Two weeks ago, I saw a pleasing sight amidst the craziness in Lagos. In a hurry to get to Ikeja I detoured via Anthony Village to avoid the building traffic on Ikorodu road. Just as I entered the service lane, I saw a sea of heads gathering around what looked like a book Market/fair. Inquisitiveness took over and I parked illegally and joined the heads. Chuma, they were renting books from the two Igbo operators and the books themselves looked destined for the incinerator.
I bent down and picked up an old copy of ‘The Famished Road’ which looked older that the day it was published, approached the vendor and asked the price. 100 naira he announced but he was ready to take 80. As I counted out the money he was busy recording names into his ledger and handing over books to renting customers for N30/week. I paid up and asked him how he managed to control his assets and make sure people returned the books. He proudly announced that in seven years since he started the business, he had not had to chase one person for a book.
He then said something that has remained with me since then: He said that those who want to read, who hunger for knowledge, will never steal books but will instead hurry to share them.
My mind travelled back to the days when I used to volunteer at a Library in Culver City, California where over 700,000 books had to be electronically tagged so that people would not smuggle them out of the library. And yet, as a volunteer those days, I saw people rip pages out of books older than their fathers, and then pocket the sheets. Irony of it all? There were free copying machines ten feet away from every bookshelf in that library!
The reading culture is alive in Nigeria bro. It was such a reminder of how the simplest things do matter. I remember when I just got to the States and was spending all my time at libraries. I found all those books we used to treasure in the Unilag library being sold for 50 cents per dozen. I bought them, stored them in friend’s garage with the intention of shipping them to Nigeria when they filled a container. Such lofty goals never materialized. In fact one of my ‘storage’ friends was kind enough to call a few years back to say that if he had charged me rent for the books stored in his house he would have become a millionaire. I agreed and he called the trash company and then billed me a hundred dollars to dispose of them.