In Nigeria’s Gombe State, like in other parts of the country, cultivating the habit of reading as a teen or even as an adult is a problem for many reasons, such as lack of interest and motivation. This, obviously, makes Nigeria among the countries with a poor reading index, according to the World Culture Score Index. Moreover, those who have developed the habit of reading and writing, hardly find a space for reading. Muhammad Auwal Ibrahim looks at efforts being made to foster a reading culture in the state.
Some years ago, people like Haruna Rasheed, couldn’t read as low as more than 30 pages. But since he started attending the reading sessions hosted by the Gombe Jewel Writers Association in 2019 with the hope of becoming a writer, motivations, and recommendations by other like-minds have set the path for him.
“Yeah, really, my reading ability has developed,” he explains. “I couldn’t read more than 30 pages before I joined the association; but now, I can read almost 150 pages or a book of 200 pages in a day”, said Rasheed.
This increase in his reading habit was influenced by the increase in the hours he devoted to reading daily, after coming across the association.
“I was reading for 1-2 hours before I joined the association, but thanks to the association, I can now read for longer hours which has helped to shape my reading culture,” he noted.
Six years ago, Muhammad Isa Gaude, the founder of Gombe Jewel Writers Association created the platform in Gombe state to build a community of readers and creative writers to make it easier for so many writers in the state to have a space for reading their works unlike the situation before it came.
“After the association came into being, I discovered that we have a lot of budding writers who have never had the chance to read out what they produced. The story is different today,” he recalled.
The decline in reading culture
According to Fatima Muhammad Shitu, the Head of Department, English Language at Federal College of Education, Kano, with about three decades of experience, reading culture keeps falling, day by day due to a major lack of interest, motivation, and other factors.
“I have been teaching at the Federal College of Education for over 28 years now,” she said, noting that over these years, she had noticed a gradual decline in interest in reading and studying among students.
“From my point of view and expertise, the major cause of poor reading culture is lack of interest and motivation. For the majority of learners, the interest and motivation to read have been overtaken by factors and circumstances beyond their control, like lack of interest, books, and motivation” she said.
Changing the situation
“The background of the creation of Gombe Jewel Writers Association was borne out of my desire to give a platform for writing and those that have the love of writing to display their talents,” he said.
It has been holding bi-weekly reading sessions for about six years. The platform allows writers alike and readers to rob their minds together every two weeks on trending national issues and also gives room for reading individually, creative written works in the state metropolis, free of charge.
At the onset of activities, when he started it, it was only restricted to a private secondary school, JIBWIS Islamic Science Secondary School, Gombe, where he teaches literature. Then, he later discovered that his aim was not achieved and could never be achieved until it gave room for everyone with talents in the state.
For almost everyone who spoke to this newspaper, joining the group was necessitated by their decision to write and the interests they cultivated in creativity. But it was somehow different with Muhammad Abubakar who joined them between December 2019 and January 2020. It enables him to access quality reading materials authored by indigenous young writers like him.
“Easy access to books through its members like Adamu Usman Garko and being motivated at bi-weekly reading sessions and also, getting hints on how to acquire free online books” Abubakar narrated.
He further mentioned “I have achieved a lot. I have grown a little in writing. I have published a few essays and poems. I can’t forget the effort of Ibrahim Yusuf to make sure I write despite being a chemist.”
Before coming in contact with this group, he read occasionally when he got the opportunity. But now, reading has become one of his habits. However, other life hustles make it uneasy for him, coupled with the issue of transportation fares to their reading venue.
Abubakar maintained “meeting great minds and interacting with them is the best I can have. If not because of the Gombe Jewel Writers Association, people like Gaude, Mr. J, Ibrahim Sambo, and Ibrahim Yusuf are not my mates. Then, it also avails the opportunity to work in a team because it is a skill.”
Through its reading sessions, book chats, and workshop series, it plays host to great Nigerian authors like Umar Saleh Gwani in Gombe to discuss his latest book, ThunderClap, and to foster the habit of reading among residents.
The group’s train was extended to schools like Darul Arqam Academy, where they meet and interact with students on the need for having a readers society in Gombe state and Nigeria as a whole.
“Equally, the association has been to various schools to speak to students about the importance of reading and writing. The association has also initiated an annual prize for emerging writers from 2021 which is sponsored by Bill Ward.”
“Gombe Jewel Writers Association has been doing a lot as far as rejuvenating reading culture is concerned. We believe that we can only get it right if we take our campaign to the grassroots. As such, the association has been going on school visitations to talk with primary pupils and secondary school students on the importance of reading.
“It does not just end like that without sharing books which are key ingredients in reading. During such visits, books are distributed and students are invited to our bi-weekly reading sessions,” the founder narrated.
The impact of the organisation can be felt according to him. “As I speak to you today, some schools are on our waiting list as we have been inundated with invitations by schools after they have heard of the impact of our visits to other schools. I believe our reading campaign is going places.”
The group, in collaboration with interested individuals, organised creative writing workshops, the accomplishments which he said were many.
“I am proud to tell you that we have sustained bi-weekly reading sessions for six years now. We have also organised numerous creative writing workshops to train young people that long to become writers,” said Guade.
Aliyu Idris Ali, another writer who took part in the recently organised creative writing workshop of the association in July 2022, said he learnt new things regarding reading and writing.
Being the founder of Sunshine literary club in his home state, Adamawa, Idris also organised a similar event shortly after participating in and winning a writing competition in Gombe. His initiative aims to revive and encourage reading culture among younger ones. He kick-started the initiative at the Barkindo Academy, Yola on July 29, 2021.
What can we learn from this?
Starting anything new, especially in Nigeria, comes with a challenge of acceptance at first. This is because people are not used to it. Therefore, they treat it strangely.
According to Gaude, “the challenges we have faced generally had to do with rejections,” he said, claiming that a lot of people had no belief that the story would be successful. “Some of those we began this with, left with the thought that we wouldn’t ever get acceptance from the society,” said the founder.
Apart from the initial caveat, he narrated how sustaining activities for about six years became a problem that nearly led to its collapse. “At one time most of us almost gave up. But we had the equanimity of keeping on and today we are here, still pushing to reach a certain point,” he told BONews.
Also, as a self-funded association, Gaude said he used his personal money to run its activities in the past years, owing to the zero kobos in the group pocket.
“Another challenge was that of starting with a zero pocket. But we used our pockets and sacrificed to get where we are today,” he added.
Also, Rasheed, one of the beneficiaries of this initiative lamented that despite enjoying his association with like minds and sharing his ideas with others, he had not been punctual as it clashed with his Islamic school classes.
“It’s not easy. It’s Saturday, and it happens to be the only day I have to attend my Islamiyya school,” he advanced.
Dr. Muhammad also agreed “It is hoped that the reading programme such as the one by the Gombe Jewel Writers Association will go a long way to awaken the learners’ interest and motivation. It is a commendable project that I believe will go a long way to improve the reading culture of our students. If this is adopted all over northern Nigeria, it will be a game changer.”
She advised, however, that new reading techniques such as dramatisation could be introduced to make the sessions interesting.
With this development, the group aims to keep growing day by day in Gombe. Gaude sees the group as a golden one in years to come.
“In the next ten years, we are working towards being the biggest writers association in the country. We hope to touch more lives, publish more books and cultivate more readers. We hope to be the beacon of creativity on the creativity map of Nigeria,” he concluded.
This story has been made possible by Nigeria Health Watch with support from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.