Tito Obaigbo: Promoting Reading Culture
Tito Obaigbo, Founder and President of the Smart Book Club (SBC), is a prolific reader, with an undying love for books. An MSC graduate of Development Economics from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, and an MBA from the University of Lagos, Obaibgo who also holds a degree in Agriculture from the University of Agriculture Abeokuta, began her career as a Banker and worked for over a decade before leaving to pursue her passion and love for books.
Today, she runs Oakhill Group of Companies comprising Oakhill Books, Oakhill Mart, Oakhill Schools and Oakhill Gardens. Creating the Smart Book Club she says, stems from the need to encourage the dying reading culture in Nigeria, while bringing together a select group of Seasoned, Mindful, Articulate, Resourceful and Tenacious ( S.M.A.R.T) female avid readers, to connect, empower and build a network of powerful women via Literature, social events, and community service. The educationist, who has written several articles for newspapers and magazines, as well as articles for journal publication, recently bagged the Tutuola Palm for Poetry Awards and conferred with the title, DAME at this year’s edition of the Lagos Book Convention – the Third Annual Literary Extravaganza.
The mother of two from Ekiti State, talks to Allure about receiving this prestigious award, her love for books, vision and mission for women among other things.
You recently received the Tutuola Palm for Poetry Awards, what does that mean to you?
I am honoured, grateful and overwhelmed with joy. It is a huge honour to receive such a prestigious award. I am filled with so much joy.
What does being a Dame mean to you?
Being a dame is a huge honour, and it is a great task for you to be called a Dame. I received it with a lot of appreciation and gratitude to God. It also shows that hard work pays and it encourages you to do better. So, I am indeed honoured to be called a Dame.
Having been conferred with such an award, will that put any kind of pressure on you, in terms of your work?
It will spike me to do better because the sky is just the beginning. It means that I need to work harder and do better. Knowing that what you are doing is being recognized, gives one so much joy and encourages one to do better. I was just doing my own thing in my little corner and here we are today, receiving such a prestigious award. A lot is expected as a Dame and I will live up to it.
What is your view about the awards itself?
The organisers have been doing such an amazing job, and receiving the awards did not come that easily. I had to submit a lot of reports; it involved a lot of writing and all that was scrutinized and here we are. I must applaud them for what they have done. We need to encourage them because a lot of people see writing or reading as something that is boring; but there is a lot of good that comes out of it. Reading, writing, creative arts is life, arts is life so, we need to continue to encourage art, encourage writing, and encourage the younger ones, especially the youths of today to imbibe the culture of reading.
What informed the creation of the Smart Book Club and would you say the objective has been achieved?
It began 3 years ago precisely on the 1st of April 2018 when Smart Book Club was formerly founded. I have always had the notion that Nigerians do not really have the knack for reading, most especially Nigerian women. Taking us back to when I was a Branch Manager in one of the Commercial Banks in Nigeria over 10years ago, my boss then, loved to read and would encourage all Branch Managers to read. But because I loved to read too, we would talk about bestsellers and the latest books, then after reading a book, I would then do a critical review of the book for him. When I went on vacation abroad, I would visit different book stores. I always wanted to be ahead of my boss in terms of reading different genres of books. So, I would ask for the hottest and latest books on the shelf.
I also encouraged all my team members in the branch to buy at least one book in a month to read. As a matter of fact, I got a bookseller to source the books for us, so that made it easy for us to get all genres of books. I remember the first book I recommended was Who moved my Cheese written by Dr. Spencer Johnson followed by David and Goliath, The underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants by Malcolm Gladwell.
When I left the bank to pursue my own business and further my education, I then spoke to my friend Mrs. Adaeze Kingsley-Anyanwu, who is now our Vice-President, and another friend then about reading a book every month and meeting up at nice restaurants to unwind and review the book we read. We tried a few times to meet but, we just couldn’t agree to meet. The third person was just starting his export business and was always out of the country, so the arrangement just died a natural death, this was around 2013/2014.
Then 4 years later in 2018, with the advent of social media platforms especially WhatsApp and Instagram, I got the vision again and this time, it was clearer in terms of structure and modalities. I called my sister, Mrs. Yemi Ogunlewe who is now our Publicity Secretary and a few other friends and I set up the chatroom, and started inviting friends. Most of us who started with me, have remained in the club till date. Members then invited their friends too and today, we have built long-lasting sisterhood connections.
The book club is basically for women alone, why is that? And how has it been over the years?
Well, we decided to limit it to women so that members would be more comfortable. I thought about those days when our mothers would have meetings. When it was my mum’s turn to host the meeting, we would cook and cook. I used to dread those days. However, the beauty of the Association or peer group meetings then was the sisterhood connections that they built. They would rally around members when celebrating birthdays, naming ceremonies, burials etc. They would all wear the same attire or would wear the same colour. I think that was where the popular Aso-ebi came from. So I wanted women to be women and build sisterhood connections instead of women tearing each other down. So far, it has been a beautiful journey supporting members and being there for one another. It’s been awesome. By the grace of God, we have over 50 women in the club.
