By Uboho Bassey
The 2nd National Book Clubs Conference held in Uyo from September 15-18th, 2022 has come and gone. But, this was no kindergarten afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about 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 the Uyo Book Club, Nigeria’s FIRST BOOK CLUB’S CITY.
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 Barr. 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 Tony Esu, Prof. Joe Ushie, long list nominee of the 2022 NLNG Prize for Literature; Dr.Martin Akpan, Dr. Ntiense Utuk, Iboro Otongaran, Professor ObotEtukudo, Professor Felicia Etim, the Coordinators of Raffia City and Eket Book Clubs, Abak Book Club Coordinator, Mary Jonas, KidTeens founder, Mfon Ebebe, Ibiono Ibom Book Clubs Coordinator, Nigerian Library Association Akwa Ibom Chapter, Chair, Dr. Mrs Mercy Ukpanah and other Librarians.
We also had the likes of Samuel Udoma, Iniobong Leroi, Helen Benedict, Nkeneke Efo, Aaron Solomon, Akaninyene Kingsley, Idongesit Nna, Abraham Sylvester and other Members of the respective Book Clubs Initiatives in Akwa Ibom State.
From Yenagoa in Bayelsa State, which was later.to emerge as the chosen host of the conference and A Go m series in 2024; there were Annette David-West, Timi Oloye, Seiyifa Koroye, Martin Ebisine and others. Several writers graced the conference and had their books displayed, including but not limited to Ini Ite Ubong, Anote Ajeluorou, Elizabeth James, Rev. Dr. Akpabio, Uboho Bassey, etc.
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 schools and colleges. The girls from CCC Uyo for one were super!
This was for keeps, a purposeful fight to the finish against mediocrity, a bold affirmation for the D.E.A.R Philosophy of “Drop Everything And Read.”
The 2nd National Book Clubs Conference, Uyo 2022 raised its curtains for the day with a Breakfast Library Event facilitated by the Nigerian Library Association, Akwa Ibom State Chapter 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, spoken words that roused the crowd into bouts of excited applause. Such was the mastery of young Rosebeth Cletus that she held her audience in a spellbinding oratory. Also from the young performers corner was Maadiah Johnson.
That was not all And birth certificates were not going to be a barrier here. With his electrifying performance, there was no doubt that the legendary ballardist 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 NBRP events, and prospective hosts. Like the 2023 hosts; Lagos
Back to Uyo. The interactive session was a powerhouse of compelling viewpoints that will impact everyone long after the last participant has unpacked from the trip; even as the accompanying thrill of the excursion to Top Faith Group of Schools and University, Mkpatak, completely took hold of our hearts. But there were other takeaways, including the signing of an MoU between NBRP and the Nigerian Library Association, NLA on the establishment and functioning of Book clubs in Public Libraries across Nigeria.
The conference theme: *Nigerian and African Stories: How They Fare in The Global Village* drew broad-based discussants from across the globe. The physical Panelists were, Prof. Solomon Obotetukudo, Writer/Poet Uboho Bassey, with Prof. Joe Ushie simultaneously moderating in a live stream discussion with the critic and inaugural laureate of the James Currey Prize, Ikhide Roland Ikheloa, Prof. Nduka Otiono who joined from the US, Ogaga Ifowodo, Iquo DianaAbasi, long list nominee of the 2022 NLNG Prize for Literature, Clara Udofa from the US, Unyimeabasi Odong based in Canada, NLNG Prize 2022 Shortlist nominees, Saddiq M. Dzugoki and Su’eddie Agema, Farida Ladipo Ajayi, and a host of other participants in the Zoom room.
Contributions from the discussants ranged from their insights on the authenticity or otherwise of African Stories to ‘the pull to filter narratives to conform to the acceptability of an otherwise global pattern.’ Ideas were as is to be expected, varied across board but what became a common ground was the agreement that our 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, thriving and competing with other stories from elsewhere.
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 their tales be sugar-coated to appeal to foreign readers? These are some of the questions begging for answers. And you can bet that the debate would go on!
UYO BOOK CLUB NATIONAL CONFERENCE: DAY 3
Saturday 17th September, 2022
Day 3 of the conference took Readers, Writers and stakeholders through an adventurous City and 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; the lush greenery of the golf course; and on to the soul-gripping ambience of the Marina which deserves a leisurely return visit; the tour was exhilarating and eye-opening all through.
The next stop was the Abak Divisional Library where the Book Club has found a great readership and community of disciples; a fast growing infant birthed from the Uyo Book Club. The leadership welcomed 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 Book Club initiative of Dr. Udeme Nana has mobilized folks 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 it’s doors to the Network ahead of the signing of the historic.agreement.
Next on the agenda was the visit to Top Faith Group of Schools in Mkpatak, Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom 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 the Government, is simply mind-blowing.
The group from Uyo and now Abak too was welcomed on arrival by the Founder of Top Faith Group of Schools, Dr. Emmanuel Abraham who took the team on an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping tour of the facilities in the school, including the world class Libraries.
Areas like the Zoo held visitors in wonder 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 a close first encounter with the hard-shelled smart king of the African folkloric stage. It is said they can 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 outrightly lifting the tortoise off the ground 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 a tested and trusted blueprint for excellence.
The tour ended at the Senate Building where dignitaries signed the welcome register and an appreciation package was given to each member of the visiting team.
It was quite an impressive and impressed delegation that left Mkpatak, en route Ikot Ekpene for the Raffia City Book Club, to now be 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 the 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 and we are told that Lagos has already begun plans to commence its own hosting year from April 23, 2023!.