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Literary toast to Amaechi at 54

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George Tolofari (left) Joke Silva, Newton Jibuno and Tonye Princewill at the event

As part of activities to commemorate the 54th birthday of the immediate past Minister of Transport Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, friends recently staged a book reading session in his honour at the Freedom Park, Lagos. Perhaps, the major thing Nigerians know about Amaechi is his political activism. However, on this day, his literary side was brought to the fore.

One after the other, speakers, some of them, his close aides and friends within the creative industry, speak glowingly about the man, who has contributed so much to lifting African Literature. For the occasion to achieve its objective, the moderator at the event, a former Editor of the Guardian Newspaper, Jamal Anikulapo had announced at the beginning that the Book Reading ceremony was not about politics and so speakers should avoid discussing politics.

As a prelude to the book reading, Anikulapo and the Political Editor of Thisday Newspaper, Nsebong Okon-Ekong, spent a few minutes to paint the literary side of the former governor. As journalist, whose primary area of interest is the Arts, they spoke glowingly of how he promoted literary journalism, with the sole aim of rekindle the reading culture in Nigeria.

According to Anikulapo, Amaechi has a place of pride in the collective consciousness of the Nigerian Literati for supporting the Rainbow Book Club, which started advocacy programmes in 2005 to draw attention to the importance of reading to personal and national development. With Amaechi’s support, the senior journalist pointed out that the effort gained global recognition when Port Harcourt was honoured as the UNESCO recognised World Book Capital in 2014.

To commemorate the day, the organisers had settled for The Man Died a book published by Prof. Wole Soyinka in 1972, which is the former University teacher’s prose account of his arrest and 22-month imprisonment. From the accounts given by Amaechi’s political friends at the event, it was also easy to conclude that settling for The Man Died was not by accident because the former governor, which is better known in some quarters as The Lion of The Niger Delta, also shares a lot with Soyinka and the picture he paints in the book. Besides, Soyinka was said to have remained a role model for Amaechi for decades. 

To read from the book, the organisers had cleverly settled for Chief Newton Jibunoh, a distinguished Nigerian and Environmental activist, Joke Silva, a top veteran actress and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, publisher and grandson of the late former Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa. Others are Reginald Chiedu (RC) Ofodile, actor and internationally acclaimed novelist and Rick Nwansor Nwanso, a communication and Public Relations expert.  

Before he read from the book, Chief Jibunor, craved the indulgence of the audience to pay tribute to Amaechi, who he described as a passionate man. The Deltan leader revealed how Amaechi as governor of River State attended one of his memorable birthdays outside Rivers State, against all odds, because the weather was bad for flight but the governor drove down. 

“I thought I would see the former governor here today to thank him again because since the day he did me honour by coming by road to my birthday ceremony, I haven’t seen him. It was a great honour because he had every reason to give excuse but he came. He is indeed a leader worthy of emulation,” Jibunoh said. 

Though he kept to the rule of not talking about politics, a close political associate of the birthday boy, Hon. George Tolofari, who served in the House of Assembly with Amaechi said the life of the man they were celebrating is full of lessons for humanity.

Also speaking, the Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Dakuku Adolphus Peterside, while pointing out the link between Amaechi and Soyinka’s The Man Died, described the former governor as a ‘veteran of the struggle’.

“If you ask me what propels Amaechi to fight for people’s right, I will link it to his exposure through his literary journey. He reads a lot and knows so much.”


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