* ‘It’s a very fulfilling exercise yet painful’
* ‘We are reading to raise funds to build libraries across Nigeria’
* ‘A gun will kill a terrorist, but education will kill terrorism’
By Anote Ajeluorou
WHEN Treasures-Olawunmi Bayode set out to set a new Guinness World Record Books Challenge, he probably underrated how strenuous the task would be. But just a day to the 21 days’ marathon reading challenge at the Herbert Macaulay Library, Yaba, Lagos, he owned up to how arduous the challenge has been. But he was also excited that he and his team had been able to surmount the the challenge. The founder of Read Africa Foundation with its library-focused Read2Build local affiliate said he was looking forward to an evening of fun, dance, and laughter today, December 21, 2021 when at 7.00pm the reading challenge would come to an end and his team singing songs of victory.
Bayode put the entire 21-day experience at the library lounge where we sat thus: ”It’s been quite challenging yet fulfilling experience. Now challenging in the sense that we are the ones responsible for our feeding. So, here we feed over 40 people every day – breakfast and lunch for the camera crew, the sound crew, independent observers and protocol. Electricity power has not been favourable to us; we run on generators, buy diesel every day, use 50 litres every four hours. So you can imagine the pain that we’re going through. Our budget for this programme is N24.5 million. And we were only able to raise N4.5 million. You can see how wide the margin is. That means we’re sweating, seriously sweating. I’m sweating because all these things are on me. At a point in time, I had to call on my friends for assistance. But here we are on the 19th day; it’s been so rigorous that at some point in time, some of us took ill, had cough and malaria. Of course, the environment here is not conducive for living; we are having to make do with makeshift sleeping area and, of course, mosquitoes are having a feast of their lives.
”Everybody left the comfort of their homes to be sleeping on benches. Moreso for the readers reading day and night, it’s not been a joke, with our voices going through hell. Yet we must not stop reading. So it’s been a very rigorous exercise; it’s been a very strenuous one. It’s a very fulfilling exercise yet painful. Fulfilling in the sense that this is a 3-year programme coming to be; it was supposed to have been held in 2019, but sponsorship was an issue and in 2020 coronavirus came and the sponsors we were talking to… the pandemic came and hit hard, and many of the potential sponsors we were talking to had to come up with the excuse of the pandemic, cash crunch and the likes.”
But as is the case with a people who have got their priorities all wrong, from government to private sector, these same sponsors have been busy supporting non-developmental, irrelevant projects that don’t add value to lives and not development projects like reading or education. But Bayode does not begrudge sponsors where they decide to put their money; he’s is only focused on the task at hand, although some assistance would have made a world of difference.
”Of course, we can’t fault sponsors,” he said ruefully. ”Even though we still see them sponsor other events that are non-developmental, non-educational, we hold no grudge. It’s a matter of priority. Thanks to the Lagos State Government, through the office of the Special Adviser on Education, that gave us N4.5 million out of the N24.5 million that was our budget, and I told my team that even if it was one million I got I will go ahead with this project, and here we are. We have just one more day to go; so I want to thank my friends, team members, volunteers, camera crew, and the readers (Zainab Wakil Mustapha – North East – Borno State, Maryam Abba Sadu – North East – Borno State, PreciousLight Ukachi – South East – Imo State, Doubra Yeri – South South – Bayelsa State and Treasures-Olawunmi Bayode – South West) most especially for their patience, because ordinarily they should be reading in a 5-star arrangement, but this is the lowest star ever. But it’s all for the cause of the goal, because they believe in what we are doing, and they believe they can contribute their own quota to Nigeria’s development. Every one of us in Nigeria is complaining, but nobody is proffering solutions. So in our own little corner, we have to go through this. It’s just that it isn’t easy. Things don’t come easy, but we just have to go all the way to get it done.”
Bayode took time to explain the essentially goals of the Marathon reading challenge, saying, ”In 2018, I read for six days for a Guinness World Record event to promote reading culture. So, I was at a conference after that quest, talking from school to school, and a boy asked me a question in one of the conferences: ‘I heard your speech, sir. You are promoting reading, but where are the books? Where are the libraries for us to read them? The books are expensive to buy, but if libraries are available, these books can be found in the library.’ That was in Ogun State, and in that entire location, we had about two libraries, one was functional and one wasn’t, and we are talking of a population of over two million people. It doesn’t make sense. So, I thought: what can I do about this instead of complaining?
”We can’t always wait for the government to do things. We must proffer solutions. I am of the opinion and belief that the country is not developed by the activity of government alone. It is individual achievements and actions that develop a country. I don’t have the money to build libraries across Nigeria, but perhaps I can put people with the resources together to get this done. So that was what gave birth to Read2Build. We are reading to raise funds to build libraries while those who will read in the libraries are reading to build their own lives, and ultimately build our country. This is like an icebreaker. Read2Build is continuous; it’s not an event, it’s a movement. Our intention is to build, at least, one library in each political ward in Nigeria. You can imagine the massiveness of that objective.”
