by Dr Udeme Nana
I have always had a natural fascination for literary arts and, particularly, literature. As a teenager in St Patrick’s College, Calabar, I used to write poems which I handed over to our Literature in English Teacher then, Mr. Aglais Joseph – an Indian to review for me. Along the line, I compiled them into a collection and wrote a letter to the Commissioner for Education for publication.
The Commissioner then, Dr. Effanga James Usua requested me to submit my manuscript to him for onward transmission to either Longman or Evans Publishers. Somehow, I lost interest and stopped the process. However, because some prominent people noticed my talent and inclination, I was introduced to Professor Ime Ikiddeh , a leading literary critic then of the Department of English and literary studies, University of Calabar for mentorship. Mr. Ikiddeh, as he was then opened his rich library to me and lent me his books. That is how he motivated me to read almost all the books in the African Writers Series (AWS).
The next phase of my romance with literary arts was during my sojourn as an undergraduate in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I got drawn to one of the leading hotheads in the campus, Olu Oguibe who, though a fine artist, also wrote poems. Olu, now a Professor, became my mentor, critiqued my poems. I also related very closely with Ike Okonta who was a postgraduate student in my department. We were regular guests at “Anthill”, an outpost within the University campus where artists; writers, poets, dramatists, musicians and dancers gathered weekly to express themselves. That was where I realised that there was an “intrinsic value in gathering to read”.
On a certain evening in 2015, as I took a walk around the environment where the residential estate I live is located, I was shocked at the revelry around me. I was inundated by the noise oozing from several drinking spots – bars, sit – outs, eateries and “joints”! The seeming reign of the culture of debauchery and attendant noise got me thinking about something antithetical to that low culture. It also struck me that our people were no longer reading books, except maybe reading religious devotions during family prayers and on Sundays. I was inspired to start a movement to promote a culture of leisure which, at the same time, has a capacity to refine the sensibilities of people. A culture of public reading. Such a high culture, in my estimation, would create a community of like – minds with a view to growing it to become a hub of people who would redefine the standards of general behaviour in our society.
The day Saturday, 17th, October 2015 was a cool day and in the early evening, about 3 o’clock , young acquaintances and friends who got the information started streaming into my residence. Earlier that day, I had arranged seats and brought out books to spread on tables in anticipation of a dinner on books. I was not disappointed as the young men and women – fresh graduates, students, journalists, young lawyers and teachers numbering 12 showed excitement at the sheer number and variety of books, journals and newsmagazines set for them to feast, nourish and enlarge their brains. It was Borono Bassey, a brilliant young man who led the chase to attract the young men and women to the meeting.
Later that evening, I wrote on my Facebook page, “One small step and a generation would move our city, Uyo and our dear State, Akwa Ibom”.
A Journalist, Mr. Uduak Iniodu commented “Oga, you don try for this one. It reminds me of when I was a Member of the Book Club in Calabar. I just hope our people would understand the value of this initiative”. UYO BOOK CLUB WAS BORN!
It has been an exciting experience so far. When we started out in 2015, meetings of Uyo Book Club were held at Dr Udeme Nana’s residence. The Club hosted visitors like the former Chairman of the State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Elder Patrick Albert, South South Editor of Premium Times, Mr Cletus Ukpong and the multiple international award winning investigative journalist, Mr Ibanga Isine. We held the Club meetings weekly, every Saturday, in the years the Club met at Dr Nana’s residence, all the books on display were from his personal collections.
The Club had cause to move house to the E-library in Uyo when it hosted Eunice Atuejide, author of “The Girl who Said She Can”. When the great journalist, one of the founders of NEWSWATCH magazine and one time International Editor of the year, Ray Ekpu accepted an invitation to read with the Club, a need arose to search for a bigger and more auspicious venue. Fortunately, the Club met a lover of book reading and a writer, Rt. Hon. Barr. Ekong Sampson who owns a 4 star hotel in the heart of Uyo. He agreed to host our august visitor and thereafter gave the Club permission to use the “Shakespeare’s hall” in the hotel whenever it was necessary for the Club to meet.
Since 2019, the Club has been meeting once a month; every last Saturday of the month. For his deep interest in books and support for the vision of the Club, he was installed as the first Patron of the Club. In between, the Club has organised Colloquiua in honour of Williams Shakespeare, John Pepper Clark and Ken Saro Wiwa.
The Uyo book club has also played host to Jude Idada, 2019 winner of the LNG Prize in Children’s literature, Dr. Wale Okediran, currently the Secretary General of the Pan African Writers Association, PAWA and former National President, Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA. In November, 2020, the club held a special colloquium to celebrate the 82nd birthday of Arc (Obong ) Victor Attah, a former Governor of the State acclaimed as the father of modern Akwa Ibom State.
The Uyo Book Club has no restrictions on membership. It is free and open to everybody – teenagers, young adults, adults and both men and women. Recently, a Book seller, Mr. Ekom Henry Itauma donated 80 copies of various books to the Club. The Club is growing steadily and is a Member of the Network of Reading Clubs and Book Promoters in Nigeria.
The Uyo Book Club is envisaged as a hub for social readers. It is aimed at creating a community of readers, socialising people to start reading again in the understanding that people can reimagine, reinvent and release their innate creative spirit. It also seeks to inspire writers, provide an avenue for reviewers and books centred discourses in addition to creating enthusiasm about books.
It seeks to encourage the setting up of Book clubs in residential areas, streets , schools, wards, villages and local government areas. In addition, the book club hopes to endow prizes , awards for readers and writers in various categories besides serving as an intellectual “THINK TANK” to make well thought – out contributions to the government of the day at all levels.
In the pursuit of an activist role ultimately, our book club could lead the advocacy for improvement or rehabilitation of the infrastructure in the sector as a large community of readers would spur more talented writers up, impact on the publishing industry, rejuvenate the Book selling sector, provide reading materials in schools and for general readers.
Uyo Book Club aspires to lead the movement to promote the ascendancy and dominance of a robust high culture in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State and in Nigeria.