By Oji Odu
She considered it as an insult, not only on Nigeria, the giant of Africa in most ramifications, but on the African continent in general. Not able to hold herself any longer, the literary giant took a swipe at the French who saw Nigeria as a bookless country.
Chimamanda Adiche, Nigerian writer was being interviewed on a live show in Paris on Friday, January 26, 2018, at “The Night of Ideas”, when she was asked if Nigeria has bookshops. Her reply was epic.
During the course of the interview while asking her questions about her career, French journalist, Broue had asked whether Adiche’s books were read in Nigeria, which she replied in the affirmative.
However, hell was let loose after she further asked: “Are there bookshops in Nigeria? I ask because French people don’t know. They know only about Boko Haram”.
The stunned Adiche replied: “Well, I think it reflects poorly on French people that you asked that question. I think surely… I mean, it’s 2018,” she stated.
Although her response generated great applause from the audience, it however triggered reactions and debate on the social media.
Adichie was later to further elaborate on the incident on facebook thus: “To be asked to ‘tell French people that you have bookshops in Nigeria because they don’t know’ is to cater to a wilfully retrograde idea – that Africa is so apart, so pathologically ‘different,’ that a non-African cannot make reasonable assumptions about life there.”
Taking a swipe at Broue, she said since her books are read in Nigeria, it is “reasonable” to expect there is at least one bookshop in the country.
Expressed disappointment that though Broué had sounded “intelligent, thoughtful and well-prepared, she said: “I was taken aback because it (the question) was far below the intellectual register of her previous questions—.
“I am a Nigerian writer whose early education was in Nigeria. It is reasonable to expect that Nigeria has at least one bookshop, since my books are read there.
“Had the question been ‘is it difficult to get access to books?’ Or ‘are books affordable?’ It would have been different, worth engaging with, fair.
“Bookshops are in decline all over the world. And that is worth discussing and mourning and hopefully changing.
“But the question ‘are there bookshops in Nigeria’ was not about that. It was about giving legitimacy to a deliberate, entitled, tiresome, sweeping, base ignorance about Africa. And I do not have the patience for that.
“Perhaps French people cannot indeed conceive of Nigeria as a place that might have bookshops. And this, in 2018, in our age of interconnectedness and the internet, is a shame.”
But is Nigeria a bookless country?
According to Professor Nolue Emenanjo, Department of Linguistics, University of Port Harcourt, while delivering his keynote address at the fifth edition of the Authors Forum held at Kakanfo Conference Centre, Ibadan, said that despite the importance of books, the number of graduates produced by the various universities and the volume of books produced in the country every year, statistics available has revealed that Nigeria, the most populous country in black Africa is not a book friendly country..
“Nigeria is a chronically book less country and most Nigerians are great lovers, great buyers, avid readers, nor fanatical users of books. Indeed, Nigeria is not a book friendly country,” he stated .
Emananjo lamented that the book in Nigeria today is an endangered artefact whose multiple challenges include: the social media, games and sports, especially association football, the film industry, the rise of aliteracy, non-existent legislation and weak laws about book piracy and plagiarism, conflicting signals from educational system, poverty, uninspiring attitudes to the book. He observed that all people, agencies and institutions with high stakes in the making, development and use of books find themselves on the horns of the same dilemma. To him, these factors “are dealing deadly blows to the book as a metaphor for enduring literacy, serious learning and sustainable growth and development, worldwide.”
The noted that the greatest single threat to the book globally is social media. “The greatest competitor to the book is the internet with its multiplicity of sub-media. Given its poorer of resilience, relevance and immortality, the book has developed its sub-medium, the e-book for those who have the know-how to access and use it, and the audio book. It is true that today we have serious book clubs here and there.”
He also noted that, “revolutionary and far-reading as the e-book, and, in fact, the entire social media have become, as avenues for information and entertainment, they can never replace the hard/ conventional book. All that one needs to use the hard book in most climes is sunlight/daylight. Not so for the e-book and (some of) the engines of ICT and of the social media which relief on electricity.”
In a chat with Kelvin Obi, an educationalist, he said: “ You don’t blame that French journalist that insulted Nigeria and African continent. Just as many white children still believe that Africans still live on trees, you don’t blame them when they say that the Boko Haram insurgency cannot give Nigerians that time to read books.
“But one may also ask: What about the many terrorist attacks in France and other western countries? How have they been able to maintain bookshops and read books under these threatening security conditions? Enough of this disrespect,” he said.