Our world is not bereft of information, instead, we have an incredible amount of information which can be very valuable to those who have a quest for knowledge. Dr. Raphael James, a Nigerian born Information Management Consultant, Researcher, Publisher and Media Consultant has a penchant for information management and dissemination, and still believes that the reading culture in Nigeria needs urgent intervention. Hence, he set up a private library; Center for Research, information Management and Media Development (CRIMMD) opened to the public with over 25,000 users since its inception. Victor Gotevbe, Publisher and Editor in Chief of Diplomatic Watch had a chat with him about his works. In our well read Cosmopolitan column, he tells about why and how he started the library, his initial and current challenges on the library project and the many interesting tourist sites he has visited amongst others . Excerpts.
What inspired you to start CRIMMD?
While I worked as a Researcher on Special Projects in Newswatch magazine in the mid 90’s. I came to realize that most Nigerians did not have information about our country, the younger ones growing up are even worse hit, so I started thinking of how I can be of help to my generation and the upcoming generations. Again, while I served in the Presidency in 1996, I still noticed the same challenge, that it was not everybody in government that knew what was going on about governance, so the urge to run my center increased.
I remember I set up an information unit in my office while in the Presidency and even while I served in Government House,Umuahia as a Media Assistant to my State Governor, I also established a mini library in government house. I embarked on CRIMMD because I have passion for research and documentations and I must state that I am among the very best Nigeria has today in terms of research and documentation.
The establishment of the library under CRIMMD was to help bridge the need I saw that Nigerians don’t read. A people without history do not exist; it is an insult to us as a nation that we depend on foreign media for our own history. The British library has more materials on Nigerian history than all the libraries in Nigeria. The few materials that we have are not taken proper care of. I beg to be corrected, do you know that there is no record of who designed the Nigerian Coat of Arm? I have searched and I have spoken to people in authorities and no record anywhere. It is high time we returned history into our primary and secondary schools. We need to know our history to know where we are coming from to enable us know where we are going.
If anyone reading this have the fact of who designed the Nigerian Coat of Arms, let the person come forward and tell us. If you look around today, all the schools and government offices in Nigeria hosts flags of green-white-green and coat of Arms. My question is, is that the Nigerian Flag? At what point did we change our flag, was it not a green-white-green that Mr Taiwo Akunkumi designed for us and yet people in government are making use of a flag that is not ours? We need to get our history right for the sake of generations unborn.
Today, as I look back to the journey I started in 2004, I feel excited, my library has produced professionals, medical doctors, Engineers and many others. Young men and women who used my library to read for examinations, passed and got admission into higher institutions, and today thousands of them have graduated. In the last one and half decades we have registered about 25, 000 members of the library.
There is a popular saying even though debatable: “If you want to hide information from the black man put it in a book”. Setting up a free public library and your books donation over the years seem to contradict the saying. Please respond to this vis-à-vis the reading culture in Nigeria.
It is true to some extent, the harsh economic situation discourages people from reading, even those who want to read can’t afford to buy books. So, obviously they will never discover any secret inside what they won’t open. Some people are seeing the value in reading but there are less libraries and less books and that is where I come in with my library and books donation.
You know it is one thing to have a BSc certificate and it is another to be able to defend the certificate. Today, the educational system is so rotten that you can buy a certificate with cash or kind. Undergraduates cram texts and go to exam hall and deliver it to their lecturer and walk out feeling satisfied. It is high time people read to gain knowledge and not just to pass exams. It will help the nation to move ahead and make us a better and greater nation. No educated person will go physical when challenged, what you see in the Upper and lower chambers where tables and chairs are used as weapons when provoked, is due to lack of reading culture. There is no difference to what the bus conductor who cannot express himself properly will do when provoked.
I have tried to reach out to some state Governors to inculcate the reading habit in their states by building libraries and promoting reading cultures, but they are not interested since it won’t bring cash to them. They will rather under develop libraries so that the younger ones will not read and gain knowledge while they will send their children abroad to study and use libraries over there.
Has your self intervention impacted the society?
