Travelling in the world of books
By Pelu Awofeso
Mr Odein Ajumogobia, the immediate past Minister of Foreign Affairs, is well read. An accomplished lawyer and son of educationists, he is also conscious of what has become of Nigeria’s reading culture.
“A country of 150 million people, we don’t read and we should,” he says at the ‘Get Nigeria Reading Again!’ campaign, organised by the Rainbow Book Club in Port Harcourt on June 20. “It’s good for us as adults. It’s good for us as children. And growing up, I read everything and anything I could lay my hands on. ”
Ajumogobia was Guest of Honour at the event and he read some pages from Elechi Amadi’s The Great Ponds, the story of a long-drawn war between two communities over the ownership of a gift of nature. While the battles rage, lives are lost; along the way, third parties wade in to settle the dispute but in the end both villages lose use of the pond.
“I think the moral of the story is that peace comes through compromise,” Ajumogobia says, answering questions from the 100 students seated in the room. “At the end of the day, you can’t have progress if you don’t have peace.”
The theme of Amadi’s novel (published in 1969) is similar to an actual event. For years the Bakassi Peninsular was a major cause of diplomatic spat between Nigeria and Cameroun, which both lay claim to the oil-rich land mass until it was eventually resolved in favour of the latter by the International Court of Justice in 2002.
Though not the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, Ajumogobia told the students that Nigeria, which withdrew from the disputed area in 2008, accepted the verdict in the interest of peace. “Border issues in Africa started with the way the West partitioned Africa in 1884,” he says. “But Nigeria has been committed to the liberation and unification of Africa from the 1960s.”
Travelling in the world of books
Also present at the reading were authors Gabriel Okara and Bina Nengi-Ilagha. Nengi-Ilagha, author of Condolences and Crossroads, compared reading to travelling, a reference to the fact that books take the reader to places they ordinarily may never reach physically.
“If you’re not travelling in the world of books, you don’t know what you’re missing,” she tells the students in a brief address. “In my primary school years, I was curious about a lot of things. As you read, you develop your faculty; as you read, you develop self confidence. There are no risks involved.
“Get Nigeria Reading Again!” was launched in 2005 and its high profile guests have included: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Winner, Orange and Commonwealth prizes), Prof Wole Soyinka (Nobel Laureate), Chief Emeka Anyaoku (former Commonwealth Secretary-General), Governors Babatunde Raji Fashola and Chibuike Amaechi, Dora Akunyili (former Minister of Information and Communications) and Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke (former Minister of Petroleum Resources).
“In the seven years of running the campaign we have worked with over 100 schools and over 1000 students,” says Koko Kalango, Rainbow Book Club Founder, in her opening remarks. “What we do is to promote reading and the love of books nationwide.
The 2011 ‘Get Nigeria Reading Again!’ was sponsored by TOTAL E&P Nig. Plc, which donated hundreds of books to the Rivers State Ministry of Education.
“Our company’s commitment to the sustainable development of education and youths in the country has been monumental,” says Denis Berthelot, TOTAL’s Deputy Managing Director. “The construction of many modern classroom blocks in many schools in our host communities and other local government areas in the Niger Delta, the catch-them-young programme, the lecture theatre at the University of Uyo and the founding of the Institute of Petroleum Studies at the University of Port Harcourt are just as few to mention.”