Sophie Bouillon –
“Are there bookshops in Nigeria?” The question posed by a French journalist last week incensed acclaimed Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
At an event held in a ritzy Paris government building under crystal chandeliers, Adichie launched a blistering assault on perceived French arrogance.
“I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you have to ask me that question,” said Adichie.
“My books are read in Nigeria. They are studied in schools. Not just Nigeria, across the continent in Africa.”
The subsequent outrage on social media was perhaps predictable: insults hurled at the French journalist amid accusations of racism and colonial prejudices.
Adichie wasn’t done yet. The novelist, who was born in Nigeria but now lives in the United States, followed up with a Facebook post the next day arguing that the bookstore question was “giving legitimacy to a deliberate, entitled, tiresome, sweeping base ignorance about Africa”.
But not everyone wholeheartedly agrees. “You can’t say there aren’t any bookstores or libraries in Nigeria, that’s ridiculous,” Tabia Princewill, a columnist at local newspaper The Vanguard, said.
“But they aren’t pretty, and they are often religious books or educational books. In public libraries, there are almost no books,” Princewill said. The bookstore debate is so polarising because it isn’t just about access to books, but also about the troubled education system.
As the population of West Africa’s biggest economy explodes, the government is struggling to educate its 190 million people.
Nigeria has a 60-per cent literacy rate, one of the lowest among frontier markets, according to investment banking firm Renaissance Capital.
In her Facebook post, Adichie acknowledged the devastating effect of the Boko Haram extremist insurgency on bookstores in the northeast.
Neighbourhood bookstores in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital, have to contend with patchy electricity, subsequent mould, and a market flooded with pirated books.
Still, some find a way. Kayode Odumosu has always loved books and at age 11, he started working at his school library.
In 1993, Odumosu opened Lagos Book Club in Festac, a small middle class neighbourhood. His 3,000 second-hand books are stacked tightly next to one another on long metal shelves. — AFP
Sophie Bouillon –