By Japhet Alakam
It was another intellectual gathering penultimate week, as authors from different parts of the country converged at the ancient city of Ibadan for the third edition of what has become an annual ritual that brings together the highest number of authors in Nigeria, otherwise known as authors forum.
The event which was put together by the foremost publishers, UP Plc as part of its determination to invest in the authors and books so that they can develop a positive book culture in Nigeria lived up to its bidding as it once again, brought to the fore, some of the challenges facing the book industry.
It is on record that as a result of the decline in the country’s reading culture and the immanent negative implications it poses to the over all development of the nation, President Jonathan last year launched the Bring Back the Book project , an initiative that was highly welcomed by many stakeholders in the industry. But for this noble initiative to achieve its desired goal, the President must first of all bring back good governance.
This submission was made by a renowned literary scholar, critic, poet and one of the leading figures in the vanguard of book promotion, Prof. Niyi Osundare during the presentation of his Keynote address at the forum.
Professor Osundare, himself a writer and one who only last year expressed his anger at the country’s inability to walk at 50, this time, speaking on the topic, Homage to the Book, brought out pertinent issues that will help the project to work.
As a seasoned teacher, Osundare delivered the address in two parts, first, through a performance of one of his poem titled, The Book and the Sword directed by Tunde Awosima and performed by the duo of Nike and Opeyemi of the Theatre Arts Department of University of Ibadan.
The poem which was written during the perilous years of late military junta, General Abacha, when writers were jailed and media houses shut was about a confrontation between the book and sword or a battle between might and power.
Thereafter, Osundare went on to part two of his presentation, which he said was a follow up to the poem. However, he did not fail to commend the famous publishers, UP Plc for keeping the gathering which he described as great initiative by a Nigerian company that has demonstrated that no matter the ugly situation in the book industry, that there is always a silver lining .
Osundare in his intellectual sermon critically examined Nigeria’s romance with the book culture and threw hard questions on what happened to the book culture that necessitated the great campaign for its return.
He then suggested conditions that must be met before the book could be brought back to Nigeria. According to him, “we must bring back our politics, then our economy and our education system as a crisis ridden and structurally defective system can not nurture a sustainable educational system.
The economy is important because a hungry man has no stomach for books so before we do that there is need to revive the economy, bring back the value system, steady power supply so that we can read night and day.”
Finally, he suggested that the country must make sure that the leaders must be the types that read, those that are literate not only in signing cheques or reading prepared speeches, but those who are literate as it takes literate leaders to nurture literate citizens.
Earlier in his welcome address, the chairman of UP Plc, Lekan Are, who was delighted at the large turn out of audience thanked the authors for their efforts and sacrifices that have kept the company going as according to him, “without you there will be no UP Plc.” adding that “ the forum as usual is for the company to interact with the authors and listen to their good ideas and contributions in order to move the company forward.”
On her part, the Chairperson of the occasion, award wining author, Prof Akachi Ezeigbo described UP Plc as a courageous company which is not afraid to bring the authors together because they do things right and also pay royalties to the authors.
Ezeigbo who confessed that she has always loved books and where books are discussed since childhood told the audience that there was a time when books were rare in Nigeria, but that today books are everywhere .
In order to drive home her point on the importance of education, she went on to narrate how her community suffered in the hands of white men because of illiteracy. And as such when the white man brought western education, the villagers embraced western education and sent their children to school.
“ I can not imagine a world without books, books are repository of knowledge and have to be celebrated. Reading is one thing that should be encouraged in Nigeria. There is no reading culture in Nigeria and why should we allow reading culture to die. A country with no reading culture has not developed.”she said.
Contributing to the discourse, veteran author and now a traditional ruler, Prof Chukwuemeka Ike , urged the country to imbibe the culture of public reading as is done in the developed countries of the world, where bookshops invite authors to read their books, a platform through which the authors are publicised and the publishers sell their books.
He also charged UP plc to take the lead in promoting public reading in Nigeria.