By Bassey Ubong
Mr. John Obot, a school teacher from Akwa Ibom State received approval from the managers of Guinness Book of World Records (GBWR) to read aloud for 145 hours to break the record set by Rysbai Isakov who read for 124 hours. Mr. Isakov from Kyrgyztan Republic, a former Soviet nation in Asia, read books aloud at Bursa, Turkey between 22nd and 27th September 2022.
After 53 hours, news circulated about a glitch in the timekeeping mechanism at Uyo. GBWR, we heard, cancelled the 53 hours and directed Mr. Obot to start afresh. He did and by the time he rounded off he had spent 206 hours on the quest. One can see the reason GBWR rejected many applications from Nigeria, otherwise Nigerians would be on every page of the global publication.
The marathon read hinges on tests of strength and endurance. While Mr. Obot waits for verification and confirmation from the organisers, he can sleep and wake to the realisation of a feat some people may regard as simple, but in fact few people can try, let alone succeed.
But the feat went through for reasons beyond Mr. Obot’s determination, stamina, and endurance. These reasons should be placed on record for future GBWR attempts and any other project in particular by youths.
First, Mr. Obot spent quite some time and energy on preparations. He selected the books, and one can be certain, read through all of them before the commencement day. Youths in general go into projects with a large dose of hope, hype, and hyperbole, but with little preparations.
A popular management cliche says: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Planning implies preparation.
Second, Mr. Obot lined up persons and organisations to assist him in his quest. Any project at any level which involves shoddy preparation must be regarded as a non-starter. Although unconfirmed stories claim the quest cost an incredible N11 million, one wonders from where a teacher in a private school raise such money without the support of philanthropists?
Third, the numerous helping hands made a critical difference at different levels and perspectives. While Uyo Book Club, which aims at the development of reading culture in Akwa Ibom State, anchored the preparations, Watbridge Hotel, Uyo provided the principal operational structure – venue, food, ambulance, security, and other forms of technical support. We should doubt John Obot’s successful attempt if he had used his residence for the quest.
This aspect highlights a fourth point I consider a principal reason for failure of projects in general and businesses in particular in Nigeria.
The wise saying of “kill and eat alone often makes the hunter lose a big catch” fits in here. In developed countries scores of businesses and individuals work together to get a project through. Do Boeing Company, Airbus, Lockheed Martins, and Bombardier, among others, produce one pin or yard of wire as part of the megaton aircrafts we see or fly in? The companies assemble the thousands of micro to macro parts which go into every aircraft. The suppliers in turn depend on dozens of producers and suppliers of bits and pieces which form the whole such as the engine.
General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls Royce are some of the mega companies which produce the engines for aircrafts and rockets in the defence and commercial outfits. The companies have facilities to monitor every engine they have produced from the nanosecond the aircraft has been cleared for take off till it lands and parks. The complex operations mean dozens of companies produce the thousands of parts into the aircrafts and long before the orders for the parts and the fully assembled aircrafts are made, several research, design, marketing, and engineering companies make inputs and receive their just due in pounds or dollars.
Two years ago, I placed an order for an industrial frying pot at Uyo. It took six months from the day I made financial commitment to be completed. Reason? The ‘expert’ worked alone and the few assistants who are trainees or apprentices were disallowed access to critical information on the structure and working of the equipment till journeyman stage. We know western scientists take roots, barks, and liquids from trees and other plants and send back to us medicines in beautiful wrappers and make billions of dollars, while the native doctors remain poor, because they prefer to restrict access to knowledge passed down in oral form by others who picked successors and gave skills in secret.
In the John Obot saga, several companies were involved and they received Publicity, I believe, in line with their contributions. Politicians cashed in and used the opportunity to tell stories about themselves and what they did or do, false or true. While most of the authors whose books were in the group of 42 stayed at the background, some pushed themselves out there to their target audiences. Producers and service providers do this in developed countries by themselves or through consultants.
We believe John Obot will become a brand on confirmation of his attempt by GBWR. When it happens, he will require persons with expertise in various fields whose contributions to Mr. Obot’s future must be recognized. A true celebrity requires a team which may include Managers (tours, financial, personal), publicist (image and brand management), agent (to source and negotiate contracts and other deals) and stylist (dresses, hair, etc) among others. The number depends on issues such as money available to pay the team members and potential business deals. These professionals have no need for pro bono (free, in the public interest) if they are to be professionals.
Several high profile persons who aimed to encourage the marathoner showed up in person. At the crowded venue (Letters House of Watbridge Hotel) I met Dr. Emmanuel Abraham, the founder of Topfaith Schools. The group of schools entered the education industry decades ago at the nursery/primary level and at present the group plays in the big league with a university which the school environment alone should be subject of academic study. Children from the secondary school arm at Ikot Ekpene joined the reading sessions of Ikot Ekpene Book Club. Dr. Abraham’s presence came after Dr. Sampson Ekong, Senator of the Federal Republic and proprietor of Watbridge Hotel visited the marathoner day and night. Akwa Ibom State First Lady, Mrs. Umo Eno visited at commencement.
