– Koko Kalango, Project Director, Port Harcourt World Book Capital and Book Festival Director
How did you pull the string in bringing the world to Nigeria in 2014?
There is a process in UNESCO. First, you enter a competitive bid. I felt Nigeria was well qualified to be the world book capital, having produced some of the world’s greatest writers like Wole Soyinka, the first son of African descent to win a Nobel Prize in Literature; the writer of Africa’s most popular book, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe; younger writers like Ben Okri; Chimamanda Adichie; Chibudun Onusuo…so we have that history. Also, we have cities like Port Harcourt that has become home to great writers like Elechi Amadi, Gabriel Okala, Ola Rotimi and many others in the younger generation.
So, according to the stipulation of UNESCO, we put in the bid, and among about 14 contestants, including Oxford (in the UK) and others like Lyon (in France) and Shaja in the United Arab Emirates and one in South Korea, we beat all of them to emerge the World Book Capital. What this means is that for a year, we hold the title. And in that year, we will run different programmes to promote books and reading. The festival has been on for seven years and this is the seventh year, and this one is special because we are the World Book Capital.
And it has coincided with Nigeria’s Centenary Celebration.
Exactly, and it is double celebration.
Why the choice of Port Harcourt?
I will tell you what UNESCO said. They said they were impressed with the rich quality of programmes proposed, the impact it will have on the youth and the spiralling effect on the book chain industry – the readers, the writers, the publishers and the editors – to drive up literacy rate in Nigeria primarily and, hopefully, it will then ripple out to the rest of the continent.
How will this impact on Nigeria’s educational sector in the years to come?
First of all, it is a thing of pride. We’ve made history. We have proved that we can do it and we can. This country has been blessed by God with human and material resources, and a lot of times outside you hear bad news coming from Africa. This event therefore boosts our moral; it is an encouragement. Even if we hear bad news, in the midst of that, there is a lot of good work going on in education and in other areas. This therefore puts an endorsement on the city of Port Harcourt. I commend the governor for putting education at the forefront of his agenda – even Mr President, through his Bring Back the Book project. They all supported the bid – the President, the governor. You know, UNESCO requires that the government support, and that is how it came to us and it is an encouragement to us.