By Emmanuel Edukugho
Thousands of students from 23 secondary schools including two universities besieged the ultra-modern EXPO Hall, Eko Hotel, Lagos, where President Goodluck Jonathan took the battle for sustainable reading culture to them.
“Bring Back The Book Campaign” launched by President Jonathan on Monday December 27, 2010, also attracted several literary giants, poets, publishers and writers, amongst them were J.P. Clark, Mabel Segun, Otunba Lawal Solarin, Jerry Agada, a former Minister of Education and now president, Association of Nigeria Authors, Odia Ofeimun, Reuben Abati, Fatima Akilu, Dapo Adeniyi and others. Also present were Mr. Ben Bruce, governors of Ogun and Borno states the Bayelsa state deputy governor, Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, senators while Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, was with the president in the morning during the reading session with pupils.
Wearing a blue sports shirt and jeans with a black hat, President Jonathan’s arrival as he took his seat tucked in the far right corner on the podium, was met with a tumultuous applause and chantings by the excited young men and women; who had thronged the venue several hours before commencement.
On the podium with the president were the reviewer of the book Goodluck Jonathan – My Friend and I conversations on policy and governance, Mr. Reuben Abati, Odia Ofeimun who gave a presentation on The Travails of the Book, and Mr. Joe Trippi from USA who was special guest. June Slaton sang the national anthem.
President Jonathan, in his welcome address, thanked everyone present for coming, describing the audience as “a galaxy of young men and women”.
He said that the publication is about friends, young men and women who have been advising him through his facebook.
“I have invited you together to begin a serious discussion in order to bring back the book. I decided to publish because I want to promote a reading culture and accountable governance.”
He noted that the direct feedback from Nigerians over the last four months on facebook has been an invaluable one in formulating government policy.
“The campaign on reading culture supported by Professor Wole Soyinka and other well meaning citizens is a battle to restore our educational standard to its glorious past and to lift it further to the heights where it would lead to resurgence of our march towards economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and social advancement.”
According to Jonathan, the decision to embark on the campaign came after several consultations and a consensus that we require a nationwide campaign to bring back the book reading culture; so as to “catch them young”. He pointed to the need to move towards creating a knowledge economy, which is starting with this campaign.
The Nigerian president recalled government’s efforts to bring about quality education through recent presidential Summit on Education held in Abuja which preceded the compilation of his facebook.
“I encourage Nigerians to appreciate partnership between me and the others. Leadership is a two-way traffic. I am leading because I have a mandate,” he noted.
“My facebook affords amazing platform for interaction with the people, and influence public policy. There are 350,000 fans in my face book. I am grateful to those who made it possible.”
Jonathan said at all times, we should have a book in our hands. That is the way of civilisation.
“Many agree that the foundation for the development of all civilisations lies with a vibrant educational system and that at the core of these values is a sustainable reading culture.”
In the facebook, see what he said on education.
“Nigeria into the knowledge worker age which is why I have personally made it a priority to see that our universities and academic staff get a fair treatment so that the era of truncated academic years is put behind us. Without stability in the education sector, our graduates will not have fully developed skills to enable them compete with their counterparts around the world.
I came from the academia and know first hand that you get from the system what you put in it and under my watch this administration has started and will keep on investing in education as a way of investing in the future of Nigeria.”
About 110 people made their individual comments on education in the facebook.
In his own remarks, Ofeimun said Nigeria has a president who is not over-bearing, not a philosopher-king, reaching out to the people, describing Nigerians as “a new type of people who want to make a difference through book reading.” He said that reading is an equaliser of all people.
“Great nations are built by great minds and great minds are nurtured by books.” The renowned poet called for the revival of local government libraries which should be well stocked with good books. He recommended a version of the United States Library of Congress for Nigeria.
“It’s the first time a national leader will be identified with the reading culture even when cynics are saying it is not possible. A new approach to confront the situation.”
He decried the disheartening state of our reading culture, saying, “We have an educational system that gives poor education to poor people to make them poor so that they can remain miserable.” Hence there are poor WAEC results, poor libraries, lack of book stores.
Reviewer of the book, Reuben Abati, chairman, Editorial Board of Guardian, said President Jonathan was inspired by US President Barack Obama who used the internet to get support for his campaign. He took the phenomenon of the internet to propagate political goals. With the openness and interaction, able to get feedback and shared responses.
“This is a new pattern of relationship between the president and his constituents. He is interested working with the people. By this book, he has influenced the citizens. African presidents think they know it all. Such invincibility is not here. He answers questions posed by the citizens for good life, roads, electricity, water, aviation, etc – a classic illustration of egalitarianism, a people parliament.”
Abati explained that the facebook is about interactivity between Jonathan and his friends which is worthwhile, shaped by both parties, not programmed to follow predetermined path.
His friends say he will be declared presidential candidate of his party through ideas and not because of money.
But the reviewer strongly noted that the contents of the book were unedited, although the internet has become a new library and market place of ideas. He slammed the shorthand method, use of text jargons, punctuation errors.
“Internet writing is not good, lack quality and its poor. But Nigeria cannot grow without people. We should take a second look at the school system, establish libraries stocked with book.”
He said the book offers insight to citizens democracy, citizens’ democracy, citizens engagement and “electronic democracy.” Abati summed up:
“It’s a well produced book, easy to read, colourfully packaged.” America’s facebook exponent Joe Trippi, in his remarks recall that the CNN had declared Jonathan “The Facebook President”, pointing out that “the conversations taking place went well beyond the usual top-down, consultation driven marketing you see on most political or corporate facebook pages. That ordinary Nigerians were having a real debate about the issues, coming up with new ideas.
According to Trippi, there are 2 million Nigerians on facebook out of 400 million worldwide, Nigeria is the first example of a networking site being used in governance. President Goodluck Jonathan already has more facebook fans than German Chancellor Angela Mierkel, British PM David Cameron and South African president, Jacob Zuma combined.