By Wabiye Idoniboyeobu, wabiyeidons@riverdrillgroup.com, 08063755563

Prince Tonye Princewill the Prince of Niger Delta Politics, member of the Rivers State Economic Advisory Council and Consultant to the Rivers State Government on Public Private Partnership joins hand with Mrs. Koko Kalango the Founder of Rainbow Book Club, organisers of the 2011 Garden City Book festival to welcome the great Rev Jesse Jackson to Port Harcourt who is expected to act as guest speaker. He is to talk on the power of written words by writers who bring people-oriented issues to the front burner of public discuss thereby bringing about the much sought change.

For avoidance of doubt, Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson Senior one of the America’s renowned and foremost civil rights, religious and political figures who has for over forty years played pivotal role in virtually every movement for empowerment, peace, civil rights, gender equality, and economic and social justice. On August 9, 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Reverend Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Reverend Jackson has been called the “Conscience of the Nation” and “the Great Unifier,” challenging America to be inclusive and to establish just and humane priorities for the benefit of all. He is known for bringing people together on common ground across lines of race, culture, class, gender and belief. He is the founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition one of America’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures.

On 11th September, 2011 destiny brought this world citizen to the path of Prince Tonye Princewill the renowned Scion to the Kalabari Kingdom and the 2007 gubernatorial candidate of the then Action Congress in Rivers State who on arrival from his London base at Murtala Muhammed International Airport joined the same flight with Rev, Jesse Jackson who also arrived from USA to Port Harcourt to attend the 2011 Garden City Book Festival kicking off from 12th September, 2011 and ending on 17th September, 2011.

Prince Tonye Princewill who whiles the flight to Port Harcourt briefed the special guest to the Rivers State Government that five years ago, Port Harcourt was more in the news for inter-cult violence and kidnapping than for anything else, that residents lived in fear daily and went to bed with one eye open however, that worrisome state of affairs has given way to a more stable environment. “The current state government, headed by the Governor Rotimi Amaechi, has calmed virtually all nerves and is gradually restoring the city to its former glory as the Garden City and a place of peaceful living,”

Mrs. Koko Kalango who was the Port Harcourt International Airport to welcome this two great sons of our world told Rev. Jackson that the relationship between governments and writers, in the Niger Delta context, can sometimes be fragile, especially where writers highlight the perceived flaws of government. “From the point of view of the people, literature can serve as a mirror to our society; reflecting the good, bad and ugly aspects of our cultures and socio-economic practices,” she added.

At last year’s festival, Governor Amaechi spoke about his abiding interest in literature and how Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People is one of his all-time favourites, because it instructs him as a politician. “The truth is that we have very good writers in Nigeria, but they haven’t achieved the same stature as, say, Chinua Achebe,” he said, tasking writers to continue to address the corruption in Nigeria. “Politicians will not change until you the writers become the voice of the people.”

He announced plans by his administration to build a world-class library in the state capital. “The building plans are in my office. They have already been approved and the library project itself would cost about N1.2billion,” he said, adding that a large chunk of the cost will be borne by corporate organisations and other sponsors. Amaechi, who is a graduate of Literature, also shared his vision of a literary festival that will not only be sustained beyond his tenure, but one that will be positioned to attract increased corporate support strictly on the strength of its own values.

“Our dream is that in the near future the city of Port Harcourt would not only be known for its oil and gas industry but also as Africa’s leading literary hub. Under Governor Amaechi, Port Harcourt has become the Garden where Literature blooms.

At inception, the festival attracted such accomplished writers as Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, Kofi Awoonor, Elechi Amadi and Gabriel Okara. In 2009, it hosted authors, such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o and J.P. Clark, among others; and last year, the festival had in attendance the likes of Chukwuemeka Ike and Vice-President Namadi Sambo as guests.

“With the first African and black Nobel Prize, the most widely read novel in Africa, numerous literary awards in the international scene, and the most vibrant and populous literary guild in Africa, Nigeria’s literature has given a robust account of itself, since the nation’s independence,” said Prof. Olu Obafemi, keynote speaker at last year’s edition on the theme: 50 Years of Post-Colonial Literature.

Wabiye Idoniboyeobu is a Public and Political Analyst based in Port Harcourt.