BY JIMITOTA ONOYUME
PORT HARCOURT: NOBEL laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka Wednesday called on the federal government to ensure release of students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno state who were taken hostage recently by members of the dreaded Islamic sect, Boko Haram in the school.
Professor Soyinka who gave the keynote address in Port Harcourt at the opening ceremony of Port Harcourt as UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 said the focus of the event was for the federal government to ensure the safe release of the students.
He said he had expected President Goodluck Jonathan to convene an emergency security meeting over the ugly development in the school after the abduction of the students.
Continuing he said the ongoing book fair in Port Harcourt was a national rejection of Boko Haram, adding that the dreaded Islamic sect does not reflect the teachings and values of Islam.
He further urged the federal government not to impose tax on importation of books,
Minutes after his address, former Minister of Education, Dr Oby Ezekwesili and the Project Director, Rainbow Book club, Mrs Koko Kalango led the gathering stand up to make a collective demand on the federal government to ensure the kidnapped students were released.
Earlier in her goodwill message, Dr Ezekwesili had expressed hope that Port Harcourt as UNESCO World Book capital 2014 would stimulate interest in reading among the old and young, stressing that conscious effort be made to transform the country into centre of intellectual activities.
In his remark, Chairman of the ceremony, former Head of State, Gen Abdusalami Abubakar rtd, harped on the need for peace and security of lives in the country. He also congratulated Port Harcourt for emerging World Book capital for the year.
On her part, the Project Director, Rainbow Book club, Mrs Kalango appealed to government at all levels in the country to set up functional libraries in all the local governments, stressing that the campaign to get Nigerians reading should be in schools and various homes.
She further appealed to government to make education available to all, noting that a thriving book culture was part of the needed tools to move the nation forward.
Governor Chibuike Amaechi who was host at the event said his administration started holding the Garden City literary festival since 2008 as a step towards reversing the economic decline in the state which he blamed on militancy and other related challenges.
” Rivers state had been at the fault lines of much of the problems that plagued the Delta region and it was clear to us that our quickest way to leap frog development was to bring back the book and get our children reading again. Our thinking was that if we could address illiteracy and get poor children back in schools, we could also directly guarantee sustainable development and effective governance”, he said.
He said the annual festival had transformed the state into the hub of literature in the country. ” Port Harcourt as UNESCO world book capital 2014 is the result of the huge impact and success of our efforts since 2008″, the governor said.
Governor Amaechi further lamented the low literacy level in the country, adding that his administration was working towards getting back all children to school.
Assuring that the state would make good use of opportunities created for hosting the World book capital Amaechi said his administration was building standard libraries and a Port Harcourt Book centre to serve as home for writers.
Continuing, the governor said the solution to the menace posed by Boko Haram was in education and agriculture. ” Boko Harams are shooting , is because somebody is paying them. We dismantled the illegal economy called militancy in Rivers state”, he said.
The governor also said his administration would not hesitate to admit any of the students rescued to its model schools .
The height of the ceremony was the formal handover to Port Harcourt as UNESCO world book capital 2014 by a team from Bangkok led by the Deputy Governor, Mr Amom Kitchawenghul.
While congratulating Port Harcourt as the new World Book capital the Deputy governor, Mr Kitchawenghul said reading “brings enlightenment.”
A minute silence was later observed for the late Mr Kofi Awoonor who was killed in Kenya