by Stanley Azuakola
World Book Capital is a title bestowed by UNESCO to a city in recognition of the quality of its programs to promote books and reading and the dedication of all players in the book industry. The Rivers State capital, Port Harcourt, wants to be the 2014 World Book Capital after Bangkok, Thailand in 2013.
It is usually required that the mayor of the city tabling the bid should support the bid process. However, Port Harcourt has taken it two notches higher as its bid is not just endorsed by the mayor of Port Harcourt and the governor of Rivers State, but also by the President of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
A letter from the presidency has already been written to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), expressing support for Port Harcourt’s bid to be the World Book Capital City in 2014.
It said the campaign by Port Harcourt to be the World Book Capital City is in line with President Goodluck Jonathan’s “Bring Back the Book Campaign” which places books at the very forefront of national development.
The letter was read at the formal launch of Port Harcourt’s bid by Molara Wood, an author and adviser in the presidency, who represented the Special Adviser to the President on Strategy and Research, Oronto Douglas.
Douglas hailed the Rainbow Book Club, which is behind Port Harcourt’s bid. According to him, “the club, which organises the Garden City Literary Festival that attracts writers and scholars from across Africa and beyond, has remained relentless in its efforts to get youngsters to imbibe a reading culture.”
“In line with the Federal Government’s transformation agenda, the Rainbow Book Club has been a very positive influence in Port Harcourt at the heart of Nigeria’s once-restive Niger Delta. The designation of Port Harcourt as the World Book Capital City 2014 would strengthen on-going efforts towards the revival of our reading culture, to help set our country on the path of greater progress,” said Douglas.
Also speaking at the event, the Rivers State Commissioner for Education, Alice Lawrence-Nemi, said that the bid launch was a testimony to the huge investment made by the state government in reviving the reading habit of Rivers citizens.
Founder of Rainbow Book Club, Koko Kalango, enumerated reasons why Port Harcourt would serve as the ideal 2014 World Book Capital. She said Nigeria’s great literary tradition, which had enriched the global book culture, could serve as a driving force for a new literary renaissance in Africa.
She explained that Nigeria deserved to win because it had given the world some great writers such as Prof. Wole Soyinka, the first Black African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Prof. Chinua Achebe, author of the widely read novel, Things Fall Apart, and other world renowned writers such as the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, Elechi Amadi, Ben Okri and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
In her opinion, if Port Harcourt is made World Book Capital, it would galvanise stakeholders to address the wide array of challenges that confront the African book and reading culture, which include low school enrolment, high level of literacy and limited availability of books.
Other cities across the world vying for the same designation include: Ganja (Azerbaijan), Incheon (South Korea), Krakow (Poland), Lyon (France), Moscow (Russia), Oxford (United Kingdom), Pula (Croatia), Sharjah (United Arab Emirates), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Yaoundé (Cameroun).