At my barber’s salon on Christmas Eve, a copy of the day’s Punch newspaper caught my attention. To pass away time while waiting for my turn, I decided to read or flip through, more correctly, as no story was interesting enough to retain my attention. That was before I got to Aso Rock lens, a weekly roundup of events at our nation’s seat of power by Olalekan Adetayo, the paper’s Aso Rock correspondent. Titled Osinbajo’s unique Christmas, New Year gifts for ministers it detailed how our vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, on December 23, gave book gifts to all ministers shortly before the cabinet meeting of the day.
Book gifts? To ministers? In a country where leaders are not shy to advertise their phobia or disdain for the printed matter except perhaps contract documents, that must be stranger than fiction. Remembering, however, that our vice president used to be an academic before joining politics, it makes sense. But in a cabinet where the president has told us that he prefers cartoons to other reading materials, the gesture deserved more than a passing glance. While I do not know most of the ministers intimately, I know that at least two read a lot of books going by their antecedents and what those close to them have testified. A friend and I have seen ‘super minister’ Babatunde Fashola’s car as Lagos State governor at a function and we were dazed by the number of books in the car. Even though one is not sure whether Mr. Fashola suffers from tsudoku, it was gratifying enough that he could proudly display books just as his numerous interviews were filled with quotes from books. I heard Kayode Fayemi is a bibliophile too and again that is not surprising for he was an academic before becoming a politician.
But books as gifts is a wonderful gesture that we must all commend, unfortunately reading is a dying art in our country today. In other democracies, reading is a common attribute of their leaders and there are even the occasional visits to bookstores. I remember that under former president Olusegun Obasanjo, retreats were organised for cabinet members with reading list complete with power point razzmatazz. Some so-called experts were flown in at public expense to discuss some of these books; we are wiser now whether such reading sessions made any difference in governance. Also during the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua presidency, his media adviser once issued a statement that his principal would go on retreat at Obudu Cattle Ranch and would also take time to read some books. As news editor of a newspaper then, we decided to do a follow-up and ask the adviser what books the president would be reading, maybe he would get back to us tomorrow. Apparently, it was a PR stunt they never imagined anybody would be interested in as there might not be a reading list after all.
The choice of the books too made an interesting read as they were by only one author, Malcom Gladwell. The Tipping Point, Outliers, and David and Goliath could be a good read but for those charged with leading us out of recession, but perhaps this government’s mantra of buying local would have been a preferred course of action. While I know that there are inherent lessons in these books having read them, I wonder whether our ministers would not have been better served with books by Nigerian authors. Just imagine a reading list comprising Just Before Dawn by Kole Omotoso, The Trouble With Nigeria by Chinua Achebe, and Olusegun Adeniyi’s Power, Politics and Death. Achebe’s book was published in 1983 and it offers a diagnosis of what ails our country putting it succinctly as leadership failure just as Omotoso’s, published in 1988, chronicles the downfall of the second republic while Adeniyi’s provides a window to the Yar’Adua presidency. Why these three? Achebe’s diagnosis is still apt and Omotoso’s book is a warning to those who are still subverting the democratic process and Adeniyi’s is a reminder to what happens when a president is held hostage by those closest to him. It would also be a boon for local publishers who are asphyxiating due to some policies of this government. Probably too, Osinbajo would have discovered that Spectrum Books, which published Omotoso book has changed ownership due to low patronage.
But, hey, am I not getting ahead of myself? Are we sure our ministers would read and digest Osinbajo’s books? They probably spent a better part of the holiday causing more trouble for governors in their states irrespective of whether they belong to the same political party or strategizing on how they could be retained in the cabinet. Historical moments sneak on us without fanfare; one of such was the gift by the vice president. May we have many of such this New Year.