Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El Rufai admiring the books (left); his Commissioner for Education, Prof. Jonathan Nok watches on as Mr. Abaji Nyam of Marine Platform (with Lola Shoneyin behind him) showing off the mobile library with 100 hundred books donated to primary schools in the state
Corporate social responsibility took a truly innovative and positive turn recently in Kaduna, when 100 primary schools in the state became beneficiaries of mobile libraries stocked with beautiful and colourfully illustrated storybooks by easy access for pupils. Both at governor Malam Nasir El Rufai’s office at Sir Kashim Ibrahim House and LGEA Sheikh Abubakar Gumi Model Primary School, Polytechnic Road, Tudun Wada, Kaduna, an oil firm, Marine Platform, made good its promise to deliver 100 mobile libraries containing 100 books to schools in the state.
At Ake Arts and Book Festival last year, Mr. Abaji Nyam of Marine Platform had announced the company’s intention to boost reading culture among school children in parts of the North, starting with Kaduna State, by donating mobile libraries stocked with books to that effect.
It was Elnathan John, author of Born on a Tuesday, who put the argument in perspective when he said there is a need to bring conversations in the north into mainstream Nigerian narratives, ostensibly for better understanding and holistic national discourse. Indeed, not much tends to come from that region or is understood by others, as a result of culture and religious nuances. And it was his hope that his book and several others coming from that part of the country would help unveil the ‘purdah’ that has tended to shroud it.
And as if to echo John’s position, an oil services company, Marine Platforms, has boldly stepped forward to give writing from the north a boost. It has as aim the integration of the cultural norms of the region as encapsulated in the writing, with fiction taking the lead, into national conversations. The company made its interventionist initiative known November in November, at this year’s Ake Arts and Book Festival in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital.
Speaking on behalf of Marine Platform at the festival was Chief Finance Officer, Marine platforms, Mr. Baji Nyam, who acknowledged the uneven access to educational facilities, particularly books, in the country and stated his company’s desire to bridge it.
According to him, “Because I work with an oil and gas service company, I have had the privilege of visiting and living in many Nigerian states. Without a doubt, there is unevenness in how much access children have to good books, which encourage them to imagine different futures for themselves. I’m from Kaduna State and I know that my state and others in the north of the country do not have the depth of reading culture that they should.
“A few months ago, when Marine Platforms was thinking about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and how best to go about it, my colleague, Taofik Adegbite, bumped into Lola Shoneyin at a party and they got talking. In just a few months working with Lola, we have refined our goals. The work that Book Buzz Foundation (organisers of Ake Arts and Book Festival) does is closely aligned with our aims.We want to support children in Northern Nigeria”.
To achieve this objective, Marine Platforms has two important projects to execute. “Firstly,” Nyam noted, “early next year, we are going to start by rolling out 50 one-hundred-book libraries across Northern Nigeria so that when the children have their state-stipulated reading time, they will have beautiful, colourful books to dip into and get lost. Secondly, over the next few months, we intend to establish the Marine Platforms Reading Programme which will support writers from Northern Nigeria in the writing, editing and publication of their stories. We will do this by holding workshops and guiding the budding authors through the writing and publication process.”
For the brains behind Marine Platforms, “it is critical that the heritage, the history, the cultural norm, the joys and tragedies, the challenges and triumphs, the realities of everyday life for a Northern Nigerian man or woman living in Kaduna, Gombe, Sokoto, Katsina, Zamfara, Adamawa in 2015 is captured, told or interpreted for posterity. And what better way to do this than to put these valuable narratives between the front and back cover of professionally-edited and beautifully-illustrated books?”
He, however, corrected the erroneous impression that the north is bereft of any literary expression. Nyam also laid down a reward system for writers of northern extraction. According to him, “I just want to add that it is not as if the north is completely bereft of literary activity. People are writing and we strongly believe that those who ensure that Northern Nigeria contributes to the literary canon of this country must be rewarded and encouraged. Marine Platforms wishes to present a cheque of N200,000 (two hundred naira) each to five people who have published literary works in spite of the hurdles and encumbrances we all have to brave in this country. This we will also do regularly.”
Those rewarded were Samira Haruna Sanusi for S is for Survivor, Halima Aliyu for Fire on the Tip of Ice, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim for Season of Crimson Blossom, Elnathan John for Born on a Tuesday and Maryam Bogi for Bongel.
Nyam philosophically concluded his presentation thus, “Literature uplifts; literature admonishes; literature enriches and enlightens; literature instils pride and builds nationhood and a sense of togetherness. Literature shines a light on our vulnerability and reminds us of the depths of human agony. But perhaps, most powerfully, literature strengthens. Where war, religious conflict, ethnicity may separate us, literature brings us together and reminds us of our common humanity.”