By Chris Onuoha
The city of Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers state, Nigeria last week entered into the history book as it became the first sub-Saharan African City to be named UNESCO World Book Capital. At an elaborate ceremony which was witnessed by literary icons and dignitaries within and outside the country including the former President, Abdusalam Abubakar (Rtd) in Portharcourt, the deputy governor of Bangkok, Mr Ammorn Kitchawenghui formally handed over to Rivers state governor, Rt Hon. Rotimi Amaechi the right and title of the UNESCO World Book Capital 2014, with this feat the city will bear the title from April 23rd 2014 till April 22nd 2015 when it will eventually hand it over to Incheon (South Korea).
The week long event witnessed lots of activities of celebration, reading, drama, dance, book presentation etc, but the climax of the ceremony was the actual handover of the UNESCO World Book Capital Title to Port Harcourt from Bangkok. Amidst pomp, confetti, lights and so much glamour, the deputy Governor of Bangkok handed over the WBC Emblem to the Governor of Rivers state who was flanked by Dignitaries at the occasion. Before then, the Bangkok delegation thrilled the audience with presentations of traditional poetry, dance and a puppet show. The Deputy Governor of Bangkok also presented gifts to Governor Amaechi from his Bangkok counterpart.
It was fun and celebration through out the days, but one important lesson of the ceremony was the revelation of the power/influence of books above all other issues politics inclusive. In a country where the quest for money had made many to abandon education, the array of dignitaries present and what they said about books remind all of the popular adage that knowledge is power. This was even evident with the way and manner, President Jonathan and Governor Amaechi threw away their party divides to agree for once again on the importance of books to the society. Though politically they’ve fallen apart but their love for books united them as they joined other speakers in celebrating writers and acknowledged their impact on humanity.
In his speech, President Goodluck Jonathan who was represented by his Special Assistant on Documentation, Ms. Molara Wood stated that “The role of the writer in society is unassailable.” According to him this can be seen as in the life and work of the great author Gabriel Garcia Marquez who died last week at the age of 87, and whose immense contribution to world literature has elicited a flood of tributes from world leaders, eminent writers and book lovers in attestation to his incomparable influence on their lives.
“May we all reflect on the example of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the late Chinua Achebe and our luminary writers, and the enormity of their influence, and fondness of their memory, derived through written word, and always remember as we celebrate the book, and strive to elevate our reading culture, that words, written or read, are veritable tools for the re-direction and development of mankind.”
Ms. Molara Wood, also commended the Mrs. Koko Kalango-led Rainbow Book Club (RBC) and the Rivers State Government for collaborating to win Port Harcourt the bid.
“The Rivers State Government under the leadership of Rotimi Amaechi must also be commended for its direction and wonderful support for the Rainbow Book Club and the World Book Capital bid. Today’s event is a testament to what can be achieved when well-meaning individuals and organisations are supported by government to push forward ideas that will transform and enrich the society,” he said.
On his part, Governor Amaechi, who is a strong advocate of education reiterated his belief in education as panacea to ills afflicting the society. Amaechi recalled his experience with Rivers State when he assumed office in 2007, the Governor stated that he realised that the quickest way to accelerate development in the state was through quality education and books. He said, “Our thinking was that if we could address literacy and get poor children back in schools, we could also directly guarantee sustainable development and effective governance.” He then recommended education and agriculture as solutions to the Boko Haram.
Speaking in his capacity of the chairman of the occasion, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (Rtd), said that Port Harcourt city has brought pride to Nigeria and Africa in general by clinching the World Book Capital 2014 nomination especially at the period Nigeria is celebrating centenary year. He said what made this important is that Port Harcourt was chosen against other strong bidders like Oxford, Lyon, Incheon, Moscow and also been the first to win it in the sub-Saharan Africa.
Gen. Abubakar commended President Jonathan, Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi and the Rainbow Book Club for making it possible for PH to emerge as WBC.
According to him, the government of Rivers under Amaechi deserves some commendation especially on his giant stride towards education development in the state which can be seen in the modernization of schools and heavy investments in school infrastructure, teachers training and welfares.
He also commended the effort of the Rainbow Book Club owner Mrs. Koko Kalango for promoting the culture of reading and writing through a successful show that has lasted for 8 years that culminates to success of clinching the World Book Capital 2014 title. He finally said that he is sure that the effect of this World Book Capital 2014 clinch will reverberate across Nigeria and beyond our shores but laments that Nigeria really needs peace, for without peace, the books cannot be read.
The keynote speaker, Professor Soyinka in his characteristic manner who began his speech by sending this important message to the Presidency. “Do not impose tax on books!”condemned the activities of Boko Haram insurgents and the lukewarm response by the federal government to their onslaught. He also expressed his displeasure over the way President Jonathan had been handling the war, noting that he could do more to contain the insurgents.
Kongi lamented the abduction of the schoolgirls in Borno State by the insurgents and noted that rather than expend energy on the ‘Bring Back the Book’ initiative launched some years ago, President Jonathan should concentrate on bringing back the girls.
The event also featured the public presentation of 100 years Around Port Harcourt, a book of sights and sounds of Rivers State as told by the children. A communal story written by 230 children drawn from 23 public junior secondary schools in River State within the age range of 10 – 14 under the supervision of their teachers and edited by Koko Kalango and Titi Horsfall.