Talk to us about your love for books and when you started reading?
I have always loved books. I guess I was a bookworm in school. I also loved fashion. I was the assistant Head Girl back in Secondary School. I attended the legendary Queens School, Ibadan. I have a way of balancing books, fashion and fun. I read when I needed to and had fun when I needed to. I guess I have always loved reading right from my primary school days. When I grew older, I developed this passion for research work. I always love to proffer probable solutions to problems. I have written several articles for newspapers and magazines too. I have also written articles for journal publication.
How do you feel about your initiative now and would you say it’s making the impact you hoped for at the outset?
The response has been phenomenal. Everyone says, it’s a new development and a laudable one. We have also had recognition locally and internationally. Authors and publishers write to us and donate lots of copies of their books to us, just to read and review. Authors reach out to us to please pick their books for our next book pick. It’s been rewarding and encouraging.
Which is your all time favourite book?
My all time favourite book is From Third World to First, The Singapore Story: 1965 – 2000 written by Lee Kuan Yew.
What is your take on the reading culture of Nigerians especially the youths in this era of social media?
The reading culture in Nigeria is gradually eluding. Many Nigerians are not reading, especially women and youths. Nigerians do not have the knack for reading; we saw the gap and reason why we set up the Smart Book Club for women to help them imbibe that habit of reading. There’s a saying that if you want to keep any information away from a Nigerian, you should put it in writing.
In Smart Book Club, we read one book a month and at the end of the month, we meet at a nice restaurant to review the book. The review meetings are always a good way of networking, where you get to meet different amazing and strong women from varying fields of expertise. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been meeting virtually. Aside from the one-book-a-month, we also encourage women to have personal targets for reading: 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 books to be read in a year. It is a daunting task considering that women are already burdened with work and, or home responsibilities. But, it is achievable if we put our minds to it, and make use of any available time slots to read. Therefore, we give tips on how to find time slots out of our busy schedules as women to read. We also have amongst us, young ladies who usually tend to have many activities in their lives that distract them, so we give those tips and guide them on how to create time to read. Knowledge derived from reading can never be taken away. The beautiful and most wonderful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.
How is your association trying to effect a change in the minds of people when it comes to reading? Are you doing anything in that line?
In order to help our youths imbibe that culture of reading, we have a project that is very dear to our hearts. It is called Project School Library (PSL). What we do is that we go to public schools to donate books, school bags, stationery, personal protective equipment (PPE), toiletries, and sanitary towels to all students and cash gifts to the best students in class. We also donate gifts to their teachers to encourage them. We donate books to their libraries. We give them pep talks during their school assembly from time to time, and classroom book reading to Nursery and Primary school pupils.
We believe very strongly that, to imbibe the habit of reading, we need to catch them young, hence, we take the PSL project very seriously in the Smart Book Club.
Let’s talk about your personal style now. What is fashion like for you?
Fashion for me is effortless because I go for comfort and what suits my body type. I have eyes for good things too. I love fashion, which comes naturally and effortlessly for me. I must say I got my knack for fashion from my mother. She is one of the most beautiful women on earth. Also, because I’m a plus-size diva, I opened a plus-size shop for women in the year 2009 called Max Woman. I advocate that whilst we are eating right and exercising, we should embrace our curves. It’s the only body I’ve got, so I carry my body with grace and I love every curve created by God on my body.
I love jewelry too and have a weakness for fragrances. l probably have over 100 bottles of perfumes.
My favourite colour is purple, right from my Primary School days. These days, I’m just falling head over heels for the colour yellow.
Are you a foodie, what is your favourite food?
I don’t really have a favourite food as I’m not a foodie, but I can say, I love plantain- fried, roasted or boiled. I also love grilled Salmon.
Tell us what we don’t know about you?
I’m a lover of plants, especially Cacti and Succulents. I also hold workshops on the care of plants and how plants can purify and at the same time, beautify our environment through the process of photosynthesis. I have been to several schools, teaching students how to grow their own small vegetables in their backyards. I have also been working on some short documentaries and movies. Hopefully, we will get the production up to speed soon.
What do you have to say to today’s women?
Women are fantastic and wonderful beings, we want to continue to encourage women to read. We want our women to have a sense of belonging, being part of what is happening. Women are clamouring for inclusion, we need to give ourselves the prerequisite skills, to be included in what is happening in the world globally, in Nigeria, our community, and around us in our society. Women should continue to aspire to get more knowledge. Knowledge is power, it’s yours and no one can take it from you. Reading broadens your horizon and frontiers. It gives you a bigger, clearer, and broader perspective to life. The secrets of making good success in life, businesses, marriage, finance, governance, etc are all embedded in books. Have you stopped to ask yourself why all legends, past presidents, billionaires, history makers, heroines, heroes etc have either written a book or people have written books about them? Trust me, they are all avid readers and that’s why they are successful. So we are saying, women should continue to imbibe that culture of reading and also encourage their children to read. It is very important.