Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, Minister for Transport

By Adeola Ogunrinde

The politics of Rivers State has of recent  over shadowed the closing of Port Harcourt World Book Capital. The Political fight between Rotimi Amaechi, incumbent governor of the state and Nyesom Wike, the PDP governor-elect in the state has affected the literary happenings in Port Harcourt. For months, the  relationship between Amaechi and the Presidency weakened, to the level that affected highest literary event the city of Port Harcourt has hosted, the World Book Capital.

When Amaechi was sworn in as Rivers state Governor , he brought in a literary awakening into the state with the Rainbow Book Club an idea  by Mrs Koko Kalango which Amaechi bought into giving  birth to Port Harcourt Book Festival .The festival brought many well meaning African writers such as Wole Soyinka, Ngugi Wa Thiongo , Chimamanda Adichie and many more to Port Harcourt  which is also known as Garden City .

As Governor of Rivers State, Amaechi every year apportioned certain amount of money every year to sponsor the festival in conjunction with Koko Kalango. This partnership resulted in profusion of literary awakening in the city   and the Rivers people benefitted with different reading groups springing from one end of Port Harcourt to the other . . UNESCO became aware of this literary flowering and by   2013 UNESCO declared Port Harcourt  World Book Capital 2014.

Nobel Prize for Literature winner Wole Soyinka was invited to announce the commencement of the World Book Capital in 2014, where the Caine Prize 2014 shortlist was announced. Months into the World Book Capital, things began to fall apart and the center could no longer hold between Amaechi and Kalango due to the Political crises in Rivers State. The seat of power became hot for Amaechi, he has stepped on toes, the  powers that be most especially first lady of Nigeria, Patience Jonathan. The world book capital was affected and Kalango began to shift from the Amaechi to the Presidency, Wike the right hand man of Jonathan became the man of the moment.

One year has passsed of Port Harcourt serving as UNESCO World Book Capital, stimulating interest in books and reading around Nigeria. The closing of  Port Harcourt World Book Capital was welcomed with little or no ceremony at all in Port Harcourt. Kalango was far away in the city of Icheon in South Korea to witness the opening of World Capital, Icheon will occupy the position for 2015. The day coincides with UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day, with attention drawn to the need to respect and protect intellectual property rights across the world.

Now that Ameachi is out and Wike is the Governor elect of Rivers state , will Port Harcourt book festival dance to a new gong , will Wike see to the need and continuity of the festival. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan awarded Kalango a National honour late last year MON Member of Niger. Though Amaechi and Kanlongo may deny it but the relationship between them have gone bitter , the latter embracing the camp of Patience Jonathan which Wike is in, but will that benefit the dream and vision of Port Harcourt book festival which Ameachi started? What change will Wike offer to Port Harcourt book festival which Amaechi started, or will the festival suffer a decline at the exit of Amaechi? Will Wike be more interested and invest more money to the Port Harcourt festival than Amaechi his predecessor?

Publisher Parresia Books Richard Ali in a phone conversation said the sponsorship of Port Harcourt book festival shouldn’t be a personal project of the Governor, while commending Amechi on the giant step he noted that the mind set of the people should be changed regarding such festivals as a personal project noting that, the department of culture and tourism in Rivers State should have a budget for the festival.

Former chairman  Association of Nigerian Authors ANA Lagos chapter Dagga Tolar said since the collapse of Ife book festival , Port Harcourt book festival drew the attention of the world back to Nigeria. Tolar wants Wike to boost Port Harcourt book festival , though there is rival between him and Amaechi, he looks forward to what Wike will do to the festival after Kalango aligned with Jonathan camp during the Political crisis.

Amaechi  as executive Governor of Rivers State wanted Port Harcourt book festival to be incorporated as an institution so that the change in government after his exist won’t affect the festival , wanted the festival to grow every year, attracting book lovers across the world , but the process was delayed and the Political crises in the state made it suffer a set back.

With May 29 ticking closer by the clock one will have to wait till after the swearing in of Wike to know what will be the faith of Port Harcourt book festival , whether this year’s festival will be   sponsored by Wike and will gulp more money than the years’ when Amaechi  was Governor of Rivers States, whether it will attract more participation than previous years.