By MCPHILIPS NWACHUKWU
There are different ways to brand a country in a very positive way. One of the ways, I think is the River State way. The institutionalization of a culture of literacy through reading campaigns; a campaign that has resulted in the birth of an international literary festival, which now holds in the beautiful garden city of Port Harcourt.
Yes, this is one of the routes the River State Government under the defining leadership of HE Rotimi Chibuike Amechi has taken. The campaign, a modest and selfless effort of the State’s based non governmental organization, Rainbow Book Club has like the story of the Biblical mustard seed exploded to a magnificent idea that drew the attention and participation of River State Government in a significant way.
Founded by amiable wife and mother, Mrs Koko Kalong to affecting the future of children by encouraging and sustaining reading culture in what she conceptualized as READ( Rainbow Education for Advancement and Development), the project became a handy tool to the troubled and restive era of River State, when activities of militants raped the conviviality, peace and romantic atmosphere of the previously envied State.
The coming on board of the three year old literary festival became for the founder and the River State government another opportunity, and a fulcrum of possibility to not only re-directing the minds of the restive youths to the beauty of civility and culture of dialogue , but also served as veritable platform to alley the fears of visitors and tourists, whom negative media reports had made to believe that visitors were literally roasted and eaten alive in the ravaged virgin city.
It was with a sense of pride, that Gov Amechi asked his guests at the Government House venue for dinner/ command performance of Elechi Amadi’s play, Woman of Calabar, where they got the news that Port Harcourt was insecure and under siege.” Are we not going about our businesses freely?” He asked thumping his heart during one of the festivals. And this event was in the heat of the kidnapping saga. But the festival tried hard to douse the tension because of the celebratory aura it emitted around the city.
H.E. Chibuike Amechi represents one of the new faces of intellectual scholars in governance, who understands the imperatives of educational capacity building as a tool for socio cultural control as well as development. Trained himself as a literary humanist in the Department of English of the University of Port Harcourt, he shares immensely from the benefits driving from imaginative forays into deep reading and scholarship and its capacity to imbuing in the reader an urbane culture.
Speaking to a select number of Arts Editors at his Government House office in Port Harcourt penultimate week, about the literary festival slated to hold in December, he re-affirmed his commitment to transforming the State capital to a hub of literary activities.
The festival he said: “was to create an environment for more argument; and for more creativity and to see where it will take us.”
Relieving his own experiences about the beauty of reading and the visionary import of great narratives, he explained his likeness for Chinua Achebe’s Man of the People, for its capacity to portraying in a non violence manner, the politics of post colonial Nigeria.
The novel, Man of the People, Gov. Amechi further observed, “remains one novel that has made me laugh so much more than any other novel.” Continuing he added that “the novel belongs to the conservative school of thought, which is incomparable to other African novels of the socialists formations.
So far, the Governor has done well; and is near fulfilling his set out ambition given the fact that the project even at its infancy stage, has successfully brought important writers and critics including Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, famous writer and critic, Ngugi WA Thiongo, Kofi Ayndiho, JP Clark, Gabriel Okra and more modern writers and critics like Okey Ndibe, Sefi Atta,Kaine Aggray among other to the city of Port Harcourt for the festival.
In continuation of what is gradually becoming a great tradition, the third edition of the festival slated to hold next month on the theme; Nigeria @ 50:A Jubilee of Writers is billed to bring together two Nobel Laureates in the persons of Nigerian born Wole Soyinka and French writer, Gustave Le Clezio.
Le Clezio was born in April 1940 in the French city of Nice to French mother and a Mauritian father. As a Mauritian, his ethnically French father also held British citizenship. This explains why he served as doctor for the British Army in Nigeria during the World War 11. When his son, Gaustave as an eight year old lad joined with his wife, he was based in Ogoja, Cross River State.
Years later, the widely travelled young man evolved into a literary icon, writing novels, short stories, essays and children’s books. He wrote the novel; Ontisha in 1991 and translated it to English in 1997. This partly autographical novel is said, to have captured in its own interpretative terms, the experiences of a young European boy in Nigeria. He won the Noble prize in 2008.
Other special features of the planned festival according to Mrs Kalango include : international literature conference, writers’ workshop, interactive sessions, essay competition for children, drama presentation and command performance/ awards and gala night.