Oh Yes, a whole lot, my library in the last 15 years has recorded over 27,000 users, students who passed through us are today lawyers, Medical doctors and Engineers. Our books donation has helped to start libraries in different communities in Nigeria, just a few weeks ago, I was in Olodo in Ogun State to commission a community library that I was the first to donate 100 books to. I was impressed and donated more books to them.
What has been your biggest challenge since you ventured into this selfless service?
Cash, from day one; it has been cash. I started CRIMMD with less than five hundred naira. But I am as patient as a vulture. Endurance and patience are the two key words that have kept me going and that have helped me in my journey in life. I have had situations where I used my cash to do research for individuals who never saw the value of the job. I did it for them and they never valued it and never paid me for the job, but for me life goes on. For an example, I did a job for Salisu Buahri, the former Speaker, (the Toronto certificate guy) and I travelled to Kano to see him but he would not see me. Therefore, l lost my cash for the airfare and my time, but life moved on. Basically, now my biggest challenge is to get a befitting space for CRIMMD, space is my biggest challenge.
Kindly share with us how you have consistently played the role of a cultural ambassador through your travels.
As a very young man growing up, I had travelling as a hobby and I loved travelling and exploring new environments. From my secondary school in Abia, I travelled to Enugu all on my own without telling anyone, to welcome Ikemba Ojukwu when he returned from exile. For me, the need to explore, to discover, to gain more knowledge has been my motivation. Today, I can boldly describe myself as a historic and educative tourist, I have visited 29 states since March 2015, when I commenced my educational tour to help me document historic and tourist sites in Nigeria. It is a self-sponsored project, as such I don’t rush it. I only tour at my most convenient time, considering time and funds. In 2015, I commenced a self motivated, self sponsored trip across Nigeria, visiting and documenting tourist sites. Some people have called me names like ‘Ajala-Travel’ after the first Nigerian globe-trotter. A blogger,once described me as the “King of Tourism in Nigeria”. In November 2016, the African Institute of Enterprise Development and Management presented to me the (AIEDM’s) African Tourism Education Enterprise Ambassador Award.
For me, tourism has an important place within the world economy and represents a basic branch in many countries with tourists locations. It is a known fact that the Christian pilgrimages to Israel and Islamic faithful pilgrims to Saudi Arabia have contributed to their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in those countries. If the government of Nigeria can invest in tourism, I am very convinced that it will improve our GDP a whole lot.
I have visited places like: the mountains of Ososo land in Akoko Edo, the War College Umuahia, Monastery Mountain Waterfall’ Awhum in Enugu, Olumirin Waterfalls (Erin-Ijesha) in Oriade Local Government, Osun State, Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, a sacred forest along the banks of the Osun river just outside the city of Osogbo, Osun State, National Archive Enugu, Oldest secondary school in Nigeria – The CMS Grammar School, Bariga District. Founded on June 6, 1859 by Reverend Thomas Babington Macaulay, Olumo Rock in Ogun State, River Niger and Benue Confluence point in Lokoja, Itoku market, the center of the indigenous Abeokuta industry of tie-and-dye, locally known aasadire, National Gallery of Art (NGA) Abeokuta, National Gallery of Art Osogbo, Ogun River, National Museum Abeokuta, Baptist Girls’ College (Mission), Idi-Aba, Abeokuta. In addition, I also visited 18 out of the forty-five (45) National Commission for Museums and Monuments outlets spread across the country, among them visited were: Abeokuta, Akure, Benin, Enugu, Ibadan, Lagos, Lokoja, Umuahia, Osogbo.
During my tours I met with His Royal Majesty the Oba of Odogbolu ‘Alaiyeluwa Oba Adedeji O. Onagoruwa JP, Elesi 1. His Royal Highness, Oba Anselm AdedoroObaitan, ICHAMA II. JP the Onyan’ Ososo; Prof. J.B. Longe, formally of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma and formally Head of Department, Economics at AdekunleAjasin University; Pastor Dr. Alfred OlabisiTofade, a senior pastor of Jubilee Christian Church International – Chapel of Victory, Dunham, North Caroline, USA; Professor Suleiman Elias Bogoro then Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund, (TET FUND); Prince AbiodunOpanubi Chairman/CEO of Ereke Paints Limited, in 1990 he was selected among the 50 Most fascinating business people in Nigeria by Concord Newspaper. With Professor AnezionwuNwankwoOkoro, (aka AneziOkoro) Professor of Medicine at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Dr Pat U. Okoye, veteran language teacher of English, French and Latin, an author of about 70 books; Professor Ukwu I. Ukwu, (OFR), Chairman of Ohanaeze Ad Hoc Committee on National Conference.
