There was palpable excitement on Sunday, January 16, 2022 when Engr. Anthony Akpokene opened his Flomat Books Ltd newest sales outlet at the Departure Hall of Asaba International Airport, Asaba, capital of Delta State. An important cultural landmark, the event was chaired by Engr. Joshua Egube.
Akpokene, who started his Flomat Books chain in Warri years ago, opened another shop in highbrow Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, in May 2021 to much fanfare.
Dignitaries that graced the event were Bishop Mogekwu, Bishop Mighty Okonkwo, Dr. (Mrs.) Augusta Ogbene and Dr. (Mrs.) Elohor Odiase.
Flomat Books dedication was performed by the Executive Assistant on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution to Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Rev. (Dr.) Godspower Agbuduta.
Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo, Mr. Anote Ajeluorou, Mr. Jerry Edo, Mr. Tietie, Mr. Maxwell Chiejina Ajufo were among many other dignitaries who were also present.
Egube, lauded the noble vision of Akpokene in setting up a bookshop at a vantage point like the Asaba airport. According to him, ”Books are central to everything in our lives. Whatever book you want, Flomat Books can make them available for you on request. He’s ready to import books and serve whoever needs them. Akpokene helped in setting up Scripture Union in Asaba and it’s doing very well.”
While welcoming his guests, Mr. Akpokene stressed the importance of books and the education they bring to a people in liberating their minds from premordial instincts that easily disrupt society and cause anarchy.
”I am glad to welcome you to the opening ceremony of Flomat Books Ltd stand here at Asaba International Airport at the Departure Hall. Today, 16th January 2022 is a remarkable day and I want all of us to note this day in our diaries. It’s a remarkable day in this airport, the city of Asaba, and Delta State. Why is it remarkable? I will always say that education is key to the development of a people; they say if you want to hide anything from the black man put it in a book. Why? Because the treasure is in the book but the black man will not read it.”
Akpokene gave an anecdote to illustrate the black man’s peculiar relationship with books.
According to him, ”Something happened recently in South Africa, there were protests about the way the government was treating the people. This protest was hijacked and a lot of looting went on as a result. Shops were looted, jewelry shops, car shops, grocery shops, everywhere looting. Do you know the shops that were not looted? Bookshops! They were the only shops that were not looted, because nobody is interested in books.
”But the truth is that the knowledge of 3000 to 4000 years ago are in books and there is hardly anything you do in this life that is not in books that somebody has gone through. So why do you suffer? You want to go to any programme; you want to do any subject; you want to go to any adventure, research it: somebody has done something like that before that you can glimpse and learn from.”
He also gave illustration with his home city, Warri, where he grew up and how a lack of books and education helped to truncate a thriving city’s aspirations and threw it into flames and violence.
”In Warri where I come from and where I grew up for most of my life,” he recalled, ”there’s a general terminology which they call ‘gbege.’ ‘Gbege’ means trouble; you know people just wake up in the morning after drinking ‘kai kai’ or ‘akpetechi’ (locala gin), and start causing trouble all over the place, because they didn’t go to school. Those who went to school are in their offices or business place working for either somebody or themselves. So they have no time for ‘gbege’. But the people who didn’t go to school have no work doing. You open a shop or a business they will come and harass and extort money they call ‘deve’ from you.
”So you can see that education is very important and books are part of education. That’s why we say it is a remarkable day in the history of the state because Flomat Books Ltd as a representative to major publishers in the world such as Oxford, Cambridge, Random House, Penguin, Pearson, MacMillan, McGraw Hill, Palgrave Sage, Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster – these are household names as publishers of all the academic genre. In the Christian religious circle, we are representatives of Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas, Barbour and so many other publishers. We have visited most of the CEOs and the companies to introduce myself to them as one of the big representatives in the book industry in the Niger Delta and Nigeria at large.”
The CEO enumerated the kinds of books in stock, saying travellers have an array to choose from to enrich their reading experience.
”Before you are books of all kinds: Leadership, Management, Motivational, Economics, Finance, Optometry, Pharmacology, Nursing, all kinds of books both academics and religious. And we have Bibles. Talking about Bibles, I just want to talk about two bibles here that are unique to the African setting. The first one is called the African Study Bible, which I was part of those who started the initial discussion about 10 – 11 years ago and I’m so glad that I can see the bible today. It came out recently and they sent me a few copies, because I was part of those who discussed the need for an African Bible.
”What is different in an African Bible? it is the same but the interpretation, key notes, concordance and everything relates to the African setting and describes it in such a way that the average African man will understand. There are so many things out there in the bible that is put under the European setting but the truth is most of the (things in the) bible were written in Africa.
