As Port Harcourt Assumes World Book Capital

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Wife of Rivers State Governor, Dame Judith Amaechi (middle), State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs Ibim Semenitari (right) and Patience Ozokwo, during the opening ceremony of the Port Harcourt World Book Capital in Port Harcourt, yesterday.
Wife of Rivers State Governor, Dame Judith Amaechi (middle), State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs Ibim Semenitari (right) and Patience Ozokwo, during the opening ceremony of the Port Harcourt World Book Capital in Port Harcourt, yesterday.

History beckons as
Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State adds another feather to its cap with its crowning today as the new World Book Capital for 2014.
The epoch-making event would, no doubt, remain indelible on the minds of residents of the Garden City and the entire people of the state as Port Harcourt mounts the world stage as the new centre for literary works. On this day, humanity would focus on Port Harcourt and it would remain so for one year as the global headquarters of books.
The World Book Capital City (WBCC) title was a concept initiated in 2001 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). After the nomination of Madrid (Spain) that year, the selection committee comprising UNESCO, International Publishers Association (IPA), the International Booksellers Federation (IBF), and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) chose Alexandria (Egypt) as capital for 2002 and New Delhi (India) in 2003.
On November 2, 2001, the UNESCO General Conference adopted the 31C Resolution 29, establishing the yearly nomination of the World Book Capital City. This title is held for a year, from one World Book and Copyright Day, that is April 23 to another April 22 during which the nominated city will implement the programmes in its proposed bid. But since 2004, nomination has been by a public call for candidature.
A collaborative effort between representatives of principal stakeholders in the book sector and the cities which have committed themselves to promote books and reading, the WBCC nomination is an exclusive symbolic acknowledgement of the best programme dedicated to books and reading and is devoid of any pecuniary benefit to the current title holder.
Since the selection by public bid started, Port Harcourt is the 14th city to be designated World Book Capital, after Madrid (2001), Alexandria (2002), New Delhi (2003), Antwerp (2004), Montreal (2005), Turin (2006), Bogota (2009), Ljubljana (2010), Buenos Aires (2011), Yerevah (2012), and currently Bangkok (2013).
Project Director, Port Harcourt World Book Capital and founder of the Rainbow Book Club, Mrs Koko Kalango hinted that for the first time since the institution of the WBCC, and in a decade since bidding for the title started, 11cities in the world bidded for the 2014 edition. She disclosed however, that Port Harcourt pipped others including Oxford (United Kingdom), Lyon (France), Ganza (Azerbanjan), Sharjah (United Arab Emirates), Pula (Croatia), Vilnius (Lithuania), Incheon (Republic of Korea), Moscow (Russia) and Yaounde (Cameroun) to clinch the nomination.
On why the city was chosen among other bidders, the UNESCO WBC 2014 selection committee said: “The city of Port Harcourt was nominated World Book Capital City 2014 on account of its programmes, its focus on youth and the impact it would have on improving Nigeria’s culture of books, reading, writing and publishing to improve literacy rates”.
With this feat, Port Harcourt becomes the first World Book Capital City in sub-Saharan Africa, the first ever World Book Capital City in Africa to be nominated by public bid, and the second ever World Book Capital City in Africa after Alexandria (Egypt).
Reacting to the choice of Port Harcourt as WBCC 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan said: “We welcome UNESCO’s recognition of our collective efforts to revive the reading culture. I would also like to congratulate The Rainbow Book Club led by Mrs Koko Kalango for their vision in moving this now historic bid for a Nigerian city, Port Harcourt, to be the World Capital for books, in the year of our beloved nation’s centenary”.
Former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku expressed confidence that the Rainbow Book Club’s impressive record and the unfailing support of the Rivers State Government in promoting literary activities, will ensure the success of Port Harcourt as the World Book Capital City in 2014.
UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, on her part, extended “congratulations to the city of Port Harcourt for the quality of its proposed programme, which provides for extensive public participation and aims to develop reading for all”.
Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi stated that he believes that Port Harcourt is ripe and ready to be the first World Book Capital City in sub-Saharan Africa.
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka said: “I congratulate the city of Port Harcourt for this honour which they have brought, not only to the nation but to the African continent”.
In his reaction, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt, Prof Joseph Ajienka described the designation of Port Harcourt as the World Book Capital as no mean feat, and commended the Project Director and the Rivers State Government for their untiring efforts in driving the process that led to the historic achievement which he believes would draw attention to Port Harcourt city, Rivers State and the entire country.
