By Anote Ajeluorou
The countdown has begun as the attention of the book-loving world turns to Nigeria’s oily Garden City, Port Harcourt, which will host stimulating activities around the book when it hoists aloft the World Book Capital flag in 2014. The countdown activities were announced last week at the weeklong Nigeria International Book Fair at UNILAG in Lagos when the Project Director and Rainbow Book Club president, Mrs. Koko Kalango excitedly presented action plan for the year-long book event scheduled for next year. Port Harcourt is the 14th designated World Book Capital after Yerevan (2012), Madrid (2001), Alexandria (2002), New Delhi (2003), Antwerp (2004), Montreal (2005), Turin (2006), Bogota (2007), Amsterdam (2008), Beirut (2009), Ljubljana (2010) and Buenos Aires (2011.
Kalango, who was in Bangkok (current World Book Capital 2013) to witness the city’s taking over from Yerevan, Amenia (World Book Capital 2012), expressed her palpable excitement at winning the bid over 10 other cities, including foremost book city, Oxford, Britain.
According to the amiable Port Harcourt-based book promoter, who has brought further honour to Nigeria with this event, “We shared our ambition in bidding. Port Harcourt beat 10 cities including Oxford to win the award. We are proud to be the first city in sub-Sahara Africa to bid and win. We need to make this known to the world. We’re at the London Book Fair and were encouraged by what we saw, by those who came to our stand to felicitate with us. Some British, who were in Nigeria during the colonial era, even wanted to partner with us.
“What we saw in Bangkok (current UNESCO World Book Capital) threw a challenge to us in Nigeria. We just felt that the Nigeria International Book Fair is an excellent platform to speak to the world about Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014. We have programmes that have popular appeal, which can change the landscape, and raise an army of change-agents in society through the programmes of World Book Capital”.
On her part, Officer-in-Charge, UNESCO office, Abuja, Prof. (Mrs). Hassana Alidou, who was represented by Programme Specialist for Culture at UNESCO, Mr. Giovanni Fontana, expressed her delight for being invited to the official announcement of Port Harcourt as UNESCO World Book Capital City 2014.
Alidou stated, “Every year, UNESCO convenes delegates from the International Publishers Association, the International Booksellers Federation (IBF) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to grant the title of UNESCO World Book Capital to one city.
“For 2014, Port Harcourt has been designated to be the first African city to serve as World Book Capital City since UNESCO created this programme in 2001. This designation reflects global recognition of Nigeria’s distinguished literary tradition. There is no doubt that this country has given humanity a number of towering writers and cultural figures, such as late Chinua Achebe, late Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa, Ben Okri, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Adichie, Adebayo Faleti among others.
“The implication of this honour is that Port Harcourt will hold the title of UNESCO World Book Day for one designated year, from April 23, 2014 to April 23 the following year. The designation of World Book Capital City also speaks to Port Harcourt’s capacity to inspire a debate on all issues related to the development of book culture in the Nigerian, African and the wider global context. During the designated year, it undertakes to organise and run a larger number of events around books, literature and reading. Parts of the programmes are expected to bring together the local and national book industries and puts books and book culture into the public eye. It attracts sponsorship and extra funding for book related institutions.
“In light of the importance of National languages for literacy and cultural reproduction, UNESCO encourages you to promote literacy production in these languages in order to entice the development of multicultural and multilingual literate environment in Nigeria. It also encourages you to use ICT to make books accessible to all people.
“Our relationship with books determines, to a large extent, our relationship with culture. Our world needs to understand the diversity of cultures and to develop much stronger intercultural skills in the minds of every man and woman. We need these skills in order to live together in heterogeneous societies. We need them in order to address our common challenges together.
“While appreciating the unflinching vision of the founder of the Rainbow Book Club, for her energy and passion, I seize this opportunity to thank the Government of Nigeria, the River States Governor and the people and citizens of River States for this event, the importance it deserves”.
On his part, Fontana advised that hosts of UNESCO World Book Capital, Rainbow Book Club should endeavour stretch and diversity the project’s programmes’ reach so a wider group of people could gain from them. He also said there was need to ensure sustainability of the World Book Capital programmes after Port Harcourt would have handed over the flag to another city in 2015 so as to continue the resonance of having the privilege to have hosted the august book event. Such sustainability, he noted, was key in deepening the gains derived from hosting the book capital.
Nigerian Publishers’ Association’s Operations Manager, Mr. Olawale Adebayo, said Port Harcourt, as UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 would bring “great honour, opportunity and book reading culture to young Nigerians to develop them and the practice to express themselves through writing. Nigeria will be brought to the fore in book business”.
Another ally of the world book project, Booksellers Association of Nigeria, represented by Dare Oluwatuyi, commended Rainbow Book Club’s boss, Kalango, for getting Rivers State Government to be involved in promoting books and reading culture. He enjoined other states in the country to emulate Rivers State in doing the same and wondered the ripple effect it would be if other states did the same to broaden books and reading culture in the country.
Oluwatuyi said Port Harcourt as UNESCO World Book Capital would “promote Nigeria’s image abroad and would bring the book world to Nigeria and vice versa, a platform to sell Nigeria to the world beyond contributing to Nigeria’s economy”. He urged the Federal Government to support the project to ensure its success in view of what the country would gain thereby.