By Anote Ajeluorou
As a way of making stars out of writers and deepening interest in book reading among the populace, CelebrityRead Africa has concluded plans to take reading to schools, and TV and radio programmes to bring the monthly event closer to book lovers
Boss of Read2Rise Initiative team and organiser of CelebrityRead Africa, Bede Okoro restated again the objectives of the monthly reading project as he recently hosted book lovers, authors and performers to an evening of fun at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, as part of the project’s first year anniversary.
In what has apparently been a fulfilling first year of hosting authors and celebrities to a book gathhering, he had said, “Celebrity, a project of Read2Rise Initiative, was formed on the sheer knowledge that all celebrities and well known persons have a measure of power to set a lasting trend in any society…
“We saw that this power could be used to bring about the needed change in the reading habits of African youth, with the sole aim of increasing literary level and thirst for useful information. And here we are”.
And as part of efforts to reposition the reading campaign project next year, Okoro said CelebrityRead Africa would soon launch its CelebrityRead School Tour, CelebrityRead TV Show and a radio programme, and asked interested partners to team up for sponsorship. He stated that the school tour arm would benefit schools that would host each reading session. The TV and radio shows would also host celebrities and authors in an interactive session on books and so stimulate reading amongst Nigerians.
Although he said it was sometimes frustrating working in a book environment, for Okoro, CelebrityRead Africa’s nomination as Team of the Year by Future Awards was a high point worth celebrating as it signified endorsement for the team.
However, for an event that has prided itself in the past one year working with celebrities to shore up interest in book reading, the absence of celebrities that had read during previous sessions left a sour distaste in the palate of those who attended. No reason or explanation was given for their absence.
But the relatively unknown and young performers that stepped up the stage made the difference as they filled whatever void created. Olumide opened the show with a poetry performance with his piece ‘Legend’. Then spoken word artist, Olulu did his thing. Other young performers that showed class were Korede with his track ‘Short boy’. MC Pato also tried his best to crack the audience’s ribs. Dexterity dance group also thrilled with their acrobatic dances.
But it was street-wise-looking Strings, with his female partner, Omo, that gave the audience some musical food for thought. With Strings on the guitar, they both pelted the audience with their sultry voiced performance. Their song, ‘Slave becomes a king’, wooed the audience.
For a book event, however, no reading took place. One other flaw was that books given out as prizes were all foreign books. For a book reading programme that is keen on making Africans read, it was odd that no book written by any of the authors in attendance was found worthy to be given away as prize.
Nevertheless, many in the audience had opportunity to comment on CelebrityRead Africa and its impact on those who attended the event in the past year. Inspirational author Bola Essien-Nelson (author of Diary of a Desperate Naija Woman) said CelebrityRead Africa had done a nice job in the last year. She found it real honour to have been a previous guest writer. She encouraged writers to continue writing, saying the effort was always a worthwhile one.
Essien-Nelson (founder of a new book reading programme, NaijaSistas Book Reading) further praised Nigerian women and men for writing great, fantastic books. She said, “Writing pays. If you have something, write about it. Good things come to those who wait. God has given each of us a talent; we need to harness it, speak it, write and act it. Do something with your talent; you must find your voice!”
Geraldine Iheme (author of Disfigured Emotions) commended the organizers of CelebrityRead Africa for the initiative. She admonished youths to leave twitter and facebook alone, saying those social network stations were a huge distraction; she enjoined them to read books instead as a way of transforming their own lives.
Jennifer Ehidiamen said CelebrityRead Africa was a really inspiring programme, stating, “I love the mix-up of participants, the warm atmosphere, and the way the organisers handle things”, and encouraged all to be part of the project.
Also, STV newscaster, Onyi Sunday, praised the organisers for a lovely initiative, saying the first session she attended was an eye-opener as it further confirmed how badly eroded values were in present day Nigerian society. She maintained that with children dictating what they would have or do rather parents imposing their wills on them as it was in years gone by while she was growing up didn’t augur well for society’s health. She wondered why parents had to negotiate with their children the need to read or not, saying such attitude by parents had really lost the edge in child upbringing in the country. Sunday said there was a need to rein in children’s recalcitrance and poor attitude to reading for a better society to emerge.
Sunday further sought to know what had happened to children’s belt on TV. She took self-styled Africa’s largest TV network, NTA, to task for abandoning its statutory obligation to young viewers. She tasked all segments of society to put children to books, warning that “playing it cool with children when it came to books” was a dangerous trend with costly consequence.
For Tope Sunmola (Junior Chambers International, Lekki chapter), CelebrityRead Africa was using the greatest influence (celebrities as models to stimulate read) to explode the reading culture and make it more enjoyable. Ife Owosuna (Creative Arts student, University of Lagos) said CelebrityRead Africa was a wonderful experience, and added that it was good for young people as it stood to illuminate their minds.