Reviving reading culture in the Southeast
Those who had visited the coal city, Enugu before now would readily attest to its love for education. The state, which prides itself as the political capital of the southeast, is the host of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).
Since the UNN came on board in 1960, many more institutions have developed in the state to make Enugu a hub of academics. Although, it could be said to a large extent that reading materials are not in limited supply in the state, avenues where these could be showcased, especially with the authors and publishers interfacing with the reading public had been the missing link. It was perhaps in an attempt to bridge the gap created by its absence that ACENA publishers and Nigeria Book Fair Trust came together last week to organize the Enugu book fair for the southeast region.
Investigation by The Guardian showed that the last book fair was held in the state in 2010. Sources said that the strategic status of the state enabled it to play host to annual book fairs for the southeast, until six years ago, when there was alleged loss of interest in the Fair.
The source noted that before the initiative hit the rocks some years back, individuals and institutions scattered in the zone had used the opportunity of the fair to enrich their libraries and knowledge as well as establish new contacts among others.
However, for one week last week, publishers, authors and those who had one thing or the other to do in the knowledge industry converged on the indoor sports hall of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in a book Fair for the zone.
Although it was bereft of publicity blitz, 23 publishers and 30 schools drawn from various parts of the country participated in it. Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, was also on hand as he personally attended the book fair, where he had opportunity to interact with over 1000 students drawn from various schools.
Participants observed that the five days event was a sure way to revive the dying reading culture among students as well as make reading materials in their original state available to the public.
Mr. Uche Anioke, the brain behind the fair emphasized that this is why government and prominent Nigerians should continue to support and encourage book fairs. “I say it courageously that ninety percent of our leaders from local government to the national, don’t open books, their brain are stone-dead. That is why we make wrong policies and decisions in governance. But opportunities of this nature should not be glossed over.”
Anioke, who left government five years ago after serving as the council chairman for Awgu local government stated that he was moved into reviving the book fair as a result of his background. He added however that it was discouraging the role governments in the southeast play to encourage writers and book publishers.
He told The Guardian: “I am a product of books; I am what I am today because my family exposed me to books. They encouraged me to know that the way to life is through books, it does not mean that you cannot succeed by other means but sometimes those things are temporal. But as you grow,
you will discover that those things will not take you far. I left government five years ago, but even when I was in government, my publishing company was still moving and when I left government; I still went back to book publishing. I discovered that there was dearth of books in the primary and secondary schools, so I started writing myself and making sure that books were available.
“A lot of people have little access to good books, because the book fair which will normally bring publishers from parts of the country under one roof for about one week was no longer in Enugu. The Enugu book fair is for the whole of southeast. So I had to talk to the Nigeria Book fair trust which actually is the umbrella body for all book industry that there is need to revive Enugu book fair and they so graciously accepted that. That was about two months ago and we decided that instead of next year, we start this year. If we didn’t well, it is good that we are back.
“A lot of schools came here, individuals and they found books they liked and we were able to have what we called children workshop, teaching them things they never knew outside their classroom, we had authors roundtable where authors came and spoke with the children on creative writing.”
He continued: “Our governments are trying to do a few things about education, but I don’t think that they are committed to education. When they are committed we will know.
“The greatest thing you can give to democracy is the education of the individuals in the society that is the empowerment. It is good that we built schools, but I don’t know how many schools that you walk into and find a functional library. No matter how good a teacher is, books are a compulsory resort for development and it is not about teaching them to pass exam, but you discover of late that people who graduate from the southeast with very good result, but challenge them to the knowledge, they cannot defend it. So I think it is high time for our people to know about wholesome education, sound education to be able to grow our society. So I want to see a replay of the situation where in 1980 when they publish names in the newspapers of people who passed JAMB. Then, if you don’t see your name there, you are going nowhere. Until government begins to appoint people at the right places who are committed we will keep running round.”
Ifenyinwa Okeigwe, the Director of Grace Wonderland Entertainment Media, who was participating in a book fair for the first time said: “This is our first time of participating in a book fair and it has been so wonderful and children are trilled each time they come to our stand because they see wonderful books, amazing books that captivate their interests. I am encouraged by the participation because book fair is not about the number of books you sell but the contact, meeting other publishers, learning new things and lectures. I have learnt a lot of new things that I can’t buy with money and we are going to improve on what is on ground. I am looking forward to the next book fair and from what I have learnt here I am so inspired that I am looking forward to the Lagos book fair and any other book fair that will be organized anywhere in the country and even outside the country.”
She, however, advised: “So many people did not hear of this. We believe that next time much publicity should be given and it should be organized during the vacation so that children, readers and parents can actually come out and see books and other materials.”
Mr. Michael Jideofor, Manager, Ezu Book Publishing Company Limited said: “This is the first time Enugu state is having a book fair since 2010. We are restarting it so that in the near future, the fair will be bigger than this. I am happy with what has happened but not very satisfied because of low turnout. We had Senator Ike Ekweremadu. We had other visitors from different places, especially the novelists, authors and different publishers. My advice to the organizers is to start the advert early so as to create enough awareness on it. There should also be road walk advert to make people know that we are having book fair. The books we have here are cheaper because we give discount as publishers.”
Mr. Okechukwu Nathan Agu, a teacher, who managed the stand of Grail Message at the event, said: “I am encouraged by what has happened so far, especially with the visit of the Deputy Senate President, who had interactions with us and the visitors. A lot of people came here and those who came had opportunity to see our works so it is encouraging. The organizers should however do more in publicizing this fair so that a lot of other people can take advantage of it. We have ended up seeing primary and secondary school students and some of the books here are beyond them. So they should do more in the area of publicity.”