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We are creating book culture for emancipation, says Akpokene

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
13 January 2022   |   2:47 am
A former professor of literature at the Texas State University, Austin, U.S., lawyer and author of many poetry collections including, A Good Mourning, which was shortlisted

A former professor of literature at the Texas State University, Austin, U.S., lawyer and author of many poetry collections including, A Good Mourning, which was shortlisted for The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2017, Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo and author of children’s book, Igho Goes to Farm, longlisted for the same prize in 2019, Mr. Anote Ajeluorou; will headline the opening of Flomat Books Ltd, a bookshop chain, at the Departure Hall, Asaba Airport, Asaba, Delta State on Sunday, January 16, 2022. The time is 4:00 pm.

Akpokene


They will perform from their recent works to herald an important cultural landmark in Asaba. Engr. Joshua Egube will chair the event. A former petroleum engineer with Shell Nigeria, Engr. Anthony Akpokene is the founder and Managing Director of Flomat Books Ltd.

Other dignitaries expected at the event include Dr. Ben Irikefe, President of Nigeria Booksellers Association, Mr. Dare Oluwatuyi, Bishop Ken Ebolum, Bishop Mogekwu, Bishop Mighty Okonkwo, Dr. (Mrs.) Augusta Ogbene and Dr. (Mrs.) Elohor Odiase.

The bookshop’s dedication will be performed by the Executive Assistant on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution to Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, Rev. Godspower Agbuduta.

Recall that Akpokene, who started his bookshop chain in Warri years ago, opened another shop in highbrow Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, in May 2021 to much fanfare.

Ifowodo expressed delight at the invitation to also perform, saying he has so much in common with the bookshop owner, Akpokene.

According to Ifowodo, “I’m glad to be part of Flomat Book’s return to Asaba — they had a stand at Grand Hotel before the rapid and sad deterioration of that once-famous establishment—this time by being the first to bring the “airport book culture” to Delta State.”

Ifowodo also expressed his admiration for Akpokene, whose life, he said is suffused with an undying love for books and how to get them to those in need, especially in a book-famished country like Nigeria.

”Akpokene lives and breathes books,” Ifowodo said. ”His unquenchable desire to bring books to every house where there is at least one literate person, to promote a reading culture in schools and among individuals, drives him like a drug. I suspect it is this book drug that healed his slipped disc spinal cord problem, got him off the bed and up and walking again. And, no surprise, reviving his bookshops, which had collapsed while he was indisposed.”

From Abuja to Lagos and Warri, and back to Asaba in a new location, Flomat Books and Akopkene symbolise the sort of spirit that Nigeria sorely needs: that the pursuit of knowledge can and will be our surest way of solving the many problems of nation-building that are proving so intractable to us at present. Especially in this much-touted information age being defined, ironically, by astonishing misinformation and ignorance. In short, of more information but a shocking lack of the crucial capacity of discernment and evaluation in order to sift truth from nonsense, the grain from the chaff.

Akpokene, on his part, went on a historical excursion to the beginning of his love for books and how he transited from his elevated position as a petroleum engineer in a reputable oil company to selling books.

According to him, ”the bookshop started at Airport Road, Warri in November 2006. It has been a childhood addiction. I love books. Even when I was working in Shell, I used to have books all over my table on various subjects – leadership and management, which I used to sell to my colleagues. Everybody was an engineer, so, I didn’t have engineering books. Of course, when I left Shell in 2005, selling books was the thing I wanted to do. But of course my wife and family didn’t like it, leaving petroleum engineering to sell books. It was a tough challenge. A war started, but I was focused and determined that that was what I was going to do.

”Like, I said elsewhere, my father was a teacher, my mother a teacher, my grandfather and great grandfather were teachers, so, I had no option but to do books. So, it’s been books, books, and books all the way; it’s part of the DNA.”

Coincidentally, after leaving Shell, I was asked to start up a special internship-training programme. So, somehow my life has revolved around books.”

Akpokene, who was based in Warri at the time and witnessed the massive destruction and loss of lives that the communal conflict among the three dominant ethnic nationalities in the city – Urhobo, Ijaw and Itsekiri – wreaked, decided to step in with the emancipation messages in books that had obviously eluded the warring natives.

”Well, my people in Warri, unfortunately, are known for trouble-making; they just fight and cause trouble,” he said. ”So I told myself that if a people are emancipated, it will do a lot of good. If people are emancipated, if they read and their minds are open, they will not find time to be fighting and causing mayhem all over the place. So my aim was to introduce the book business, to make sure people read, to get the government’s support to do reading programmes so that people will benefit from reading and invigorate the reading culture among the people. So that was how we started in November 2006.

”But we needed a peaceful environment to work. So the first thing we did was to hold a musical show called Delta Peace Musical Concert, and we had a great number of star artistes performing. We had over 5000 in attendance; it was a big concert held at the Shell hall. People cut peace cakes to make sure there was peace in the land. Indeed, there was a reasonable level of peace that came after that programme. In 2008, we invited Prof. Wole Soyinka, who delivered a public lecture on ‘The State of Nigeria and the Way Forward’ and in 2009, Pastor Sam Adeyemi came and spoke on ‘The Church as a Catalyst for Community Development and Transformation’.”

