Leaders Are Readers: ‘We read to gain access to knowledge, innovate, create better society’

by anote
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We need digitisation and access to books in the cloud’
‘We need to take pride in things we produce and patronise them’

Toki Mabogunje (left) and AriseTV Leader Anchor, Dr. Reuben Abati at ‘leaders Are Readers’ session at LABAF ’22

By Anote Ajeluorou

GLOBALLY, leaders are readers. But how true is this of Nigeria? With elections fast approaching, how much of those pushing to lead are readers that exemplify the leaders are readers maxim? Or is it that that principle does not apply in Nigeria’s peculiar political environment? And would Nigeria be the way it is if her leaders were readers? At what point did the nexus between leaders who are readers snap apart? And what should be done to bring a happy harmony between the interconnected concept of leaders being readers? What about followership, how much of readers are they who have knowledge that determine who should lead?
Lawyer and former Director-General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Mrs. Toki Mabogunje attempted answers to these nagging questions plaguing the Nigerian polity ‘Leaders Are Readers: Why I Read What I Read’ session at the ongoing Lagos Book and Art festival (LABAF ’22) at Freedom Park, Lagos Island.

The festival has as thene ‘Pathways to the Future.’

Mabogunje successfully pushed the blame on the people who she said “choose them (leaders). Yes, why did we appoint (elect) them? It has to do with our morals, our values. Our people cannot draw a line between bad roads, hospitals without drugs and bad governance and poor readership. So people elected them. What’s wrong with us?

“First, we have more than 40% of our people who can’t read in English. We need more sensitisation. We have to vote according to knowledge, and not according to what people tell you. We need civic and moral studies to be back in schools. Education is really that important. It’s fundamental. It doesn’t matter where you come from, but upbringing and education matter.

It was the Chairman of CORA Board of Trustees, Chief Kayode Aderinokun who listed blame-game as part of the problem plaguing the Nigeria society. While old people see young people as being lazy and always wanting the easy way out, young people, on the other hand, say there are no role models among old people to emulate. Young people are therefore blundering their way into the future. But Aderinokun pointed out on Day 3 of the ongoing Lagos Book Art Festival (LABAF ‘22) that that view is in fact erroneous. He pointed at a couple who are both engineers, Mr. Vincent Maduka and his wife at the session, and challenged the student audience to set targets for their own lives.

The session, largely made up of secondary school students, was moderated by journalist, writer and lead presenter at AriseTV, Dr. Reuben Abati who took on Mabogunje, a lady who has conquered the corporate world by breaking the glass ceiling in law and business. Mabogunje stressed the importance of reading, and narrated how much she devoted her time to reading as a young person until her parents banned her from reading in certain situations.

“There’s no doubt that reading is important,” she told her young audience. “It’s so important to read. I was such an avid read I was banned from reading at the dinning table, because I could spend three hours there just reading. I was banned from taking my books with me when I go on social visits. My parents felt I would be anti-social. I read wide. Reading helps you develop your person, character, helps you lay your foundation and (helps you) add value to society.”

On the kind of books Mabogunje loves reading, she pointed at autobiographies and biographies about people’s lives topped the list. Why? “Because what they (subjects of biographies) did, their successes and failures and personal development interest me interest me,” she said. “Then I went from law to business, hobby and interest also determine the books I read. I love nature; it makes you sane. Cooking, creative cooking also interests me. I love travel books that take you to people and places. Then poetry where I have to express myself, with me co-authoring a collection of poems The Duet with my son, the first such collection by mother and son.”

In spite of the prevalence of social media, Mabogunje still votes for serious reading that goes beyond the surface like what social media advocates. According to her, “The world is changing and the world is going virtual. The problem is that we have to be deep about life’s issues. When you have interest about a thing, then you read about it, get some more knowledge and it gives you confidence, access to knowledge, and it puts you in a position to innovate, and how we can create a better society.”

However, Mabogunje made a challenging proposition in the face of acute financial lack that besets the Nigerian society when she argued that physical libraries are fast going out of fashion, and canvassed the need to digitise libraries, so they become virtual and their content taken to the cloud for a friendly environment. She recounted how rich her University of Exeter, UK was when she did her Masters in Business Law some 25 years ago, but on a recent visit, she was stunned how sparse it now looked, replaced more with a cafe-like ambience but with all the books in the cloud, in digitised format.

As she put it, “We digitise. Technology has transformed the way we present data. We also need to be in the cloud; that’s our problem. So libraries exist but it’s access that we require. We need to start getting to ebooks, digitised publishing. With all the intellectual property issues, digitisation and access are what we need.”

While the hue and cry about poor reading culture persists, Mabogunje proposed a three-way street to resolve the problem. Government. Schools. Parents. These three component partners, she stressed, needed to play their part to get young people taking earnest interest in reading. She also spoke about the place of culture, how history needed to be reintroduced to schools, so students learn about the past. She also sued for civic and moral education.

Students at the session

“We have the problem of culture and diplomacy,” she said. “So, the problem is deeper than what we know. We have a way of thinking, and ruling and then we have the colonial laws. So we have dichotomy of what people recognise. Why do we compare ourselves to America that’s over 200 years old and not Ghana that us our mate? We’re still busy aping the West. These young people want to dress like Americans. My dad refused to give me an English name. He was deliberate about it. We have to be proud of our culture. So we have a huge orientation problem that needs to be addressed. We need to take pride in what we eat, wear, and they must be our own.

“We need to bring back our history in schools. We need to learn about our past, where we are coming from. Our problem is so much deeper. As adults, we need to take responsibility and pride in what is our own. We must buy Nigeria thereby encourage made in Nigeria products. Don’t create economies for other people and starve your own people. I have always believed in SMEs as foundation of our economy and not the big corporations. Covid-19 taught us that. When the big corporations stopped functioning, it was the small businesses that saved us. We need to encourage creating of SMEs.”

As a business leader, Mabogunje also spoke about why Nigeria is unable to rise to her historic destiny on the economic front, arguing that the country’s land laws were a hindrance to prosperity. Dead capital was what she called the country’s vast lands that land owning families could not use as collateral to access loans from banks for businesses. She canvassed urgent reforms in that sector, saying, “We have turned land to political matter rather than economic matter. We need to reform our land laws. It is dead capital as it stands. People cannot turn that asset to money, capital to jump-start businesses. Government cannot continue to call it informal sector, as 93% of capital is held by the so-called informal sector but that money cannot be turned into business capital because it’s in informal hands. We need to change all that if we are desirous of being a prosperous nation.”

Mabogunje read excerpts from books that shaped her including her own poetry that she co-authored with her son, The Duet.

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