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Corporate Social Responsibility, not for Literature?

By on November 2, 2011

Editor’s note: This guest post is written by Michael O. Irene, he is working on his first piece of fiction, The Judging SeedsCurrently, he is enrolled for a PHD in Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

“Nigerians don’t read, young man. Find something else to do with your life instead of thinking about how to develop the minds of youths who believe in making money and spending money. Now leave my office!” Those were the words from the Chief Execut(hief)ive Officer of one international corporation located in Ikoyi, Lagos. I left his office crestfallen with the sun’s ray driving the real weight of those negative words into my skull. 

My sin(s)? These are my sins. I am a writer. I am organising a writers’ workshop in November, 2011. I am inviting guest writers, experts in teaching and inspiring young aspiring authors in the craft of writing. This, I believe, would train the next generation of Wole Soyinkas, Chinua Achebes, Ben Okris, Festus Iyayis, Nnedi Okoroafors, Hope Eghaghas, amongst others. Maybe I am wrong as I have been made to know that, “Nigerians don’t read.”

My penance? I have been to over thirty organisations in Lagos state to seek sponsorship but I am either informed that, “the financial year is over”, “our budget does not cover literature” or “Please, give us a call later” (When I do call, they never pick their calls).  Another organisation I visited, boasts of spending a hundred thousand dollars on literary awards annually, therefore, could not be bothered about sponsoring a writers’ workshop. In other words, a hundred thousand dollars is enough contribution to “Nigerian” literature.

There are countless reality shows gaining space in Nigeria. They are also aired on Nigerian television and promoted by the so called big Nigerian Corporations. Some of the shows, if I may say, add nothing to the mind of Nigerian youths. Some of them inject the public with this psyche: if you must make it in life, you must be beautiful or have a good voice. The sponsoring companies’ term some of these inane reality shows as their annual “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR),   while literature, the backbone of all education, suffers from little or no contribution. This leads to my question, does Corporate Social Responsibility produce any benefits for literature in Nigeria? Is the contribution, if available, enough for promoting and encouraging Nigerian literature?

A corporate affairs manager in one of the Nigerian banks in Lagos proposed that I should meet the government with my “brilliant” idea.  But Jim Gustafson, a corporate social responsibility expert, opines that, “Many 21st century global corporations have become bigger and more powerful than the governments of the countries they do business in, and with this shift of resources necessarily comes a shift in responsibility to positively and proactively impact the world around them.” The above rings true with some contemporary truths.

The problem is that some Nigerians are often willing to point fingers and make excuses as to why something good should not be. Literature, in other countries, is basically funded and promoted by corporate organisations who appreciate the importance of a literate society. Is it a surprise to us then, that some of our graduates lack the capacity to “deliver” in their place of work and why most Nigerian companies spend so much money on training their staffs?

I have taken the liberty, as a Nigerian writer, to study the literary ambience. I think there is none. “Nigerians don’t read.” The air is filled with the voices of Nigerian musicians. Let’s dance and forget about the importance of reading and writing.  Let the country continue to dance to the tune of ignorance. How long shall we thread this path? What do we tell the next generation? That literature is not a Nigerian business? That Nigerian writers are an insignificant, inconsequential force in the “real world”? The advice might sound like this: “You can never be a writer in Nigeria. Go somewhere else; we are busy training bankers, engineers, lawyers etc.” Let the writers be trained abroad and should they ever become popular, we can “read” what they have here at home and shower them with loud praises.

In countries where literacy and its development is appreciated, various workshops, like the one I plan to start, are organised and supported by organisations regardless of the time of the year. They use it as a platform to develop the minds of the youths in their society. It is an avenue to develop the reading culture. If the reading culture must be developed in our country then such workshops that encourage literature must be supported regularly. Some corporations have the financial power to run such programmes yearly but again, this is literature. Don’t go near it. There is no money involved.

Searching for sponsors for my project has taught me a lot of things about Nigerians. Allow me the chance to indulge some generalizations. First, most of the company managers have been trained to watch with a chameleon’s eye. They can change to any garment required in a particular situation no matter how sad it is in a respectful yet disdainful manner. And they have similar a jargon: “We are sorry,” “Regrettably,” and “Unfortunately”.

Every time I check my email or letters they have been characterised by these sad words. Second, there is a tendency that the boss in a big corporation might keep you waiting in the reception for long hours before seeing you. I visited one of the managers in a Telecommunication Company in Victoria Island.  A bullish approach was used. I was told by the secretary that, “Oga is busy” but I could see Oga reading newspapers for over five hours. Third, for you to park your car in these corporations you must have a lot of change to tip the security personnel for a space. Lastly, you have to know how to use these words so frequently that they become involuntary, “Yes sir,” “Yes ma” and “please”. These are the things I am doing for literature. For literary events to be sponsored you have to go through the Nigerian grind.

In the midst of such negativity, a handful of little companies have been able to make little contributions. Contributions that we Nigerians refer to as “widows might”. Ironically, the small companies always refer me to the big corporations in Nigeria. I have been there and they have shown me out. “Bring a reality show and I promise, we would sponsor it,” says one man in a big firm. Is literature a bad business that companies should not be approached with? Only time will tell.

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  1. Niyi

    November 2, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Wow. Was he referring to the Bull? Telecomms company in VI. LMFAO. This guy is good.
    Hope to see more from your guest writer.

  2. Farouk

    November 2, 2011 at 10:45 am

    “Nigerians don’t read, young man. Find something else to do” LOL, Good read, i enjoyed it

  3. Spanishjasmine_27

    November 3, 2011 at 12:58 am

    well written!! i  noticed how everybody reverenced everybody with “yes sir” yes ma”. the part i love most is “The air is filled with the voices of Nigerian musicians. Let’s dance and
    forget about the importance of reading and writing.  Let the country
    continue to dance to the tune of ignorance. How long shall we thread
    this path? What do we tell the next generation? That literature is not a
    Nigerian business?”
    apparently people spend more time on their BB than on books