I didn’t start reading Nigerian authors for fun until my Year 10 English teacher came to class one day with copies of A Man of the People. I was pleasantly surprised that Nigerians could actually write. Before then I somehow believed that the only one who could do anything was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Can you imagine? I had to go to a foreign land to discover that our books are interesting. Back home, I forced myself to read Nigerian books for school. They were generally tragically-written novellas that make one wonder how they made it into the secondary school syllabus.
It was in the UK that I properly shook hands with my comrades and took an interest in their work; it was then I finally read the masterpiece, Things Fall Apart. I met people who could sit for hours and discuss Nigerian literature and art. And I would sit down and watch these British people talk with much fascination, making me fall in love with my country. I am still being introduced to Nigerian books and I am loving every single bit of what I discover.
I’ve never known a bookshop to last long in Lagos, except they sell mostly textbooks or Christian books that tell you how to get rich. This week I went all the way to Surulere from the Island just to find The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma because all the bookshops I once knew have closed down. This isn’t due to the eBook revolution, as is the case elsewhere, Nigerians have simply lost their interest in good books. And this shows in the way we talk, think and live.
I remember being enraged at the pictures of President Goodluck Jonathan at Chinua Achebe’s funeral. If he had read the books, he would have been too ashamed to send his condolences, talk less of showing up at the burial.
We have great authors in Nigeria but we leave it to Westerners to sing their praises. We only discover and acknowledge them when foreigners point them out to us. Even then, we just speak of them with pride but don’t actually read their work.
We are undervaluing ourselves and leaving the West to celebrate and exploit our literary talents.