With Uyo 2022 dusted, Lagos, Yenagoa beckon as National Book Club Cities

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‘…as 1402BookLounge Initiative drives Yenagoa as host 2024

By Godwin Okondo

FOR two years in a row – 2021 and 2022 – Uyo, the Akwa Ibom state capital, played host to the new and innovative momentum of giving book reading a boost across Nigeria with the establishment of book clubs as drivers of a vigorous national book reading campaign. To better achieve this privately-driven initiative with national implication, the Richard Mammah-led Network of Book Clubs and Reading Culture Promoters in Nigeria (NBRP) instituted a National Book Club City, modelled after UNESCO World Book Capital, where a city is designated to host sundry book reading initiatives that get the populace engaging better with books and literacy in a sustained manner.

Uyo became the first beneficiary of this novel reading initiative with the Dr. Udeme Nana-led Uyo Book Club as host of the first National Book Club City in 2021. After a well organised maiden event, Uyo also hosted the 2022 conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) of book clubs. Lagos is the next destination having made a successful bid to host book clubs in 2023, beginning on World Book and Copyright Day, April 23, 2023. As a lead up to it, Lagos has lined up a number of book-related activities that include awareness and advocacy among the populace and within government circle. A Book Walk Advocacy initiative is being planned to take place at Alausa, Ikeja, the seat of Lagos State Government.

But beyond Lagos as host in 2023, Yenagoa, Bayelsa state, has successfully bided to host the yearly National Book Club City in 2024. The arrowhead of Yenagoa as host is Annette David-West, founder of 1402BookLounge Initiative, which “has as its core ideals the improvement of lives through book reading, development of libraries in communities and schools, establishment of book clubs in schools, and the distribution of books to schools in the Niger Delta region and beyond.”

Founder of Yenagoa-based 1402BookLounge Initiative, Annette David-West

As a book-reading development initiative operating in the troubled Niger Delta, David-West said, “1402BookLounge Initiative is firmly devoted to the attainment of its core objectives and seeks partnership with related organisations for the benefit of our society. The importance of education in the preservation, transmission and development of knowledge that brings immense benefits to society cannot be over-expressed. There’s therefore no doubt that education brings greater usefulness to society as human capital development for productivity and the improvement of society generally. It is for this purpose that the 1402BookLounge Initiative was founded.” She also noted that her book lounge’s shared values include but not limited to “the right tools and capacity for young minds to envision and plan to become integral part of the decision-making systems in communities, to arm the youths with enviable leadership qualities that will make them fit to drive public conversations, influence legislation positively and propel community development, and give youths opportunities to be creative and grow their capacities to be productive.”

In bidding to host National Book Club City 2024, David-West said Yenagoa’s bid is modelled in accordance with the UNESCO Book Capital City, which Port-Harcourt, the Rivers state capital, hosted in 2014. Accra, Ghana is UNESCO World Book Capital 2023.

David-West said Bayelsa State is naturally blessed with over 29 tourists attraction sites, and assured that visitors could draw inspiration from the Niger Delta environment that is home to some of the best creative minds in the country beyond its oil and gas endowments, adding that Bayelsa state is generally peaceful and hospitable, a welcoming ambience for visitors who would be enticed to savour the array of delicious, mouth-watering African cuisines on offer.

David-West then named some proposed activities that 1402BookLounge Initiative would embark upon as host from April 2024 through April 2025 to make Yenagoa a great host. These include opening the year with an indigenous author featuring in January in a quarterly programme called ‘The Sit Out’ where writers and readers engage in a conversation about books. In February, which is the third anniversary of NBRP, 1402BookLounge Initiative will join the celebration by gifting books to established book clubs in public secondary schools in the state. And in April 2023 Book City/World Book and Copyright Day, the 1402BookLounge Initiative will organise the maiden edition of Book and Arts Festival Yenagoa (BAFY) which will have ‘Resilience’ as theme.

The Book and Arts Festival Yenagoa (BAFY) will be a 3-day event to help develop the literary space in Bayelsa state and give opportunity to young writers to harness their potential of becoming published authors. “BAFY shall be a showcase the arts in its entirety that include Bayelsa cuisine with the signature kekefia (plantain, the staple food of the Izon prepared in different varieties), art exhibitions, music and theatre performances, etc,” David-West enthused, “and on the final day, there will be a Book Party for children and teenagers. Outstanding children and teenage authors will be rewarded with The Quest prizes for their literary works. Also, book clubs conversation will hold parallel to the children’s Book Party. It would be for authors, publishers and booksellers who would drive conversations in support of book clubs to help the mental development of young readers and in support of child authors across the Niger Delta states.”

In May, there will be another ‘The Sit Out,’ with writers in collaboration with a sister group named Like Minds, as an exclusive adult hangout with books and wine on how to drive reading culture. There will be follow up on book club initiatives in public schools, especially in the rural areas across the state in June while a ‘Meet and Greet’ visit to Bayelsa State Library Board in July will seek collaboration on the way forward with government agencies and the International Oil Companies (IOCs) to equip and revamp public school libraries in line with the ideals of the Network of Book Clubs and Reading Culture Promoters in Nigeria.

According to David-West, “These activities will culminate in September 2023 at the Annual General Meeting of NBRP. A line up of activities for NBRP include ‘A book Trek/Walk’ to create awareness among the populace to encourage book reading culture, a visit to the Chairman of Bayelsa Traditional Rulers’ Council, who is also the author of The Riddle of the Oil Thief, HRM King Bubaraye Dakolo, a visit to the Azaiki Public Library and Museum, and a visit to Oloibiri, where oil was first discovered in commercial quantity in Nigeria.”

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