Tackling dwindling reading culture at book fair
Stakeholders have again reiterated the need for the implementation of policies that would improve reading among Nigerians. This was the concern of participants at this year’s Nigeria International Book Fair (NIBF) 2017, which took place last week in Lagos. Advocates urged government to review policies hampering the book industry as a matter of urgency to enable it function better.
The book fair attracted major players in the industry such as Senator Shehu Sani, Dibu Ojerinde, Prof. Lenrie Olatokunbo, Mrs. Ronke Orimolade, Mr. Badiga Adedapo, Mrs. Esther Eworinde among others, and they discussed disturbing issues in the industry and suggested solutions.
With the theme ‘Book Chain, Government Policies and the Promotion of Reading Culture in Africa,’ the 16th conference kicked off at the multipurpose hall, University of Lagos and had a gathering of book lovers, publishers, authors and booksellers alike. The conference was highly interactive as disturbing issues of books, reading, schools, and government featured prominently.
Meanwhile, Chairman, Nigerian Book Fair Trust, Alhaji Rilwan Abdulsalami, said NIBF was the largest, consistent and popular book fair in Africa. He said the board, consisting of the entire stakeholders in the book industry, continues to review the performance of the fair yearly with a view to improving its operations and organisational structure to maintain the standard it has attained.
Abdulsalami assured that NIBF would continue to initiate programmes that would improve the Book Fair Trust by partnering with the right agencies within and outside the country.
According to him, “Over the years, NBFT has continued to serve as avenue to all the stakeholders in the industry the opportunity for interaction with their international counterparts. This year is unique because, in addition to regular programmes, we are going to have drama, poetry and cultural displays.”
The NBFT boss lamented that over the years, there have been government policies across the continent that have been hampered the growth of books and the knowledge industry, noting, “The book industry in Nigeria requires urgent government attention, especially in the area of providing enabling environment for it to strive. Considering the current economic situation in the country, the book industry has also been affected; the cost of publishing books has gone up very high. We are willing to partner with government to ensure that this environment is streamlined and harmonised.”
He said the NBFT board would soon engage government and other agencies to draw attention to the need to rescue the industry from further troubles.Chairman of the conference and Senate committee chairman on Local and Foreign Debts, Senator Sani, pointed out that the decline in reading culture was real, not just among young people, but also among the political leaders, which is evident in the low quality of their intellectual discourse.
He noted, “If you compare the speech of a first republican politician to what we have today, you would see a world of difference. The highest politicians do today is granting interviews on TV or making some additional quotations to spice up what they say.”
Sani stated that knowledge could only be gained through reading but in the homes of most Nigerians today, books have become part of home decoration. He said people should be encouraged to read hard copy books as the advantages outweigh the e-books, adding, “It is difficult to read through an e-book without interference from advertisements, and it is also difficult to note down points on the e-copy.”
Chief Executive Officer of National Library of Nigeria, Prof. Lenrie Olatokunbo Aina, said government has a mandate to promote reading in the country, adding, “The government is putting a lot of money, over N60 billion, to promote this industry and subject.”
Keynote speaker and former Registrar of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, (JAMB), Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, gave a poser: What would you do in your organisation to improve reading culture in Nigeria? The question appeared to be rhetorical, but it formed the basis of most comments and arguments that later ensued at the conference.
Ojerinde said the question came up during one of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Bring Back the Book campaign. His answer was to introduce books outside the texts for literature that are usually tested among all candidates in JAMB examinations.
He said, “A couple of books were recommended, though I wont say they were the best of books, but the text became a problem; there were some missing text, typographical errors due to piracy.
“In the 2013 and 2014 UTME, 10 questions were set from each of the books. Reliability is the measure of the internal relationship among the items of the text,” he said.
Supporters of the book fair, Repro India, represented by Mr. Kunal Vohra, reaffirmed its continuous support for NIBF in the years to come. According to Vohra, “Repro wants to widen the imagination of children in Africa by encouraging them to read, and we hope that in the nearest future, we would be able to provide a textbook to each child as against one book to six children that currently shows in statistics.”
The event featured poetry rendition by Mr. AJ Dagga Tolar, a member of Association of Nigerian Authors. He described books as the making of the human being. His poem was like a sharp sword, as the audience reflects on the words.
Representing the Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos was Prof. Solomon Adewale Okunuga, who emphasised the need to encourage students to read until it becomes a part of them.
According to him, “Reading lightens the mind and increases knowledge. We need to continue to sell the ideas of people cultivating reading habit. I encourage the publishers not to be discouraged despite happenings in the society, but try to marry both hard copy and electronic books together.”
Audience members had opportunity to comment on the topic. Many publishers and authors lamented piracy as the major setback for the industry. According to Mrs. Orimolade, board member of NBFT, there is an urgent need to implement policies that would encourage youths to read, saying, “Books could be placed at petrol stations, hospitals, youth centres, etc, so that anywhere youth turn, these books are in front of them. We consider this a good way, but funding is our major concern.”
Orimolade expressed concern that lecturers no longer recommend proper books for students but their own spiral bind papers, which, according to her, would do more harm than good.Publisher and author, Taiwo Omotosho, debunked the claim that publishers were thieves, arguing, “We pay loyalties but are we getting returns? We need a national book policy.”
ALSO, publishers have urged government to stop the importation of books but allow the importation of book materials to make it easier for them to contribute to the economy. Country Manager, Cambridge University Press, Mr. Lawrence Aladesuyi, expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of money invested in the distribution chain in the publishing industry.
