Good to know our leaders are reading and getting smart about those issues that plague our country but are not unique to us. And that some of them are embracing untinted windows!
From The Guardian Newspaper
FEW Nigerian stereotypes are more deeply rooted than the "Nigerians don't read" one. Every so often some publisher or University don or educationist is to be found screaming this to the highest heavens. But this stereotype is patently one of the most erroneous labels anyone could ever stick on the Nigerian citizen. Never before this time has Nigeria witnessed such an explosion of newspapers, magazines and book publishing...
But when it comes to our "Big Men" (and I use this term to refer to both men and women) - politicians, high profile CEOs, business moguls, high-level Government functionaries, etc - the issue of reading gets a bit more interesting.
A past President of Nigeria was once quoted to have said he does not read newspapers. Interestingly, he it was who also embarked on the construction of the biggest and costliest library (a personal one at that) ever seen in this country, a project for which billions of naira have been raised (and hopefully, spent). In the light of this, perhaps he was misquoted on the newspaper matter. (It is very possible. Dictaphones and Voice Recorders have been known to occasionally embark on grand acts of journalistic mischief, taking laws - or better still, words - into their hands).
Do our Big Men read? If yes, what? Newspapers? This would seem likely (of course there will be exceptions). With the sheer volume of shamelessly-biased opinion let loose on the pages of our newspapers, our Big Men need to know what truths and what lies are being peddled about them in the media. Let's move over to books. One is tempted to wonder what books our Big Men feed their eyes (and minds) on - apart from cheque-books? It is interesting to note that there is such a thing (albeit unofficial) as a "Presidential Reading List" in the United States. An article in The Guardian (UK) in August 2005 mentioned the three books that President George Bush was taking along on that year's summer vacation...Huge debates arose in the American media at that time because that revelation essentially demanded a recasting of Mr. Bush's "anti-intellectual" image.
The books a person reads say a great deal about the person - character, passions, personality, aspirations. Show me your books and I will tell you who you are. For example I'd give anything to know what books President Musa Yar'Adua has on his bedside reading table (next to that spiral-bound copy of the 2008 Budget), or in the glove-box of the Presidential Limo.
This morning I glimpsed something that seized my attention and gladdened my heart to no small end. "The Gubernatorial Reading List" of Lagos State. I found myself (and I can assure you this was no breach-of-security issue) a few feet from Governor Fashola's official SUV, where it was parked at the venue of an event on Victoria Island. Awed as I am by such trappings of power, I found myself gazing into the car. (And this is further confirmation in my opinion that Governor Fashola is of a different breed - his car windows are transparent; no malevolent-faced "tinted" windows on the vehicle, the way you'd see with many other Big Men. Perhaps this is a symbol of his style of governance).
I digress. Inside the official vehicle of the Executive Governor of Lagos State I glimpsed a substantial pile of books, stacked on the arm rest that divides the back seat into two. Also in the car were a stack of newspapers, but it was the books that I was interested in. I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the titles. I managed to see three: Planet of Slums (by Mike Davis), Giving (by Bill Clinton) and Economics For Dummies (by Sean Masaki Flynns).
Do not be misled by the title of the last book, it certainly is not a book for "dummies" in the "dullard" sense of the word; the title bears that strange phrase because (1) It is a tongue-in-cheek way of letting on that the book, like every other book in the series to which it belongs (manuals and guidebooks covering topics ranging from computing to finances to sports and leisure) is aimed at tutoring "non-experts" (2) Tongue-in-cheek titles often sell books better than placid ones.
I quickly checked out the books on the internet (having read none of them), seeking more information. Bill Clinton's Giving is described on Oprah Winfrey's website as "an inspiring look at how individual endeavors can save lives and solve problems, and it offers compelling examples of both citizen and corporate activism at work in the world today."
Publishers Weekly tells us that in Planet of Slums, "Urban theorist Davis takes a global approach to documenting the astonishing depth of squalid poverty that dominates the lives of the planet's increasingly urban population, detailing poor urban communities from Cape Town and Caracas to Casablanca and Khartoum."
And from the Dummies.Com website, we learn that "Economics For Dummies helps you see how your personal financial picture is influenced by the larger economic picture... the next time you need to understand an economic theory or calculation, whether it's on the nightly news or on a spreadsheet at work, you'll no longer be in the dark. Economics For Dummies covers all the history, principles, major theories, and terminology..."
There were other books in the Governor's mobile library, only I couldn't see the titles from where I stood, half-expecting a (stray) bullet from the one of the armed guards who prowled the area. I immediately called the attention of a colleague to what my eyes had just seen. And I left the scene strangely excited, and brimming with ideas. Our leaders are reading! The English philosopher Francis Bacon was right on target when he declared that "reading maketh a full man." There is hope for Nigeria only when leadership is by "full men", and not empty barrels.
I have now begun looking forward to the day when one of our TV or radio-show hosts will start a book segment on their show, to which they will invite our "Big Men" to discuss "books". Books they have read, or are currently reading, books that have changed their lives and shaped their philosophies, books that influence their leadership styles. Purpose? To show the world that "BigManism" and "Bookishness" are not mutually exclusive; that "Big Men" can be "Book Men."
I once listened to Mr. Reginald Ihejiani (CEO of Fidelity Bank) discuss his reading habits, and the books that had shaped him; at a literary workshop sponsored by his bank and facilitated by the award-winning writer Chimamanda Adichie. It was an inspiring session. Such discussions should be on TV, on radio. And should extend to the dizzying heights of our corridors of power.
I look forward to hearing Governor Fashola discuss those three books, live on television. I'm sure I'll phone-in to ask him a question or two...
Ogunlesi is a company executive in Lagos (and a good friend of tAB).
P.S. The Issues" discussion is still going on so please share your views and ideas.