365 days before Port Harcourt took over as UNESCO World Book Capital City 2014, a project that was successfully delivered by the Rainbow Book Club, a press conference held at the instance of the Rivers State Government. On that occasion, Elechi Amadi shared his thoughts on how to encourage a reading culture in Nigeria. Below are excerpts from that speech.

On behalf of my fellow writers, I congratulate the noble citizens of Port Harcourt for this singular achievement and also congratulate the governor through his efforts it has come to be. I am sure the Garden City Literary Festival was a catalyst in this award, so I congratulate the governor and his aids and indeed as I said everybody in the state. This is a wakeup call for us; the writers to write more, readers to read more, publishers to publish more and printers to print more books. ‘Reading maketh a man’. Reading maketh a nation. A nation that does not read really won’t go forward, at least not at the rate it desires to go.

What can we do to bring back the culture of reading? Well, a lot has been said and many ideas have been put forward. It is a very difficult task given the influence of the television, handsets and the internet. These things lure the children, the young ones and some of them are on it 24 hours face booking all day without availing time to read.

My personal proposal is to take another look at the requirements for passing school cert. Normally you do your literature books maybe one or two types of fiction, plays and poems, you pass them, you pass your literature and then you are okay. You pass other subjects and you get your school cert.

I’m thinking that there should be a requirement whereby for a school student to be awarded school cert, he or she must have read a certain number of books; let’s say fifty books for the six years of secondary school. To do this, the government should pursue programmes of establishing libraries in every school and making sure that we have library hours during which children will be made to go and read. It is not impossible. When we were at Government College Umuahia, as Gabriel Okara will confirm, we had periods when we didn’t read textbooks, we just read fiction. It is not surprising how it helped so many of us, so we can do the same thing.

The government is here and I am saying this, they should take another look at the conditions for getting the school Cert and the prescribed number of books set for the children to read by the time they pass out from secondary school. This is an addition because if by the time they leave secondary school they have been able to read all these books, then the habit becomes an addiction all through their lives.

I feel uncomfortable when I don’t have something to read be it a novel or whatever. At any time I’m always reading and I am sure many of you would have acquired the reading habit. So I think we should take a very serious look at a way of promoting our reading culture. If we just preach and talk about it, nothing will happen until we go down to the curriculum of the schools and take a look at what is happening there and make sure that the children read.

Once again, I congratulate all the noble citizens of Port Harcourt for this singular achievement. Thank you.

Elechi Amadi with celebrated writers Gabriel Okara, E.J. Allagoa, Chimamanda Adichie and Denise Waddingham (Deputy Director, British Council), at the Rainbow Book Club 'Get Nigeria Reading Again’! 2005 campaign in Port Harcourt.
Elechi Amadi giving a speech at the opening ceremony of the Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014
Elechi Amadi at the Port Harcourt World Book Capital Press Conference 2013