Raphael James, Director General of the Centre for Research, Information Management and Media Development (CRIMMD) is a thoroughbred researcher and founder of the largest photo museum of Nigerian History with over 36, 000 photographs. In the past 15 years, he has been running a free public library in a bid to revive the reading culture among Nigerian youths. He is also the publisher of African Dame and The National Biographer magazines. Over the years, he has authored 23 published books and has 56 unpublished manuscripts in the works.
In the ensuing interview, James expresses strong views on the fading reading culture in Nigeria, the efforts of CRIMMD to inspire the youths to develop the habit of reading and his organization’s skills acquisition initiative. Excerpts:
Could you give us an insight into the activities of the Centre for Research, Information Management and Media Development (CRIMMD)?
The Centre is a research outfit, focusing on media, political as well as historical research. We do real investigative research work on issues currently making waves or that had made waves in the past. We document and sometimes let the public have access to them, depending on the need. By the nature of our job, we established a library which we made accessible to the general public, to have access to read and to source for information.
Essentially, CRIMMD is a free public library which has been serving the communities of Idimu, Ejigbo, Isolo, Okota and Ikotun in Lagos, Nigeria where it is situated. CRIMMD library is helping to keep the minds of the youth active and away from being the devil’s workshop. This has definitely gone a long way to reduce the rate of crime. Rather it has helped to produce intellectuals within the environment. The library was officially commissioned for public use on December 16, 2004, by the former Federal Minister of Information Chief (Sir) Alex Akinyele JP.
On December 28, 2008, under the canopy of CRIMMD, I embarked on a visit and donated books to 33 media organizations in Nigeria, as our contribution to boost the reading culture in Nigeria. Between December 2008 and February 15th 2018, CRIMMD has donated about 24,000 books to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), churches, Secondary Schools, Polytechnics and Universities across Nigeria.
In 2012, we established the ‘CRIMMD Museum of Nigeria Photo History’ – A Nigerian Museum rich with photographs and portraits of the slave trade 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. Other historical facts captured in pictures include 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 coined a name for us – from ‘Niger-Area’ to Nigeria. Outstanding landmark personalities abounds: 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 nationalists from Sir Herbert Macaulay through to Mazi Mbaonu Ojike; indigenous Governor Generals; Regional premiers and Regional Governors; Military Heads of State and their deputies; Military governors and the Military Administrators that ever ruled Nigeria are captured in our museum of photo history. Civilian elected presidents and their deputies; and all the first ladies from Mrs Flora Ogbeyalu Azikiwe to Hajia Aisha Buhari are also captured; elected civilians governors up to the present time are not left out. Senate presidents and the Speakers of House of Representatives from the pre-independence era to the present time feature prominently in the photo gallery. 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; Governors of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), notable people in the news and many others are equally featured.
There is also the book section, hosting great biographies of Nigerians (176 biographies so far), Nigeria history books, Military books, Civil war books and who’s who in Nigeria books. We have about 36, 000 photographs so far.
In 2013, we commenced the publication of our special magazine – The National Biographer Magazine, a monthly magazine that showcases and promotes effective leadership and transparency skills in service and uprightness in every sphere of life. So far we have interviewed some VIPs in Africa and beyond, including former Military President Ibrahim Babangida and former President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, President Barack Obama of the USA, former President J. J. Rawlings of Ghana, Mama Sarah – the grandmother of American President Obama.
In order to ensure that our research works get to the public, we established our book publishing unit and so far I have written 56 books and published 23. On February 2016, we introduced the CRIMMD Free Skill Acquisition Centre for Women. This center was commissioned with six sewing machines, four laptops and one computer desk-top. The Centre trains women free of charge on the following: computer training, tailoring/fashion designing, Catering, bread Making, Soap making (liquid/tablet & detergents), Liquid disinfectant Production, Hat making, Air freshener production, Germicide, Production, Insecticide Production, Ankara bags and shoes making & Make-up artistry.
What motivated you to set up the centre and to what extent has your vision for setting it up been actualized?
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 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 such a centre increased. I had earlier 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 many enlightened Nigerian regard my humble self as one of the very best Nigeria has today in terms of research and documentation. The establishment of the library under CRIMMD was to help bridge the gap 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 authority and there is no record anywhere on it. It is high time we returned history into our primary and secondary schools. We need to study our history to know where we are coming from to enable us know where we are going. If anyone reading this has the fact on 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 hoists 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 the green-white-green that Mr Taiwo Akunkumi designed for us and yet some people in government are making use of the 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 because my library have produced professionals, medical doctors, engineers and many others, young men and women who used my library to read 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.
