Literacy As Democracy Dividend
CORA ADDRESS AT THE 9TH LAGOS 9BOOK AND ART FESTIVAL By Toyin Akinosho, Secretary General, for and on behalf of The CORA Collective
[The board of trustees of the Committee For Relevant Art hereby calls for a moment of silence in honour of the novelist Cyprian Ekwensi].
[Read the Dedication To The Novelist of Our City.. ]
The Lagos Book and Art Festival was first convened in September 1999, as our country returned to the current phase of democracy.
The anxieties of the time were reflected in the theme: Read To Freedom, which argued that a well informed citizenry would ensure the sustainability of our hard won democracy.
Eight years later, the first major elections have happened, and it is the quality of our literacy that determines the robustness with which we question the adequacy of those elections.
Some of our friends have argued that phrases like Democracy Dividend sound like what politicians use to hoodwink the citizenry; afterall, they argue, the United Nations regards education as a fundamental human right.
To these comments we respond that our theme looks at a bigger picture. A brilliant engineer who doesn’t read outside the interpretations of the laws of physics cannot contribute effectively to strengthening our democracy. So we’re not just about basic education.
Whenever we question the level of readership in Nigeria, we do not comprehensively address the role of the infrastructure of reading, outside the walls of the school.
This festival is interested in how Nigerians are engaging and interrogating Nigerian writing and hopes to be able to feature, every year, the widest expressions of our collective authorship. This is why we insist on a long programme of discussions of material that’s inside the Nigerian book.
A significant number of our countrymen talk about what Mallam el Rufai has done in Abuja. But if they’ve read T. M. Aluko’s novel, Conduct Unbecoming, they’d realize that there was some hardier expatriate public servant in Lagos over forty years ago, who did things to people’s buildings that even Rufai could not have attempted. But Conduct Unbecoming is a rollicking read that you could finish in few minutes on the beach, not a difficult textbook on History of Lagos.
Those who say they prefer reading Business books to show them how to create wealth don’t know what they miss in simpler, non business texts. On the surface, Kunle Ajibade’s Jailed For Life and Chris Anyanwu’s Days Of Horror are regular reportage of what a journalist goes through under the military and the prison notes of political prisoners. Look at them again: one book shows that a business founded on partnership survives one individual’s incarceration while the other reveals how a one man business collapses because of the absence of the founder. What more could you expect from a good business book?
We believe that a book fair is nothing if you don’t engage the contents of books and that this engagement helps to increase readership and thus improve the understanding of our place in the sun. Our colloquium Constructing A Nation: Stories Out Of Biafra looks at six books that were inspired by that war. The moderator of the panel, Dr Chidi Amuta, says that one of his objectives is to find out why no other single event in our history has brought forth more authorship than the civil war. As the Niger Delta crisis deepens, we see a change in the tone of the literature coming out of the lived experiences in the creeks. The celebration of the environment in J. P. Clark’s The Bikoroa Plays and Okara’s Call Of The River Nun have hardened into works like Hard Ground by Ahmed Yerima and Tanure Ojaide’s protestant novel The Activist. Discussions of the contents of books such as these are what we’d do in MENDing The Damage; The Emerging Literature of the Niger Delta.
The opening of the last eight years have boosted the country’s literary output. We find that when we say we are telling the Nigerian story; it no longer is about a boy growing up in Kaura Namoda. More often, a British girl who has lived all her life in Kent Road, daughter of second generation Nigerian immigrants, can tell us a very interesting Nigerian story.
Its this perspective of Nigerian Life elsewhere that we examine in Writing In: Tales From The Diaspora tomorrow at 2pm. Ladies and gentlemen, the assemblage of all these; the book exhibitions, the discussions, the live music, the drama skits, make up the package we have for you these next three days. We hope you have as much fun lapping it all up as have had in putting up the show. Thank you so much. Enjoy.
The Ninth (9th) Lagos Book And Art Festival runs from November 9-11, 2007.It's a most culture picnic for the whole family.For more details call:jahman 08022016495,juwon 08023900326 0r chuks 08065290744
- The Lagos Book & Art Festival continues today and tomorrow. Visit the CORA blog for details.