By Anote Ajeluorou
APRIL 23 is both the birthday and death day of world famous British playwright of all time, William Shakespeare, and the death day of Spanish novelist Cervantes. The date is therefore set aside to honour these two great writers by promoting the book, both reading and giving it out as a gift.
In Nigeria also World Book Day (WBD) is celebrated yearly, but with what impact. Indeed, what has been the implication of the event in the country? Can the gains of WBD be measured in Nigeria to determine its impact? What form should the celebration take? And, indeed, what needs to be done to the event felt?
The Guardian went to town and spoke to a number of writers, book workers and enthusiasts on WBD that comes up next week Monday. Their responses are as varied, profound and illuminating as they come as they situate the problem of the book in its proper context and how it can be made a national pastime as it was in days gone by.
Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (university teacher, novelist and gender expert)
I often think that celebrating the World Book Day in Nigeria is a charade. How can you celebrate books when very few people bother to read books or have books available to them? Often a few organisations 'organise' activities to mark the day and that's the end of it! There is no follow-up. Awareness should be sustained throughout the year! Not just one day.
What we need to do in this country is to first create awareness about the importance of books by establishing libraries in schools, communities (in rural and urban areas) and in the cities. We need to have books everywhere. When people have access to libraries in large numbers, they will develop interest in reading.
When this happens, there will be true celebrations in different forums when the annual event comes up. Many young people in primary and secondary schools do not have access to books. The government at the federal and state levels has not done very well in the area of book provision to schools, and to pupils and students. A lot still needs to be done.
As for celebrating the 2012 World Book Day that may not be difficult at the University of Lagos. For right now examinations are going on and there is no time for any other activity. Students are busy writing their exams; lecturers are invigilating exams and grading scripts.
However, I hope the day will be celebrated by writers' organisations and by government agencies. Books are important. We are what we are because of the books we read, are reading and will read in the future.
Dillibe Onyeama (novelist and publisher)
DELTA Publications (Nigeria) Limited will celebrate the World Book Day this year with a cocktail party for stakeholders in the book trade, to the end of encouraging dialogue and therefrom detecting ideas and strategies for improvement in our book publishing activities. In such an atmosphere of bonhomie occasioned by a generous flow of wine and small chops, potential authors will be inspired and possibly be commissioned to write our ideas into bestsellers. The 'long grammar' of lectures and debates alone may not suffice, and may not draw the desired impressive attendance.
The World Book Day is a good thing. It wields psychological power by virtue of being a global celebration and in that way casts an illuminating spotlight on the exigencies of developing the reading culture and the aesthetic value of books as a source of profound personal entertainment as well as education and self-development. For these reasons, the World Book Day can never be a waste of time.
Such celebrations, by virtue of being a Western invention, should be continued forever, since you can never be sure which genius could be hooked into turning out literary classics. I believe that the flow of wine helps to relax the mind and expel stress, in the process tickling the imagination to bring out creative ideas for a good novel.
Wale Okediran (medical doctor, novelist, politician and promoter of writers)
AS a literary buff, I consider the World Book Day an event that is worth celebrating. I am therefore looking forward to it with a keen interest. However, I don’t think the celebration of the World Book Day has had much impact on the Book Industry in Nigeria because the government agencies saddled with the job of literary awareness are not serious about their work. Also, apart from some state governors who are 'Book Friendly', government does not give the expected support to literature, as is the case all over the world.
As stated above, not much gain has accrued from the World Book Day celebrations. In order not to make the celebration another meaningless one, it is important for the government agencies involved with education and literary awareness to liaise with other NGOs and organisations involved with the book industry in order to make the event a worthwhile one this time around.
My organisation, The Ebedi Residency Programme in Iseyin, Oyo State, will mark the event this year by showcasing the literary abilities of students from selected Secondary Schools in Iseyin. These are the students who have been tutored by the Resident Writers who have attended The Ebedi Residency Programme. The idea is to expose our young ones to the book and also use the occasion to identify and nurture literary talents among our young ones.
This year, I expect Nigeria to continue to work on improving the still poor reading culture in the country. This it can do by using the occasion of the World Book Day to draw attention to the book by inviting policy makers and other public figures to read to children. This should then be followed up by the establishment of Reading Corners in all schools as well as stocking of Public Libraries in all the Local Government Areas in the country with books, newspapers and journals.
The best way to bring the gains of book closer to Nigerians is through the establishment of public libraries in every LGA in the country. Where they have been established, efforts must be made to stock them with books and other reading matterials. Apart from LGAs, literary organisations, NGOs and philanthropists can also establish 'Neighbourhood Libraries' at every ward in the country. Reading sessions such as the one to be organised by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) for students should also be carried out in order to bring literary awareness to the students.
