By Anote Ajeluorou
Monday, September 8, 2014 was World Literacy Day, a day set aside by UNESCO to celebrate literacy with the aim of eradicating illiteracy globally. Here in Nigeria, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Imo State chapter also celebrated the day with a lot of activities aimed at deepening literacy and literary appreciation amongst primary, secondary and tertiary school students and their teachers in the state. The event also coincided with the state chapter’s annual convention, which held the following day, Tuesday, September 9, at the Arts Theatre Auditorium, Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri.
First was the rally held within the college premises on September 8 to create awareness about World Literacy Day, and its significance to modern civilization, as students, ANA members and other invited guests went round part of the college with a banner proclaiming the day and the singular message, ‘Readers Are Leaders: Are You A Reader?’, a message that reverberated around campus, as it drew a large gathering and saw many peeping from classes and windows to see what was happening. On T-shirts given to pupils and students was inscribed ‘Imo Reads’; it had sponsorship from Yusuf Ali, a philanthropist and patron of ANA national.
Back from the rally, and at the entrance of the theatre hall were two water dispensing containers and soap for hand-washing; sanitizing tissues were also issued out as precaution against the dreaded Ebola virus disease. Although there is no known case of the disease in Imo State, the writers were cautious enough not to leave anything to chance, as it is usually easier to prevent a disease than cure it. Everyone gladly embraced the hand-washing and sanitizing culture before moving into the hall for the main events.
Although UNESCO has ‘Literacy and Sustainable Development’ as it theme, ANA Imo had ‘Literacy for the Eradication of Disease’ as its theme this year in consonance with the Ebola disease ravaging parts of West Africa including Nigeria. A medical doctor and author of the play, The Traffickers, which was performed as the convention play, Dr. Sam Madugba of Imo State Ministry of Health, spoke on how literacy helps to eradicate diseases, saying, “Today, Nigeria suffers from poor reading habit, especially of novels. But I tell you, women are the best educators; educate them to lift up the country from illiteracy. Educating a country helps to prevent diseases.”
Chairman of the chapter, Mr. Chidozie Chukwubuike expressed happiness at the turn out of pupils, students and other lovers of books and the keen interested they showed in entrenching literacy in society. He encouraged the pupils and students to take reading seriously, saying, “Literacy and those who are literate rule the world. Those who can document history rule the world. The Israelites documented their history and today they rule the world even in western societies, the Israelis still rule; they are the most successful. We at ANA Imo take literacy seriously and encourage people to read. We appreciate those who buy what we write and encourage students to start writing. Those who read and write will control the future”.
Lead discussant, associate professor of English and Dean of School of Arts at Alvan Ikoku, Dr. Gbenga Ajileye spoke on how Nigerian writers were received as an important creative agent after the heart of God, the initiator of creativity. He said Nigerian writers were in difficult times, as their writings were not well received, but said in spite of that setback, writers were duty-bound to write anyway just like a poem Mother Theresa of India indicate, enjoining people to do what they must do anyway irrespective of what people have to say about it, whether good or bad. Ajileye asserted, “But writers must keep writing anyway. Writers write because of talent or interest. Writers are God’s helpers; they extend creativity”.
Then came the mentorship period for the primary and secondary school students on the genres of literature and how a writer can find his way around them and come out an excellent writer by adhering to the rules that guide them. Emmanuel Inedu mentored the students on the short story sub-genre of prose fiction while a lecturer at Alvan Ikoku, Mr. Gabriel Uka, mentored on the art of writing the novel. Nwokedi Nwa Nwokedi spoke on elements of drama writing. Ironically, while the organising committee didn’t see the need to mentor the young ones on poetry, it was that area they exhibited uncommon interest and craftsmanship. Both the primary and secondary school pupils and students brought with them poems they’d written and willing to shared them to thrill the audience.
Iwuala Chidinma of Park College, Owerri performed her poem, ‘Hidden treasure’, in which she praised the virtues of the girl-child and asked everyone to willingly take interest in her and educate her because the girl-child is endowed with invaluable treasures for her society. Ginika Emeburu’s poem ‘Education poem’ sings about the goodness of education and what it has afforded her and how she longs for the day to break so she could head to school and drink from the well of knowledge. Folakemi Ajileye performed ‘Sunshine’ while Precious Onuekusi masterfully performed ‘Catch them young’; Igwe Israel Okezie read his ‘Nature’s rut’ piece and Ogochukwu Elisha Nwigwe of Productivity Awareness and Creativity College (PACC) read her piece, ‘The plaguing nightmare’, a poem on the Ebola disease.
Also, while children were at the centre of the World Literacy Day celebration, organisers failed to mentor them on the genre of literature that most suits them – children’s literature! Worse, although it was emphasized to the mentors that the language of mentorship should be moderated to suit the age categories in attendance, most of the examples used were far above their age range. Books such as Things Fall Apart, Trials of Brother Jero, and Macbeth were examples of books often cited where Chike and the River, This is Our Chance and The Lion and the Jewel would have sufficed.
Also, there was obvious disparity in the number of boys to girls that attended the event from schools around Owerri. There were more girls, probably six to one. Also worrisome was that no boy from any school had a poem to present; only the girls came out smoking and captivated the audience’s heart with sterling performances of their original compositions.
The performance of the convention play, The Traffickers written by Sam Madugba capped activities for the day. The audience was treated to the wily operations of a trafficking gang that speciallises in kidnapping women for ritual purposes. At its climax, the ring was smashed and influential members of society were exposed as brain behind the dastardly act, with some rotten elements in the police as accomplice.
Overall, ANA Imo celebration of World Literacy Day turned a memorable day for everyone in attendance.