For me, the most exciting feature came by way of solidarity of ordinary citizens of Nigeria who hold the national honours of CON (Commander of the Order of the Niger). The organisers, it appears, underestimated the turnout of supporters and admirers. The City View Hall of Letters House happens to be one of the small spaces for public events in the hotel, about 100 persons in capacity. As the days wore on and the Hall failed to accommodate admirers, canopies were set up at the grounds with largescreen television sets mounted for live coverage of the reading marathon. Muscular security men and women armed as appropriate stopped the influx of people to the principal venue.
The key thing to learn from the public support relates to the need for people to cheer others, rather than see efforts towards growth, development, and achievements as personal in its entirety. Watch the queues when a new version of iPhone gets to the market. Watch the queues when a new film hits the box office in developed countries. Watch the queues when an author autographs a new book released into the market.
In Nigeria, the known approach has been to wait for pirates to mass produce original works as counterfeit for sale at cheap rates – books, films, records. The problem may be traced to personal finances, but of a truth Nigerians have a low culture of cooperation with each other. Why should John Obot of yesterday become a superstar with a fat bank account, some people must have asked? But closer examination should reveal several down the line products/processes/services which others can benefit from. Some of the books read by Mr. John Obot, I came across the titles for the first time. The books were displayed by the organisers, and if we were book lovers, sales of the books read would have ticked up by now.
When the razzmatazz, like a flame burns itself out, down the line players should be expected to set their games in motion. For instance marketers, advertisers, brand developers/managers, and related professionals will have to get to work. Mr. Obot will need a team, or at least an experienced Manager versed in the art and act of celebrity management.
To ensure professionalism and commitment such should be done on the basis of percentage of income because flat salary can become an albatross if income stream cannot be guaranteed. The Manager will link John Obot’s name – now a brand – with several businesses and not-for-profit organisations Mr. Obot should cooperate with after due diligence as to their motives and modes of operation. One wrong choice, God forbid, can disable the John Obot brand.
I believe Ms Hilda Baci knows the forwards and backwards reason she has made a steady climb after she registered her capacity in the culinary field. On her 28th birthday, an undisclosed person or organisation gave her a new SUV which cannot be less than N60 million. One hopes she extracted a guarantee for fuel, otherwise much of the money from her high brow restaurant will go for Tinubu’s gasoline.
After confirmation by GBWR, Akwa Ibom State government should go beyond the solidarity visit by the Governor’s wife and Commissioner for Information as well as the congratulatory message by the Governor. John Obot should visit all schools in Akwa Ibom State as Reading Ambassador to preach the overdue gospel of reading as the foundation for excellent education. The early missionaries to Africa emphasised reading, writing, and arithmetic, with reading as the chief. Adult education participants in early post-independence Nigeria went to school to read to enable them master the Holy Bible. American Professor of Education put it in a fabulous way, “The READING nations are the LEADING nations.” Although this refers to education in general, the art and act of reading has pride of place in education and excellent attention to it places countries at the top of the development list. Reading forms one of the four language skills schools emphasise. The other three are listening, spelling, and writing, and on a sad note the four are scarce commodities in the Nigerian school system.
Mr. John Obot should form Reading Clubs in every school he visits and work with the nearest Book Club in the vicinity. In Akwa Ibom State I am aware of vibrant Book Clubs at Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, Abak, Ikono, and Eket. These will bring about a revolution in the education system.
Mr. Obot has to remain relevant for one achievement cannot make someone great. Hilda will have less problems because everyone must eat and big time food processing companies under normal circumstances should by this time have negotiated endorsement deals with her. Mr. Obot will likely have a harder time, because Nigerians in and out of school love books the way they love malaria. A mathematician may be able to determine the relationship between amount of time someone reads and academic/other achievements, and if done, Nigerian should be found at the bottom of the list.
Mr. Obot should, in fact, be seen as an icon at the national level, with the potential for positive impact on the reading habits of Nigerians young and old. In developed countries some people read upwards of 52 novels a year and such affects them in every aspect of life from ability to concentrate to patience, endurance, and application of the contents of each book on life.
It would be appropriate to conclude with dozens of hand claps and hugs for the team of organisers and financiers I have no access to the list. But I am certain of Dr. Martin Akpan who led the medical team to examine the marathoner during the five minutes per hour of respite. While GBWR expects extremes the managers harbour no intention to lose anyone cleared to make an attempt to pull down an extant record. Without the selfless attention of team members, the record would have remained in the little known Asian nation. And with the likes of Mr. Nsikak Essien of Concord newspapers fame, the post-attempt follow up will stabilise the John Obot brand.
Well done Mr. John Obot, the organizers and the supporters. More grease, more grace.
Dr Ubong, a writer and public policy analyst, lives in Uyo.