To a large extent, I have made a remarkable impact in the society even though I have not completely actualized my dream of establishing CRIMMD. For example, I have donated close to 24, 000 books to encourage reading habit since 2008. Our Free Public Library which we started in 2004 with less than 100 books is doing well as many youths come around to read. I sponsor the ‘Dr. Raphael James Library Prize’ for participants of the ‘Speak Quill Initiatives’, I also sponsored the 2016 Independence Day writing competition for secondary schools in Delta State. I am the Patron of “Readers and Leaders Network”, an initiative of Information Givers Kids and Skye Aimers Visions who are keen on inculcating the love for books among students in Secondary Schools. I am also the first Creative Patron of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Lagos Branch.
In this computer age, how has CRIMMD keyed into the concept of e-library?
Our library for example has about 40, 000 books so far, probably the largest private library in Lagos State in terms of resources and not space. Since its establishment, we have never had any corporate sponsor and this has delayed the introduction of the e-library concept until January 2018. We just started it but we already have some set back and had put a stop on it for now. That is for the books in the library. For the photographs in the museum, they are all digitalized. We have over 36, 000 photographs and it cost us a fortune to achieve that.
What are the problems and prospects of e-library in Nigeria?
There are quite a number of challenges, like the lack of training for librarians and staff in skills upgrading, which is sometimes perceived by workers as a means of addressing weakness in performance and they shy away from the training. There is the poor power supply make it difficult for e-library to function effectively. There is the high cost of internet. There is also poor computer literacy rate and lack of access to computers. There is also the lack of workshops and seminars to equip librarians with the necessary skills in e-library. Other problems are shortage of IT experts in libraries and lack of technical skills among graduates of library science, because most schools teach their students only theory and no practical. Less attention is given to the training of librarians regarding digital libraries in higher institutions. As a result, some librarians in Nigeria have limited research works published in the area of training on e-library services. It has become imperative to bridge the gap.
What would you suggest as the best way the relevant authorities in Nigeria can effectively promote the fading reading culture?
Our reading habit is dropping and I have refused to be among those that will sit and complain. That is why I established the library. I want to make Nigeria a reading nation, reading for knowledge and not for exams, interviews and maybe for promotions. I believe that if people read and acquire knowledge, they will be able to defend themselves even without a certificate to back it up. This is better than the situation we have today, where people carry certificates about and yet cannot express themselves. I believe that if Nigeria becomes a reading nation, we will become a leading nation.
To promote the reading culture, government should make libraries available. For example, on Sundays, almost everybody go to church and you don’t have to go very far. There are churches on every street. There are TV viewing centers for soccer fans and you will see the young ones going there to watch football matches. If you establish more libraries, it will inspire more youths to develop interest in reading.
I am also of the opinion that Government at all levels should strive through practical steps to reduce to the barest minimum the gap between teaching and cheating in all examinations. Once we curb the avenues open for examination malpractices in the country the rats and cockroaches presently occupying our libraries will relinquish their rights of occupancy to human beings.
What informed the decision of CRIMMD to go beyond information management and media development to include skills acquisition for the youths as part of its services?
In about October 2015, I had a funny experience in my office. A lady who had visited me for financial assistant, offered herself for sex in order to feed her kids. The lady claimed to be a widow told me that after her husband’s death almost all his friends slept with her before they could offer financial help. At that point, I wondered how many other women were going through such ordeal and decided the only way to help was to set up a place where I can contribute to women by encouraging them to learn a skill and be equipped for the challenges ahead in life if the unexpected should happen to them. In February 2016, the centre started with five sewing machines, four laptops and one computer desk-top, for computer training, and some catering equipment. We train women and the girl-child on tailoring/fashion designing and computer training, Catering, Bead Making, Soap making (liquid/tablet & detergents), Liquid disinfectant Production, Hat making, Air freshener production, Germicide Production, Insecticide Production, Ankara bags and shoes making & Make-up artistry. In 2017, the ‘Free Skill Acquisition Training Center for Women, held a total 296 skill training programmes out of the 313 working days of the 365 days of the year 2017, and we trained a total of 1, 875 women in different skills, free of charge.
Since CRIMMD is a free library cum free skills acquisition centre, how do you get the funding to sustain its operation?
It has been easy running a free library in addition to a free skills acquisition centre with bills: payment of rents, buying of books, training materials payment of staff of the library and the general costs of maintenance. Funding is our biggest challenge. On several occasions I had contemplated of closing the skill acquisition centre down. It is a very capital intensive project when you don’t have anyone supporting the projects. In 2017 January, the pressure was so much on me to close down the skills acquisition centre but somehow I managed to survive it when some of the women from the skill centre pleaded that I should not close it down, though they had no idea of what I was going through. Thank God, I did not close it down because by December 2017, we had trained 1, 874 women in different skills. I keep praying that someday, God will send a helper who understands the value of the little that we do at the centre and come to our rescue. I run CRIMMD from the little proceeds I make from research and my publications. It has been rough but we have to keep the candle burning and continue moving ahead. But I must say that we will appreciate support from good spirited Nigerians who may with us so that together we can continue to promote the reading culture among our youths and also empower them through skills acquisition.