Bayode is an ambitious young man who is on a mission to cause a major revolution in the educational and even political sectors with his bold initiative to build libraries in every political ward in the country. This is a direct challenge to politically exposed persons who have failed in their responsibilities to put in place activities and actions that would lead to the development of the people. With the National Library of Nigeria, Abuja, yet to see the light of day after 15 years of starting construction, and the annex in Lagos in disrepair, one can only imagine what the dire fate of libraries in the country.
”So, it’s something that may even outlast my lifetime,” he said optimistically. ”Every ward in Nigeria should have at least two or three libraries. The library is a special place that should be available, accessible, and functional. I shouldn’t have to travel to use a library. I should walk from my house to the library and back, and it should be open 24/7. I understand the situation in our country, but it won’t be continuous forever, and it wasn’t this way before. This library (Yaba Library) closes by 4 o’clock. That means people who want to use the library after then have to resort to their houses, which will not be comfortable for them. If I’m working on the Island or working an 9-5 job, I should be able to come to the library after work, spend a few hours — a qualitative one, and go back home, but it’s not available.
”So, this is what we are trying to do. Moreso, our focus is on the rural communities, where children who are deprived of functional social amenities can have access to libraries where they can read and have a mental shift through exposure to books, which will ultimately expose their mindset. Now, we are facing banditry, rape, kidnapping across the country, because we left some people behind in the rural areas; they are angry and they are not exposed; their mind is fixed on anything. So, until we start providing these amenities for them, I don’t see any turnaround. So, this is why, in our own little space, we are doing this to raise funds to build these libraries across rural communities in Nigeria. That is the goal of Read2Build.’
Bayode’s plan is to build libraries for each political ward in Nigeria thereby doing the jobs of those elected into political offices who can take ballot boxes to the remotest areas for votes but cannot take development to thsoe areas in another breath. Perhaps, should he not try to take those in political positions to task first on living to their responsibilities to the people they swore an oath to lead?
”Yes, we are working with quite a number of local governments’ chairmen, and like I said, the governments are overwhelmed, and Nigeria is a poor country. The earlier we understand that fact the better for us. If you look at the value of the richest bank in Nigeria, it’s peanuts. In terms of potential, we are rich, but in terms of reality, Nigeria is a poor country. If you look at it, how many companies are worth USD$10 billion in Nigeria? How many people or companies pay that amount as tax yearly? How many people are millionaires in dollars in Nigeria? When I say Nigeria is a poor country, there are facts and figures. I don’t think we have 100 companies in Nigeria worth one billion dollars. A company being rich is not dependent on the wealth of the government, it depends on the wealth of the citizens, because it’s the citizens that fund the government through their taxes.
”So imagine we have, out of the 200 million Nigerians, about 30 million that are billionaires; they will be able to contribute to the tax bank of the government, and the government will have something to spend on the economy. Even our rich people are poor. Dangote is the richest man in Africa; that defines our poverty, because if Dangote is not worth more than 10 billion dollars, and we don’t have over a thousand people who are worth more, by that standard, we are a poor people.”
Bayode sadness with the state of libraries in the country is palpable, but he singles out Lagos and Borno States for praise for their innovations in the education sector to remedy the gaps that have existed over the years.
”The truth, generally, is that Nigerian libraries are in shambles,” he noted. ”I have done some tours, and Lagos seems to be the only state that is doing something about them. About three months ago, I discovered that the government went to all the libraries in the state, and refurbished and equipped some with computers, books and the likes, but it is not the same in other states. If you go round Lagos, they understand their vulnerability; they understand their limitations, and that is why they are partnering with private organizations to manage the libraries for them. This place (Yaba Library) is managed by GTBank. Like I said, the government is overwhelmed with roads, health, and also when you look at what is even coming in, it’s not enough. I tell people, it’s until you get in that you know what is happening. I’m not part of them, but I reason that if Lagos is making N30 billion in a month, and it has expenses of over N50 billion, that is a deficit, and they have to look at where to put the money.
”Unfortunately, they don’t see education as paramount. But if you look at Lagos State, this year alone the governor has been able to commission about four standard schools — two at Epe, Ikorodu and some other areas. Another state doing well in education is Bornu State. I usually say that a gun will kill a terrorist, but education will kill terrorism.”
He also spoke about his expectations after the record-breaking reading challenge for the Guinness World Record Books Challenge, saying, ”To start with, at least, we are going to put Nigeria on the global map, as the country that broke the existing record and set another one. The second is that we have been able to promote reading, people are watching online – schools, individuals, authors. But our goal of raising funds has not quite turn out well, For instance, only one person donated just N50,000 whereas our target was at least N100 million, but it’s a start. That tells you the nature of the environment that we live in. So we expected that, but like I said, Read2Build is not an event, it’s a movement. So, tomorrow at 7 o’clock, we will celebrate our volunteers, we will laugh, we will cry, and we will go home, and Read2Build continues.”
But Bayode is optimistic how he would grow the N50,000 seed money donation already in the kitty, adding, ”The campaign continues. There will be some marketing videos and publicity. We will go from TV to radio stations to talk about Read2Build. The N50,000 we have now, honestly, we are going to use it to settle some debts. We need to buy fuel for tomorrow.”