After these important steps to help stabilise the city on the path of peace, Akpokene then embarked on what he describes as an unfinished project – the Warri Library Project – which he believes would further HELP in bringing enlightenment to citizens of the once oil-rich city. But he encountered unbelievable apathy from the government, particularly a ‘Warri boy who was then governor, Mr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. The current governor, he said, hasn’t quite shown sufficient interest in investing and upscaling such soft infrastructures like libraries, theatres, museums, and galleries that cater to the needs of the mind, the intellect.

As he put it, ”Thereafter, we launched the Warri City Library Project, which sadly hasn’t really taken off till now, largely because of the apathy of the government. Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, a ‘Warri boy,’ didn’t care. During Uduaghan’s time, it was a disaster; some persons who claimed they came from the government asked me how much it would cost to build the library. So I told them N270 million, but they said they would give me N2.7 billion from which they would give me the N270 million I required and then I will give them the balance. Of course, I drove them out of my office; I’m not into such things, of ripping off Delta State. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has come now but is not yet serious about such projects. But we will not relent. We’re trying to talk to them again.

”So, we started doing schools’ quiz programmes in mathematics, science, and the bible and we did across the three senatorial districts. It cost a lot of money that was coming from my own pocket; no support. We couldn’t sustain it for long.”

As a way of bringing books closer to the people, he hit on the idea of locating his bookshop chain in strategic locations that generate good human traffic.

”Then we started having Flomat Books outlets in hotels,” he continued his narration. ”That was how we had in four different hotels in Warri and 16 outlets in Nigeria. We had a branch at Grand Hotel, Asaba, before I took ill and closed it down. We had a partnership with someone at the National Theatre of Accra, Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana; we were supplying them department by department and also in Cape Coast University.

However, ill-health dealt him a blow and he was out for a while. He closed down most of the outlets to attend to his health. But now Akpokene is on the rebound and has started reclaiming lost ground with innovative programming aimed at repositioning his brand name, Flomat Books, even in unlikely places just to bring books to a starving population.

”After I recovered from my ill-health at the Military Hospital, I relocated to Abuja to begin fresh work,” he recalled. ”I did my first national book fair on April 8-10, 2021; it went well. Prof. Jerry Gana chaired it. After that, we did a lecture on the ‘Negative Effects of Smart Phones and Digital Devices on your Eyes’ at Sheraton Hotels, Abuja. After that, we did a programme on health and wellness on the efficacy of herbal treatment.

”Now an opportunity came for us to open a Flomat Books branch in Asaba at the airport. The purpose is to increase our reach so that more people will have to assess to more books, and hopefully, the more they read the more emancipated they become. So essentially, that’s our dream, which rhymes, with our motto: ‘creating a culture for the emancipation of the mind’. You know that whatever goes into the mind comes out in the light.”

The bookshop’s dedication will be performed by the Executive Assistant on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution to Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, Rev. Godspower Agbuduta.

Recall that Akpokene, who started his bookshop chain in Warri years ago, opened another shop in highbrow Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, in May 2021 to much fanfare.

Ifowodo expressed delight at the invitation to also perform, saying he has so much in common with the bookshop owner, Akpokene.

According to Ifowodo, he is delighted to be invited to the opening of Flomat Books’ stand at Asaba Airport. “I suppose this is primarily because I have a lot in common with Tony, the indefatigable proprietor of Flomat Books: We are both alumni of Federal Government College, Warri, though I must add that he was my senior by far—he was in lower sixth in my first year! There is also our shared love of books, in his case more intriguing because his training was in engineering while mine was steeped in law and the humanities, fields that are defined by books and never-ending reading. I’m glad to be part of Flomat Book’s return to Asaba—they had a stand at Grand Hotel before the rapid and sad deterioration of that once-famous establishment—this time by being the first to bring the “airport book culture” to Delta State.’’

Ifowodo also expressed his admiration for Akpokene, whose life, he said is suffused with an undying love for books and how to get them to those in need, especially in a book-famished country like Nigeria.

‘’Akpokene lives and breathes books,’’ Ifowodo said. ‘’His unquenchable desire to bring books to every house where there is at least one literate person, to promote a reading culture in schools and among individuals, drives him like a drug. I suspect it is this book drug that healed his slipped disc spinal cord problem, got him off the bed and up and walking again. And, no surprise, reviving his bookshops, which had collapsed while he was indisposed.”

From Abuja to Lagos and Warri, and back to Asaba in a new location, Flomat Books and Akopkene symbolise the sort of spirit that Nigeria sorely needs: that the pursuit of knowledge can and will be our surest way of solving the many problems of nation-building that are proving so intractable to us at present. Especially in this much-touted information age being defined, ironically, by astonishing misinformation and ignorance. In short, of more information but a shocking lack of the crucial capacity of discernment and evaluation in order to sift truth from nonsense, the grain from the chaff.

Akpokene, on his part, went on a historical excursion to the beginning of his love for books and how he transited from his elevated position as a petroleum engineer in a reputable oil company to selling books.

