For many Nigerian children born and brought up in the cities, the traditional practice of teaching children through fables, parables, and other forms of oral tradition are virtually non-existent. Most children, even those in Nigerian villages, can hardly tell a fable associated with our traditional African societies. Right from an early age, they are encouraged to learn the English language and invariably they grow up to read foreign books with the attendant cultural implications.
However, a grandmother’s efforts is making available some interesting children stories for Nigerian parents that care to let their children and wards learn a little about the African approach to solving life’s problems and human relations. Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo of the Department of English, University of Lagos, an accomplished writer, has continued to churn out new children stories that are unbelievably simple and yet thrilling and didactic.
Prof. Ezeigbo has been writing children stories for quite some time and has received literary awards like the 2007 NLNG prize for Literature with My Cousin Sammy (won jointly with Mabel Segun), and Atiku Abubakar’s Prize for Children’s Literature in 2008
Akachi’s new set of books launched recently at the Afe Babalola Auditorium, University of Lagos is an eloquent testimony to views held in some quarters that she is in the forefront of children’s literature in the country. Two children story books, My Uncle Sammy and Fire from the Holy Mountain were among the four books she launched that saw the gathering of the literati in Nigerian including Prof. Femi Osofisan, a foremost Nigerian writer; Prof. Ahmed Yerima, Director General, National Theatre/ National Troupe; Mr Chike Ofili, chairman, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Lagos State chapter; and Mrs Bolaji Adenubi, first president of Women Writers of Nigeria, among others.
Culturally rich and morally didactic, children cannot but enjoy as well as learn from the books. But will parents encourage their wards to read the books? This was the concern of literary icons gathered at the launching.
Speaking at the occasion, Prof. Ezeigbo lamented the lot of artists in Nigeria whose works “lack patronage, are pirated, and photocopied by students”. She noted that artists need patronage to thrive, and continue to “transmit reality and history into enjoyable forms through the arts for social change in society”. She, therefore, called on governments to set up endowments and fellowships to encourage artists, especially children writers whose works “are an endangered species”.
Like Ezeigbo whose motivation is to “help children develop a reading habit as well as learn African societal values”, there are many writers who are willing to write for children but who are not receiving any form of encouragement from relevant stakeholders. For a society that is fast losing its cultures to Westernization, it is only wise for everybody to encourage one of the only few available means for transmitting cultural values to the next generation.
Encouraging children to read children stories does not only inculcate in them moral lessons but also enhances their reading and writing skills. The time spent by children in front of television to a large extent makes no significant contribution to their academic development. So, as the artists continue to ask for help and encouragement, it is hoped that individuals, school administrators, and governments will do everything possible to respond to their call, which will go a long way to reviving an almost extinct golden tradition.