By Aluu Vincent
✓✓It was all fun, glitz and glamour at the second National Book Conference of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters in Nigeria, held at the prestigious Mandela Hall of Watbridge Hotels, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The event was not only about gathering of book lovers or intellectuals. It was a conglomeration of ideas, a potpourri of perspectives, a tapestry of well-woven deliberations and a story to be told and retold. It was the story of how Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State, has become the book and reading capital in the South-South, Nigeria, West Africa and indeed Africa. Gradually, the City of Uyo has become about the only city where scholars are making a bold affirmation for the D.E.A.R Philosophy of “Drop Everything and Read” invented by the fertile mind of a Books aficionado, Dr. Udeme Nana, a Mass Communication Scholar.
✓✓The event which commenced Thursday 15th – Saturday 18th September 2022, and was hosted by Uyo Book Club, founded by Dr. Udeme Nana, had as its theme, ‘Nigerian and African Stories: How they Fare in the Global Village.’ The Conference was chaired by Dr. Emmanuel Abraham, the founder of Topfaith Schools and University while the Local Organising Committee was manned by the 2023 PDP Candidate for Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District and Patron of Uyo Book Club, Rt. Hon. Dr. Ekong Sampson.
✓✓Attendees included the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Barr. Boss Mustapha, who sent a representative, Chairman of Top Faith Schools and University, Dr. Emmanuel Abraham, the indefatigable Richard Mammah, President, Network of Book Clubs and Readers Promoters (NBRP), Rt. Hon. Dr. Ekong Sampson, Abom Toni Esu, Prof. Joe Ushie, long list of the 2022 NLNG Prize for Literature; Dr.Martin Akpan, Dr. Ntiense Utuk, Iboro Otongaran, Professor Obot Etukudo, Professor Felicia Etim, the Coordinators of Raffia City, Eket, Abak, Mary Jonas, KidTeens, Ibiono Ibom Book Clubs, Dr. Mrs Mercy Ukpanah and other Librarians. In continuation, we had Samuel Udoma, Iniobong Leroi, Mfon Ebebe, Helen Benedict, Nkeneke Efo, Aaron Solomon, Akaninyene Kingsley, Idongesit Nna, Abraham Sylvester and all Members of the Book Club Initiative. We also had guests from Bayelsa State, Yenagoa; Annette David-West, Timi Oloye, Seiyifa Koroye, Martin Ebisine, Dapo Conde and others from Lagos, Abia and other cities.
✓✓Several writers graced the conference and had their books displayed, including but not limited to Ini Ite Ubong, Elizabeth James, Rev. Dr. Akpabio, Uboho Bassey etc
✓✓The event started with a Breakfast Library Event facilitated by the National Library Association, Akwa Ibom State with the theme: “Trends in Resources Organization for Easy Retrieval in Libraries.” The Chief Librarian of Federal University Otuoke, Professor Felicia Etim spearheaded the breakfast session and was assisted Dr. Mercy Ukpanah, Dr. Uduak Enang and Mr. Richard Mammah.
According to Professor Felicia Etim,
“How do we get readers to the few, poorly funded libraries? Nigeria needs to make libraries part of their lives. Libraries and book clubs have the common goals to promote the reading culture in Nigeria. Together, we would have been able to enhance most public libraries having book clubs in no distant time.”
✓✓The opening ceremony presented an array of the rich cultural heritage of Akwa Ibom state as captivating display of culture, dance, and spoken words kept the crowd spellbound with thunderous applause intermittently. The spoken word mastery of young Rosebeth Cletus, and the electrifying performance of the legendary ballardist and playwright, Rev. Moses Akpabio, author of ‘EVEN ONE CHILD’, among other side attractions, stole the hearts of the conference attendees.
✓✓The President of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters in Nigeria, NBRP, Richard Mammah, was the first to lead the charge by noting that current Nigerian leaders failed to read, resulting in the failure in the task of leading the country right, but have instead become rudderless.
“Nigerian crisis is chiefly and squarely a reading crisis. Our leaders failed to read and have led the country into crises. We, therefore, need to read ourselves out of the crises we have found ourselves. We had Awolowo, Azikiwe and the old leaders who read and we saw the difference in their leadership quality against what we currently have. What we have now are leaders who pretend to have read or who just read to get certificates only. If actually, our leaders read, they would know that rather than developing the oil in the ground, they should be investing in the brain power of Nigerians that should be capable of bringing out the oil in the ground and not having foreigners digging the oil out of the ground for us which we cannot also refine for our use. All this shows how poor readers our leaders are at the moment.” Mammah said.
✓✓In his opening remarks, the Chairman on the occasion and the proprietor of Topfaith University, Dr. Emmanuel Abraham, described book reading as key to leadership, development and innovation in Nigeria.
✓✓Dr. Abraham who is the founder of Topfaith Group of Schools, noted that one of the major reasons why Nigeria is not making meaningful progress is because most of the nation’s leaders are not readers and do not promote reading.
“Let me say that reading is key to leadership, development and innovation. A nation cannot develop beyond the reading capacity of her citizens. one of the major reasons why Nigeria is not making meaningful progress is because most of the nation’s leaders are not readers and do not promote reading. Without reading books, there is no way we can recollect and reflect on the essence of life and our history. Without reading, there is no way innovatively creative inventions can take place. Without reading, we cannot develop our minds and groom leaders that will help push the human race forward. There is not a profession in this world that does not come through reading and studying be it law, medicine, engineering, data scientists, you name it. You can agree with me that reading is an important aspect of our lives that Uyo Book Club is trying to reinvent”. Abraham added.
