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OkadaBooks comes to the rescue!!!

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“OkadaBooks is an Android application and online platform for publishing and reading books electronically. It was founded by author and engineer Okechukwu Ofili and won mobile service provider MTN Nigeria’s App of the Year Award (2013) in the category ‘Best Overall App’ (Osuagwu). At the time of writing (2018), OkadaBooks offer their users more than 200,000 titles which have been downloaded more than one million times. OkadaBooks’ content ranges from novels and poetry to contemporary African comics, self-help literature and children’s literature.” Dr. Nicklas Hållén

On March 22, 2019, Dr. Nicklas Hållén came to give a lecture at the innovative department of English & Creative Writing at Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin entitled “OkadaBooks and African Street Literature.” Dr. Hållén is a researcher in African literature from the University of Uppsala’s English Department. African writers of different generations have been at Uppsala at one time or the other. Hållén spoke about OkadaBooks as well as the writers who publish their various works on the platform including Olusegun Adeniyi with his Against the Run of Play: How an Incumbent President was Defeated in Nigeria. Chimamanda Adichie is also to publish on the platform.

Okada motorcycles and their daredevil riders solved the problem of beating the traffic jams of our chaotic cities by coming into being. Where, by the way, are the social studies of this transport system? Who are the most frequent users? What is the record for the number of passengers that have been carried on one single Okada? Anecdotally, women are the largest number of passengers on Okada. Why is this so?

Since coming back to Nigeria, I have carried a publication of mine from bookshop to bookshop in Akure trying to sell copies of a Yoruba play which has been recommended for schools in Ondo State. No takers. I have received manuscripts and request to look at manuscripts and recommend them for publication. Nobody, or rather, no publisher publishes books any more in Nigeria. There are printers ready and willing to print your manuscript if you can pay the prize. Mr. Ofili had problems publishing his writings. And when published he had problems distributing them to bookshops. And when these bookshops take some copies, it is pure wahala getting payment out of them. So, Mr. Ofili created OkadaBooks to navigate the parlous condition of Nigerian self-publishing and pirate-publishing. By the way I found pirated editions during my tour of bookshops, of which my publishers knew nothing.

OkadaBooks was also launched to encourage reading in Nigeria. It has “contributed in a lot of ways, especially because it lets anyone with a mobile phone read a book from anywhere; you could be on a bus, at home or even the toilet seat. Authors don’t have to chase publishers around to get their stories accepted or distributed. You simply upload it on OkadaBooks and start selling.” (Hållén’s interview with Magnus Okeke.)

There is need here to link this initiative to other publishing initiatives in this country. After the Second World War 1939 – 1945 there were surplus printers sold to the public by the colonial civil service. Some enterprising Nigerians bought these and started printing. . . They printed almanacs, they printed handbills, they printed pamphlets and even short stories and novels including political biographies. How else did we get to know more about Patrice Lumumba than was available in the penny newspapers? Cyprian Ekwensi published his first short stories in what came to be known as motorpark literature or Onitsha market literature. For a long time this was the platform on which writers such as Niyi Oniororo published their stories and political polemics.

It is not for nothing that these publishing effort, motorpark literature and OkadaBooks have to do with the problematics of Nigerian transportation!

The next stage of home publishing can be said to be the pace setter series stage. Here local branches of British publishing company as well as locally formed publishing companies went into popular publishing, publishing the indigenous for national development. Evans Brothers, Heinemann, Longman’s, and McMillans along with Onibon-Oje, Fagbamigbe and Arthur Nwankwo’s Third Dimension Publishing all flourished until structural adjustment destroyed them.

Like now, Nigerians are forever lamenting that nobody reads in Nigeria. Once more, let me state as I did in the 1970s. Nigerians read, they continue to read and they will always read! The important question is ‘What do they read? In the past they read newspapers and news magazines. They read novels like King Solomon’s Mines by Rider Haggard and She Died in the Bloom of Youth by Cyprian Ekwensi. Today, they read popular American novels encouraged by television series like TeleMundo. And they read online. Says Mr. Okeke: “I won’t say we have replaced printed books in any way. Digital and printed books are both important in Nigeria and some people prefer one to the other. Some people love the smell of printed books and others love the fact that they can carry 200 books on their mobile phone.”

Old prejudices persist. Hear this against some of those prejudices like Nigerians don’t read and people from the North are ignorant: “We have had so many success stories, especially from the northern part of Nigeria where some of our successful authors are. They write their stories in Hausa and a lot of users pay to read their stories. Its amazing!” Mr. Okeke to Dr. Hållén.

How do you pay for books you download on OkadaBooks? First you don’t need a bank account or a bank card to pay. “You simply buy the airtime (or recharge card as it is popularly called in Nigeria) and load the pins on the platform. It is like entering your card number and it is fast.”

“Authors get paid 70% on each sale while OkadaBooks automatically remits 30%. If you are in Nigeria you’ll be paid in Nigerian Naira. International authors get paid via PayPal.”

So much tears for those who moan that we are finished, that we can never go forward. These are people who think that governments are all. In fact, governments in this country have had nothing to do with the successes of Nigerians. Think Nollywood. Think Nigerian writers and intellectuals. Think Nigerian doctors overseas. Now think OkadaBooks.

Into the future Dr. Hållén and his colleagues in the English and Creative Writing Department of Elizade University will be collaborating on digital publishing and street literature in Africa in general and in Nigeria in particular.
bankole.omotoso@elizadeuniversity.edu.ng


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Kole OmotosoOkadaBooks
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