If you have been visiting Freedom Park in Broad Street, Lagos, for its plethora of art and entertainment offerings, there is yet another reason to visit again.
Freedom Park, a former colonial prison, which was transformed into a vibrant cultural hub, has expanded its rich offerings with the opening of a library.
Tagged ‘CORAVille’, the CORA Library and Resource Centre at the park is an ambitious project by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), at a time reading culture is almost at its lowest point in the country and physical libraries are fast disappearing.
Considering the above challenges, one is forced to ask why CORA embarked on the library project, despite many other art, culture and entertainment projects begging for sponsorships.
With the project, CORA aspires to be what the Whitney M Young Resource Centre was in the 1980s Lagos.
Explaining the rationale for the library, Kayode Aderinokun, chairman of CORA Board of Trustees, said, “The whole concept of having a library and resource centre here is to create a hub that will take young people off the streets”.
Some of the country’s biggest problems, according to him, are management and transfer of values between the generations, an area he decried that the country has not done too well in.
“We see some new developments that work in our favour. We have a physical space here, and it has its limitations. How many people can we accommodate here? But then, technology came to our rescue.
“So, this is a physical, symbolic space that brings all of us together, but we are actually aspiring to set up an e-library that has a much bigger capacity to deal with some of the problems we have today. The library is just a symbolic location,” the chairman said further.
On his part, Toyin Akinosho, secretary of CORA, said at the sneak opening of CORAVille that the idea behind the project goes back to the inception of the Lagos Book and Art Festival in 1999, at the eight year of CORA in the art promotion and advocacy work.
“Then it was a little high minded; the nation had just returned to democracy and we thought that it needed a highly literate people to engage with the norms of the popular vote.
We would run a Book Festival (and not a book fair), so we could have a number of programmes in which people are actually engaging with the contents of the books.
“Just as we didn’t want a book fair, which is about the publishing trade; we also didn’t want a literary festival, which is more about elite writers talking shop and not necessarily speaking to the material in book contents,” Akinosho explained.
The plan, according to him, was initially for 12 city libraries in the country’s six geopolitical zones.
“We moderated it to six city libraries in Lagos”.
With the moderation, the library and the Book Trek programme were meant to run programmes all-year-round in line with CORA’s ambition to tackle the entrenched challenges of literacy in Nigeria, with at least a once-in-a-year literary event.
Again, it planned the Book Trek as an extension service idea, where it would engage authors year round in all the six libraries in several nodes of Lagos.
Speaking further on the imperative of the Book Trek, which metamorphosed into the library, the CORA secretary general said, “It is also a lifestyle advocacy; just as you can walk into a gallery (there are at least six exhibitions currently going on in several parts of Lagos as I speak), so also are there concerts (there’s a classical music concert at Muson Centre every other Sunday evening) and The Freedom Park hosts at least two concerts every weekend.
“So there should be readings, book readings”.
He argued saying “Why can’t I open the Guardian Newspaper and, in the same space where the Culture Diary is publishing a list of exhibitions, I see a Book Reading at Ajangbadi, or Yaba, or Festac, and determine: when I leave the book reading, I will go and see the exhibition”.
He lamented that many Nigerian writers simply keep their books in storage in their houses.
But rather than being in the storages, CORA, with the library project, is insisting that every good book that is out there should have at least three readings in a year.
The Committee insisted that BookTrek is not a book club, but an open initiative and should be included in the city’s culture calendar.
Regrettably, since 1999, CORA has done everything else: Book Treks, Book and Art Festival, but have not been too successful at setting up libraries all over town, until now.
“We had a book library in our former headquarters in Surulere, but it was rather quiet and we never got around to using it as a site of book reading activity. But this space has been deliberately elevated to a Resource Centre. We are aspiring to what the Whitney M Young Resource Centre was, in the 1980s Lagos,” he said further.
In his remarks, Wole Soyinka, professor and Nobel Laureate, who was also the guest of honour at the event, commended CORA for the library project but urged them to make efforts at getting the younger generations to visit the library in order to change their perspective of what library is and the negative narratives out there.
“One of the solutions is to find ways of attracting them away from their lazy encounters with the world of the narrative. It is a dangerous situation.
“So, we find ways of creating more and more of this nature, and find ways of bringing them to understand that these are not traps. We know that this is built on a former prison, but it’s being transformed in a very magnificent way.
“So, we tell them things like that and they come and see for themselves, and even if it’s a prison, there’s something called jailbreak. They can break out of jail and go and do other things. I assure you that it is not a prison. On the other hand, it is a gateway to true enlightenment and personality liberation. Don’t be frightened by the name of this, CORA, ‘relevant arts.’ I’m appealing now to those who are going to donate books. Don’t start looking for books which are relevant. Relevant or irrelevant, just bring the books, and we will know how to make those works relevant,” Soyinka said.