Remi Raji-Oyelade (university teacher, poet and national president, Association of Nigerian Authers)
AS President of ANA, I look forward to this year’s World Book Day with great expectation and hope that we can use the occasion to press for more support for Nigerian writing and the Nigerian author. I hope that more ideas about and around the book industry will be embraced by supporters and patrons of the arts. I hope that there will be a radical turn in government towards the book as an important decimal in national development.
Yes, we do celebrate the book but we rarely advance the development of the facilities and faculty which make the book trade thrive in the country. I do not know or cannot say if the “celebration of the book” has been effective enough. There’s a difference actually between ceremonial celebration and dynamic, or shall I say, systemic celebration of the book as the book, the tangible repository of all our knowledge, civilisation, imagination and philosophy written at large.
No, I won’t say it is another meaningless celebration, because we need something of a ritual, a trigger to call attention to the importance of the book. One day is set aside to commemorate the significance of the book around the world, in each country and across cultures. Incidentally, the day is marked as Book Day because it is the probable birthday of the world’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare (April 23, 1564). I think we need more than a day to celebrate the book, and to do so as a cultural policy is a necessary task of various institutions and organisations in this country.
First, we plan to issue a press release to re-emphasise what has been the consistent clamour of the Nigerian author: we will be requesting governments to support the development of literacy in this country, by supporting the profession of creative writing. We will be appealing to corporate organisations to support the arts, especially the book industry including publishing and distribution of the book, and indeed the author who does the work of writing the book itself.
And we will be charging our members to take their work seriously and explore various means of self-improvement. Beyond this, the body of writers represented all over the country, in almost all the states of the federation, will be converging in Abuja again one week after the commemoration of the World Book Day, to act further on our resolve to move from words into action. It is important to remind ourselves that the book is the greatest weapon against the ignorance of ideas; it is also the ultimate weapon against the poverty of knowledge.
We should move from the wordage of policy to dynamic action. For instance, let the relevant arms in each state government – ministries of culture, education and information – constitute a programmatic action day with the Association of Nigerian Authors, to celebrate the book by celebrating the authors in their domain. Let the Federal Government, through its relevant agencies, follow up on the “Bring Back the Book” project of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Let corporate organisations including MNCs prove their social responsibility by their real time support for education, through support for Nigerian writing.
There are so many ways by which the World Book Day can be made a national event that will be beneficial to a larger percentage of Nigerians. A way is through the support of book drives in primary and secondary schools: let us have book purchases and patronage of authors and sponsorship of readings in schools and public places.
Another way is through the recognition and encouragement of readers because the book trade cannot thrive if the reader is not there. Let there be a prize on World Book Day in each of our cities to celebrate the good reader. We are not short of ideas as a people; we only lack the will or focus to do what is beneficial and lasting for the programme. This time, we in ANA have been lucky with the patronage of such a personality as Mr. Yusuf Laolu Ali (SAN) who recently awarded a grant of N3 million to the national body of writers to organise such a book drive and reading competition among selected secondary schools in 15 states of the federation. With such support and patronage, every day is bound to be a World Book Day in this country. We need more patronage to make meaning of many such ideas.
Richard Mammah (book promoter and organizer, National Literary Week)
I am really upbeat another World Book Day is here. For those of us in this 'race against time' to boost the reading culture, it sure is a helpful event. Every support, every event is needed to win the war against illiteracy, and more frighteningly, a-literacy that we are currently faced with.
Unfortunately, there has not been much impact, largely on account of the institutional authorities leaving it to the cash-deprived book advocacy community to fly the Nigerian World Book Day flag year after year. The idea of UN-sanctioned day is to galvanize global and national and civil energies to collectively boost the day and subject. In Spain, everyone, including the king, is involved. This must be so also in Nigeria for us to get the desired impact.
The reading climate in the country would in all probability be worse without the day, I should say. Bad as things are today, it is still a rallying platform. The gains are today however difficult to quantify first on account of a lack of statistics, but more deeply because there is little attention to it. There are, very few low profile activities and colossal public sector inertia. It is not meaningless but it truly needs help. It is really a wonder here that the Bring back the Book campaign, the National Library, Book Development Council, etc are usually absent in events to celebrate World Book day.
Yes, we will be marking it with events in schools and bookshops in Lagos and Ibadan and a book cocktail in Enugu. Celebrities, public officials, captains of industry will participate in motivational readings to young people.
We need every one to come on board in symbolic and practical ways, starting with the Presidency. In years past when the regions competed to grow their human capital, which books represent, there were fewer social tensions. The Western region under Awolowo gave some of us a legacy of free education and functional libraries, not militants and Boko Haram!
