here; how we as a people got so displaced into millennia far behind the modern era. It is as though we are yet to fully come to terms with the progress and development the noble stream of education brings forth. Nothing suggests this ugly phenomenon than the decision of the Nigerian government to raise the tax on book imports.
In a country were a chunk of its population still finds it difficult to reconcile the positive effects of education to living standards and societal development, unity and peace, – a manifestation of the almost nonexistent relationship between the town and the gown, the inability of the schooled to display the outstanding virtues of intellectualism that separates the lettered from the unlettered – countrymen and women who hitherto sounded pedestrian, now speak gallantly, querying the necessity and sense in expending their hard-earned resources on the education of their children who on most occasion comes back to them either dis-educated, half-baked, jobless or a combination.
It is in this light that the decision to raise the tax on book imports by 50% few weeks after the devaluation of the naira struck me like lightening. This is a country where the local production of books is in a state of limpness and the few that are made are mostly restricted to the pre-primary, primary and secondary levels of education respectively.
Anyone that is conversant with the tertiary education would agree to this fact. As a student of the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education between 2006 and 2009, save for few lecturer handouts of scanty and often plagiarised pages, the bulk of the textbooks I used were foreign books in Physics and Mathematics.
A similar scenario played out when I was pursuing my recently concluded degree at the University of Lagos as I cannot remember using a single book that was made locally. From the Schaum series texts; Elementary Linear Algebra by Howard Anton to Engineering Mathematics and Advanced Engineering Mathematics by K.A. Stroud and H.K. Dass respectively; Business Mathematics by Qazi Zameerudeen, Vijay Khanna and S. K. Bhambri; Mathematical Analysis by Ajah Kr Chaudhuri and Praikshan Monadan; to An Introduction to Analysis: Differential Calculus by the duo of R.K. Ghosh and K.C. Maity. I took time in listing these outstanding texts to lay a strong argument on how students of tertiary institutions would be adversely affected if the Nigerian people do not protest against this inimical move by the government.
These books did not just appear in my shelves because I suffer from what the Afro beat maestro called the ‘colo mentality’ syndrome. On the contrary, I was forced to invest in them as a result of the acute dearth in the local production of standard texts in my fields of study. The same is applicable to medical, engineering and students of social sciences. These are foreign books that one cannot just do without although they we(a)re quite expensive. It is evident that the increase in the tax on imported books would in no doubt make students resort to e-books which although has its benefits, would hamper knowledge as a result of the power situation in the country.
The government need to understand that there are some untouchables when it comes to decision making in the country. Education is one of them. Serious countries understand this basic fact. Any move that would take us back to the days of ignorance should not be allowed to move. The Jonathan government should devise other means of rescuing the economy if truly the economy needs rescuing. Any discerning person knows that the politicians and their cronies are the custodians of the economy – they were yesterday, they are today, they would be tomorrow. No matter how much we gloat or caterwaul, the future of Nigeria would remain bleak if public office holders through the national assembly fail to summon the courage of reducing their over-bloated salaries and allowances.
The country is rich with an abundance of mineral and human resources. This call by the finance minister only shows her level of understanding on one side, and the unskillfulness of the government she serves on the other. For, if the government was smart enough to know the appalling reading culture in the country, they would have made efforts to either revive the local paper mills or see to the reduction of taxes on foreign books instead of making it difficult for ill-motivated students to get one.
When I first read about the decision in The Nation Newspaper, what came to my mind were the words of Malcolm X on education which I quoted above and the way and manner books could be instrumental in the all-round development of an individual. Could it be that the coordinating minister was not aware of the effects this decision would have on education and the minds of Nigerians? Instead of reducing their spendings, they are bent on denying the poor denizens a right to knowledge and information.
It’s high time the government devise plans to sustain and improve the economy. A great step would be leadership by example. The president eats with a billion naira annually and travels around the world with hundreds of entourage. Can we start from there? What about the private jets, and campaign donations? Does our president even wear a cloth twice? These are prudent ways of saving money. Nigeria’s education has lost enough blood. The government ought to revive it, not to massacre it.
Modiu Olaguro is a recent graduate of Education and Mathematics at the University of Lagos.