By Uboho Bassey
THE second National Book Clubs Conference held in Uyo September 15 through 18, 2022 has come and gone. But, this was no kindergarten afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget in a couple of days. This is for keeps, an exciting memory engraved in our hearts, an event worthy of many stories.
It was more than just a gathering of intellectuals. It was an amalgamation of ideas, a pot pourri of perspectives, a tapestry of well-woven deliberations and a story to be told and retold. The stars seem to have been aligned for the participants who came from all parts of the country to Uyo, the host city and thanks to the activities of Uyo Book Club, Nigeria’s first BOOK CLUB’S CITY, modelled after UNESCO World Book Capital which Accra, Ghana will host in 2023.
By all standards, it was quite an eventful week. A lot of it spent in Uyo, Abak, Mkpatak, Ikot Ekpene, traversing many local government areas, all in Akwa Ibom State. The message was simple and direct:
Push the frontiers of reading at the Second National Conference and AGM of the Network of Book Clubs and Reading Culture Promoters in Nigeria (NBRP).
Talk about setting the standards. Talk about driving the dreams of an entire nation through a Book Club. From the first day at the opening ceremony, Lady Luck worked seamlessly with the stakeholders under the able and visionary leadership of Uyo Book Club Founder, Dr. Udeme Nana, a book enthusiast.
The roll call was almost endless: Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who sent a representative, Chairman of Top Faith Schools and University, Dr. Emmanuel Abraham, the indefatigable Richard Mammah, President, Network of Book Clubs and Readers Promoters (NBRP), Rt. Hon. Dr. Ekong Sampson, Abom Toni Esu, Prof. Joe Ushie, long list of the 2022 NLNG Prize for Literature; Dr. Martin Akpan, Dr. Ntiense Utuk, Iboro Otongaran, Professor Obot Etukudo, Professor Felicia Etim, the Coordinators of Raffia City, Eket, Abak, Mary Jonas, KidTeens, Ibiono Ibom Book Clubs, Dr. (Mrs.) Mercy Ukpanah and other Librarians.
Also, there were Coordinator of Oleh Book Club and Publicity Secretary of NBRP, Mr. Anote Ajeluorou, Samuel Udoma, Iniobong Leroi, Mfon Ebebe, Helen Benedict, Nkeneke Efo, Aaron Solomon, Akaninyene Kingsley, Idongesit Nna, Abraham Sylvester and all members of our book club initiatives. From Bayelsa State, Yenagoa, the host of the conference for 2024, Annette David-West, Timi Oloye, Seiyifa Koroye, Martin Ebisine, Dapo Conde and others. Several writers graced the conference and had their books displayed, including but not limited to Ini Ite Ubong, Elizabeth James, Rev. (Dr.) Akpabio, Uboho Bassey, among others.
This was not just about reading. Neither was it all about Libraries, and the collaboration between book clubs. It was a festival of excellence as exemplified by the performances of different individuals and groups with an audience of invited pupils and students of schools and colleges.
This was for keeps, a purposeful fight to the finish against mediocrity, a bold affirmation for the D.E.A.R Philosophy: Drop Everything And Read.
Day Two: Nigerian and African Stories: How They Fare in The Global Village
THE second National Book Clubs Conference, Uyo 2022 raised its curtains with a Breakfast Library event facilitated by the National Library Association (NLA), Akwa Ibom State with the theme ‘Trends in Resources Organization for Easy Retrieval in Libraries.’ Facilitators were Prof. Felicia Etim, Dr. Mercy Ukpanah, Dr. Uduak Enang and Mr. Richard Mammah.
Next was the opening ceremony: a captivating display of culture, dance, and spoken words that roused the audience into bouts of excited applause. Such was the mastery of young Rosebeth Cletus that she held her audience in a spellbinding oratory. With his electrifying performance, there was no doubt that the legendary balladist and playwright, Rev. Moses Ibanga Akpabio, author of Even One Child, who delivered spoken words both in English and Ibibio languages, stole the hearts of everyone with his masterful delivery. And to know he is more than 80 years of age! Still agile, still adept with words, he delivered extempore!
These and many other highlights added so much colour to the Uyo Book Conference that has set a challenging standard for upcoming events and prospective hosts.
The interactive session was a powerhouse of compelling viewpoints that will impact everyone long after the last participant has unpacked from the trip and the thrill of the excursion to Top Faith Group of Schools and University, Mkpatak, has completely taken hold of our hearts.
