Oluwaferanmi Iyanda, Deputy Programme Director, Step Up Nigeria, was one of the panellists on the session “How to make books attractive for young people and adults” at the 2023 Edo Education Week in Benin City on Wednesday. She spoke with The Nigerian Observer on the sidelines of the event. Excerpts:

Could you tell us what your organization is doing at the Edo Education Week?

Step Up Nigeria has its headquarters in Abuja, but we do work in other states in Nigeria. This is our first time in Edo State, and we’re excited to start some work with the Ministry of Education regarding introducing anti-corruption education to young learners. So, that’s really what Step Up does. We’re trying to raise a new generation of leaders who think and act and lead different than our current leaders.

And we thought about how the value systems that we learn as children are important for the kind of adults that we become later. We remember when we were young, the books that we read in secondary school, how impactful they have been; the cartoons that we watch, how they sort of shaped the way that we think and behave. And so Step Up Nigeria is currently using storytelling tools.

So we have storybooks, we have comic books, we have animated films, we have films, and even virtual reality films. All of these tools, the idea behind them is to educate young learners from primary school – our target is from age six upwards to about age 17.

We don’t focus on those older because we do think that the formative years are when you’re younger, the average 18-year-old has already made up their mind.

But that is what we’re doing. We’re trying to educate people using storytelling on how to act with integrity.

What do you think about the Edo Education Week event?

Step Up Nigeria is quite excited because we’ve generally worked in the North – we worked in Kaduna, Nasarawa, Abuja; we worked in Lagos, Imo, and Oyo States. But we haven’t been to the South- South at all. So, as an organization, we’re thinking recently, where is the most progressive state, or who has the most progressive governor in the South, who is funding education, who is pro-education, where this programme can be replicated in the South? And automatically, of course, our choice was Edo State, because we’ve heard of the good work that Governor Godwin Obaseki is doing in the state to ensure that the average learner is getting access to education.

Even coming physically and just seeing the complex, seeing the Education and Arts Festival, and the governor just even being physically present there, that’s a testament to his interest in education. And then, of course, we’ve spoken with the Commissioner for Education, and they are already currently reviewing some of these books for schools in state. So this is definitely the city to introduce a programme like this because of their existing investments in the education sector.

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Do you have any thoughts on the EdoBEST programme that is being implemented in Edo State now?

I only learned about it today, I’m not going to have much to say.

You were a panellist on one of the sessions; could you tell us about your session?

I was on the panel today that discussed how to make books attractive for young people and adults. And the idea behind that, of course, because of the support for education systems, is books. We’re trying to improve education. We need books to do that. But for the average person, books are boring. They’ve always made the joke that if you want to hide the biggest treasure in the world from an African man, put it in a book.

So, we’re thinking, how do we make books much more interesting? We discussed how the cover of books, the colour of books, are the first two things people will see that will make a book interesting and inviting. And second, of course, importantly, is storytelling. So the content of the book has to actually be interesting.

We’re trying to encourage young people to actually pick up books and read it. So you have to have powerful stories inside the book. And that’s how our panel has decided that in terms of increasing the publicity of books and access to books, we definitely have to work on how books are published in terms of, like, their colour, the prints, the quality of the book, the cover of the book, the characters and images in the book.

And then, of course, storytelling. Books should have powerful stories that young people can relate to, but also adults, because we want books to become something families can do together. So if you buy an attractive book, parents read with their children, children tell parents what they read in school, and then there can be a conversation around what has been learned. So storytelling and, of course, how books are published in terms of the look of the books, are important to ensure that both adults and children are interested in reading books.

Your organization gave out free books at the event. So, who’s paying for that?

Yes, the books. So, we’re giving out Emeka’s Money, Tosin’s Story, and Halima’s Vote, written by Onyinye Ough, who is the founder of Step Up Nigeria. The books have been published in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation. So, MacArthur Foundation paid for the publishing and distribution of the books that we are giving to libraries and schools in Edo State.