Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, will today assume its status as the UNESCO World Book Capital 2014, the first country in the sub-Saharan Africa to have won the designation from an open competitive bidding.
Formal activities for the programme began yesterday with the opening of the International Literature Exhibition and Culture Exhibition (ILE) as well as public presentation of a communal story written by children across Rivers State; “100 years Around Port Harcourt” on the sights and sounds of their local Government Areas.
Addressing journalists on the significance of the status, Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, said to emerge the UNESCO World Book Capital City, Port Harcourt defeated such other notable cities as Oxford and Moscow.
She said the only other city in Africa that had been the World Book Capital City, Egypt, attained the feat only by the consensus of the organisers and not like Port Harcourt whose case was by open bid.
She said Port Harcourt won the bid through the recognition of the efforts of the Rivers State government in promoting literacy and literary events in the country.
“We do believe we can only strengthen education with an enlightened populace which in turn enhances the practice of democracy and good governance,” she said.
She said that was why the state established and had sustained for five consecutive years, the Garden City Literary Festival, noting that the mileage achieved by the festival encouraged the state to bid for the World Book capital City award.
According her the organisers must have been thrilled by the programmes of the state for the event hence the award to Port Harcourt.
Semenitari likened the event to the Olympic Games, saying it was the Olympics of the literary world. She added that the period of the award was an icing on the cake of the Amaechi administration as it would be ending about the same time his administration would be handing over to another governor.
The state Commissioner for Education, Alice Lawrence-Nemi, also told THISDAY that the state was thrilled by the UNESCO status Port Harcourt has attained.
Lawrence-Nemi said, “Today is the opening and we had to unveil the working book written by 230 children on the Sights and Sounds of Rivers State and of which I wrote the forward. The working book; we got children from public schools in all the 23 local government areas of the state; we chose 10 from each of the local government areas, making 230 children in all. They wrote about the culture of the areas; little children who went to spend holidays with their grandparents. It’s very interesting.
“We feel much fulfilled that at last Port Harcourt is taking over as the UNESCO World Book Capital. But I do not think it should just end with UNESCO. It should be sustained. We have seen the benefits of this to our children and it is something we will wish to continue, even after UNESCO.”
On the impact on the reading culture in the state, the commissioner said: “The literacy level will go up. With this in Port Harcourt, we believe the literacy level in Port Harcourt will go up. If you look around now, the culture of reading books is on the rise. Children in schools now have time in their time-table to spend time in the library. Rivers state should be commended because people have gone back to the books.”