Interesting name, amazing woman. Koko Kalango knows what she wants and how to get what she wants.
This woman of mixed blood hails from Bayelsa State, Nigeria. She studied French at the University of Benin and International Relations and Strategic Studies at the University of Lancaster. She has worked in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and as a volunteer in the United States of America. Koko has over a decade experience working with young people to encourage literacy and build character. Until her return to Nigeria in 2002 she was a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) and the Royal African Society. From 2003 to 2008 Koko maintained a weekly column in the Sunday supplement of This Day Newspapers. She did all of this, but her heart longed to propagate the gospel of reading in the eyes of very real obstacles and societal ennui. Koko admits that it was just a passion for reading that brought her down this path as she wanted to be a Career Diplomat. “I did not sit down and plan to start doing this. It first started as a hobby. Then, I looked around and saw there was a need, and I tried to meet the need. I just wanted to start a reading campaign and talk to children. But I am grateful the extent it has gone so far. It has worked out well, and I get encouraged to continue.” She says. Interestingly, Koko earned her first income in 1983, when, as a teenager she won the Mobil (Oil) National Essay Competition on the topic ‘What Can I Do For My Country?
Did she get what she wanted? I will say she did, with much more still to be unearthed.
Koko founded the R.E.A.D. Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organization to encourage reading and the love of books for development of society. READ is an acronym for Rainbow Education for Advancement and Development. Under this aegis, she also founded the famous Rainbow Book Club to constitute the spearhead through which the R.E.A.D foundation would achieve its aims.
The Rainbow Book Club was founded in 2004. Its objectives are to contribute to the development of the African society by encouraging a love for books and reading. Its major events include, a reading campaign to mark the United Nations World Book and Copyright Day (April 23), the Garden City Literary Festival to mark the United Nations International Literacy Day (September 8), quarterly readings with authors and monthly readings.
Through the Rainbow Book Club, Koko orchestrated the ‘Get Nigeria Reading again!’ campaign in 2005, enlisting the personal participation of the likes of the former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Adichie, Governors and Ministers. This campaign has involved over 1000 students and over 100 schools across 4 states as well as the Federal Capital Territory. RBC also operates the Rainbow Mobile Book Fair which creates awareness and encourages reading among students. Students who benefitted from the programme when they were in Secondary School still keep in touch with the RBC long after they have graduated attesting to the impact of the programme.
The icing on the RBC cake was organizing and hosting the Garden City Literary Festival which is in its 5th edition in collaboration with the Rivers State Government. In an interview with Saturday Sun, Koko stated that receiving the consent and cooperation of the Governor, was a walk in the park. After he participated in a reading tour organised in 2006 as the Speaker of the State House of Representatives, he was hooked.
The GLCF is an annual week-long festival that offers bibliophiles and writers an opportunity to partake in a number of activities ranging from writing workshops, book exhibitions, drama presentations, readings and interfacing with established and emerging voices in the literary world. The RBC has succeeded in drawing celebrated writers from Nigeria and beyond. These include Professor Wole Soyinka, Kofi Awonnor, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, JP Clark, Elechi Amadi, Koffi Awoonor, Ama Atta Aidoo, and their younger counterparts like Chimamanda Adichie, Sefi Atta, Helon Habila, Adaobi Nwaubani and Zainab Jallo to the city for various literature programmes. Two important world figures- Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and the Rev. Jesse Jackson the American civil rights activist have also been hosted as Guests of Honor on the RBC platform.
In addition to promoting the reading culture, Koko is also committed to having quality books published. That informed her repeated efforts to include publishing workshops among the concerns of the literary festival. Koko is disappointed with the quality of some of the books produced in the Nigeria. “There is more to be done to discourage self-publishing in Nigeria, which has been blamed for the shoddy jobs seen in many crappy books churned nowadays…because some people will just write anything and print anything. I don’t know whether it is the lack of knowledge of the real process of publishing,’ she says, adding: ‘People are not ready to pay the price for getting quality works.’ [The prices are prohibitive I must chip in in our defence.]
This year, under the auspices of the RBC, Port Harcourt was nominated as the UNESCO World Book Capital 2014. This was in the face of stiff opposition from other countries.
At the unveiling during the GLCF 2012, Koko stated; “Reading brings light. That is why our logo has a light from Port Harcourt to the rest of Africa. When light comes, darkness is dispelled and the society can develop. That is the task at hand. With Port Harcourt being nominated UNESCO World Book Capital 2014, the world now has its eyes on this City and we must stand up to the call to be a beacon to the world.
This is a call to humanity, a call to you and me. Don’t look behind you, there is no one there to take on the challenge. The challenge is thrown to you and me. We must work together to show the world that we are indeed a reading and thinking people…the thinking society would realise that suspects are entitled to a fair hearing in a court of law and if found guilty, then those suspects will pay the penalty according to the law. A reading society would not drag those suspects through its streets, beat them up, strip them naked, pour petrol on them and burn them like logs of wood. The reading society does not take the law into their hands, and kill people without mercy. No, that is not the response of a reading society; that is not the response of a thinking society.”
Her book, ‘Nigerian Literature, a Coat of Many Colours’, is a coffee table book highlighting the works of 50 prominent Nigerian authors was also presented. Its foreword was written by President Jonathan, and its introduction was written by Governor Rotimi Amaechi.
Plans for the 2014 Book World Capital activities are underway. There will be a theme song competition; the opening of the multi-purpose Garden City Library Complex, a national symposium with the topic, Books: Windows to the World; Celebrities Love to Read, where authors, poets, celebrities from film, music, sports, as well as the business communities will read to children at strategic locations across the city; Culture, Tradition and African Literary Renaissance: A Roundtable Discussion with Young African Authors, where a prominent Nigerian author will be invited to give the keynote on this subject to be followed by discussion on the role of culture in literary traditions and its impact on the successive generations of writers by young African authors. At the end of the discussion, a communiqué for action will be issued.
“The proposed events have been arranged to draw in participation from various sectors of society including popular music, film and sports sector, as well as civil society and grassroots organisations, schools, the public and the private sector,” Koko told Austin Nwakunor of The Guardian News.
From us at Konnect Africa, we say ‘more power to your elbow Ma’am!’ Do what you love and you will never have to work a day in your life…or so the saying goes. When passion meets purpose, sparks always fly!!!
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