Illiteracy in Nigeria: the Facebook solution

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has hit upon an innovative idea for tackling illiteracy in Africa: publish a book of Facebook chats. His Facebook chats. With the thousands of people who read and comment on his surprisingly frequent Facebook updates (recent posts tell us what a great job he is doing on attracting foreign investment, reopening textile mills, strengthening the aviation sector, containing the crisis in the Ivory Coast (one of his less robust claims), easing tensions in the North (another premature boast) and, perhaps his most astonishing feat if it’s true, eradicating fuel scarcity).

Such a book, Mr Jonathan believes, will ‘revive a reading culture in Nigeria.’ With over a quarter of adult Nigerians unable to read and write, and with the country’s education system recently described by the IMF as ‘dysfunctional,’ efforts to promote literacy are sorely needed. Many of the president’s Facebook friends are in raptures over this visionary move (you will no doubt find some of their comments in the book). ‘Thank you sir for this new development may God bless you and multiply you wisdom to lead 9ger,’ wrote one. ‘Reading maketh a man,’ mused another. ‘In reviving the reading culture, you will make a nation. Keep it up my President.’ Another fan, seemingly oblivious to the misdeeds of Mr Jonathan’s predecessors, wrote, ‘My President this is a wonderful innovation cos without it it means our leaders are going extinct.’

Others’ praise is double-edged:

‘My love for your drive is so overwhelming that I want to look around you and make sure nobody pulls you down. Let me start by saying that your wife should join you in this reading so she wont pull you down with some of her english blunders.’

‘This is very inspiring your excellency!perharps, dis will reduce the number of illetrate undergraduates that being turned out from some of our universities & encourage those who are willing, to really study well.’

Some are less appreciative of the president’s generosity. It seems unlikely that the following observations, for example, will feature in the book:

‘While the tree has serious problems at the roots (corruption, inadequate power, bad roads, etc), our dear President is decorating the leaves.’

‘This is like putting the cart before the horse. Lecturers in the East have been on strike for months and your administration has been incompetent in finding a resolution to this problem’

‘reading is not our problem we lack motivators and good role model in Nigerian leadership’

‘Mr. President, if you really love education, prove it by intervening in the on-going strike in the south east by ASUU so that students can return to school’

Others draw attention to the practical difficulties of the book idea, some of which would no doubt surprise the fuel-optimist Mr Jonathan:

‘This is good…em em ..but we still need the LIGHT you promised to enable us read the books.’

‘Books we shall read by candle light.’

‘our reading culture impaired by poor electricity supply!Do your know that where i live opposite Ondo state Radio CORPORATION at Akure there is no supply electricity since three weeks ago.’

The president plans to launch his book at a series of ‘meet the public’ events. One or two of these have already taken place, but as with the book itself the response has been mixed. One attendee was ‘really confused if it was a book reading initiative or a musical concert.’ She asked Mr Jonathan to tell organisers of future meetings to ‘play down on the entertainment and lay emphasis on book reading and discussion.’ Another woman had trouble reaching a meeting:

‘Mr President, I must tell u dis, I faced hell yesterdy due to the road blockade precedind ur movt. Although I was at d event n it was a great one but u eventually made me, one of ur friends to suffer by trekking. Things cannot continue lik dis.’

Nigerians are famously resourceful, however, and the woman overcame all the obstacles to see the great man. The final word, though, must go to one of her enterprising peers, who took advantage of his president’s Facebook page to plug a tome of his own:

‘wit due respect sir,i have a book dat i wil like u to lunch before d election numb is 0802514XXXX veri inportant book’