Port Harcourt, the Riv
ers State capital, is agog for its official conferment with the prestigious World Book Capital City, WBBC, title for 2014 today by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO. The ‘Garden City’ was selected as the 2014 World Book Capital by UNESCO on July 11, 2012.
Port Harcourt was chosen for the quality of programmes it presented in promoting books and reading and for being home of many literary giants like Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi, late Ken Saro-Wiwa and late Ola Rotimi, among others, whose works were largely influenced by the prevalent culture of the Niger Delta people and the issues relating to their existence as Nigerians. The title will be held for one year (April 23 to April 22, 2015).
Project Director of the Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014 and founder of Rainbow Book Club, Koko Kalango, disclosed to journalists that World Book Capital would present a unique opportunity for Port Harcourt and the state to make history.
She commended the Rivers State Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, for reviving reading habit among children in the state and promoting quality education. She said the occasion would expose Rivers State to the world.
“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. After Prof Wole Soyinka’s Nobel Laureate award, this is the second most important thing that has happened in our literary life.
“This programme has the potential of changing the landscape of our history forever, especially with the current revival in the education sector in the state driven by His Excellency, Governor Amaechi,” Kalango said.
A Rivers State-born internationally acclaimed writer and author, Captain Elechi Amadi, appreciated the occasion and attributed the choice of Port Harcourt for the WBC title to the series of literary festivals jointly organized by the Rainbow Book Club and the Rivers State Government which had held for the last five or six years. According to him, the festival featured international authors like Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Ama Attah Audu, Kofi Awunor, Gabriel Okara, among others.
“To be nominated to host the world is a great honour. So naturally people will be excited and they will wonder what is in Port Harcourt that attracted this kind of recognition? You noticed in the last five to six years, we had this Rivers State literary festival every year; we used to invite international authors like Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Wole Soyinka, Ama Attah Audu and Kofi Awunor.
“All these people have been coming, so we’ve got the world interested in the literary activities going on in the country. And, of course, the writers in Port Harcourt have been showcased to the world. I am one of them,” Amadi declared.
As excitement of today’s celebration attains fever pitch, flowing through the literary public in Port Harcourt, Nigeria and across the globe, Amadi was elated that as host, Rivers State and Nigeria at large stood to benefit immensely from hosting the event.
“Rivers State and Nigeria stands to benefit. You know we will hold the hosting title for a year. So obviously, this will galvanize the federal government to pay more attention to literacy on the availability of books and libraries.
“With this Port Harcourt World Book Capital project, we believe that during the year a lot will happen. There could be fall-out that we cannot imagine.
“During the year, we will intensify whatever we are doing to highlight literature, to highlight Port Harcourt as a city of reading citizens and also to highlight Nigeria as a country striving for greater literacy,” Amadi explained.
The Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, is not left out from the excitement that pervades Port Harcourt over its new status as World Book Capital City for 2014. The Rivers State Chairman of the Association, Mr. Obinna Nwodim, said the privilege of hosting the World Book Capital would further enhance the objective of the body which is to promote literature in Nigeria.
“It is a major boost in the promotion of literature and it will go a long way in sensitising people on the benefits of reading. As a writer, you derive joy when people read your books. So, it is basically for literary development, not only in Port Harcourt but throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria. So, I want to describe it (WBC) as a watershed in the literary development of our society,” Nwodim stated.
A university don and lecturer in the English and Literary Studies Department, University of Port Harcourt, Prof. Nkem Okoh, applauded the whole idea of the declaration of Port Harcourt as World Book Capital for 2014. He said the choice of Port Harcourt would create an awareness and sensitisation that without reading we would go nowhere. He commended Governor Rotimi Amaechi for investing heavily in books and described him as a “book” and “reading” governor.
“For me the whole idea of Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014 is a great idea. Because before now people would always tell you that Nigerians don’t read. But now that it is coming to Port Harcourt, there will be the awareness and sensitisation that without reading we can go nowhere.
“If you look at the whole programme, I know it is Rainbow Book Club but I know that the government is heavily involved. Irrespective of what people say, this governor is a reading governor. He is a’ book’ governor. Apart from the tourism aspect or influence, the name of Port Harcourt will be projected.
“For me it is a great idea for Port Harcourt to be called a World Book Capital. And don’t forget that this is an event that people vie for every year. And last year it was somewhere but this year it is right here in Rivers State, right here in Port Harcourt,” Okoh said.
The university don outlined the economic benefits of the occasion and said book sellers and publishers would have a field day selling their books. Besides, Okoh stated, the occasion would also witness an influx of visitors into Port Harcourt.
“Certainly, if you are a book seller or publisher and there is a display, it is certain of course that people will buy. There will be influx of visitors whether from abroad or other cities into Port Harcourt and that will be good commerce or business,” Okoh stated.
However, the senator representing Rivers South Senatorial District, Senator George Sekibo, bemoaned the dying reading culture in schools and society at large. Sekibo, who is an emerging writer with five books to his credit, recalled that in his days, the reading culture was strong and students were challenged to think. But today, he said, there was a huge difference.
According to the senator, the conferment of World Book Capital on Port Harcourt would not make anyone to read or write if there was no determination to do so. He challenged UNESCO to celebrate young authors since the works of older ones were already known.
“The reading culture is not the way it was when were young. When we were coming up the way we read there is a difference with that today. So, I don’t think by conferring the title on us will make us to read or write. Writing itself requires determination… I think they should celebrate young authors,” Sekibo suggested.
Brandishing the theme: “Books: Window to Our World of Possibilities”, this year’s celebration focuses on ways to better disseminate the culture of the written word and guarantee access to it by everyone.
Arnold Alalibo/Sogbeba Dokubo