The crowning and opening ceremonies are a five-day event which kicked off yesterday, Tuesday, April 22 will end on Saturday, April 26. Already, Hotel Presidential, the venue of the event, is a beehive of activities as the stage is being set for a successful opening which will feature International Literature and Culture Exhibition, theme song launch, drama, celebrity appearances, official handing over among others.
Envisioned ‘To Be The Best World Book Capital Ever,’ Kalango reveals that activities of the Port Harcourt World Book Capital City has been designed to enlist the participation of stakeholders in the book industry (writers, publishers, booksellers, librarians, readers) and the general public with a view to improving literacy rates and the reading habits of Port Harcourt residents, the people of Niger Delta, Nigeria and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Such activities include a 3-day International Arts, Culture and Book exhibition which would provide a platform for foreign missions in Nigeria to showcase their literary works in the World Book Capital.
One of the key activities for the year will be celebrities/Leaders Read in which eminent people and role models will read to students periodically and at different locations in the course of the year. About 500 persons, comprising students and guests in Port Harcourt, are expected to participate in the reading events.
There is also the Reading Tree Programme which will hold in 50 schools. It will feature carefully selected books ranging from timeless classics to African folk tales.
The Walking Book, a communal story on the sights and sounds of Rivers State written by children from across the 23 local government areas of the state, will also feature.
However, Prof Wole Soyinka will deliver the keynote address at today’s event in which the current World Book Capital, Bangkok, would hand over to Port Harcourt.
Thus, the theme for the Port Harcourt World Book Capital: ‘Books-Window To Our World of Possibilities’ appears very timely and apt as it to seeks to highlight the unquantifiable benefits of books and reading culture in a clime like ours.
Kalango said though the WBCC has no financial prize, the benefits are unquantifiable as it will expose Rivers State to the world and help showcase Governor Amaechi’s achievements in the educational sector. Infact, apart from encouraging reading and speedy dissemination of information, the programme would boost business and tourism as it highlights Port Harcourt’s rich culture heritage (what with the visit to Songhai farm by participants).
Kalango said: “We should not be known for oil, for violence and negative news. In the midst of challenges, a seed has been sown in this city… this programme has the potential of changing the landscape of our city forever”.
Even as other stakeholders are unanimous that the programme would be of immense benefit to Niger Delta, Nigeria and the African continent, and would help re-brand Nigeria through literature, not a few Nigerians believe that Nigeria’s cheerless literacy and education statistics make Port Harcourt’s new status instructive and rewarding, considering the challenge they pose to national development.
According to the World Bank, in 2010 the adult literacy rate in Nigeria was 61 percent while the youth literacy rate was 72 per cent.
UNESCO Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report states that Nigeria accounts for 47 per cent of the global out-of-school population, the highest number in the world.
Although primary school enrolment in Nigeria has increased from 61 per cent in 2009 to 80 per cent in 2012, many primary school leavers have very limited reading and writing capabilities.
Even the National Examination Council (NECO) reported that under 34 per cent of the students that sat for the 2012 NECO English exams passed.
Yet, with a population of over 160 million, Nigeria accounts for about a fifth of the 874.8 million people living in sub-saharan Africa which shares the lowest literacy rate with South and West Asia. Hence the nomination of Port Harcourt as the First World Book Capital City in sub-Saharan Africa becomes instructive and timely.
Consequently, the projection for 2015, under the Millennium Development Goal, is to have Nigeria’s adult literacy rate improved to between 60-69 per cent, and the youth literacy rate 70-79 per cent. This is, however, predicated on Nigeria implementing the UNESCO EFA Programme
Thus, the PHWBC project has come as an interventionist scheme to complement government’s efforts towards achieving the EFA goal by supporting the formal education sector through the informal and non-formal education of young people.
Nevertheless, the designation of Port Harcourt as the World Book Capital City for 2014, just at the twilight of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi administration, is clearly and squarely his (Amaechi’s) crowning glory, given his tremendous strides in education as in other spheres.
Obafemi Awolowo had observed that any people that are starved of books, especially the right type of books, will suffer intellectual malnutrition, stagnation and atrophy. This is why Amaechi’s support for literacy works and indeed, education and literacy deserves commendation. If anything his efforts have paid great dividends as Port Harcourt rules the book world from this day till April 22, 2015.