‘We are trying to make people read, but even the books are not available, accessible’
By Godwin Okondo
ALSO at this year’s national conference and AGN of Network of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters in Nigeria (NBRP 2023), a panel session on ‘Guinness World Record and Nigeria Prize for Literature as Reading Culture Boosters’ had 2018 Guinness World Record (GWR) for ‘Longest Marathon Reading Aloud’ category, Mr. Treasure Olawunmi Bayode, sharing experiences of his attempt to break the world record for marathon reading. The session was anchored by foremost journalist and culture communicator, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo and convener of Yenagoa-based 1402 Book Lounge, Annette David-West. Bayode had ‘We Are Reading to Build’ as theme for his 2018 GWR attempt.
Bayode said because his goal was simply focused on making reading cool among the populace and not a popularity contest or quest for celebrity status, he had no plans to advertise the reading challenge on social media. All he wanted was just read and, by so doing, get other Nigerians reading as well. The Lagos State Library on Herbert Macaulay Way, Yaba, Lagos, refurbished by GTCO Bank Plc, was the venue for the epic reading adventure.
“My intention was to make reading popular, and I was thinking of ways to make a statement (about reading),” he told his audience. “I did a research and I found Guinness World Record, and I didn’t know how to go about it. I got on social media four days before the programme. Someone called me on the eve of the programme saying someone asked him to call me, and that he would be handling my social media campaign.”
But in a country characterised more by inadequate power supply and other support infrastructure, Bayode then decided to embark on a sponsorship drive. He succeeded somewhat, but this was where things also went south.
“Before this, I had moved from one company to another for sponsorship, because it entails a lot of money, and it was tough until GTCO Bank came in, and everyone was excited,” Bayode disclosed. “Along the line, the excitement dissipated because their intention wasn’t what we intended. Before the event, I had read for four days straight, just to show them I could do it, and it was streamed to them alone. I visited the head office, and my thoughts was that they would handle everything regarding the campaign as agreed, and they said they would put all their resources behind this. When we left, they became skeptical; they wanted to protect their brand, and they had doubts that I would break the record, which wasn’t my intention.
Journalist and culture communicator and CORA Chair, Jahman Anikulapo (left); 2018 GWR Read-athon, Treasure Bayode and 2402 Book Lounge convener, Annette David-West
“The record was just to draw attention (to reading). I got to know this when they asked me how much they were to give to me, and I told them to give me any amount they would give to Davido (the musician) for a show. We never signed any agreement before going into the show, because we could not reconcile. My point was that I wanted to make reading popular again, so if at the end of the day, I got a huge amount, the media would report that I got a huge sum from reading, which would encourage people to read more, but they (GTCO) didn’t get it. They were only concerned about their brand. There was no marketing plan for it. GTCO had the resources to make the show go viral, but it didn’t happen.”
Bayode said what he eventually got from GTCO Bank was a laughable sum, adding that he still owes a lot of people, including the cameraman over N1m.
According to him, “GTCO agreed to give me N1m, but in the long run, I got N500,000. Lagos State Government lodged me in Eko Hotel for a week; so, I must commend them. The governor asked someone to settle me, but the person took part of the money for himself, and I got to know about it four years after. After the programme, I’m stillsettling debts. The last one I did for 480 hours. Thank God for NBRP which was there and sent resources.
“The state sent funding but it wasn’t enough and I had to call people for help. It was that bad, because we were feeding 40 people every day and we housed them for those 21 days, and we were paying them stipends. In fact, we still owe them some money up till now. I’m still owing my cameraman N1m. The money was about N2.5 million, but I had paid N1.5m from my pocket.”
“I did it because the passion is there. It’s for the soul of this country, but we must not relent. In the long run, education is the best investment. Someone could attend your programme or read your book, and that could change a person’s life, so we can’t put value to what we’re doing promoting books and reading.”
On what happened between his intention and the results, Bayode said, “After everything, the intention was achieved and we are happy with the result, because personally I know how many calls I received, people praying for me and thanking me. People want to use reading as a means to break records now, but before then, it wasn’t so.”
It was a tough venture. Not even his wife saw what was in it for her husband: “When I mentioned it to my wife, she asked if I had gone crazy. I said if we are all complaining that Nigeria isn’t working, what are we doing about it? That was what got her in.”
Speaking on what needs to be done to make reading promotion worthwhile in Nigeria, Bayode said, “I discovered that (although) we are trying to make people read, but even the books are not available or accessible. Book production is very expensive, which makes it inaccessible to people. I was in a conference in Abeokuta, and a student stood up and asked, ‘I loved to read, but there is no library in our school, and no library in Abeokuta. How then do I read?’ That threw a challenge at me on what to do, and that also brought about what we are doing now.”
Although passion for promoting reading has its share of excitement, it may sometimes be a burden when one is surrounded by people who do not share the same vision. This was David-West’s submission on the passion for promoting reading. She narrated how people around her usually look at her with pity for venturing into an arena where she sometimes spent herself into debts just to promote reading. But she said she has stuck to it and often relishes the joy of putting a smile on the faces of young readers with the effort 1402 Book Lounge was making to create book clubs in schools. She, however, noted that getting the permission of public school authorities, from the commissioner for education down to the regulators, was a nightmare she just couldn’t understand, especially as it came from those are saddled with similar job description, but who aren’t delivering on it.
“What we are doing to promote reading now is that we have a platform called ReadIncent (short for ReadIncentive),” Bayode continued. “We intend to incentivise reading on our platform, and we are trying to solve three problems: to read and win a prize, a platform where people can rent books for a token, read them, then they can choose to buy if they want, and parents also get reports of the activities of their children on the website. It’s time we stopped talking just talk and doing the actual thing. NBRP will be given two per cent of the company, so when we start making money, NBRP will also have money to promote reading across Africa.”
With ReadIncent, Bayode has a smart proposition targeted at helping writers make money in small but incremental way, adding that it would be a better deal for writers than stocking books in warehouse they cannot sell for a number of issues besetting book sales. With readers renting authors’ books for a sum, say N500 from ReadIncent platform, authors get a share from that sum as many times a book is rented.
According to him, “There are issues with authors also, because they are also focusing on their gains, they want to make money as well. These days the author writes, publishes and markets the book. Most often than not, the authors focus on how much they can make, not how much they are giving back. We need to find means to untie the knot in this, because the authors also need money to settle bills. I have come to understand that we can’t move forward as a country until we improve reading, because education is still the best employer of labour. Passion doesn’t always pay, so get something that pays you, then get back to your passion. Many authors have passion to write, but that passion, they know, is not paying.
“Another thing is that we don’t commit much to marketing our books. We have fantastic authors, but putting books on Amazon doesn’t guarantee sales. Many of those authors pay reviewers to write about the book on their page, as well as the link, and when a copy is sold, they get a commission. A reviewer can have numerous websites reviewing the same book and he makes money from it, as well as the authors. Are we vast to this level as Nigerian authors? We keep doing the same thing and expect results, which is not possible. The world is evolving, and we also need to evolve.
“Authors should be trained also. It’s not just about putting pen to paper. We can promote books on TV, radio and bookshops, but we have access to millions of people online. We need to train and retrain.”