By Emmanuel Edukugho
Undoubtedly, the reading culture of our nation seems to be dying gradually as values are shifting from good behaviour, moral uprightness, literary dexterity, creativity, acquisition of positive, constructive knowledge, to the profane, mundane values of greed, avarice, despondency and materialistic tendencies. Nigeria is at educational crossroad which underscores the need for the development of a healthy, robust reading culture which is the foundation of a sound education system.
Mrs. Koko Kalango, founder, Rainbow Book Club, is a woman with great passion for the literary resurgence of the country and get “people back to the good old fashioned habit of reading books to improve our society.”
She was the Festival Director of the 2009 Garden City Literary Festival (GCLF) which lasted for four days offering a rich variety of events including the Garden City Book Fair, Writers’ Workshops, interactive sessions with guest writers, book readings, book signings, drama performances and special sessions for children. The maiden GCLF was held in 2008 and was attended by great writers like Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Ambassador Kofi Awoonor of Ghana, Chief Elechi Amadi, Okey Ndibe, Kaine Agary and Petrina Crockford.
The 2009 edition was graced by world renowned writers which included Nigeria’s J.P. Clark, Buchi Emecheta and Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Their younger counterparts – Sefi Atta, (winner of the maiden Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature) and Igoni Barrett (winner of the 2005 BBC Short Story Competition). Over 30 writers converged in Port Harcourt for the festival whose theme was “Building Bridges.”
The festival was hosted by the Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, himself a student and lover of Literature.
Koko Kalango recently returned from Edinburgh, UK, where she attended a literary festival. She spoke with Emmanuel Edukugho, head of Vanguard Education Desk, at the British Council, Lagos.
The British Council is UK’s international organisaion for educational opportunities and cultural relations; working in over 100 countries worldwide through the exchange of knowledge and ideas between people. A non-political organisation, the British Council work in the arts, education, English, Science, Sport and governance reaching 652 million people.
Koko is an award-winning writer and national columnist, wife and mother who is so passionate about positive change in the society and believes education is the key to true development. She founded the Rainbow Book Club and initiated the “Get Nigeria Reading Again” campaign in an effort to contribute to nation-building.
Excerpts of the interview with Koko.
Your name sounds like someone from outside this country. How come this name?
It sounds like East African, but I’m a Nigerian from Bayelsa. I’m the founder of Rainbow Book Club based in Port Harcourt, and affiliated organisations such as R.E.A.D (Rainbow Education for Advancement and Development), Africa Foundation and the Rainbow Bookshop. The Rainbow organisation works in partnership with the Rivers State government to produce the Garden City Literary Festival.
What propelled you into coming out with this idea of a book club and reviving the dying reading culture in Nigeria?
I wanted to contribute to society, do something to help change society, encourage reading of books by our people, especially children and the youth. My dream is to foster a reading culture in Nigeria which led to the successful initiatives such as “Get Nigeria Reading Again” and the Leaders Read Programme.
“Get Nigeria Reading Again” programme started in 2005 and we worked with many writers which included Adiche, Wole Soyinka, Osofisan. We worked directly with 1,000 children all over Nigeria, 100 schools across the country – specifically in five states; Bayelsa, Rivers, Lagos, Cross River and Federal Capital Territory (FCT).” We’ve set up book clubs in Port Harcourt in secondary schools. However, things are not going the way we wished due to lack of funds.
How are you doing this project of getting the people to read?
We do book reading with the authors themselves in Port Harcourt. Authors such as Uwem Akpan, Kaine Agary (winner of the LNG prize), Adobie Nwaubani (winner, Commonwealth Prize).
We also have the “Leaders Read” programme, bringing together children and prominent, eminent persons who are role models to read. Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Professor Wole Soyinka, Governor Amaechi of Rivers State, Governor Fashola of Lagos State and Professor Dora Akunyili and Mrs. Deziani Alison-Maduekwe, Minister of Petroleum have all taken time out to read to youngsters – in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt.
Some of them read on the occasion to mark UN International Literary Day recently in Abuja, and also in celebration of World Book Day.
For instance, Akunyili read to children from Wole Soyinka’s Ake (his childhood memories) and interacted with them.
Emeka Anyaoku read to children to mark the 2008 World Book and Copyright Day. Governor Amechi of Rivers State read on Children’s day 2008 and 2009 and on the UN International Literacy Day 2008, Governor Fashola of Lagos state read. Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soinka also red to children in Lagos.
In the 2009 edition of the campaign to get Nigeria reading again, Dr. Joseph Ngu, UNESCO Director and Country Representative gave a talk on “How a book can change a life.” Dr. Wale Okediran, National President, Association of Nigerian Authors also addressed over 100 students present at the UN House for the event.
Now in its 5th year, the national reading campaign has involved over 1,000 students from primary, secondary and university levels in five sates including FCT.
To what extent has the campaign impacted on the reading habit of the young ones?
It has helped greatly considering the feedback that we received. When Governor Amaechi was reading, a child was so touched by what was happening — an opportunity to interact with the state governor which was affective. The programme has made reading to be attractive and desirable especially to children. It has sustained their interest in books.
Some world leaders have also done that. After the September 11 attack, the US President George Bush read a book with children. Nelson Mandela read with children.
We give children books, share experience with them on how books have touched and affected their lives.
Is it appropriate to say that the main purpose of the national reading campaign is for examination or just mere reading for reading sake?
It is not just reading to pass examination, but making reading a national leisure, involving everyone, corporate organisations, public sector to strengthen the message in order to change society in general. As people, we should do something about the reading culture in our society especially when we know that we no longer read as we used to do before. It is getting us read for leisure.
Have you been getting enough funding for this project?
Not much of funding support. The Garden City Literary Festival was well funded and we are encouraged and this has made us realise what we want to do. We are grateful to our patrons, friends of Rainbow Book Club, partners and some media organisations for their contributions to our work.