By Anote Ajeluorou
Efforts by small groups and individuals to promote writers and books in the country received a boost with Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) launching its new initiative, Meet the Author campaign recently
The timing could not have been more appropriate, especially in a year that children’s literature took centre-stage in its literary prize. Recently, Mai Nasara, for whom children are special breeds, had just won the huge prize for his efforts in his winning work, The Missing Clock, in the Nigeria LNG Limited-sponsored The Nigerian Prize for Literature.
Now, beyond awarding the most coveted literary prize in the country to deserving authors, LNG has joined the quest to encourage Nigerians, especially young ones to rediscover the joys of reading books so as to open a wider vista for themselves. The company flagged off its maiden edition of Meet the Author, a reading initiative, last week in Bonny Island, Rivers State, its operational base, where it took children’s author, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, to motivate the young ones.
With LNG Primary School located within the well- planned LNG Residential Area in Bonny Island as venue of the maiden edition of Meet the Author event, Ezeigbo spoke to the pupils about reading, and why important it is to read. But these particular children were not new to reading. They had been given copies of Ezeigbo’s children’s book, My Cousin Sammy in advance as text of focus.
And beyond that, they had read other texts far higher than their age. Their excitement bubbled over as they interacted with the professor of English, multiple award-winning writer and gender expert. They showed their depth of understanding of My Cousin Sammy as they responded to questions and freely gave their views of characters and issues in the book.
By taking the programme first to its operational base in Bonny Island, LNG’s charity could be said to have begun at home. It was the place for the test-running of a project proposed to travel to most parts of the country in a determined campaign to interest children in rediscovering the joys of reading so as to equip themselves for the future.
On Friday, Day 2 of the programme in Bonny, the situation wasn’t much different although the scope expanded farther. Selected students from schools within Bonny Island were conveyed in buses to the Ibanise Hall to listen to Ezeigbo, selected journalists and an artist speak to students about the need for them to take reading seriously, stressing that the exercise offered them the best window to view the world outside their limited environment.
With the theme Readers Are Leaders as guide, Ezeigbo took the young ones through her own life experiences and how she discovered the joys found in books and has since become hooked to books. She wrote My Cousin Sammy, she said, because of a personal experience she had. On a broader level, Ezeigbo told them how the dearth of locally written books motivated her to start writing for her own children while they were growing up, to help them to be grounded in their local culture.
She said, “It’s good to read foreign books, but you also need to read books from Nigeria about our culture, that way, you learn about other people’s culture by reading about them in books. I wanted to write about our culture, especially the speaking of mother tongue. Those of you who don’t speak your mother tongues start now. Your mother tongue helps you to know your culture, because language is the carrier of culture”.
Also at Ibanise Hall, Ezeigbo tasked students everywhere to form Neighbourhood Book Clubs as anti-dote to the absence of libraries in schools all over the country. That way, they could exchange the books they have read with their colleagues. She said this in acknowledgement of difficulties Nigerian students currently face in not being able to source needed school materials readily as it was in days gone by.
The selected students were from Government Girls Secondary School, Finima (Junior and Senior); Bonny National Grammar School (Junior and Senior); Community Secondary School (Junior and Senior).
In stating the objectives of the project, LNG’s Head, Corporate Affairs, Ifeanyi Mbanefo, may have hinted at the kind of corporate social responsibility (CSR) corporate entities ought to take seriously, which is investing in the future of nation’s young ones. This is especially crucial these days when the nation’s educational fortunes have since nose-dived. Also, LNG’s initiative may seem a masterstroke where role models for children seem limited, especially in a society in the grip of multiple social malaise.
Although Mbanefo had projected 2000 students in all, a little over 500 turned up. Indeed, there would have been no need for the limited number as the Ibanise Hall was less than half full. Also, organisers would do well to throw subsequent Meet the Author programme open to as many pupils and students that are willing to attend to benefit from the initiative. A particular school should also have been chosen in an area to host the event rather than a non-school environment for greater pupil/student participation.
Nevertheless, the students showed great aptitude towards the book, My Cousin Sammy, in their intelligent questions and responses. They showed uncommon flair for writing and books with their engaging questions about writing, especially the challenges a writer like Ezeigbo faces, her motivations for writing, the place of talent and hard work in writing, what influenced the writer the most in writing My Cousin Sammy and so on.
Also on hand to drive home the intentions of the author of My Cousin Sammy was foremost artist and illustrator, Sam Ovraiti. After each of Ezeigbo’s talk with the pupils or students, Ovraiti would coordinate the illustration part, where they represented scenes from the novel, as they understood them. Also, Federal Girls Secondary School, Finima, acted out part of the novel even to Ezeigbo’s delight. ‘Readers Are Leaders’ theme also became a debate topic that got animated contributions.
INDEED, literature and its creators or authors may seem the only ray of hope children are left with to point them in the right direction as they grope their way into adulthood. “We invite them (authors, journalists) just to prove we can find within our country enough unblemished persons the children will look up to,” Mbanefo said. “These are also people we can readily recommend to children as worthy role models… The programme is dedicated to bringing the joys of reading, and indeed of writing, to students whatever their circumstances or background may be”.
Mbanefo also highlighted the peculiar environment in which Nigerian children operate, an environment of lack that readily inhibit their innate gifts from blooming to their full potentials.
He stated, “Our main reason for this event is that we cannot run away from the fact that children in Nigeria are disadvantaged…. So we decided to bring these writers to dialogue with students, and in doing so, realise the dreams of many of our young ones… We believe that the best way to get children excited about books is to provide them with opportunities to meet authors and hear them talk about their work, their lives and their views of the world”.
On Ezeigbo’s virtues as a writer and role model, Mbanefo said, “She is a writer who consistently continues writes beautify stuff. Yours is the true writer’s gift, which enables you to look intently at the world around you, and to see similes and metaphors emerge. You have written beautiful books. And, besides being a good role model, you have a voice everyone respects. So, we want to enlist your help to get our children interested in books”.
Also, Mbanefo did not fail to highlight the benefits of such a venture to any corporate body (apart from Nigeria LNG Limited) so willing to invest in redirecting the minds of the young ones to the path of education when he stated, “From the standpoint of marketing, there may be a business case for it: Taking literature to children will be line-extension; it makes good economy of scale, gives us lower costs for our emotional brand – The Nigeria Prize for Literature; brings increased goodwill and enhances Nigeria LNG Limited’s corporate image”.
More importantly, the LNG Meet the Author initiative, as envisioned by Mbanefo and his team, would boost chosen author and the publisher’s economic base as thousands of copies of a selected book would be bought in advance and distributed to pupils and students before the event to acquaint them with its content.