✓✓The Secretary to the government of the federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, who was represented by one of the Directors in the OSGF, Mr. Ifiok Abia, lauded Uyo Book Club, for such a great innovation of reinvigorating reading culture, noting that it was something great that need to be replicated in all states of the federation.
“This visit is dear to me because I have seen that something good, a foundation for something great, indeed, a new foundation for the next generation of Nigerians is being birthed from a corner in Nigeria, for generations that would fit into the global village without any glitch. That corner where this is evolving happens to be Uyo, the state capital of Akwa Ibom State. Nigeria is at the curve of another transition from one government to another. There is no doubting the fact that a country whose citizens read would know their rights, privileges, expectations in the polity and how to elect good leaders. Make no mistake about it; democracy as a form of government, would best work in societies where the majority of the people are enlightened. With enlightenment, comes a capacity to make informed choices whenever it becomes necessary to do so. Soon, Nigerians who are qualified would be given the opportunity to make choices of leaders. It takes what Uyo Book Club is doing to raise the next set of informed Nigerians.” Mustapha said.
✓✓The Adamawa born Federal Scribe, likened Uyo Book Club initiative to fresh air blowing across Nigeria devoid of political, ethnicity or religion but rather seeks to send a strong message; that books are great resources, education is a great adventure, and that Nigerians should embrace reading as a social activity to re-connect with people, share ideas, gain mentorship and self-improvement.
✓✓ The Patron of Uyo Book Club and Chairman of the local organising committee, Rt. Hon. (Dr.) Ekong Samson, stressed that a poorly read national leadership was at the heart of what has endangered Nigerian society.
“The more we read the safer we are, but the less we read, we are more endangered,” Samson said. “The book is bipartisan; it does not know tribe or religion. The more we read, the safer we are as humanity. The less we read, the more we move towards the brink, towards the precipice. With book clubs, we are pioneering a new consciousness in our polity, in our society.” He lamented.
✓✓The founder of Uyo Book Club, Dr. Udeme Nana, in his address, appreciated the journey of the Uyo Book Club so far and called for government policies to entrench reading culture in schools, homes, offices and other public places. He said the Book Club is a counter-culture to stem the seeming ascendancy of life in bars, sit-outs, joints and lounges in our cities where people gathered, made merry and thought to drink away their challenges.
“The Uyo Book Club’s vision was fired by a burning desire to start a counter-culture to stem the seeming ascendancy of life in bars, sit-outs, joints and lounges in our City where people gathered, made merry and thought to drink away their challenges. I imagined that we could have Book Clubs in private homes, along various streets, residential estates, and offices in our towns and in other cities all over the State. I wanted book clubs to compete with or complement those social clubs which feed with food for the physical well-being of people. My dream was to build hubs targeted at nourishing the mind, not just the body; to refine the sensibilities of our people; to change the mentality of our people, their mindsets and attitudes.” The well known Media Scholar said.
✓✓He aid consent has been given by the Comptroller of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Akwa Ibom State Command, to set up book Clubs in their facilities. He added that the Club innovated with a DROP EVERYTHING AND READ (DEAR) moment, which he said has become a unique protocol in Uyo Book Club reading sessions and sessions at other Book Clubs.
✓✓The icing on the cake of the event was the breakout session with the theme, Nigerian and African Stories: How They Fare in The Global Village, held via zoom. The session drew broad-based discussants from across the globe. The Panelists were, Prof. Solomon Obotetukudo, Writer/Poet, Uboho Bassey, with Prof. Joe Ushie moderating in a live stream discussion with Ikhide Roland Ikheloa, Prof. Nduka Otiono who joined from US, Ogaga Ifowodo, Iquo DianAbasi, long list of the 2022 NLNG Prize for Literature, Clara Udofa from the USA, Unyimeabasi Odong based in Canada, Saddiq M. Dzugoki, Farida Ladipo Ajayi, and a host of other participants.
✓✓Discussants made attempts at dissecting and lending credence to the authenticity of African Stories and how the African story should be sold to the outside world. The debate was on how to filter the African narratives to conform to the acceptability of a global pattern. Ideas varied across board but what became common ground was the agreement that African stories must be told, the way it is , nonetheless. Publishing a good book will do nothing by itself until it is visible to the world, on the global scene, competing with other western stories. At the end of the session, some of the questions begging for answers were; do writers write for economic gain/money or for personal fulfilment? Should African writers bare all – the negatives as well as the positives or should it be sugar-coated to appeal to foreign readers?
✓✓All work without play, they say, makes Jack a dull boy. So, it was at the 2022 edition of the National Book conference. The organisers of the conference took Readers, Writers and stakeholders on an adventurous City Tour. The sumptuous appetite of what to expect began at the sprawling edifices of the Watbridge Hotels & Suites to the magnificent Godswill Akpabio International Stadium (Nest of Champions) down to the breathtakingly beautifully adorned Ibom Icon Hotels with the lush greenery of the golf course; the soul-gripping ambience of the Marina which deserves a leisurely return visit. The tour was exhilarating and eye-opening all through. The team made a stopover at the Abak and Raffia City Book Club, Ikot Ekpene and later went site seeing at the prestigious state-of-the-art Topfaith Univeristy Mkpatak where the tourists were amazed at that citadel of learning. With the trappings of an Ivy League University, the visitors concluded that Nigerians have no need to take their wards abroad for studies as Topfaith offered a competitive choice destination.
✓✓So it is that gradually, the city of Uyo, is being renowned as the city of books, reading and research.
Vincent Aluu, a Public Affairs Analyst and Publisher of Naija Eye Witness News, writes this piece from Uyo 08036688375. www.naijaeyewitnessnews,com