Change Begins With a Book


Koko Kalango

New York! New York! Yes New York is setting the pace for a reading revolution. From the office of the Mayor, the city has launched a campaign called One Book One New York which encourages New Yorkers to read one book for a season. Over 5000 people voted to choose one of 5 award winning books; the selected book to kick off this campaign is AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Adichie.

I am not a fan of AMERICANAH for its subliminal message that trivialises the sanctity of marriage and sex. I would have preferred New York to read Purple Hibiscus, Adichie’s first book, which exposes the challenges many families face (and hide) to their detriment. Incidentally, the Rainbow Book Club kicked off its ‘Get Nigeria Reading again’ campaign in May 2005 with Purple Hibiscus as Book-of-the-month and Chimamanda Adichie as guest author. At this debut campaign the author interacted with hundreds of people from our book clubs in Port Harcourt and made the final selection of winners of an essay competition (for children) on a topic that was related to the book. Sixteen year old Master Adedotun Ajibade of Nigerian Navy Secondary School came out tops, while fourteen year old Master Victor Amango of Emarid College and fifteen year old Miss Nneka Jayne Moh of International Secondary School, Rivers State University of Science and Technology were first and second runners-up respectively.

By its incredible reading project New York is demonstrating its understanding of the importance of the book in building society.

It was a similar conviction that led to the Rainbow Book Club featuring a book-of-the-month which seeks to make the book an anchor for social interaction with the objective of learning lessons that will move us and our society forward. Kunle Kasumu, Channels TV Book Club presenter, ends each episode of his TV show with these words – ‘One good book can change your life’.

Just as a good book can be a positive force, a bad book can be used to influence society negatively. I recently read an article in this paper written by Sonnie Ekwowusi on ‘Sexualisation of Children’. The writer talked about how our children are receiving an inappropriate version of sexual education through curricular books. Let us intentionally and strategically employ the book as a tool for positive change.

In February 2017 the Rainbow Book Club read They Call Me Mama by Dolapo Osinbajo, now wife of Nigeria’s Vice President. In this book, the author shares her experiences working with ‘area’ boys in Lagos from around the year 2000. She encountered these street boys in the course of daily school runs and soon began engaging them in dialogue. This interaction progressed and she started dropping off tea for them daily. Over time the bond grew and she became like a mother to them. She took church to them under the bridge and later took them to church in her local assembly in Ikoyi. She was able to get many of the boys trained in a vocational skill, rehabilitated and re-integrated into society. This book sensitizes the reader to the plight of the less privileged and shows that we often do not need much to make a difference in the lives of others.

Arese Ugwu’s The Smart Money Woman was our book for March 2017. Arese’s book enables the reader kill three birds with one stone – enjoy a heart-warming story of 4 friends (girls) and the dynamics of money in relationships, get a peep into contemporary Lagos life, and glean lessons on financial literacy. The size of the book is friendly to the busy schedule of the average person and the narrative is engaging. Arese makes you think about your attitude to money and gives tips on how to make money work for you. By the time you are through with the book you should have only yourself to blame if you are not making smart money choices!

In October 2016 our book in focus was Rage For Change, by LEAP Africa. This work is actually a handbook for those who are serious about making a difference in society. It places the responsibility for change in the lap of the individual and encourages us to look inwards to see how we can be the solution to a problem that irritates us.  It gives a step by step guide to actualising our ideas. Anyone who has had a dream to impact society through social action should get this book. It provokes you to roll up your sleeves, get your hands in the mud and begin to work for change.

Peter Enahoro’s How to Be a Nigerian remains amongst the most popular books the Rainbow Book Club has read in the last 12 years. It will make you laugh and cry at once. It is about the conduct, misconduct, behaviour and misbehaviour of the average Nigerian. It can serve as a mirror to the Nigerian and for the non-Nigerian, an induction or orientation text into the Nigerian way of life. It should lead us to pause and ponder on the consequences of the things we do as a norm (such as jump queues or be late to appointments). This book should stir us to make changes that would take us in the direction of the Nigeria of our dreams.

Today, as we mark the UN World Book and Copyright Day 2017, let us use the book as a tool for positive change in Nigeria. The Rainbow Book Club is witnessing the power of the book to transform society through the 200 book clubs we established in primary and secondary schools in Port Harcourt in the course of the city’s tenure as UNESCO World Book Capital (2014).

After a decade of our ‘Get Nigeria Reading again’ campaign we have now switched to a ‘Keep Nigeria Reading’ mode. And like in New York, we must all get on board the campaign trail.

An ambitious project of this nature cannot be accomplished by one person or one organisation. It will take a collective effort and all stakeholders in society have a part to play. The Government will need to make policies that promote and encourage a vibrant book industry. Grants should be made available for literary enterprise and these should be awarded on merit, through a credible agency. Businesses should support sustainable book related programmes as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR) endeavours. When it comes to CSR, companies should think beyond financial profit to social profit. We need libraries. Governments should provide functional public libraries, corporate organisations should establish libraries, families should set up libraries as legacies to their loved ones. Every school should have a library.

Parents and guardians also have a part to play. They can nurture a love for reading amongst their children and wards. We should set good examples by becoming readers ourselves. We should read to our young children and take the older ones to book shops and libraries so they can catch the bug.

Let us take a cue from New York and transform Nigeria, one book at a time. This month join us to read And After Many Days by Jowhor Ileh. Remember, Change Begins With A Book.

  • Koko Kalango, MON, founder Rainbow Book Club and Project Director UNESCO World Book Capital 2014, wrote this piece to mark  World Book and Copyright Day