According to him, ‘’the bookshop started at Airport Road, Warri in November 2006. It has been a childhood addiction. I love books. Even when I was working in Shell, I used to have books all over my table on various subjects – leadership and management, which I used to sell to my colleagues. Everybody was an engineer, so, I didn’t have engineering books. Of course, when I left Shell in 2005, selling books was the thing I wanted to do. But of course my wife and family didn’t like it, leaving petroleum engineering to sell books. It was a tough challenge. A war started, but I was focused and determined that that was what I was going to do.

‘’Like, I said elsewhere, my father was a teacher, my mother a teacher, my grandfather and great grandfather were teachers, so, I had no option but to do books. So, it’s been books, books, and books all the way; it’s part of the DNA. Coincidentally, after leaving Shell, I was asked to start up a special internship-training programme. So, somehow my life has revolved around books.’’

Akpokene, who was based in Warri at the time and witnessed the massive destruction and loss of lives that the communal conflict among the three dominant ethnic nationalities in the city – Urhobo, Ijaw and Itsekiri – wreaked, decided to step in with the emancipation messages in books that had obviously eluded the warring natives.

Well, my people in Warri, unfortunately, are known for trouble-making; they just fight and cause trouble,’’ he said. ‘’So I told myself that if a people are emancipated, it will do a lot of good. If people are emancipated, if they read and their minds are open, they will not find time to be fighting and causing mayhem all over the place. So my aim was to introduce the book business, to make sure people read, to get the government’s support to do reading programmes so that people will benefit from reading and invigorate the reading culture among the people. So that was how we started in November 2006.

‘’But we needed a peaceful environment to work. So the first thing we did was to hold a musical show called Delta Peace Musical Concert, and we had a great number of star artistes performing. We had over 5000 in attendance; it was a big concert held at the Shell hall. People cut peace cakes to make sure there was peace in the land. Indeed, there was a reasonable level of peace that came after that programme. In 2008, we invited Prof. Wole Soyinka, who delivered a public lecture on ‘The State of Nigeria and the Way Forward’ and in 2009, Pastor Sam Adeyemi came and spoke on ‘The Church as a Catalyst for Community Development and Transformation’.’’

After these important steps to help stabilise the city on the path of peace, Akpokene then embarked on what he describes as an unfinished project – the Warri Library Project – which he believes would further HELP in bringing enlightenment to citizens of the once oil-rich city. But he encountered unbelievable apathy from government, particularly a ‘Warri boy’ who was then governor, Mr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. The current governor, he said, hasn’t quite shown sufficient interest in investing and upscaling such soft infrastructures like libraries, theatres, museums, and galleries that cater to the needs of the mind, the intellect.

As he put it, ‘’Thereafter, we launched the Warri City Library Project, which sadly hasn’t really taken off till now, largely because of the apathy of the government. Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, a ‘Warri boy,’ didn’t care. During Uduaghan’s time, it was a disaster; some persons who claimed they came from the government asked me how much it would cost to build the library. So I told them N270 million, but they said they would give me N2.7 billion from which they would give me the N270 million I required and then I will give them the balance. Of course, I drove them out of my office; I’m not into such things, of ripping off Delta State. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has come now but is not yet serious about such projects. But we will not relent. We’re trying to talk to them again.

‘’So, we started doing schools’ quiz programmes in mathematics, science, and the bible and we did across the three senatorial districts. It cost a lot of money that was coming from my own pocket; no support. We couldn’t sustain it for long.’’

As a way of bringing books closer to the people, he hit on the idea of locating his bookshop chain in strategic locations that generate good human traffic.

‘’Then we started having Flomat Books outlets in hotels,’’ he continued his narration. ‘’That was how we had in four different hotels in Warri and 16 outlets in Nigeria. We had a branch at Grand Hotel, Asaba, before I took ill and closed it down. We had a partnership with someone at the National Theatre of Accra, Ghana and Kwame Nkwuma University of Science and Technology, Ghana; we were supplying them department by department and also in Cape Coast University.

However, ill-health dealt him a blow and he was out for a while. He closed down most of the outlets to attend to his health. But now Akpokene is on the rebound and has started reclaiming lost ground with innovative programming aimed at repositioning his brand name, Flomat Books, even in unlikely places just to bring books to a starving population.

‘’After I recovered from my ill-health at the Military Hospital, I relocated to Abuja to begin fresh work,’’ he recalled. ‘’I did my first national book fair on April 8-10, 2021; it went well. Prof. Jerry Gana chaired it. After that, we did a lecture on the ‘Negative Effects of Smart Phones and Digital Devices on your Eyes’ at Sheraton Hotels, Abuja. After that, we did a programme on health and wellness on the efficacy of herbal treatment.

‘’Now an opportunity came for us to open a Flomat Books branch in Asaba at the airport. The purpose is to increase our reach so that more people will have to assess to more books, and hopefully, the more they read the more emancipated they become. So essentially, that’s our dream, which rhymes, with our motto: ‘creating a culture for the emancipation of the mind’. You know that whatever goes into the mind comes out in the light.’’

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