The Encarta Dictionaries defined Functional Literacy as ‘basic literacy for everyday life: the level of skill in reading and writing that a person needs to cope with everyday adult life.’ Going by this definition, a whole lot of people are still functionally illiterate. They can read and write, that makes them literate but they cannot apply their knowledge to basic tasks. We still have people who cannot operate ATM machines in Nigeria, I still know University students who pay for internet every month but still call others to ask questions they can ask the internet. Some of my colleagues don’t read anything outside school books; they only read prescribed texts, not even political and social articles on the internet. For those in the sciences, that might work but for anyone in the humanities, there will always be a relationship between real life experiences and their studies. Steve Jobs once advised people to read life stories of others, I find this advice very important because in the stories of others are our inspiration.
I always encourage people to write, especially life writing. Just write those experiences that are unique to you. A quote I so much like is:
“Our lives with all their miracles and wonders are
merely a discontinuous string of incidents- until
we create the narrative that give them meaning.”
Let me illustrate my thesis, the bulk of what we young people know about the Nigerian Civil War, we read in books like Phillip Effiong’s Nigeria and Biafra: My Story and Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (Which has since been adapted as a movie by Biyi Bandele). Effiong was Ojukwu’s deputy who surrendered to Gowon after he was captured by the Obasanjo led Nigerian troop. Although Adichie’s book is fiction, it is set in that short-lived country, Biafra and Chijioke Uwasomba, a literary critic has done well to prove that the novel is a ‘faction’ because it is based on the history of the Civil War which affected Adichie’s family gravely. In trying to understand the madness that is incessant coups in Nigeria, Ademoyega Adewale’s Why We Struck. has been very helpful.
Let me get practical here, imagine if General Buhari had written an autobiography or a memoir like Obasanjo, Alabi Isama and a host of other army veterans did, the entire nation would have been spared the energy spent arguing about his educational history. As a Nigerian who was once a public officer, details of his education would have been known to the reading public long ago and the book would have served as a reference point to nullify the accusations. In 2011, when President Goodluck Jonathan was contesting the Nigerian Presidency, he authored a book named My Friends and I: Conversations on Policy and Governance via Facebook as his own contribution to the ‘Bring Back the Book’ literary campaign to revive the reading culture amongst youths in Nigeria. That book was really helpful; it made Nigeria’s teeming internet populace feel important. He also authorized an autobiography titled Wind of Hope which proved to be useful too. Although I have a feeling that the picture of him and his friends at a function drinking hot drinks in the autobiography initiated the myth about him being a drunk. I don’t know whether he drinks alcohol but I’ve never met someone who has seen him get drunk before. When people refer to him as a drunk, I just ask them one simple question, “Have you seen him drunk before? With all the people I’ve asked, I’ve never gotten a YES. When you write a book, you are in charge; people only read what you want them to read. GEJ wanted people to see him drink, if he didn’t want it, it was easy for him or the publisher to have removed the picture. Another pamphlet accompanied by a magazine is making rounds now titled ‘Memorable Quotes of GEJ.’ He is on the book path again.
And to Prof. Remi Sonaiya of KOWA Party, I read her memoir A Trust to Earn, Reflections on Life and Leadership in Nigeria and I’m busy looking for Lemonade Maker, a memoir of her mother’s struggles to make lemonade out of lemons given to her by life. The book lover in me will just give my vote to Prof Sonaiya easily because, in her memoir, she gave a breakdown of what is wrong with the country and she proposed ways forward. The problems she didn’t touch in her book, she dealt with at the Good Governance Series she conducted long before she obtained the form to contest.
One document that gave me a thorough understanding of my family is my father’s old diary. In the diary, I read about the challenges he faced daily as a young dad and husband. Through the diary, I got to know how deep the relationship between my parents was and how much they love one another. Believe me, that diary touched me in a way that no other book has. My advice today is for you to write, just write anything. Document it and you don’t know how valuable it can become in the future. You can also pay people to write for you, just dictate or let them compile interviews to write your story for you. The bottom line is for you to just write. Cheers, Ayodele.