By Udeme Nana
I feel a tinkling sensation of fulfillment right now and I thank God for how it has panned out from the moment of that flash of insight to embark on this journey since 2015. I shared that inspiration with one of my young friends, Boronno Bassey, and he helped in mobilizing a few like minds to meetings in my house. In the beginning, it used to be a weekly affair. It used to be very robust sessions with hot heads like Collins Oscar, NseAbasi Valentine, Martin Akpan, Blyden Ukem, Imaobong Akpan Akpan, Iniobong Leroi Umoh, Augustine Akpan, Akanimo Kingsley, Mfonobong Usoroh, Aniebiet Francis, Ekam Akpakpan, and several others.
I thank my wife, Marigold, who welcomed the bookworms every weekend to our Edidiong Abasi Lodge and who also encouraged me to nurture the dream. The Uyo Book Club vision was fired by a burning desire to start a counter-culture to stem the seeming ascendancy of life in bars, sit-outs, joints and lounges in our city where people gathered, made merry and thought to drink away their challenges. I imagined that we could have book clubs in private homes, along various streets, residential estates, offices in our towns and in other cities all over the state. I wanted book clubs to compete or complement those social clubs which feed .with food for the physical wellbeing of people. My dream was to build hubs targeted at nourishing the mind, not just the body; to refine the sensibilities of our people; to change the mentality of our people, their mindset and attitudes.
Today, we have planted book clubs firmly in Uyo, thanks to our dear Patron, Dr. Ekong Sampson, at Ikot Ekpene, where we have reinvigorated the Raffia City with Abom Toni Esu as the moving spirit, in Eket, with Eseme Eyibo, at Abak, with Mary Jonas, Inyene Peter and Uko Edet leading the charge, at Ibiono Ibom, with Edet Williams leading that expansion. Aaron Solomon and Mfon Ebebe have impacted with KidTeens, directed at our much youthful population while Abraham Asuquo has taken the movement to Idua in Oron. Our presence has been felt in some schools in this state. We have gotten the consent of the Comptroller of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Akwa Ibom State Command, to set up book clubs in their facilities.
We innovated with DROP EVERYTHING AND READ (D.E.A.R.) moment and it has become a unique protocol in our reading sessions. We publish our newsletter, The Brook, thanks to Aniefiok Udoh and it is well received. The traffic to our website and Facebook page makes me very thrilled. Our plans in the future to consolidate our state capital, Uyo, as the pioneer Book Clubs City in Nigeria include annual hosting of a Reading Festival, Book Reading Tours to nursery, primary and secondary schools and the building of an Uyo Books Village – a one-stop location for all stakeholders in the book eco-system.
May I request that the state government, corporate citizens, philanthropists and the Ministry of Education partner with us to set up more book clubs at all levels of the school system in Akwa Ibom. I also recommend to all institutions of learning in Nigeria to adopt the D.E.A.R. moment as a strategy for cultivating, deepening and sustaining the culture of reading among students. It could be one or two hours daily during official school hours just to make sure that focused reading happens among our pupils and students.
It is regrettable that a National Book Clubs Conference is taking place at a time when federal universities in Nigeria are under lock and key. I want to use this occasion to urge the Federal Government to pay more serious attention to education by allocating more resources to our federal universities presently under its grip to enable those institutions to be managed independently. Nigeria is a diverse country and that diversity should reflect in our tertiary institutions. The absolute control of universities by one central authority is stifling ideas and innovation. A more decentralized administration of universities would stimulate positive competition for academic excellence and total quality management in our universities. May I urge the Federal Government to show more empathy towards parents, teachers and our children who have become marooned at home since February this year on account of the industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities in Nigeria. This face-off has set back Nigeria in incalculable ways.
It was Malcolm Gladwell who wrote that ‘…by tinkering with the presentation of information, we can significantly improve its stickiness. Simply by finding and reaching those few special people who hold so much social power, we can shape the course of social epidemics… Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.’
NOW, THAT IS THE MISSION OF OUR BOOK CLUB INITIATIVE!!! We want to move our society, our world!
When the special people with great social capital gathered here today identify with us, several others will wake up to it; you can also point to others including corporate citizens who can afford to invest in the future of our society to this movement and before our very eyes, an irreversible revolution would take root. Let me acknowledge the kind support of lovers of education like Dr. Emmanuel Abraham, Chairman of Topfaith Schools and University who is also our Chairman today, the Chairman of Ibom Air, Mr. ImoAbasi Jacob, Barr. Aniekan Ukpanah, Mr. Udom Inoyo, Aniekan Willie and his friends , Prof. Joe Ushie, Dr. Martin Akpan, Dr. Ntiense Utuk, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke, Dr. Glory Edet and others who have shown tremendous support for our activities.
I urge everyone who has ever benefited from reading and who appreciates the importance of reading and education TO JOIN US DRIVE THIS RENAISSANCE IN THE READING CULTURE AMONG OUR PEOPLE. Africa would benefit from such a reawakening, and the Nigerian society would benefit immensely when Nigerian leaders and followers become readers. The global community will become a better place when readers become predominant. By this conference, The Uyo Book Club initiative and Akwa Ibom State have pointed the way. I beckon on Nigerians wherever they live to embrace this harmless paradigm shift. Let’s become a society that reads.
Thank you and God bless.
* Address by Dr. Udeme Nana (MIPRA, MNIPR), founder of book clubs in Akwa Ibom State at the opening of the 2nd National Conference of Book Clubs in Nigeria on Friday, September 16, 2022 at Watbridge Hotel and Suites, Uyo