While speaking at a seminar organised by Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA) at the 2017 Book Fair, Aladesuyi noted, “Our book distribution chain is costly and wasteful. In Abuja, for instance, most of the publishing firms have offices, where they have managers they are paying salaries, vehicles to maintain, renting of offices, warehouse, etc. Why do we need to incur such waste if we can have distributors that can do it perfectly?
With the theme ‘Book Distribution Chain and The Future of Publishing in Nigeria’, Aladesuyi further stated that with diligent and honest distributors, money that could have been spent on opening new branches could be invested in other areas.
According to him, “Publishers don’t have any need to sell books. They only produce them and leave the rest to the distributors. What sales representatives do is to promote the books to places like schools, bookshops, etc. So, if you need the books, go to the distributors and take the books at the company’s price.
“At Cambridge, we appoint distributors and they give us their orders. We process our orders through the distributors. As of today, none of my representative owes any money. When we started this at Cambridge Press, I know a few of our colleagues that called me and said it is not possible, that you want to sell books in Nigeria without going through sales representatives. I told them that it is possible. We only need to start gradually. For instance, in the past two months, we have been trying to appoint some distributors; we sent their names for background check. The background check will provide the name of the person, the registration of the company, the bank facilities, etc. So, before you come in as a distributor, I know who you are.
“Years ago, there was a time we were discussing empowering booksellers and somebody mentioned that it was done in Kenya. So, that no matter how small the community is, you will see a bookseller around there. Though the argument is that booksellers pirate our books, but I don’t think that argument holds water because with my little experience, I have seen sales reps pirating the books of their bosses.
“Some people, after working in the publishing industry, will resign and go to their village and say I am now a publisher. He can’t even edit a single line; neither can he write a simple sentence. Distributorship is the aspect that brings in money. The discussion about book distribution is about the economy of book publishing. You can write and create the most wonderful form of arts, but the work of arts has to be brought to the market. We also work like a chain and every aspect of the chain is almost equally important. The bookseller is supposed to warehouse the books, dispatch them, provide customer service, process orders, etc.
“In Nigeria people want to do what the next person is doing – one person is the printer, publisher and bookseller. You do everything without specialization. Also, what is the level of our inventory management?”
For National President of Booksellers Association of Nigeria, Dr. Olusoji Popoola, “Many of the stakeholders in the industry have been trading blames and we are not moving forward. We have also identified, in the conference, that the problem is systemic. All of us cannot run away from the reality on ground and there is need for us to come together as stakeholders and address the issues. Then we will make recommendations to the government. One of the recommendations that we have identified here is that we have to come up with a bill for the establishment of Nigerian Book Commission that will serve as regulatory body.”
On piracy, Popoola said government loses a lot through piracy, adding, “For instance, established printers pay taxes to the local, state and Federal Government, but pirates don’t pay. Though the Nigerian Copyright Commission does the policing, but the more we work together in the industry to identify this common enemy, the more things will change for the better. He also said the National Assembly, though Senator Sani, is working on a bill aimed at empowering the book industry and the reading public. The bill, he state, has scaled through the second reading.
SIMILARLY, Executive Secretary of Book Fair Trust, Mr. Abiodun Omotubi, noted that this year’s fair was encouraging, saying it was the liveliest and most colourful in terms of participation and arrangement. He said what informed this year’s theme ‘Book Chain, Government Policies and the Promotion of Reading Culture in Africa’ was “that we have been having difficult times in the Nigeria book industry for some years now and we discovered that some government’s policies are not friendly to the development of the book and knowledge industry.
“So, when we were thinking of this year’s theme, we discover that there are some policies that we have to bring to the attention of government and that is why we invited Sen. Sani. For instance, you want to import papers; apart from the fact that the cost of the raw materials is high, we still have to pay duties on them. When you even want to bring some books to Nigeria, you have to pay duty.
“So, we want government to review some of these policies. For instance, government is trying to empower local printers, but when they don’t have the financial capacity to pay for all the items they need for their businesses, it will still be difficult for them to cope. Apart from this, we also urge government to put adequate infrastructure in place, especially electricity. If there is constant electricity, the capacity of the printers will improve and the cost of production would be reduced. It is not cheap to buy diesel. Though it may be a bit difficult due to government’s challenges, but we believe there is nothing impossible.”
He said piracy is a cankerworm in the Nigeria book industry, adding, “It is not only the book industry that piracy has affected, even the entertainment industry. We have been trying our best. It is difficult to stop piracy, but we are trying to see how we can reduce it. Even within the industry, we have pirates and the most difficult battle to fight is enemies from within. But we have put some measures in place in conjunction with Nigerian Copyright Commission. I also want to give kudos to Nigerian Publishers Association, which is one of the constituent bodies of Nigerian Book Fair Trust. They have arrested a lot of pirates. We will not relent in our effort to address piracy.”
Also, Managing Director of Evans Publishers, Mr. Lukman Dauda, observed that booksellers were not ready to take risks, adding, “The only way you can expand your business is to take risk. Booksellers want to be spoon-fed. We are in the business of making profit and giving dividends to our owners, not to spoon-feed any bookseller. Publishers must also come together to protect the industry.”
In his view, President, Ghana Book Publishers Association (GBPA), Mr. Elliot Agyare, stated that publishers in Ghana and Nigeria needed to work together in order to move the industry forward.As he put it, “Let the booksellers and publishers come forward with ideas on how the industry can make progress. All of us need to survive and our books need to reach our customers. We want to come and learn from Nigeria publishing industry.”