Dagga Tolar (poet and chairman, ANA Lagos)
LIKE every other christened celebration, this would come and go and not a single difference would the day make or impact on the state of literature and reading in the country and the reasons for this are not too far to fetch… We are too far gone and lost in our state of complete waste to bother with irrelevances like the book or the book day, when the lot of us are in a rat race to eke out a living. Those who permanently mortgage our existence most concern themselves with the ‘more important’ task of self-preservation of continuing to be managers of this rot; but not the possibility that books can make life worthwhile for all.
First is the existing problem of awareness, which means that only very few of us are conscious of the World Book Day compared to February 14; and books are no less important than love. Indeed love can no more count itself as love without books, poems and stories. Why is it that books also don’t count as ingredient of love? Simply that the needed focus and attention has not been brought to bear on it; the economics of our existence and the policy thrust of how society is governed and run counts more and more on people not being literate.
The system is such that the blame goes to the victims; so, for the remaining 1.3 million out of the 1.5 million who will not be offered university education in Nigeria in 2012, the fault is completely theirs and not that of society that can only offer 200,000 admissions to its prospective youth who are all eager to embrace a life and future where the book would be central in determining how they make progress into the future.
The so call Bring the Book Back campaign has long been welcomed into the famed group of “Failed Government projects”. If you ask me it was dead on arrival, a spin-doctor’s electoral stunt to reposition Jonathan before the electorates. And yet books cannot be left to the fancy of members of the ruling elites. Such attitude rather than boost the book, does more disservice to the book; it demeans its valve.
Indeed, what is a book (be it from the point of view of knowledge acquisition or leisure); we are looking at one of the most human and long-lasting wonders that define and help to shape up the mind with all it needs to be justifiably useful to society at large. The book is also the most nourishing and life-improving leisure one can ever engage in, with little or no documented hazard to one’s health.
Tell me why we all should then not be seen celebrating the book; but like you know, the reverse is the case.
The question of measuring the gains of World Book Day celebrations on the polity, can only count on the plain of individual initiatives and efforts, people who are enormously handicapped by resources; efforts like that of Gogo of Keep It Real Foundation, Koko Kilango of the Rainbow Club, Toyin Akinosho and Jahman Anikulapo of CORA, Sola A. and many individuals too numerous to mention. Indeed, writers are one league of humans that make a day like this possible. To know the pains they all go through to bring a book into being is enough to count a celebration.
But the truth is 80 to 90 per cent of the resources of society are managed by those with little or no interest in the fate of the book, since the book plays no role whatsoever in the power game that feeds their egos and eros of private concern of continued stranglehold on power. To all of them it is therefore a meaningless celebration that can in no way impact on their power play. However for the rest of us, the future counts much on continuing with all we’ve been doing. Writers must keep writing and keep squeezing blood from stones to get the books published; they are the first reason for a day like this.
ANA Lagos celebration for this year is anchored on kicking off the campaign for literature as a subject to be reintroduced into Junior Secondary school as opposed to the present arrangement wherein it is subsumed under English language. Our thinking is that it is a complete disservice to literature and if anything, it is the contributive factor to the waning reading culture. Added to this fact that it is shutting out so many future writers and lovers of literature to-be, who on meeting and falling in love with literature would on their own have sustained their romance with reading.
We are hopeful that others would join this initiative of ours and in the long run we can bring about the necessary policy reversal. This is the focus of our celebration for the World Book Day 2012.
Well, the question of focus for Nigeria is one of coming to an understanding that our affairs are and would in no way be managed for the interest of the majority of the people as long as Neo-liberalism continues to be the policy thrust of the ruling elites. To count on private capital to drive the economy, when the country, with its own generated resources, is capable of driving all the needed development, both human and infrastructure… this for me is the only means by which our fortunes can be reversed and there and then literature and the book can hope on the necessary investment that would earn it its pride of place in the lives of all.
There has to be political will, the need to dislodge Neo-liberalism cannot be postponed and the working masses would continue to be the loser for it if we don’t put our acts together and get organised. And, indeed, there is cause for hope going by the dress rehearsal in the January general strike and protest against the increase in the pump price of fuel from N65 to N141. If not the nightmare called Nigeria would continue, a country that reserves its enormous public funds for the primitive accumulation of its ruling elites, while they continue to scream for foreign and private funds to drive the continued under-development of the country.
For literacy would count first as necessary and compulsory at public cost to all its citizens, then the foundation of a mass public celebration of the World Book Day would be laid. We can then flow from there to a situation where all public institutions, not just educational institutions, would mark the day with one programme or the other; books would more than ever be accessible to all, with public libraries equipped and installed in all local governments.
Writers and authors can now qualify to robe themselves in peacock colours and wears, as they celebrate their books and themselves!