”Do you remember that Jesus Christ came to Africa? It was in Africa he was saved from the menacing Herod. There are many biblical characters that are from Africa. It’s just that in today’s modern world, they have translated and deceived so many people that Christianity is a white man’s religion, it’s not. We also have The End Time Bible which is also fantastic.”
Akpokene said his modern bookshop which occupies a space of 3-square metres, has the kind of knowledge and value of books that are priceless, and enjoined trabellers to buy directly, requests for books they want or order online through WhatsApp, Facebook, etc, channels, adding, ”We hope that this is the beginning of greater things for Delta State in particular and Nigeria in general because this is a breath of fresh air.
”So ladies and gentlemen, I just want to say thank you very much for coming and for agreeing to be part of the reading culture, and as we read, our children will also read, our great-grand children will read and things will begin to change for the better for our state and country.”
Poet and lawyer, Ifowodo, also lent his weight behind the new bookshop, saying books are agents of ideas that travel widely to meet those who may never leave home.
”In fact, any time ideas are involved, any time there’s the matter of the mind and how to better our society is involved, Tony is there,” he said. ”And it’s no surprise that he would leave the lucrative position in Shell to sell books. It even became something to riddicule him with at a point by saying, ‘ah home people don reach am. How you go leave Shell say you wan go sell books. Home people don reach am!’ It became that bad.
”On my social media handles, I posted about this event and said: Books and culture are food for the mind; come to Asaba Airport today! In short, the only way ideas travel is through books. If we leave ideas in our head, we cannot have people go into our heads or minds to find out what is there. So, ideas travel through books. The moment writing was discovered, when we can now represent objectively what a genius, what somebody who is inspired, what somebody who is learned have thought up and can now reproduce it in a sign that all of us can decode, then the idea will travel and can then be replicated. But if you’re too far away and cannot reach the idea, you remain stuck in darkness.”
Ifowodo also commended Akpokene and enjoined everyone to embrace the power of knowledge that books bring, noting, ”So what Tony is doing is a thing that Nigerians should be emulating everywhere. Increasingly, this is an information age, a knowledge world. If you lack knowledge, you’re lost. Almost every school motto ought to be ‘knowledge is power.’ It’s truer today than when that phrase was coined. Anywhere there are books, I’m there. Books should be our friend.
”As Soyinka has aptly coined it: ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor at bay;’ so also ‘a book a day keeps the devil at bay!’ Maybe that’s too far, because you can finish reading Anote Ajeluorou’s ‘Igho Goes to Farm’, which is about 60 pages, a day, but a book like Soyinka’s ‘You Must Set Forth at Dawn’ will take longer. So engaging with a book in a day keeps the devil at bay, and the devil meaning that which is bad in human society, in life which is always at our beck and call, if we refuse to occupy our minds with the right ideas. And there’s no better place to find these ideas than in a bookshop like Flomat Books Ltd now at the departure lounge of the Asaba International Airport, Asaba.”
On his part, Ajeluorou praised Akpokene for his vision in opening a bookshop outlet at the Asaba airport, saying it would enbale travellers have easy access to books. He said there is a book famine in the country that needs to be fed through what Akpokene is doing by establishing bookshops across the country. He debunked the notion that Nigrians don’t read, saying instead that books were not available for those who want to read. Akpokene, he said, is example of a man with a burning desire to bridge the gap in the demand and supply end of books to meet the reading needs of Nigerians.
Ajeluorou also called on the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa-led administration in Delta State to urgently fix all the state-owned libraries that have been abandoned, with some already collapsed due to neglect. He wondered why the state library branch at Ozoro had remained in such deplorable state well over 10 years now since it collapsed. Ajeluorou said libraries were an important aspect of education and culture, especially in an era when books are so expensive and well out of the reach of most parents who can’t afford them for their children and wards. Libraries, he added, are cultural melting points where young people pursue their dreams of being educated.
While commending the governor for building a state-of-the-art Leisure Park and Film Village in Asaba due to be launched soon, Ajeluorou called on Governor Okowa to also give the state world class theatres, museums and art galleries and locate them in each of the three Senatorial Districts of the state to boost creativity and tourism. This, he said, would serve as enabling drivers of gainful employment for the teeming and talented Deltan youths where they could deploy their skills in the arts and humanities.
To properly mark the book event, Mr. Ajeluorou performed a poem from a forthcoming anthology of poems ‘The Undying Spirit’ entitled ‘Flames of Olomoro’. The poem draws atention to the deplorable activities of oil companies that still flare gases in communities in the Niger Delta that continuously harm the people and the environment instead of harnessing such gasses for domestic and industrial economic gains, as the practice is globally.