I have also visited the East African countries of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya where I met with the 96 year old granny of President Barrack Obama of America. I also visited the West African countries of Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana, while in Ghana I held deliberations with the former head of Military Government / President of Ghana, President Jerry John Rawlings.
After my visits to 18 states in Nigeria and my recent visit to 3 East African countries of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, I have come to see where we are getting it all wrong. While in Nairobi Kenya, I saw the way the Kenyan government made money from tourism as all tourists pay to have accesses to tourists sites and the entry fees differs. Why Kenyans as citizens pay less, East Africans pay double the much Kenyans are charged. West Africans and Europe pays four times the fees of Kenyans. The payment are paid into automated machines that issue receipts automatically. This way, I was told one cannot ‘pocket’ government funds. My other observations were the fact that all roads leading to the sites are motorable, thereby making transportation easier. We also can make so much revenue from tourism if we set our priorities right. This is the time to go back to the drawing board and correct it from where we got it wrong.
It is not an overstatement to say you have the largest photo museum in Nigeria. How were you able to do this? What other collections do you have in the museum?
Yes, I run a Nigerian Museum of photo history, rich photographs and portraits of the slave trades and its relics, through to the famous Berlin Conference of 1884/85; the era of Explorers (Expedition) of Dr. Mungo Park, Richard Landers and others. The onset of the merchants of the Royal Niger Company of Sir George Goldie through to Lord Fredrick Lugard who amalgamated Nigeria in 1914 and his wife, a former colonial secretary of great Britain, Flora Shaw, who historically invented a name for us-from ‘Niger-Area’ to Nigeria. Outstanding landmark personalities abound: the likes of King Onyeama, King Jaja of Opopo, Queen Amina of Zaria, Bishop Ajayi Crowther e.t.c. Protectorates governors and all former Governor Generals; fire brand die hard Nationalist from Sir Herbert Macaulay through to Mazi Mbaonu Ojike; indigenous Governor General; Regional premiers and Regional Governors; Military Head of States and their deputies; Military governors and the Military Administrators that ever ruled in the making and shaping of Nigeria. Civilian elected president and their vice; and all the first ladies from Mrs. Flora Ogbeyalu Azikiwe to Hajia Buhari; elected civilians governors up to the present time, including Your Excellency Sir; Senate presidents and the Speakers of House of Representatives from the pre-independence era to the present time. A pictorial roll call of Chief Justices of Nigeria; Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Administrators/Ministers; Inspector General of Police (Past and Present); Secretaries to the Federal Government; Chiefs of Army Staff, Naval Staff; Air Staff, Chiefs of Defense and the Ministers of Defense; Comptroller General of Customs Service; Chairmen of Electoral Commissions; Central Bank of Nigeria Governors; notable people in the News and many others. We also have books section, hosting great biographies of Nigerians (186 biographies so far) , Nigeria history books, Military books, Civil war books and Who’s who in Nigeria books and many others.
How have you been funding the book donations to individuals and organizations, and who qualifies to benefit from this?
I buy the books and donate them out not because I have so much money but because I believe that a reading nation is a leading nation. Books are given freely to anyone or organisation with evidence of willingness to start a library, over 90% of those who have benefited from my over 31, 000 books donated so far, I don’t know them from Adam.
Do you receive international or national support in achieving the foregoing?
No sir, none so far but we are hopeful
How many visitors have you recorded since the inception of the Library and Museum?
I cannot say, but we have over 29, 000 registered users of the library and I have welcomed over 4,000 of my Facebook friends in the library too, several other students have used the library without records. Like during GCE and JAMB I don’t take their data but allow them to come, read and walk away.
What is the National Biographer about?
The National Biographer is Africa’s only biographical magazine, we started publishing in 2013 as a monthly publication that showcases and promotes image relation, effective leadership and transparency skills in service and uprightness in every sphere of life. So far we have had interactions with 7 world presidents among many others.