Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate, has lambasted President Goodluck Jonathan for what he described as his callous indifference and nonchalant attitude to the mindless killings, which the Islamic extremist sect, Boko Haram has carried out in recent times.
Soyinka is particularly miffed at the April 14 bomb blast at the Nyanya motor park, in the outskirts of Abuja and the abduction of more than 100 female students of Girls Secondary School in Chibok, a town in the border between Bornu and Adamawa States.
He urged the president to bring back the pupils as a matter of urgency.
The literary icon expressed this opinion while delivering the keynote address at the formal opening ceremony of Port Harcourt UNESCO World Book Capital 2014, which held on Wednesday at the Pavilion, Hotel Presidential, Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
He criticized the President for dancing at campaign rallies hours after the bomb blasts claimed more than 200 Nigerians and the abduction of students in the girls’ school.
Soyinka likened Jonathan’s indifference to that of Nero, the Roman emperor who fiddled while Rome burnt. “Bring back the pupils, not the book! ” Soyinka urged Jonathan, as he used the opening to sharply criticize the President’s Bring Back the Book campaign, which he flagged off in 2012.
He said Jonathan should concentrate on “Bring Back the Bornu Pupils Project” rather than on Bring Back the Book. The Nobel Laureate said the recent killings and abduction have traumatized Nigerians, adding that Boko Haram represents evil.
Soyinka also advised Nigerians not to leave the fate of the abducted students in the hands of the insurgents who, according to him, must have been using those innocent students as sex slaves. He urged Nigerians to do everything possible to rescue the female students from the insurgents.
“To remain in denial at this moment is to betray our own children,” Soyinka said. The Nobel Laureate also sent a message to the President, through Molara Wood, who represented him at the event, that he should stop imposing tax on books going out of, or coming into, the country. “Please, don’t re-impose tax on books!” he said.
In her speech at the event, Koko Kalango, project director, Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014, said the importance of the book in the life of people cannot be overemphasized. “The book is a powerful tool for change. A means to an end. That end should be a peaceful society, which grooms enlightened and empowered individuals, families and nations. The book is vital to our personal and national development … When I read I see possibilities,” she said, adding that “the book needs friends, not enemies.”
Oby Ezekwesili, former minister of education and chairperson, Board of Trustees, Rainbow Book Club said she was immensely proud of the work Kalango had put not just into reviving the reading culture in Nigeria but also into contributing to make Port Harcourt the World Book Capital of 2014.
Ezekwesili advised Nigerians to read, irrespective of their age, because according to her, reading a book decelerates the aging process. “Every time Nigerians compete with the best in the world, it indicates the greatness we carry within,” she said, adding that, “we must replace oil with intellectual capital. And the fastest way to do it is through a book.”
Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State spoke extensively on the importance of books to national development, hinging the giant strides his government has taken in the area of education in the state to that awareness. The governor also said the solution to Boko Haram is in education and agriculture.
The opening ceremony, which also saw Bangkok handing over the baton of the World Book Capital to Port Harcourt, was witnessed by many dignitaries from within and outside the country.
Some of the distinguished guests in attendance include former head of state Abdusalami Abubakar who chaired the occasion; Amam Kitchawenghui, deputy governor of Bangkok; Izara Rodriguez of Hay Festival, who presented Africa 39 in the PHWBC 2014; Professor J. P Clark; Gabriel Okara and Elechi Amadi.