For book lovers and the book industry in Nigeria, last week was a week to remember for a long time. It was one week to remember for two significant things that happened, which underline the importance of book to the general well being of Nigeria as a nation.
First was the nomination of Port Harcourt as the designated city for UNESCO World Book capital in 2014.Port Harcourt got this hosting right after a competitive bid by Rainbow Book Club, organizers of the Garden City Literary Festival with eleven other countries from across the world. Following this nomination, Nigeria in 2014, which will mark her centenary year would be presented to the whole world as an important book country, whose interest in the business of the intellect has made fundamental contributions to human civilization.
The second important event that headlined last week was the resuscitation of President Goodluck Jonathan’s Bring Back the book, which took place at the Glory land Cultural Centre, Yenegoa. The project which was flagged off on 20th December, 2010 and headlined by important cultural and intellectual figures like Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka and poet, Odia Ofeimun received wide acceptance by largely, the Nigerian youths and was quickly launched in other parts of the country including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT and Benin, Edo State. Sadly, the laudable project was put on a hold all through last year raising fears that the project may have died a natural death and may have gone the way of other unfulfilled campaign promises of past administrations in the country. But President Jonathan proved every person wrong, when last week, the creek town of Yenagoa played host to the flag off of another leg of this laudable project.
The Yenagoa launch of Bring Back the Book is important in many ways: First, it took place in the home state of the President, an action that corrects the impression that a Prophet is hardly known among his own people. Second, the launch makes a fundamental statement regarding the place of book and reading as change agents. Given the level of hostility and grievances being unleashed in the region by disaffected youths, the president’s book campaign is equally programmed to help redirect the creative energy of the youths towards a more knowledge productive ventures capable of helping in the fight against marginality and under development. In his remark at the event, President Jonathan said: “ I have accorded the Bring Back the Book campaign the status of a Federal Government programme facilitated through the Federal Ministry of Education, so that we can make in-roads into schools all over the country. “By so doing, we will get our pupils reading to feed their imagination for the up liftment of the entire society.” The President also used the opportunity to re affirm the commitment of Federal Government to promoting and supporting the hosting right granted to Port Harcourt by UNESCO adding that, “ I made a commitment that we will not relent in this initiative and you can be rest assured that we shall keep the promise.” In the tradition of Bring Back the Book, the event witnessed the participation of students drawn from different schools across the state and was richly flavoured by the presence of notable scholars and star brands from Nigeria’s wave making Nollywood industry. As a novelty, besides reading of excerpts from books done by important guests including wife of slain environmental activist and writer, late Ken Saro Wiwa, Maria, who read from Ayodele Olofinttuade’s Eno’s Story by Bayelsa State first lady, Mrs Rachel Dickson, there was for the first time in the history of Bring Back the Book, a lecture presented by renowned scholar and historian, Prof. Alagoa.
He spoke on the subject, ‘ The Future of the Niger Delta: Hopes, Dreams and History.’ To really demonstrate that the project was about reading promotion, star actors and actresses were equally compelled to read to the students. Dakore Egbuson read from Gabriel Okra’s romantic poem, ‘ The Call of River Nun’,Omoni Oboli read from JP Clark’s, Streamside Exchange,, Desmond Elliot read an excerpt from Bina Nengi Illagha’s Condolences, while Omotala Jolade also read from Clark’s popular poem, Night Rain. Beside the readings, Bayelsa State cultural troupe, as well lived to its billings by showcasing rich cultural performances that helped in projecting the vision of the project. Speaking at the event, Governor of Bayelsa State represented by Secretary to the State Government, Prof Alison-Oguru assured the students of the governor’s passion for the project. According to him, a committee has been set up to determine areas where renovation and rebuilding of schools are necessary for intervention. Allison- Oguru equally revealed that besides school fees being made free in the State from next session, that 1 billion naira has been set aside for scholarship and grants to Bayelsa State post graduate students to help further develop human capital in the state. And to demonstrate his support to President Jonathan’s book campaign, Alhaji Musa Bello was moved to donate 50 computers to schools and non governmental organisations in the state.