The conference theme ‘Nigerian and African Stories: How They Fare in The Global Village’ drew broad-based discussants from across the globe. The panel was made up of Prof. Solomon Obotetukudo, poet Uboho Bassey, with Prof. Joe Ushie moderating in a livestream session that had Ikhide Roland Ikheloa, Prof. Nduka Otiono who joined from Canada, Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo and Iquo DianAbasi, longlisted for The Nigeria Prize for Literature, Clara Udofa from the U.S., Kate Ekanem-Hannum, Unyimeabasi Odong based in Canada, Saddiq M. Dzugoki, Farida Ladipo Ajayi, and a host of other participants via Zoom.
Contributions from the discussants ranged from the authenticity of African stories, filtering the continent’s narratives to conform to the acceptability of a global pattern. Ideas varied across board but what became a common ground was the agreement that African stories must be told, nonetheless. Publishing a good book will do nothing by itself until it is visible to the world on the global scene, competing with other western stories.
Do writers write for the economic gain/money or for personal fulfillment? Should African writers bare all – the negatives as well as the positives – or should it be sugar-coated to appeal to foreign readers? These are some of the questions begging for quick answers.
Day 3: Readers, writers and stakeholders on adventurous State tour
Starting from the sprawling edifices of the Watbridge Hotels & Suites to the magnificent Godswill Akpabio International Stadium (Nest of Champions), down to the breathtakingly beautiful Ibom Icon Hotels, with the lush greenery of the golf course, and on to the soul-gripping ambience of the resort’s Marina which deserves a leisurely return visit, the tour was exhilarating and eye-opening all through.
The next stop was the Abak Divisional Library which hosts Abak Book Club that has found a great readership and community of disciples; it’s a fast-growing infant birthed from Uyo Book Club. The leadership entertained the delegation with smiles and camaraderie and ushered them into the library for a brief tour which ended in a brief but impacting session in the hall. The Uyo Book Club initiative of Nana has mobilized folks in Akwa Ibom state to return to long-abandoned libraries which had become empty spaces occupied by cobwebs. Another example of the power of vision. Interestingly also, Abak is serving as a pilot scheme at the moment for the NBRP/NLA MoU, having opened its doors to the network of book clubs ahead of the signing of the historic agreement.
Next was the visit to Top Faith Group of Schools in Mkpatak, Essien Udim Local Government Area of the state. At this time of great distress in the nation’s educational arena, to imagine that one man could achieve in education what seems to be an impossible feat for government is simply mind-blowing. The founder of Top Faith Group of Schools, Dr. Emmanuel Abraham welcomed his guests and took them on an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping tour of the facilities in the school, including the world class libraries.
Areas like the secondary school zoo held visitors in awe at the sight of the animals, the star of which was a pair of tortoise that were brought out from their cage to satisfy the curiosity of guests. The visitors had a close, firsthand encounter with the hard-shelled, smart king of African folklores. Giests were told the tortoises could feel their shell being stroked, scratched, tapped, or otherwise touched as they are sensitive enough to feel pain. A few of the team indulged in their daring by lifting the tortoise off the ground outright whilst a few scampered away in fear.
The next visit was to Top Faith University, a newly established private arm of the group. The infrastructure and faculty buildings are world standard, inviting students into the rare opportunity and privilege of a focused, innovative, entrepreneurial and developmental psychology in an institution with tested and trusted blueprint for excellence.
The tour ended at the Senate Building where dignitaries signed the welcome register and an appreciation pack containing information about the university was given to each member of the visiting team.
It was quite an impressed delegation that left Mkpatak, en route Ikot Ekpene for the Raffia City Book Club; they were hosted by Abom Tony Esu. Present already were students from three schools, and a crowd of readers waiting to receive the contingent from Uyo. Present at Ikot Ekpene were outstanding people like Senator Emmanuel Ibok-Essien, Nsikak Essien of National Concord fame, Dr. Iko Ibanga of Pro-Health International, Prof. (Bishop) Ahaziah Umanah, Prof. Felicia Etim, Dr. Edet, a Chief Lecturer in a tertiary Institution at Bichi and a host of others.
The Uyo Book Club Initiative, which is definitely growing bigger with the years, is a call to go back to reading. All in all, Uyo 2022 was a great outing. Next stop as Nigeria’s Book Club City is Lagos, which has already begun plans to commence its own hosting year from April 23, 2023!
* Bassey is a poet and author of From Trauma to Triumph: Finding Liberty, Uncommon Housewife, The Untameable Spirit and The Unveiled Treasure.